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Reviewed by:
  • Hizbullah’s Identity Construction
  • Bashir Saade (bio)
Hizbullah’s Identity Construction, by Joseph Alagha. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2011. 308 pages. $29.95 paper.

There is so much to account for in Alagha’s new book that it is impossible to do it justice in such a short review. The greatest challenge in reviewing Alagha’s Hizbullah’s Identity Construction is that while reading the text one struggles — ultimately in vain — to identify a sound argument that connects the various parts of the book. Secondly, despite the ambitious task of describing Hizbullah as a changing organization, the material presented is poor, flimsy, and used inconsistently.

In Alagha’s first book, The Shifts in Hizbullah’s Ideology (2006), he argues that the party moved away from a “radical” political agenda during the 1980s to a more “pragmatic,” “compromising” one when it decided to engage in Lebanese local politics. The alleged novelty of Alagha’s argument was that this shift was ideological, involving a transformation in the worldview of the party. Hizbullah’s Identity Construction expands on this idea by providing the reader with new theoretical formulations and tries to account for the different actions undertaken by Hizbullah since the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005.

But the negligent theoretical formulation of the object of study and inconsistent follow-up of that initial argumentation makes Alagha’s text read like a hectic journalistic account of the political events faced by Hizbullah in the last five years, interrupted from time to time with hasty personal interpretations.

And because since the assassination of PM Hariri Lebanon has witnessed the most intense period of ups and downs in its history, Alagha fills pages recounting endless transactions between the different political protagonists (coalitions that will come to be labeled as March 14 and March 8) and their various shifts in alliances, often without even relating matters to Hizbullah, least of all to his alleged central thesis, namely the “identity constructions” of Hizbullah.

In his first book, the principal argument is [End Page 385] that Hizbullah possesses a coherent ideology at all times that is “shifting” from one position (say being radical, revolutionary, or against the Lebanese political regime) to another (embracing the confessional system as a working alternative) at a particular point in time. However, the real question remains the nature of the change and precisely where it is located — questions that Alagha leaves unanswered.

In Hizbullah’s Identity Construction, Alagha refreshes his methodology by claiming to adopt a social constructivist point of view but he neither adequately (see pp. 24– 25) defines these terms nor conforms to the social constructivist model. Furthermore, it is unclear even how Alagha understands terms such as “ideology” and “identity,” as his attempts to explicate terms are riddled with borrowed definitions and jargon (pp. 25–26). Alagha repeatedly makes claims without expanding his argument, which also remains unclear because of his cryptic use of language. For example, he states that: “Hizbullah shifted from a jihadi perspective to a flexible shari’a perspective (…) Hizbullah argued that the shari’a as a socially constructed phenomenon is flexible and can account for all the complexities of modern life” (p.117). These statements are not sourced, nor are “jihadi perspective” or “shari’a perspective” explained.

The point should be that Hizbullah does not hold a concrete wholly coherent ideology but rather that ideological constructions come to inform and direct decisions in one direction or another. There are no grand shifts in ideology taking place. There may be a logical consistency between how Hizbullah views Christians in the 1980s and after its “integration in the system” in the 1990s, which informs the changes in tactics. If there is some kind of guiding ethical principle that brings Hizbullah to consider Christians as allies or enemies at certain moments, couldn’t the nature of such shifts be strategic? But Alagha is searching for ideological formulations, even though the “ethical principle” that guides the representation of Christians is the same.

Moreover, much of Alagha’s writing is unsourced and dubious at best. For example, “Hizbullah considered the Lebanese political system, which is dominated by the political Maronites, as a jahiliya (pre...


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pp. 385-387
Launched on MUSE
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