Hezbollah, Syria and the Arab uprisings

We recently published ‘Hezbollah: The Political Economy of Lebanon’s Party of God’, Joseph Daher’s analysis of the Lebanese party argues that Hezbollah are misunderstood and to understand them better we must position them within socio-economic and political developments in Lebanon and the Middle East. In this comprehensive article, written exclusively for the Pluto blog, Daher examines the changing tone of Hezbollah’s support for people’s movements in the Middle East, arguing that their continued support for the Assad regime in Syria has been the main determinate on their opinion.  More broadly, this article seeks to disprove the theory that Hezbollah’s political activity is grounded in revolutionary spirit and is imbued in the economic and political apparatus of the Middle East.


In the last few weeks, the leader of Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, has reiterated his vow to maintain Hezbollah’s “jihad” in neighbouring Syria and declared that “there are no prospects for political solutions” in the country, “the final word is for the battlefield”. All this, in spite of the human and material costs of bombing by Russian and Assad’s regime airplanes in Aleppo. This rhetoric is matched by Hezbollah’s military activity. Currently, Hezbollah fighters are participating in the offensive against the liberated neighbourhood of Aleppo,[1] alongside regime forces and Shi’a fundamentalist militias sponsored by the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI).

In spite of this, Hezbollah is still considered by large swathes of people as defending the “oppressed” throughout the region, it is even believed to be advancing the revolutionary processes of the Middle East and North Africa. This is an illusion we must challenge. It is imperative that we accurately see the record of the Lebanese Islamic Shi’a movement (Hezbollah) towards various uprisings and pay close attention to Syria where Hezbollah played a determinant role in support to the authoritarian Assad regime.


The uprisings are part of the resistance project


In early 2011, Hezbollah officials were claiming that the Arab uprisings were part of their project of resistance. During a massive rally in support of the Arab uprisings, organised by Hezbollah in Dahyeh, Nasrallah made a speech in which he voiced his support to the Arab people and their revolutions and sacrifices, but failed to mention the first demonstrations, occurring a few days before, that would become the Syrian uprising. The uprising would be severely repressed by the Assad regime with the support of Hezbollah.

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Witnesses to the Revolution in Rojava

Revolution in Rojava is the first book-length account of the unique and extraordinary political situation in Rojava, Syria. In this article, Janet Biehl talks to the authors and discusses how and why the new society in Rojava so inspired them.

For decades, three million Syrian Kurds have lived under brutal repression by the Assad regime, Revolution in Rojavatheir identity denied, access to education and jobs refused, imprisonment and torture a way of life for those who dared object. Yet resistance has grown. By developing organisations, after the Arab Spring arrived in Syria in March 2011, the Kurds seized the moment to create a pioneering, democratic revolution. The liberation of northern Syria—Rojava—began at Kobanî on July 19th 2012, and the global history of social and political revolution would never be the same again.

In May 2014, three Kurdish solidarity activists from Germany and Turkey decided to visit Rojava. ‘I wanted to see it, to learn from its practice’, says Michael Knapp, ‘to understand the contradictions and research the system’s difficulties. Because we can learn a lot from it for revolutionary projects in Western countries.’ With their combined language skills, contacts, and extensive knowledge of the movement, they were able to do close fieldwork and interview many people.

Upon their return, they compiled their observations into a book, Revolution in Rojava, which has just been published in English.

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Dario Fo 1926 – 2016

This week the sad death of Dario Fo was announced. Pluto Press published the first English language edition of one of his best-known plays: ‘Accidental Death of an Anarchist’, in 1980. As well as a playwright, Fo was an actor, comedian, political campaigner for the Italian left-wing and the recipient of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Literature . Fellow playwright and author of Percy Bysshe Shelley: Poet and Revolutionary, Jacqueline Mulhallen, remembers him here. 

