ATbar Hizballah as a Social Movement Organization: A Framing Approach

Hizballah as a Social Movement Organization: A Framing Approach

12/06/2009 | by Karagiannis, Emmanuel  
Article first published in Mediterranean Politics Journal, 14: 3, 365 - 383.


No other Islamist group has provoked more controversy than Hizballah. The ‘Party of God’ was established by Shia Muslims in 1982 to oppose the Israeli invasion and subsequent occupation of southern Lebanon. Although Hizballah has routinely denied responsibility, the group has been held accountable for the suicide attacks against Western military targets in 1983 which killed almost 300 US and French troops in Beirut. As a result, Hizballah has long been on the US terror list. In his January 2002 State of the Union address, then President George Bush stated that Hizballah was part of a ‘terrorist underworld’ that threatened US national security. On the contrary, most European governments are reluctant to place the Party of God on their terrorist blacklists, preferring to ban only the military wing of the organization, known as Al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya (‘The Islamic Resistance’).

Likewise, the Russian government has declined to include Hizballah in a newly-released list of terrorist organizations (Smirnov, 2006). Throughout the Arab world, Hizballah is largely viewed as a legitimate national liberation movement. To make matters more complicated, Hizballah is an organization that provides an assortment of social services for Lebanon’s sizeable Shia community. More specifically, Hizballah runs hospitals, schools, orphanages and a television station.

Although Hizballah’s armed wing occasionally launches attacks against the Israeli army, at the same time the organization holds seats in the Lebanese parliament.

Following the 2009 elections, Hizballah holds 13 seats in the 128-member Lebanese Parliament. Therefore, a narrow focus on its violent methods misses the larger dynamics of Hizballah, which are better understood in terms of social movement mobilization.

Most available studies of Hizballah tend to offer more description than theoretical analysis (Ranstorp, 1997; Ghorayeb, 2002; Hamzeh, 2004; Harik, 2004; Qassem, 2005; Achcar and Warschawski, 2007). In addition, following the July 2006 war, there has been a proliferation of articles focusing on Hizballah’s military strategy and performance (McGregor, 2006; Exum, 2006). These studies have largely ignored the cognitive and discursive strategies the Party of God has utilized to delegitimize its domestic and foreign opponents, and legitimize its own actions.

Until recently, the study of political Islam has been given little attention by social movement theorists, who focused mostly on Western environmental, peace, labour and democratic movements. Since the early 2000s, however, a number of scholars have attempted to utilize social movement theory in order to comprehend the dynamics and complexities of Islamist movements in the Arab and Muslim world. Yet much of social movement analysis has focused on the effect of external factors, notably the structure of political opportunity (Bayat, 2005). The works of Carrie Rosefsky Wickham (2002), Janine Clark (2004), Mohammed Hafez (2004), and Quintan Wiktorowicz (2004) represent this trend.

This article emphasizes instead a framing analysis to understand how Hizballah communicates its goals and how it mobilizes support within its Shia constituency, in Lebanese society as a whole and elsewhere. Moreover, it is equally important to understand how the group makes sense of its social world. Framing theory derives from new social movement theory which emphasizes culture as a key issue in understanding social movements (Larana et al., 1994: 37). I will suggest that Hizballah has succeeded in finding successful frames that resonate with the local culture and the current political and economic realities, as perceived by a large fraction of the Lebanese population. I begin with a brief historical overview of the group. Then I will show how framing theory can be utilized to explain the popularity of Hizballah. Stated differently, I will examine Hizballah’s framing as a mobilization strategy. I will analyse Hizballah’s framing following David Snow and Robert Benford, who divided framing into three categories: diagnostic, prognostic, and motivational (Benford and Snow, 2000). In addition, I will examine the master frames adopted by Hizballah. For source material, this article relies mostly on primary sources, including Hizballah publications (e.g. election programmes, statements, leaflets), as well as several interviews with group leaders, members and sympathizers.[1]

The Rise and Rise of Hizballah

The founding fathers of Hizballah capitalized on the Shia awakening inspired by the leadership of Imam Musa Al-Sadr, a charismatic Shia cleric who came to Lebanon from Iran in 1957 and founded Harakat al-Mahrumin (the ‘Movement of the Dispossessed’) in 1974. One year later, this movement developed into a militia known by its acronym Amal (Afwaj al-Muqawamah al-Lubnaniyyah – ‘Battalions of the Lebanese Resistance’). The disappearance of Al-Sadr en route to Libya in August 1978 left a political vacuum within the Shia community that was later filled by Hizballah.

The outbreak of the Iranian revolution in 1979 and the subsequent establishment of the Islamic Republic provided new momentum for a Shia resurgence in Lebanon. Although the 1982 Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon was initially supported by the Shia community, which had become increasingly resentful of Palestinian presence in the country, the conduct of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) in the area and Tel Aviv’s plans for long-term occupation quickly turned the local population against the invading forces. Indeed, the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon was met with fierce resistance by a number of armed groups.

Although it was officially created in 1985, Hizballah began to take shape in the early to mid-1980s. The group draws its origins from a breakaway faction of the Amal movement, the Islamic Amal, the Lebanese branch of Hizb al-Da’wa al-Islamiya,2 an Iraqi radical Shia group, and other radical Shia organizations.

Central to Hizballah’s ideology is the concept of velayat-i faqih (the guardianship of Islamic jurist), first proposed by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1970. The leader of the Islamic Revolution argued that power in a true Islamic state must rest with ulama (Islamic scholars) and only a faqih (jurist) possessing knowledge and justice can assume rulership. According to Vali Nasr, Khomeini’s ideal government under the ulama bears a striking resemblance to Plato’s guardian class under the philosopherking (Nasr, 2007: 126). However, there is no evidence that Khomeini had ever read Greek philosophy.

