Sunday, November 22, 2009

What I'm doing with myself

Today (yesterday) I had to write and send in a 6-page (double-spaced) statement about what my B.A. thesis will be. I was pretty happy with it and figured it wouldn't hurt to post it here. So without further ado:

I intend to examine Hamas and Hizballah from a perspective much different from that prevailing in political and journalistic discussions of these organizations. It is my view that the existing literature on political organizations does not account for the particular forms of power and violent tactics practiced by Hamas and Hizbollah. While these two are probably not the only organizations to employ such practices, my intention is to begin to build a framework for understanding their particular roles, capabilities, and structures as political organizations that could be applied more broadly to other cases.

I will show that Hamas and Hizballah are an unusual type of political organization, which I will term parallel or alternative government. Both Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories have been in the process of building a strong, democratic state for decades, but both have been hamstrung by a lack of agreement among their respective populations on questions that are fundamental to the statebuilding project. They have consequently been unable to build the robust institutions that would begin to constitute a state. In Lebanon, the question of a quota system in government institutions—whether one should exist, and whether the existing one is correct, just, and so on—is still contested; the current system has weakened the government to the point of paralysis, while the disagreement still existing over this structure has sapped the government’s authority and legitimacy. In the Palestinian Territories, the population is riven over the proper methods of “resistance” to Israel; the existing Palestinian institutions were created in negotiations with Israel and as such are inherently illegitimate to those Palestinians who reject negotiation and rather favor violent resistance. In both cases, the government structure represents a “side” of this fundamental question and so is inherently politicized, illegitimate to a significant segment of its population. Rather than serving as the location of policy, institutions themselves are policy. Finally, structural factors in the military, economic, and international political spheres have served to further weaken these regimes’ abilities to project power, deliver services, and command loyalty.

This weakness and the political divisions at its root have created a political space in both polities for a second, parallel government to spring up with the support of those factions which are in opposition to the “side” represented by the existing political structure. These parallel governments perform many functions of a governing institution: service delivery, security, national defense (as perceived by their supporters), and political representation. They are parallel rather than rival in that they do not seek simply to control the institutions of the existing regime, nor do they attempt to create a separate state; rather, they build their own institutions to further their preferred outcomes while remaining committed to a united Lebanon or a free Palestine. Rather than attempting to secure the reforms and policy shifts they want within a system that is too weak and dysfunctional to produce the desired outcomes, these constituencies have chosen simply to build the state they want.

Hamas’ and Hizballah’s use of violence has been one of the primary factors agitating the international discourse about them. I will examine the particular ways in which these groups deploy violence—when they use it, when they do not, against whom and employing what techniques—in order to show that their violent methods also distinguish them from most other political organizations. They are neither states, nor insurgents, nor guerrillas, nor decentralized terrorist networks; and they do not use violence in the same way as any of these. I will attempt to link their unique employment of violence to their status as parallel governments and to elucidate the relationship, if any, between their particular forms of violence and their particular forms of political power.

Both Hamas and Hizballah have used a variety of violent tactics, borrowing methods from a variety of forms of political organization. Hamas, in particular, has taken on statelike functions in terms of controlling violence. The group has done more to secure Gaza than the PA had ever accomplished: it integrated its police forces into the Gazan security forces (Crisis Group 2006: 9), secured the interior of Gaza against clan warfare for the first time, and made a credible attempt at controlling the inflow of weapons through the tunnels to Egypt (Crisis Group 8) as well as their display and sale within Gaza (Crisis Group 2003: 10). The Qassam Brigades were converted into an external security force and set to patrolling Gaza’s borders—a strong statement in the context of their longstanding domination by Israeli forces. Hamas also did its best to coordinate and control military resistance to Israel for the first time (Crisis Group 2003: 8), though this effort was not fully successful.

At the same time, Hamas has continued to use violence against Israel in ways that do not reflect the behavior of a state; rather than deploying an army, invading, or attacking Israel’s military capabilities, Hamas has continued to fire rockets into Israel, a tactic widely described as terrorist since the rockets largely impact civilian life. However, rather than mounting spectacular exhibitions of violence connected to high civilian deathcounts in connection with specific demands, Hamas has more often used its rockets as a reminder of its continued presence and resistance: the rockets are often aimed to avoid harming anyone, and do not have the sophisticated technology that would allow them to target specific Israeli buildings, persons, or resources. Hamas’s rocket fire is curiously ambivalent: it constitutes neither full-on war nor straightforward terrorism. Rather, it is a legitimacy-seeking exercise: Hamas is simultaneously able to demonstrate its commitment to the cause by being seen to be doing something and to declare its existence, defiance, and relevance to Israel and to the international community. Through rocket fire, Hamas carries out its mission of resistance and refuses to allow itself—and by extension Palestine—to be forgotten.

