Faith and Resistance: The Politics of Love and War in Lebanon. By Sarah Marusek. London: Pluto Press, 2018. 234 pp. $36. Paper.
Marusek, a research fellow at the University of Leeds, laments the poor state of Western scholarship on Islam, legitimately accusing it of failing to understand Muslims because of persistent historical bias. The author extends this mundane observation of Western bias to Hezbollah, which she lumps together with Shiite reformers such as Musa al-Sadr and Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, erroneously labeling them “the Islamic resistance movement.” She presents this “Islamic resistance” as a movement rooted in genuine love, going so far as to compare it to Latin American liberation theology.
The result is a book of errors and misrepresentations. Marusek largely blames the Sunni-Shiite conflict on the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, before subsequently tracing it to the succession crisis after the death of Islam’s prophet Muhammad. She notes that the Sunnis pushed for a consensus successor, whereas the Shiites argued in favor of one from the household of Muhammad. The author does not seem to know that Shiism as a distinct school of religious thought fully developed only a century after Muhammad’s death.
She also states that Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, born in Iraq in 1935, moved to Lebanon in 1952. No, he moved to Lebanon in 1966. She states that the Lebanese civil war started in April 1975 when Christian militias clashed with Palestinians in central Beirut. Wrong again: Clashes between Christians and Palestinians started in March 1970 when the Phalangists attacked a Palestinian convoy in a mountain village overlooking Beirut, and then again in April 1975 over a bus ambush that occurred in a Beirut suburb.
Marusek falsely casts Hezbollah, al-Sadr, and Fadlallah as representatives of faith and resistance. But Hezbollah’s ideology is an Iranian implant, and because its welfare system buys loyalty, it cannot be detached from Lebanon’s longstanding patron-client political system. The Lebanese system is transactional, with no room for Marusek’s romanticized notions of love-based politics. Her romanticism mirrors the same tendency in the Orientalists she criticizes. For his part, Fadlallah sought a modus vivendi between Sunnis and Shiites. And Musa al-Sadr built his base of popular support not on his modest religious credentials but on his political activism and appealing personality. He came to Lebanon from Iran in December 1958 to combat communism and drive Shiites away from it.
Marusek presents the “Islamic resistance movement” as a victim of Orientalist stereotypes. This is misleading, especially since a steadily increasing number of Lebanese Shiites disapprove of Hezbollah’s domestic policy and subservience to Iran while the vast majority of Sunnis and Christians resent its domineering attitude and arrogance. The book’s ending is pure fluff, with the author concluding that “the struggle for liberation continues.” The real struggle is for the book’s readers whose attempts to find meaning are frustrated on every page.
American University of Beirut