Throughout the 1980s, Hizballah fought fiercely both the Israeli army and its local allies. The group proved to be strategically innovative3 by introducing a new form of warfare in the south Lebanese front; it staged suicide attacks against the IDF and South Lebanese Army, an Israeli-supported militia in south Lebanon. Since Ahmad Kassir’s suicide attack against the headquarters of the Israeli army in Tyre on 11 November 1982,Hizballah has launched dozens of such operations against the Israelis.

The 1989 Taif Agreement signalled the end of the Lebanese civil war, but did not abolish in practice Hizballah’s privilege of maintaining a militia in the southern part of the country. Despite military setbacks, such as the assassination of the party’s second secretary-general, Sayyed Abbas Mussawi, in 1992, Hizballah continued throughout the 1990s its guerrilla campaign against the Israeli army in its selfdeclared security zone in south Lebanon. Simultaneously, under the new leadership of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the group participated in the Lebanese political system and initiated a rapprochement with non-Islamist parties, prompting some analysts to claim that Hizballah was going through a process of ‘Lebanonization’ (Ranstorp, 1998).

In May 2000, Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon was largely seen as a victory of Hizballah, the first ever victory achieved by an Arab military force against the unbeatable IDF. Yet Hizballah continues to fight against Israel in part because it claims that Shebaa Farms, a 35-square-kilometre piece of the Golan Heights, is Lebanese land, although the United Nations consider it to be Syrian land (United Nations, 2000). Ironically, the Israeli retreat from the security zone temporarily undermined Hizballah’s position in the country since its raison d’etre had been the expulsion of the IDF from southern Lebanon.

The group has fiercely supported the destruction of the state of Israel (Hizballah 2008; Noe, 2007: 316) and has cooperated with some hardliners within Hamas in order to promote this goal. On 12 July 2006, Hizballah launched operation Al Wa’d As Sadeq (‘True Promise’) on the Israeli-Lebanese borders; a group of Hizballah fighters ambushed an Israeli patrol, kidnapping two soldiers and killing at least seven. Following the incident, the Olmert government ordered the IDF to launch a campaign against Hizballah in southern Lebanon. During the 33-day war, the Israeli air force destroyed a great part of Lebanon’s infrastructure, but Hizballah managed to keep bombing northern Israel with rockets. On 14 August 2006 a ceasefire was
declared in accordance with UN Resolution 1701 endorsed by the UN Security Council (UNSC, 2006).

Hizballah’s unexpected action was probably aimed at deterring an Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip, following the abduction of Corporal Gilad Shalit in late June 2006 and forcing a prisoner exchange for Palestinian and Lebanese inmates. Moreover, Mohammed Ayoob argues that Hizballah’s actions in 2006 revealed its unwillingness to undergo a total transformation into a normal political party abjuring the use of arms (Ayoob, 2009: 123). In any case, it is unlikely that the intention was an all-out war with Israel. Although many Arab governments, including those of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, criticized Hizballah for initiating a war that led to a new Israeli invasion and destruction of Lebanon’s infrastructure, the Arab street largely supported the group. Far from being marginalized, Shia-dominated Hizballah gained sympathy among the Sunni population and its popularity surged within Lebanon.

Following the 2006 war, the group has embarked on a new course of action vis-a`-vis the Lebanese state. Hizballah has capitalized on its ever-increasing popularity among Lebanese to gain political influence and alter the balance of power within the political system. In early November 2006, together with Amal and Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), a Maronite-dominated political party, Hizballah demanded the establishment of a national unity government, where they would have one-third blocking votes in the Lebanese cabinet. The ruling March 14 Alliance (a Sunni-Maronite-Druze coalition named after the date of Cedar Revolution) argued that the opposition was seeking either to block the establishment of an international tribunal for the investigation of Rafiq Hariri’s assassination, or to bring down the government altogether (by resigning) (Salem, 2008: 17). When Hizballah’s demand was not met by the March 14 camp, the Shia members of the cabinet resigned on 11 November 2006, leading the political system into crisis. In December 2006, massive Hizballah-led demonstrations against the Siniora government shook the country’s political system. It appears that this intra-Lebanese political conflict was driven not by ideology, but by a struggle for power (Slackman, 2006).

The situation remained tense throughout 2007. In early May 2008, Hizballah fighters clashed with pro-government supporters in West Beirut over the fate of the pro-Hizballah airport security chief and the group’s  telecommunications network. Finally, the deadlock between the ruling March 14 Alliance and the Hizballah-Amal-FPM opposition was resolved by the Doha Agreement on 1 May 2008.

Following the Israeli retreat from south Lebanon in 2000, Hizballah’s sustainability has proved that it is far from being a single-issue party likely to fade as political circumstances change. On the contrary, the Party of God has managed to gain political ground in the Lebanese parliament and to  increase its popularity outside its Shia constituency. Hizballah is a social  movement organization with deep roots in the Lebanese society.

