Nasrallah and the compromise and rehabilitation of Hizbullah’s reputation
[Martyrdom] has deep roots in our culture, our faith, our civilization, our thought, our emotions, and in the history of our nation. Perhaps our faith in the rank of martyrdom and the stature of the martyrs in the eyes of Allah the Exalted, and the sacred position of martyrdom in our thought, and perhaps in our yearly commemoration throughout the centuries of the most exalted act of martyrdom in human history, Karbala [on the day of Ashoura], we find an interpretation for this profound connection we have to martyrdom
Even here, at its most stylized and formulaic, the rhetoric is embedded in the wider discourse on martyrdom in Shiism. Nasrallah uses the Arabic word istishhad, often rendered into English as “suicide bombing,” but a better translation might be “self-immolation or “voluntary martyrdom.” Both of these more accurately convey how Nasrallah connects the contemporary tactics of Muslim resistance movements with the discourse surrounding the cult of martyrdom, which carries particularly strong historical resonances in Shiism. Nasrallah has always defended the tactic:
[The 1982] act of martyrdom of Ahmad Qasir…the first act of martyrdom…gives expression to the early arising of Lebanese youth in resistance to occupation; because it is the cry of the people and the nation resonating in the present, future, and in history; and because it is the founding step along the long road of acts of martyrdom and of the sacred struggle of resistance—aware, planned, thought out, goal-directed, cautious, on guard, committed.
Here Nasrallah asserts that the resistance belongs to all Lebanese youth, not only Shiites, and that, despite their youth, they undertake their actions in complete self-awareness, without coercion, and free of any mental imbalance. In a single statement, he is justifying for all Lebanese the legitimacy and rationality of their resistance to Israel as a defining characteristic of the people and their state while at the same time claiming the individual fallen as sons of the Shiite community. In a nation that defines itself by its martyrs, and demarks the boundary lines of its communities with shrines to their memory (at the centre of Beirut is Martyrs’ Square commemorating martyrs hanged for their opposition to Ottoman rule, where the remains of the ‘martyred’ prime minister Rafik al-Hariri lie in state; close by is Samir Qasir park, commemorating the ‘martyrdom’ of Samir Qasir, journalist and historian, a Christian, assassinated in a car bomb, presumably for his outspoken opposition to Syrian domination), he is engaging in the most Lebanese of discourse.
The attempt to disable the Hizbullah communications network was a ploy to sideline the party or to knock it out of action altogether. This was never realistic. The Shiite militia-come-political party enjoys the support of large segments of Lebanese society, and cannot simply be swatted aside. Ultimately, Hizbullah outmaneuvered its opponents by force of arms on the streets of Beirut – a form of ‘politics by other means’ sadly familiar to Lebanon’s history. But, throughout, Hizbullah’s skillful staging of media events to showcase the charismatic personality of Hassan Nasrallah was crucial to translating its military prowess into political success – both inside Lebanon and across the Arab World. In so doing, Hizbullah has proved, for anyone who may have thought or wished otherwise, that it is firmly at the center of Lebanese politics.
David Wilmsen is a visiting associate professor of Arabic at the American University of Beirut. He has taught at the University of Michigan and Georgetown University, and the American University in Cairo, where he was chair of the department of Arabic and Translation Studies in the School of Continuing Education. While there, he was also contributing editor at Transnational Broadcasting Studies Journal, the forerunner of Arab Media & Society. He is currently working on a book about Arab discourse on Jews and Israel.
 For a brief but comprehensive analysis of Maronite attitudes toward alliances with Muslim parties, see Meir Zamir. 1999. “From Hegemony to Marginalism: The Maronites of Lebanon,” in Ofra Bengio and Gabriel Ben-Dor, eds. Minorities and the State in the Arab World, Boulder, London: Lynne Reiner Publishers, pp. 111-128.
 Exact numbers are not known, as the government has not conducted a census since 1932; nevertheless, estimates are that in a total population of about four million, Shiites number between thirty-five to forty percent of all Lebanese; Christian groups together make up something under one third, with Maronites, the largest Christian grouping, representing slightly less than a million. The Druze constitute about one tenth of the population. It is assumed that the population as a whole is about seventy percent Muslim. The Shiite population is the fastest growing, and the Christian population is declining both proportionally and in real terms owing to emigration. Nevertheless, the old power-sharing arrangement, wherein the presidency is reserved for a Maronite Christian, the office of prime minister for a Sunni Muslim, and that of speaker of parliament to a Shiite remains in place, despite the Taif agreement to end the sectarian system of government. Christians are also accorded a five-to-four balance in the parliament (and other government offices), and the electoral laws are characteristically rewritten with each new parliament to favor this imbalance.
Estimates of actual population figures are reported here:
 Zamir, op cit, pp. 121—123. See also George Emile Irani, “Failed Alliances” review of My Enemy's Enemy: Lebanon in the Early Zionist Imagination, 1990-1948 by Laura Zittrain Eisenberg. Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 25, No. 1 (Autumn, 1995), pp. 112-114; and Kirsten E. Schulze, “Perceptions and Misperceptions: Influences on Israeli Intelligence Estimates During the 1982 Lebanon War” The Journal of Conflict Studies, Vol. XVI No. 1, Spring 1996, available at http://www.lib.unb.ca/Texts/JCS/bin/get.cgi?directory=S96/articles/&filename=schulze.html
 All the videos discussed in this article were obtained from the al-Manar website available here:
 The Economist, 1 December 2007, “In search of a government; Lebanon”
 “Government to launch probe into Hezbollah communications network” Now Lebanon, 6 May 2008: http://www.nowlebanon.com/NewsArticleDetails.aspx?ID=41124
 The Economist, 10 May 2008, “Lebanon: Moment of truth”
 Communications Network: Legal Action
 I have discussed the motivations for switching into and out of formal Arabic declamation in David Wilmsen. 1996. “Code-Switching, Code-Mixing, and Borrowing in the Spoken Arabic of a Theatrical Community in Cairo,” in Mushira Eid and Dilworth Parkinson (eds.). Perspectives on Arabic Linguistics IX. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: Johns Benjamin, 69—92
 Communications Network: Hizbullah Reaction
 Point 3: Solution to the Crisis: Hizbullah Counter Demands.
 The Economist, 22 May 2008, “Lebanon: Peace for a while”
 The Guardian, 17 July 2008, “Prisoner swap: Last act of a needless war”
 On the Parliamentary Elections
 The Invocation
 Martin Kramer. 1991. "Sacrifice and 'Self-Martyrdom' in Shi'ite Lebanon," Terrorism and Political Violence, vol. 3, no. 3 (Autumn 1991), pp. 30-47. Available at http://www.geocities.com/martinkramerorg/Sacrifice.htm
 The Invocation