Dario Fo, who died on 13 October 2016, was a major international theatrical figure, and one who also had political commitment. His work was written for and about working-class issues and in 1997 this resulted in his winning the Nobel Prize for Literature because he ‘emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden’. d-fo

As a playwright, Fo’s plays made political points which could not be ignored, and they were translated and performed all over the world. His most frequently performed plays were Accidental Death of an Anarchist and Can’t Pay! Won’t Pay!, both of which were based on real life political events during the 1970s, and are performed regularly today. Fo researched his plays thoroughly, realising that good research is a basic necessity for a political play.  In Can’t Pay! Won’t Pay! (Non si paga, non si paga), prices were spiralling so high that ordinary people could not afford them and decided that they would only pay the original price before the price hikes. Accidental Death of an Anarchist was based on the death in police custody of Giuseppe Pinelli.

Fo was a political activist all his life, following his father who was a committed anti-Fascist.  His politics and commitment to the working class certainly informed his work as a writer, actor and theatre manager. Not originally from an acting family – his father was a carpenter – Fo became an actor as a student and teamed up with Franca Rame, later his wife.  Rame came from a famous theatrical family, and he paid tribute to her talent, knowledge, and the way that she inspired him.

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‘Criminals Kill While Idiots Talk’ Robin Yassin – Kassab and Leila Al-Shami on the 2014 invasion of Mosul

‘Burning Country’, written by Robin Yassin – Kassab and Leila Al-Shami, explores the horrific and complicated reality of life in present-day Syria with unprecedented detail and sophistication, drawing on new first-hand testimonies from opposition fighters, exiles lost in an archipelago of refugee camps, and courageous human rights activists among many others. These stories are expertly interwoven with a trenchant analysis of the brutalisation of the conflict and the militarisation of the uprising, of the rise of the Islamists and sectarian warfare, and the role of governments in Syria and elsewhere in exacerbating those violent processes.

In this extract taken from the book, Robin Yassin – Kassab and Leila Al-Shami dissect the 2014 seizure of Mosul and impact it had in Iraq and Syria and on international opinion.

In June 2014, ISIS led an offensive which took huge swathes of northern and western Iraq out of government hands. Most significantly, the city of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest, fell to ISIS on 10 June Yassin-Kassab BCafter only four days of battle. General Mahdi al-Gharawi – a proven torturer who had run secret prisons but was nevertheless appointed by Prime Minister Maliki as governor of Nineveh province – fled, and his troops, who greatly outnumbered the ISIS attackers, deserted. This meant that the US-allied Iraqi army, on which the US had spent billions of dollars, was less able to take on ISIS than Syria’s ‘farmers and dentists’. Many Syrians saw a conspiracy in the Iraqi collapse, a play by Malki to win still more weapons from America, and by Iran to increase its regional importance as a counterbalance to Sunni jihadism. It’s more likely that the fall of Mosul was an inevitable result of the Iraqi state’s sectarian dysfunction. Shia soldiers felt themselves to be in foreign territory, and weren’t prepared to die in other people’s disputes. Many Sunni soldiers defected to ISIS.

ISIS’s control of the Iraq–Syria border, and especially of Mosul, was a game changer. The organisation collected the arms left behind by the Iraqi army, much of it high-quality weaponry inherited from the American occupation. Perhaps more importantly, it cleaned out Mosul’s banks. Then it returned to Syria in force, using the new weapons to beat back the starved FSA and the new money to buy loyalties.

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Classics, Criticism, Concepts: Black History Month Library

Taking place in the month of October, Black History Month is the central point of focus for a nationwide celebration of black History, Arts and Culture throughout Britain. The month of October was selected by the Greater London Council to coincide with the Marcus Garvey celebrations and the Jubilee; a symbolic bringing together of a British institution and the Afro-Caribbean diaspora. At the beginning of the month, we published our Black British library, that covered the histories, political movements and scholarship on black British identity. Our second UK Black History month reading list is de-limited: a library of foundational texts, theory, anthologies and critical biographies that examine black identities.