Hizballah as a Social Movement Organization

Despite more than 50 years of research, scholars still debate what constitutes a social movement.According to onewell-known definition, socialmovements may be defined as ‘collective challenges by people with common purposes and solidarity in sustained interaction with elites and authorities’ (Klandermans, 1997: 2). Donatella Della Porta and Mario Diani, two prominent scholars in the field of socialmovement theory, argued that social movements by their nature are decentralized in structure (Della Porta and Diani, 1999: 140). Political Islam, which consists of a galaxy of diverse groups with different perceptions, aims, and ideological perspectives, seems to fit the description of a socialmovement.4 NazihAyubi described political Islamas an attempt to link religion and politics by way of resisting, rather than legitimizing, government; therefore, it is essentially a protestmovement (Ayubi, 1991: 123).Although the current Islamist social movement is segmented by differences over strategies, means and Quranic interpretations, emphasis on the political nature of Islam and the desire for political change serve as a common denominator for a plethora of groups.

Social movements often are not formally organized; indeed, multiple alliances may work separately for a common cause and still be part of a social movement. Therefore, a distinction must be drawn between social movements and social movement organizations. A social movement organization (SMO) is a formally organized component of a social movement. According to Hanspeter Kriesi, SMOs are distinguished from the other types of formal organizations which also contribute to the social organization of the constituency of a given movement (e.g. educational institutions, volunteer associations) by two criteria: (1) they mobilize their supporters for a collective action, and (2) they do so with a political goal, namely to obtain a collective good or avoid a collective ill from the authorities (Kriesi, 1996: 152). By this definition, Hizballah is a SMO since it has evidently both characteristics: the group has a number of highly committed members and it aims at political change.

Framing theory, first proposed by David Snow and Robert Benford (1988, 1992), has focused on how social movements construct, articulate and disseminate their messages to recruit members and mobilize support. Framing has been defined as ‘the conscious strategic efforts by groups of people to fashion shared understandings of the world and of themselves that legitimate and motivate collective action’ (McAdam, 1996: 6). A frame is an interpretive schema through which information is encountered and processed (Goffman, 1974). It is a kind of template or filter that organizes perceptions of social or political life. Frames identify targets of blame, offer visions of a desirable world, and provide a rationale to motivate collective action (Snow and Benford, 1988). Therefore there are three different categories of framing processes: the diagnostic framing that focuses on definition of a problem; the prognostic framing that offers a desirable solution; and the motivational framing that encourages potential participants to join a SMO (Snow and Benford, 1988). A movement’s frames can be a reflection of the collective identity, or can help create a new identity. According to Roberta Garner, ‘movement leadership frames discourse in such a way as to bring out the identity that will dispose individuals to support the movement and weld together different support bases’ (Garner, 1996: 58). Frames give new meaning to people’s lives. More importantly, successful frames encourage solidarity and transform mobilization potential into actual mobilization.

Hizballah’s frames have become popular because they draw their legitimacy from the Quran and other Islamic sacred texts. Sidney Tarrow argues that ‘because it is so reliable a source of emotion, religion is a recurring source of social movement framing. Religion provides ready-made symbols, rituals and solidarities that can be accessed and appropriated by movement leaders’ (Tarrow, 1998: 112). This is also true with Islam which is particularly rich in narratives, rituals and symbols. Nevertheless, the framing process is strategic in the sense that the group makes a conscious selection of those narratives, rituals and symbols, as well as hadith and Quranic verses that serve its aims. In order to make their frames resonate, SMOs must find consistency with deeply held cultural values. For example, Hizballah’s earlier proposal to establish an Islamic state can be accepted only by some devout Muslims in Lebanon, not by their Christian and secular Muslim fellow-citizens. It is also important to assess how Hizballah’s frames reach the people. It seems that initially the group’s preferred method was face-to-face interaction between Hizballah members and potential recruits or encounters in the mosques.5 Since the ability of a group to propagate its frames eventually would be determined by the extent to which it is in control of mass media resources, Hizballah later invested in mass communication infrastructure. Currently, the propagation of frames occurs through a variety of Hizballah-linked media, including the magazine Qubth Ut Alla (‘The Fist of God’), the radio station Al-Nour (‘The Light’), the TV station Al-Manar (‘The Lighthouse’) and various internet sites (Weimann, 2008).

Hizballah’s Diagnostic Framing

Diagnostic framing identifies some event or condition as problematic and in need of amelioration, and thereby designate culpable agents (Hunt et al., 1994: 191). In effect, it locates what is wrong and why. Diagnostic framing usually involves the construction of an injustice frame, which is based on ‘an interpretation of what is happening that supports the conclusion that an authority system is violating the shared moral principles of the participants’ (Gamson et al., 1982: 123). Throughout the 1980s, Hizballah’s diagnostic framing interpreted Lebanon’s misfortunes as the result of the Israeli occupation and the sectarian political system. With regard to the second factor, its 1985 manifesto stated that ‘the present regime is the product of an arrogance so unjust [emphasis added] that no reform or modification can remedy it. It should be changed radically’ (Hizballah, 1985).

Moreover, the group ideologues argued that Allah has made it intolerable for Muslims to participate in an unjust regime [emphasis added] . . . in a regime which is not predicated upon the prescriptions [ahkam] of religion and upon the basis of the Law [the Shariah] as laid down by Muhammad, the Seal of the Prophets. (Hizballah, 1985) The employment of this injustice frame allowed Hizballah to encourage public disobedience and participation in the struggle against the Maronite-dominated Lebanese regime. As surprising and ironic as it may seem, though, Hizballah’s diagnostic framing resembled that of the Communist Party of Lebanon (CPL). Generally speaking, Islam and communism advocate emphasis on group goals over individual interests. In addition, both claim to be universal and seek to convert ‘unbelievers’. They offer a vision of a perfectly just society and they can justify violence to achieve this goal. Islam and communism claim to represent an absolute truth that would lead to the salvation of mankind; their eschatological view of history implies the inevitability of a final battle between good (socialist progress/Dar al-Islam) and evil (capitalist reaction/Dar al-Harb).