Hizballah, meanwhile, emerged from “a loose coalition” of Shi‘a groups who were radicalized by U.S. and Israeli interference in the Lebanese civil war (GlobalSecurity.orgb 2008), and originally most resembled a militia, drawing its soldiers from ordinary people in villages as needed. Its first major accomplishment was Israel’s ignominious withdrawal from southern Lebanon, and the group employed classic insurgency tactics in this struggle. Hizballah sought to secure the IDF’s complete withdrawal from Lebanon, including the Security Zone, and made its point with missiles, attacks, and suicide bombings. Their efforts lasted up through the 1990s, when the civil war officially ended (Morris 2001: 558), and have continued sporadically since. Suicide bombing was not a common tactic at the time, and it proved to be a crucial innovation on Hizbollah’s part in terms of making its name as well has having a clear impact on American and Israeli forces in Lebanon.

But Hizballah, too, has taken on statelike military functions. The Lebanese Army disintegrated more than once under internal and external pressures during the civil war, and Hizballah’s military wing was far more effective, disciplined, and cohesive. Its military no longer consists of The group has, essentially, taken on the task of national defense and border security against Israel, without regard for the policies of the official Lebanese government but with the approval of its constituency (primarily, but not exclusively, Shi’a in the south of Lebanon). Hizballah de facto rules several areas of Lebanon, including the northeast and, of course, the South, and one is more likely to find a Hizballah member or supporter than a government policeman in these areas.

These are a few of the variety of tactics Hamas and Hizballah have adopted as part of their repertoire of violence. While their individual practices or campaigns can be described using existing terms—insurgency, state-within-a-state, terrorism—the combination of them all within single, coherent organizations has so far gone unnamed in political science literature, just as the political function of these groups remains undescribed. What remains to be seen is whether there is a connection between the groups’ idiosyncratic uses of violence and their anomalous political status. How do Hamas and Hizballah view themselves as acting? What effect do these views have on Hamas’s and Hizballah’s parallel statebuilding projects, and on their countries’ statebuilding projects more generally?

Both Hamas and Hizballah not only practice violence but have constructed strong ideological links between their exercise of violence and their political identity. Hizballah has declared, “our military apparatus is not separate from our overall social fabric. Each of us is a fighting soldier” (Hizballah 1988: 1). Hamas’s mission is connected to violence at the most basic level: it exists for the purpose of violent resistance to Israel. In parallel with Hizballah, it argues that “It is necessary to instill the spirit of Jihad in the heart of the nation so that they would confront [sic] the enemies and join the ranks of the fighters” (Covenant: Article 15). Furthermore, both have asserted their independence from their supposed governments through maintaining their violent practices and capabilities against these regimes’ wishes. Alone of all the militias that sprang up in the civil war, Hizballah has refused the state’s injunction to disarm; it has also resisted political pressure to integrate its military wing into the Lebanese national army (Jamail 2006). Prior to its electoral victory in Gaza, Hamas maintained the operations of its military forces (Boudreaux 2007; Crisis Group 2008: 6) despite the orders of the Palestinian Authority and later took over government of Gaza through a violent coup.

These facts are suggestive of several links. The first, and simplest, is between the groups’ violent tactics and their political constituency: after all, their basic mission is violent resistance to Israeli dominance and to Western interference. Second, they seem to understand themselves and their operations—including nonviolent undertakings—in terms of war, as shown by their rhetoric. Even a worker in a Hizballah-run hospital is in some sense a soldier, just as a Hamas member who guards the tunnels through which necessary goods are smuggled from Egypt correctly understands himself to be committing an act of war against Israel. The role of religion and religious history in this understanding is important and bears further exploration, not only in terms of teachings regarding jihad but also because another aspect in which the groups are metaphorically fighting is for particular practices of Islamic life in their respective territories.

Third, violence and control of violence has been used by both groups in constructing their parallel governments, often directly in opposition to the regimes that ostensibly rule (or ruled) Gaza and Lebanon. One of the basic definitions of a state is a political entity that monopolizes violence within a bounded territory; by exercising and controlling violence, Hamas and Hizballah have concretely removed territory from the states in which they live and constructed separate zones of domination—yet they have managed to do so without seceding or attempting to partition the territory in question. Through a delicate balance of both internally and externally directed violence, service delivery, construction of parallel institutions, and participation in existing political institutions, Hamas and Hizballah have successfully built their parallel states.

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