Ain’t I a Woman by bell hooks aint-i-a-woman

‘At a time in American history when black women in every area of the country might have joined together to demand social equality for women and a recognition of the impact of sexism on our social status, we were by and large silent…It was the silence of the oppressed – that profound silence engendered by resignation and acceptance of one’s lots. Contemporary black women could not join together to fight for women’s rights because we did not see “womanhood” as an important aspect of our identity.’ So begins bell hooks’ Ain’t I a Woman, a study of the oppression cast upon black women by white men, black men and white women. hooks challenges the view that race and gender are two separate phenomena, insisting that the struggles to end racism and sexism are inextricably intertwined.


Frantz Fanon: Philosopher of the Barricades by Peter Hudishudis-t02797

Philosopher of the Barricades is part of the Revolutionary Lives series, which undertake a necessary critical evaluation of the individual’s place in their political field, placing actions and achievements in historical and political context and exploring issues raised by their lives, such as the use or rejection of violence, nationalism, or gender in political activism. This biography of Frantz Fanon proves particularly necessary, his work being chiefly concerned with the effect of society on subjectivity and identity formation. Through this book, which looks at his upbringing in Martinique and his contributions to the anti-colonial struggle in Algeria, we come to an understanding of the shaping of his political thought.

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‘America has never been great for people of colour’ Gerald Horne for #blackhistorymonth

Last week Serena Williams spoke out against the police killings of black Americans. Quoting Martin Luther King, the tennis player wrote ‘”There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” I won’t be silent.’ Williams goes on to recount her fear whilst in a car driven by her nephew, the frequency and volume of the killings means we do not question the plausibility of serenaWilliams’ fear. She too could be pulled over, racially profiled, put under suspicion, prejudicially feared; Williams’ black body is, as Claudia Rankine writes, ‘as hemmed in as any other black body thrown against our American background’. This hypothetical moment, when the American cult of celebrity doesn’t trump all, has basis in reality, even a historical precedence. Paul Robeson, like Williams,  was an internationally renowned talent, declared ‘the best known American in the world’. In spite of his fame, Robeson was repeatedly the target of racial discrimination by film studios, the American public and the US government. His life provides us with a perspective on blackness in America and his activism highlights the need for public figures like Williams to protest racism in America. In this essay, written exclusively for UK Black History Month, the author of Paul Robeson’s biography Gerald Horne, looks at recent protests, notably by athlete Colin Kaepernick, and considers Robeson’s legacy. 

Of late, the U.S. has been rocked by protests by professional athletes protesting police brutality targeting African-American communities.

San Diego, Tulsa, Baton Rouge, Cincinnati, Charleston, Charlotte, St. Paul, Cleveland, and Staten Island have been just a few of the cities where young Black men in particular have fallen victim to police bullets with the ghastly results often captured on videotape either by police officers with body cameras or, more frequently, passers-by or those in the company of the deceased.

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A wolf in sheep’s clothing: Ron Nixon on the ANC and Apartheid

“All governments lie, but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out.”

 I.F. Stone, American journalist

When the apartheid government gunned down 69 black protestors at a Sharpeville police station on 21 March 1960, the killings drew international attention. Protest and demonstrations followed in nations across the globe. Several governments, even some of South Africa’s closest allies, condemned the shootings. Fast forward to 2012. When South African police forces opened fire on platinum miners, killing 34, during a strike in the town of Marikana between the 10th of August and the 20th of September 2012, the international response was muted. Although the shootings were described as the deadliest against civilians by security forces since Sharpeville, there were few if any global protest or demonstrations. Few leaders of other countries spoke out. To be sure, a spokesman for U.S. President Obama did express condolences for the victim’s families. And there were some protest against South African embassies in other countries, including New Zealand. But these responses paled in comparison to Sharpeville.


When the apartheid government used the government broadcaster, the SABC, as a propaganda tool and sought to limit what South Africans saw on TV or heard on the radio, these actions were widely condemned by activists and leaders around the world. But this year, when the appointed head of the SABC tried to implement an editorial policy that would keep violent protests from being shown on the air, there was hardly a rumble from international leaders or activists. (Sparing Amnesty International who condemned the action as censorship).

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