In April 1975, for example, the secretary of the Central Committee of the CPL, George Hawi, argued that ‘changes are seen as not only possible and necessary, but compulsory and inevitable . . . the present administration in every sphere – economic, social and political – can no longer be maintained’ (Ismael and Ismael, 1998: 101). Moreover, he argued that the goal of change must be the transformation of Lebanon from one of ‘weakest links of the world capitalist system’ under the rule of a semi-feudal confessional political system into a modern, democratic and secular state (Ismael and Ismael, 1998: 101). Although Hizballah and the CPL espoused fundamentally different visions for the Lebanese society, both frame Lebanon’s political system as illegitimate.

Before the 1989 Taif Agreement, Hizballah had adopted a radical version of Islamism as its ideology, condemning consociationalism and implicitly fighting for the establishment of an Islamic state. The ascendance of Ali Khameini to the position of faqih and Hashemi Rafsanjani’s rise to the Iranian presidency, following the death of Imam Khomeini in 1989, could partly explain why Hizballah abandoned its earlier radical posture and finally backed the agreement. Both Iranian leaders favoured a more pragmatic foreign policy and urged the Party of God to seek a foothold within Lebanese political system (Hamzeh, 2004: 109–10). In addition, Hezbollah’s accommodating approach was influenced by Syria’s role as a broker between Lebanon’s warring factions; the group could hardly have rejected Syria dominated constitutional arrangements. Hizballah’s shift into politics came finally with the end of an internal struggle between the hard-line Shaykh Subhi al-Tufayli, Hizballah’s first secretary-general, and the pragmatist Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the new secretary-general, over the group’s objectives: the former insisted on the revolutionary approach, whereas the latter favoured, in addition to the militant mode, a gradualist-pragmatic mode (Hamzeh, 2004: 110). In any case, its decision to participate in the 1992 parliamentary elections signalled Hizballah’s transformation in terms of political methodology. As a result, the group was forced to abandon its diagnostic frames emphasizing ‘illegitimacy’ and adopt new ones, stressing the ‘unfairness’ of the Lebanese political system. Its 1992 election programme stated that it is now imperative to cooperate with other devoted parties in order to complete the necessary steps towards . . . the forging of internal peace on the basis of political concord that is furthest as could be from abominable sectarian biases or narrow confessional discriminations. (Qassem, 2005: 271–7)

Hizballah’s 1996 election programme also put emphasis on ‘the unbalanced nature of the Lebanese political system and the wrong practices by [the government] led to the deepening of corruption, favouritism . . . besides establishing the sectarian, confessional and regional divisions’ (Hizballah, 1996). Despite this new course of action, Hizballah still endorses Ayatollah Khomeini’s Manichean division of world. According to Khomeini, ‘the imperialists have imposed on us an unjust order, and thereby divided our people into two groups: mustakbirin (oppressors) and mustad’afin (oppressed)’ (Khomeini, 2002: 30). The relationship between the two groups is fundamentally belligerent. Sami Hajjar observed that ‘oppression takes economic, cultural, political, and social forms, and oppressors transcend any particular nationality or religion’ (Hajjar, 2002: 11). It should be noted that so pivotal is this conceptual dichotomy to the group’s political thought that it is invoked in almost every official’s speech (Ghorayeb, 2002: 16). Following Iran, Hizballah has framed the United States and its regional ally, Israel, as ‘oppressors’ who constantly conspire against ‘oppressed Muslims’. According to the party ideologues, the latter under the guidance of Hizballah have risen against the former in a struggle for justice that originates in the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, grandson of Prophet Muhammad, at the hands of the oppressors (i.e. the Sunni Umayyad dynasty) in Karbala. Its anti-Jewish frames have been particularly vicious; for example, Nasrallah has called Jews ‘killers of prophets and the descendants of the apes and pigs’ in an apparent effort to invoke sympathy from Lebanon’s Christian communities while dehumanizing the opponent (Noe, 2007: 188). Furthermore, the group has framed Israeli Jews as ‘aliens’ in the Middle East, calling on Palestinians to ‘force the invading Zionists to return whence they came, let the Falasha go back to Ethiopia and let the Russian Jews go back to Russia’ (Noe, 2007: 242). By framing Israeli Jews as a non-indigenous population in the Middle East, the group could mobilize support for its grand project of ‘liberating Palestine’. In addition, Hizballah has constantly referred to Israel as a ‘Jewish state’ or ‘Zionist entity’, overemphasizing the religious identity of modern Israel. It clearly serves Hizballah’s aims to frame the confrontation with Israel as a battle between Islam and Judaism. In the words of a rank-and-file Hizballah member, ‘Israel is foremost a religious enemy’.[6]

Moreover, the group has framed the Israeli state as ‘aggressive’ and ‘expanding’ due to the frequent change of its borders. On the first anniversary of the July 2006 war, Nasrallah stated that Israel is ‘an enemy whose nature is aggression with historic ambitions for our land, waters and natural wealth . . . its plan is based on the logic of force, bullying, frightening and spooking others’ (Nasrallah, 2007). By framing Israel as an inherently expansionist state, Hizballah’s leadership has sought to present its armed struggle as anti-colonialist in nature.7

In addition, the Party of God has launched anti-American frames to attract sympathy and mobilize support for its campaign. Given the US commitment to Israeli security, Hizballah has no difficulty in framing the United States as a biased and pro-Israeli hostile great power. In Nasrallah’s words, ‘America will remain the nation’s chief enemy and the greatest Satan of all’ (Noe, 2007: 54). According to Naim Qassem, deputy secretary-general, ‘since its establishment in 1982, Hizballah has observed contemporary US foreign policy and positions as being ultimately geared towards supporting the existence and foundations of the Israeli entity’ (Qassem, 2005: 246). It can be argued that the US involvement in the Middle East has created both the seeds and the fertile soil for the Hizballah’s anti-American frames. However, they can also be seen as a ‘wider symbolic extension of the Iranian revolutionary struggle against outside intervention and colonialism’ (Ranstorp, 1997: 53).

