Heed own advice

An image grab taken from Lebanon's Hezbollah-run Manar TV shows Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah delivering a televised speech from an undisclosed location in Lebanon on February 27, 2013. (AFP PHOTO/MANAR TV)

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah is to be commended for sounding the alarm over the threat of sectarian tensions in Lebanon.

In his speech Wednesday night he gave a level-headed warning of the risks the country faces if it follows the path down which some of its religious and political figures seem to want to take it.

Yet there will be those who will justifiably question whether the Hezbollah chief has done enough to counter such tendencies within his own party and to work actively to ease sectarian tensions in the country.

There are several questions that his speech raises over his party’s own behavior, and some of the positions it has taken recently that arguably fan the flames of exactly that which he warned against.

And regardless of how reasonable his speech sounded, his critics will always measure the party over its actions both past and present.

Perhaps most prominent in their minds will be Nasrallah’s repeated refusal to hand over party members named as suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, as well Hezbollah’s apparent refusal to cooperate in the investigation into the attempt on Butros Harb’s life.

Its role in engineering the downfall of a government headed by the main Sunni leader also casts a shadow on its ability to position itself as a defender of sectarian unity, as does the blind eye it has turned to calls for the current government’s downfall.

Their unwavering support for the regime of President Bashar Assad, whether Nasrallah is willing to admit to it or not, also has sectarian tones, increased by the participation of Hezbollah “members,” as the party leader described them Wednesday, in fighting against Syrian rebels. The direct negative repercussions of this on Lebanon’s stability have already been hinted at, in the Free Syrian Army’s threats against Hezbollah.

Nasrallah would be well advised to rethink some of these positions, so that his words are backed up by his party’s actions. If he truly wants others to join his efforts to combat growing sectarian tension, then he would do well to meet them halfway by reviewing his own party’s positions on many areas before he asks others to do the same. He cannot justify talking about peace and calm while sanctioning destructive policies.

Finally, given that he adopted some constructive positions in his speech Wednesday night, it was ultimately a disappointment to see the Hezbollah party leader resort to threats against his opponents to get his point across. When he told his opponents to miscalculate the party at their own risk, he proved that his party was in fact reverting to old formulas.

For all the rational statements he made Wednesday, his final threat will be what sticks in the minds of both the party’s opponents and its supporters. By maintaining the worst of Hezbollah’s reputation, Nasrallah is undermining his own positions.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 28, 2013, on page 7.




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