Hezbollah: The Changing Face of Terrorism
by Judith Palmer Harik
London: I.B. Taurus and Co., 2004. 241 pp. $24.95.
Reviewed by Patrick Clawson
Middle East Quarterly
Given Hezbollah's role as a major actor in Lebanese politics and as one of the most active armed Islamist groups, it would be useful to have a comprehensive account of the organization's activities and viewpoints written by an analyst who has access to the group for materials not publicly available. Harik, a professor at American University of Beirut (AUB), should be in a good position to do detailed research including extensive interviews, given that she finds much to admire about Hezbollah, especially its armed attacks to drive Israel out of south Lebanon.
Unfortunately, Harik has instead produced a volume that is long on rhetoric and short on facts. Writing about important and controversial issues, as she acknowledges, Harik relies primarily on her own observations with few references to other sources. For instance, her discussion of the relationship between Imad Mughniyeh—who figures prominently on the U.S. government's list of "most wanted terrorists"—and Hezbollah rests on one discussion with an AUB student. She regards his comments as dispositive, allowing her to dismiss the analysis of Western intelligence agencies. She does not even bother to describe, cite, or quote what Western governments have to say about the matter, providing instead a straw-man caricature of their positions.
Worse, her analysis is heavily weighted towards apology. She lamely writes, "I discovered that some of the financial sources for the eight [welfare and development] associations they [Hezbollah] run include contributions from Lebanese individuals, Hezbollah members, [and] Iran." That is rather like saying that the financial sources for the U.S. military include sales at military commissaries and allocations from the U.S. government's budget; true, but one source is rather larger than the other.
Despite its faults, Harik's study does provide interesting information, especially about Hezbollah's extensive social welfare and economic development activities. And she ends up coming out close to the U.S. and Israeli governments' analysis of the organization, acknowledging Hezbollah's tensions with the Lebanese population and government on a host of issues, as well as the key role that Iran and Syria have played in Hezbollah's armed activities. In short, Hezbollah should be read only by those sufficiently well informed to dig out the useful nuggets from the large pile of rubbish under which they hide.
Related Topics: Lebanon, Radical Islam, Terrorism | Patrick Clawson | Fall 2004 MEQ
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