Hizballah’s Prognostic Framing

Prognostic framing describes how the problems identified in the diagnostic frames are to be solved. According to Donatella Della Porta and Mario Diani, ‘the unknowable outcomes and the costs associated with collective action can be overcome only if the actors are convinced (intuitively even before rationally) of the opportunity for mobilizing and of the practicability and the legitimacy of the action’ (Della Porta and Diani, 1999: 73). Although prognostic frames are aimed at offering desirable solutions, they rarely offer a concrete plan. Instead, such frames provide a utopian vision for the society in the distant future.

Hizballah’s prognostic framing has been successful in portraying ideas about political change as religious beliefs. Unlike Amal, which has always campaigned only for Shia political and economic empowerment, Hizballah initially viewed an Iranian-style Islamic republic (Jomhuri-ye Islami) as the ideal and eventual form of government for Lebanon. In Nasrallah’s words, we do not believe in multiple Islamic republics; we do believe, however, in a single Islamic world governed by a central government, because we consider all borders throughout the Muslim world as fake and colonialist, and therefore doomed to disappear. We do not believe in a nation whose borders are 10,452 square kilometers in Lebanon; our project foresees Lebanon as part of the political map of an Islamic world in which specificities would cease to exist, but in which the rights, freedom, and dignities of minorities within it are guaranteed. (Noe, 2007: 32)

In the 1980s, therefore, Hizballah clearly favoured a radical political change through the demolition of the existing state apparatus and the construction of a new Islamic state. The proposed Islamic Republic itself served as a prognostic frame since it promised an idealized future without the hardships and injustices of the present. According to Nasrallah, ‘a system that rests on Islamic principles will be able to solve all Lebanon’s problems, be they legislative, legal, intellectual, spiritual or moral’ (Noe, 2007: 90).

In addition, Hizballah framed the proposed Islamic state as the result of a cosmic transformation which was imminent. For example, Nasrallah once claimed that the divine state of justice realized on part of this earth will not remain confined within its geographic borders, and is the dawn that will lead to the appearance of the Mahdi, who will create the state of Islam on earth. (Nasrallah, 1986) This apocalyptic discourse is based on Shia narratives. According to Shia eschatology, the Mahdi or Hidden Imam will return on earth to judge the living and dead; at that time justice will finally triumph and Muslims will see the sole path to salvation. The implication is that the outcome of this struggle is rigidly determined because there is a divine purpose and a preordained time schedule. Such a discourse was largely based on Ayatollah Khomeini’s perception of reality and the world; for example, he once claimed that ‘God willing, with the spread of the Islamic Revolution the satanic powers will be isolated and the government of the downtrodden will pave the ground for the global government of the Mahdi at the end of time’ (Tehrani, 2006: 121).

Since the early 1990s, however, the group has refrained from such pan-Islamic rhetoric; instead Hizballah leadership has advocated the liberalization of the Lebanese political system. Indeed, Hizballah has adopted the concept of infitah (openness) towards the Lebanese political system and society (Ghorayeb, 2002: 46). According to its 1996 electoral programme, achieving justice and equality among the Lebanese is considered one of the main bases for establishing a stable dignified and prosperous country in which all the Lebanese engage in the process of construction with drive and solidarity under equality of opportunities, equality of all, individuals, classes and areas, in rights and duties, whether political, economical or social. (Hizballah, 1996) One cannot escape noticing that such language could have been used by any socialist or social-democratic party in the world. Following the end of the Lebanese civil war, Hizballah has maintained the role of a vanguard party, fighting for the rights of the ‘oppressed’ which include individuals from all social classes, regions and religious denominations. Simultaneously, its call for justice, a concept deeply embedded in Shia Islam, certainly struck a chord with thousands of believers. In the post-Taif period, party officials have largely avoided stating publicly their position on the introduction of an Islamic government in Lebanon. While not denouncing the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Lebanon, Hizballah has acknowledged that at present the preconditions, such as overwhelming support from the population as in case of Iran, are not there (Qassem, 2005: 31–2). In other words, it does not favour the idea of seizing the state and then forcing society to accept Islam; rather it prefers to persuade society to accept its ideas, which would lead inevitably to a change in regime. Therefore, the group has adopted the prognostic frame of representative governance that favours the establishment of a pluralistic political system where justice and fairness prevail. According to Sheikh Naim Qasim, the Taif Agreement protected Lebanon’s sects from one another and has been fair to all of them . . .our discourse has always been one of honouring Taif because it is an agreement that Lebanon reached after a period of suffering that lasted for 15 years and therefore we cannot talk about a new agreement. (Qassem, 2007) However, the group has been reluctant to abandon its prognostic frame of jihad.

