Hezbollah: A Short History
by Augustus Richard Norton
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007. 187 pp. $16.95.
Reviewed by Hilal Khashan
American University of Beirut
Middle East Quarterly
Norton, a professor at Boston University, disdains the "simplistic stereotypes" about Hezbollah and promises in his book a "balanced, nuanced account of this complex organization." But his superficial treatment fails miserably. Norton summarily dismisses Hezbollah's terrorist credentials, which he conveniently attributes to Iran. He describes Hezbollah as a Lebanese organization and neglects to link its ideology to Khomeini's wilayat al-Faqih or guardianship of the jurisconsult concept. He ignores the organic linkage between Hezbollah and Iran's Islamic Republic.
Written in the wake of the 34-day summer war of 2006 between Israel and Hezbollah, Hezbollah: A Short History is intended to have mass market appeal. It fails for many reasons: Because it offers nothing new, is more entertaining than informative, and contains an inappropriately casual style, plus numerous typos, and countless factual errors, it is unappealing to the reader. The book is not nearly short enough but offers an overly-long lesson in faulty information, bad English, and worse Arabic.
Norton butchers Arabic words and phrases. In Norton's dictionary of wrong definitions, sitt, Arabic for lady, becomes "sister." His translation of "the July war" is Harb al-Tammuz—"the war of the July." Then there is "the hawk of Lebanon," which in Arabic becomes al-Saqr Lubnan—"the hawk Lebanon." Kamal Jumblatt is al-Jumblatt, yes, "the Jumblatt." The Norton is out of control. This book is a linguistic bloodbath.
Factually this book hardly does better. Norton cites June 5, 1982, as the date of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, but it took place on June 6. He refers to former prime minister Salim al-Huss's "daughters" when Huss has only one daughter. He states that both Shi‘i and the majority of Sunni Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad is the "Rasul" (prophet), whereas, of course, all Muslims by definition believe that the Prophet is the Rasul. On page 11, he announces that there are seventeen recognized sects in Lebanon, but on page 46, there are now eighteen such sects. Here Hassan Nasrallah is "sayyid," and there he is "seyyid." Norton's spelling is abysmal, including such howlers as the "Lebanonese government" and "Sierre Leone."
Norton fails to properly account for Hezbollah's propaganda against Israel. On page 91, he says Hezbollah exhibited a slogan in Hebrew near the Israeli border that read: "If you come back, we'll come back." This is not a slogan, but verse 17: 8 from the Qur'an.
Oddly, this self-proclaimed history of Hezbollah is two-thirds not about Hezbollah, discussing instead Shi‘ism in general and the confessional nature of Lebanese politics. Is the book's title a marketing ploy or evidence of Norton's ignorance of the subject?
Norton's book is the literary equivalent of antifreeze laced Chinese toothpaste. Has the Princeton press abandoned its review process?
Related Topics: Lebanon, Terrorism | Hilal Khashan | Spring 2008 MEQ
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