According to the Quran, there are two kinds of jihad: al-Jihad al-Akbar (the greater jihad) which involves struggle against oneself and al-Jihad al-Asghar (the lesser jihad) which often implies fighting. The latter is divided into two submodes: al-Jihad al-Ibtida’i (the elementary jihad), which can be authorized only by the hidden Imam, and al-Jihad al-Difa’i (the defensive jihad) which can be declared only by the faqih in order to repel aggression upon one’s life, the country or the ummah. In any case, there is a high degree of flexibility in the interpretation of jihad.

During the 1980s, Hizballah utilized defensive jihad against both rival groups and the Israeli forces. However, as far as the post-Taif political system is concerned, the Party of God has abandoned military jihad and has adopted jihad bil lisan (jihad by tongue) as the preferred method. In Nasrallah’s words, ‘the conflict in Lebanon today is a political conflict so let us talk politics’ (Nasrallah, 2008a). For Hizballah, therefore, the concept of jihad includes a broad range of activities undertaken by devout Muslims who desire to follow God’s path; indeed, it functions as a prognostic frame offering a divine solution to Lebanon’s problems.

Hizballah’s Motivational Framing

Although diagnostic and prognostic frames play an important role for the mobilization of support, they are not alone sufficient to propel people to action. Indeed, Bert Klandermans has argued that the identification of a problem and the offering of a solution achieve a consensus mobilization, namely mobilization of support for a SMO’s aims (Klandermans, 1988). Yet consensus mobilization does not automatically lead to action mobilization. Motivational framing aims at encouraging participation and producing incentives needed for action. Thus potential supporters of collective action must anticipate that their involvement and association with a SMO will help to resolve the problem. When motivational frames become widely shared, the chances of collective action increase substantially. The group has in effect developed two different kind of motivational frames: one for its hard-core Shia constituency and another for an ever-expanding non-Shia audience. To begin with, Hizballah has utilized Shia narratives and religious symbols to mobilize support. Following the assassination of the then secretarygeneral of Hizballah, Sayyed Abbas Mussawi, his successor, Hassan Nasrallah, declared that his death ‘epitomized the events at Karbala’. Mussawi was ‘just like al- Hussein, a body without head; just like al-Abbas, with [his] hands severed; and just like the greatest Ali, with [his] torn flesh’ (Noe, 2007: 52). Such an emotional rhetoric clearly aimed at reinforcing the group’s framing of its leaders as descendants of Imam Ali and Imam Hussein, two heroic, almost mythical, figures in Shia theology who personalize the merits of sacrifice and martyrdom.

When speaking at rallies in southern Beirut or other Shia-populated areas, the leader of Hizballah frames military jihad against Israel as a religious obligation (wajib) of devout Muslims; a sacred duty to liberate Palestine from infidels. Like other Islamist organizations, Hizballah has framed Jerusalem as a sacred place of Islam, since it is the place where the Prophet Mohammad rose to heaven. According to Nasrallah, ‘Jerusalem is the land of Allah; it constitutes an Islamic cultural dimension not subject to negotiation or compromise’ (Hamzeh, 2004: 40). It should be noted that Ayatollah Khomeini named the last Friday of Ramadan ‘Jerusalem Day’ in order to remind Muslims everywhere of the Holy City under ‘infidel occupation’. Consequently, Hizballah has consistently called for ‘the liberation of Jerusalem’ as shown by the slogan Kadimoun Ya Quds (‘We are coming Jerusalem’). The religious importance of Jerusalem has been also stressed by Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah, an influential Lebanese Shia cleric, who argues that the city is a symbol of Palestine and Islam.8 The Jerusalem liberation frame has been propagated with the intent to attract potential recruits among devout Muslims. Like most social movement organizations, Hizballah should have been in a weak position to induce participation. After all, the group’s ultimate objectives (i.e. the establishment of an Islamic Republic of Lebanon and the liberation of Jerusalem) are collective goods that would ‘benefit’ all Lebanese Shia, regardless of whether they contributed to attaining it. Instead, the group has flourished in recent years and its membership is growing in the country.

Hizballah has attracted members by framing itself as a true Islamic group. According to the former secretary-general Abbas Mussawi, Hizballah is not a ‘party in the traditional sense of the term. Every Muslim is automatically a member of Hizballah, thus it is impossible to list our membership’ (al-Musawi, 1985). The very adoption of the name Hizballah derived from the Quranic verse 56 ‘And whosoever taketh Allah and His messenger and those who believe for friends (will know that), lo! the party of Allah, they are the victorious’ (Qassem, 2005: 76). In Shia theology, indeed, there are two parties: the Party of God (Hizballah) and the Party of Satan (Hizbu’shaytan). Thus, Hizballah is more than just a party; it represents God on earth. Its emblem portrays a hand holding a Kalashnikov, which is a revolutionary’s weapon, against a background of a globe with the above-mentioned verse from the Quran. Consequently, people may join or support the group because they expect a spiritual or heavenly reward. In fact, the group has successfully framed the July 2006 conflict as a ‘divine victory’, despite the population’s heavy casualties and the damage inflicted on Lebanon’s infrastructure.

The group’s version of the July 2006 events and its claim about victory has been largely shared by the population of south Lebanon. In the words of a pro-Hizballah Christian cleric, ‘the Jewish State’s defeat (as
demonstrated by its inability to eliminate the Islamic Resistance) was God’s will’.9 According to a female Hizballah sympathizer, ‘the war was won by the Goddriven Hizballah because Israelis were forced to leave south Lebanon’.10

At the same time, the Party of God has successfully constructed frames for non-Shia sympathizers and followers. Therefore the Hizballah leadership has framed its jihad against Israel as both a Lebanese and pan-Arab affair. More specifically, Hizballah has portrayed its jihad campaign as part of a broader God-driven mission to liberate Arab soil and sacred places from ‘Zionist occupation’. Following the release of Samir Kantar, Israel’s longest-held Lebanese prisoner, Nasrallah stressed that ‘the resistance movements in the region and particularly in Lebanon and in Palestine are complementary continuous movements with cumulating efforts, experiences and sacrifices so that they might accomplish the same objectives in liberating the land, people, and sacred places’ (Nasrallah, 2008b).

Thus Hizballah’s leadership has made a conscious strategic decision to deemphasize its Shia heritage. In April 1987, Shaykh Subhi al-Tufayli declared that the group does not ‘work or think within the borders of Lebanon, this little geometric box, which is one of the legacies of imperialism. Rather, we seek to defend Muslims throughout the world’ (Al-Tufayli, 1987). Despite being an almost exclusive Shia organization, Hizballah has been keen to present itself as non-sectarian. This stance is consistent with its goal of offering a pan-Islamic political party rather than an Islamic sect. In practical terms, the framing of a pan-Islamic community, which shares the same challenges and problems, provides meaning and hope to members and sympathizers of Hizballah. Simultaneously, the group has framed itself as a watchdog of Lebanon’s territorial integrity and independence. From Nasrallah’s point of view, ‘Hizballah, along with its friends and allies, is the first defender of genuine sovereignty, genuine independence, and genuine freedom – and I add to them national dignity, honor, and pride’ (Noe, 2007: 403). Since the early 1990s, the group’s leadership has been very keen to stress Hizballah’s Lebanese character and origin, which is hardly a surprise given the accusations about Iranian patronage. During an interview with this author, Nuwaf Musawi, head of international relations for Hizballah, denied any subordination to Iran and emphasized its national appeal.11 According to Nasrallah, ‘Lebanon’s interests are what govern the party, primarily as a homeland and a people, as well as the cause it believes in, which is a distinctly nationalistic cause’ (Nasrallah, 2008a). Hizballah has apparently defined Lebanese nationalism (al-wataniya) as a mix of Lebanese, Arab and Islamic elements.

The Master Frames of Hizballah

Successful frames often resonate with a master frame, which is a set of meanings that enjoys even broader popular resonance (Snow and Benford, 1992). Such frames are usually society-wide or transnational (Schatz, 2002). Therefore they tend to be as generic as possible. Snow and Bedford have argued that master frames ‘provide the interpretive medium through which collective actors associated with different movements within a cycle assign blame for the problem they are attempting to ameliorate’ (Snow and Benford, 1992: 139). According to Sebastian Haunss, only a limited number of frames could function as master frames, namely those that could offer a convincing analysis and solution to a social movement’s conceived grievance (Haunss, 2007: 166). It seems that the Party of God has adopted two different master frames, choosing one or another to approach the particular audience it is addressing.

Firstly, Hizballah has adopted the master frame of pan-Islamism to invoke support among Sunni-dominated societies in the Levant and beyond. The acceptance of such a master frame can rapidly change people’s opinion of what is politically desirable in the region. The origins of pan-Islamism lie in the anti-colonial struggle for independence. Following its defeat in the First World War, the Ottoman Empire (where the institution of the Caliphate was based since the sixteenth century) faced dismemberment. Under the leadership of Maulana Muhammad Ali and Maulana Shaukat Ali (the so-called Ali brothers), the All India Khilafat Committee was established to mobilize the Muslim population and use its influence to protect the caliphate. In 1920, the committee published the Khilafat Manifesto, which called upon the British government to protect the institution of the caliphate and for Indian Muslims to hold London accountable for this purpose (Qureshi, 1999). Moreover, strikes, rallies and acts of civil disobedience spread across the subcontinent. The Indian Khilafat movement died out when Mustafa Kemal abolished the Caliphate in 1924 and established a secular Turkish Republic. The Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt soon after took over the pan-Islamic cause, but with limited success. In the 1950s and most of the 1960s, secular Arab nationalism dominated the political landscape in the Middle East. The shocking defeat of the Arab armies in the 1967 war with Israel revived pan-Islamism as a viable ideological alternative (Yapp, 1996: 44). Within the Middle Eastern context, pan-Islamism (as espoused by radical Islamic groups) has come to symbolize resistance against both the corrupted Arab regimes and the Israeli occupation. More importantly, its ideological superiority vis-a`-vis discredited Arab nationalism has led to the gradual Islamization of the Arab identity. Pan-Islamism has claimed that the roots of Muslim decline lie in the de- Islamization of the ummah, namely a decline in spirituality and religious observance (An-Nabhani, 1998). It has not only provided a straightforward explanation for the Muslim world’s problems, but it has also put forward a strategy for the revival of the ummah. In general, the master frame of pan-Islamism advocates the establishment of a utopian Islamic state where justice will prevail. Furthermore, this master frame has been adopted by a large number of Islamist groups ranging from the deterritorialized Hizb ut-Tahrir to Indonesia’s Jamaah Islamiya. It is compatible with Khomeini’s vision of exporting the Iranian revolutionary model to Arab countries (Milton-Edwards and Hinchcliff, 2003: 53). Thus Hizballah has adopted a master frame that serves as a bridge between Sunni and Shia, Arabs and non-Arabs. In practice, the endorsement of pan-Islamism allows Hizballah to maintain its special relationship with Iran, while playing a leading role among Arab Islamists.

Secondly, there are indications that Hizballah has also adopted the master frame of anti-globalization. Therefore, the group has framed itself as part of the wider antiglobalization movement which struggles against world capitalism. In a message addressed to Pope John Paul II on his visit to Lebanon in May 1997, Hizballah claimed that as no materialistic doctrine could persist as a socio-political system, the greater crises, hunger, poverty, pollution, corruption and wars, confirm the downfall of the materialistic doctrine generally and its failure in organizing the human living so as to realize its safety and development. (Hizballah, 1997) In addition, Hizballah has participated in anti-globalization conferences and meetings; in September 2004, for example, the group participated in a Beirut conference entitled ‘Where Next for the Global Anti-War and Anti-Globalization Movements?’ (Guttman, 2004). According to Abdel-Halim Fadlallah, vice-president of the Hizballah-affiliated Center for Strategic Studies, Hezbollah succeeded in incorporating the idea of resistance as part of the international anti-globalization movements . . . through our contacts with these groups, we have managed to challenge the idea that Hizballah is a dogmatic terrorist Islamist organization and convince part of the international left that we can be a strong partner. (Rafei, 2008) Hizballah has embraced this master frame for two reasons. First, concerns over globalization have proliferated and have gained universal legitimacy over the last decades. Thus the adoption of this master frame provided crucial legitimacy to Hizballah’s collective action. This is evidenced by Hassan Nasrallah’s statement, on the first anniversary of the 33-day war, dedicating ‘Hizballah’s victory to all those oppressed in the world’ (Hizballah, 2008). Secondly, the master frame of anti-globalization has been shared by a large number of political parties, trade unions, NGOs and SMOs, which enables the Party of God to develop international links. Indeed, it is not rare to see pro-Hizballah banners in leftist demonstrations in European cities, while Lebanese leftist intellectuals have often stated their support
for the group. For example, a prominent Lebanese intellectual, Fawwaz Traboulsi has argued that Hizballah is ‘a force fighting against American imperialism and Israeli colonialism’.12


This article argues that Hizballah can be viewed as a SMO that has framed its aims in ways that have generated a popular following. Although the framing approach alone does not explain every dimension of Hizballah’s popularity, it does provide a useful tool in understanding how the group has managed to transmit messages to selected audiences.

By permitting certain questions to be raised and others to be ignored, Hizballah’s diagnostic frames initially functioned as communicative devices delegitimizing Lebanon’s political elites and rationalizing regime change. By framing its struggle as part of a wider conflict between oppressed and oppressors, Hizballah’s messages have become more meaningful in the eyes of many Shia. Following the end of the Lebanese civil war in 1989, however, the Party of God has gone through a process of pragmatization; as a result, its diagnostic frames have been flexible and adaptable to changing political and socio-economic circumstances.

During the 1980s, Hizballah’s prognostic frames offered an attractive image of an idealized Islamic state, capable of solving Lebanese’s myriad social and economic problems. After the establishment of the post-Taif political system, the group has adopted the prognostic frame of representative government, which should be capable of providing justice and equality for all Lebanese. Yet the Party of God has maintained the prognostic frame of jihad that includes both the use of political violence and political dialogue.

The motivational frames adopted by Hizballah have been successful in affirming people’s commitment to its cause, because they cement a sense of solidarity that generates meaning. In effect, the group has constructed frames for both its Shia followers and non-Shia sympathizers. Hizballah’s motivational frames, rooted in Islamic theology, are tied to everyday Lebanese life, and thus accessible to potential recruits.

Furthermore, the endorsement of master frames illustrate Hizballah’s intention to reach an audience outside Lebanon. As a result, the group has adopted the master frame of anti-globalization in order to attract sympathy and support from leftist and human rights groups, which view the group as a bastion against ‘capitalist domination’. Simultaneously, its pan-Islamic master frame aims at bridging between Sunnis and Shia, Arabs and Iranians.


The author would like to thank Professor Clark McCauley of Bryn Mawr College and the two anonymous referees for comments on early drafts.


1 It should be noted that interviews were taken during a field trip in Lebanon in October 2008. Interviews were open-ended; most of them were conducted in Arabic and the responses to each question were translated into English with the help of a professional interpreter.

2 Hizb al-Da’waal-Islamiya (‘The Islamic Call Party’)was established in 1967 by Iraqi Shia leaders in order to create an Islamic state in Iraq. Currently, the party is led by the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

3 Strategic innovation would mean shifts that change the fundamental pattern of the group’s challenge to state authorities (Dolnik, 2007).

4 It should be noted that the term ‘political Islam’ itself is disputed by some scholars who argue that given the state control over individuals’ lives in Muslim countries, almost every Islamic practice becomes political; therefore the term ‘political Islam’ is simply irrelevant (Hirschkind, 1997: 12–14).

5 Personal communication with a rank-and-file Hizballah member (name withheld at his request), South Beirut, 28 Oct. 2008.

6 Ibid.

7 Personal communication with Nawaf Mousawi, Head of International Relations, Hizb’allah, South Beirut, 22 Oct. 2008.

8 Personal communication with Imam SayyedMuhammad Hussein Fadlullah, south Beirut, 29 Oct. 2008.

9 Personal communication with a pro-Hizballah Christian cleric (name withheld at his request), Marjeyroun, south Lebanon, 27 Oct. 2008.

10 Personal communication with a female Hizballah sympathizer (name withheld at her request), Marjeyroun, south Lebanon, 27 Oct. 2008.

11 Personal communication with Nawaf Mousawi, head of international relations, Hizballah, South Beirut, 22 Oct. 2008.

12 Personal communication with Professor Fawwaz Traboulsi, American University of Beirut, West Beirut, 28 Oct. 2008.


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