Hizbullah, Ashura, and the Art of the Political Parable

I’ve written something for the NY Times Global’s Latitude blog about one of Nasrallah’s Ashura speeches last month. In the interest of space, I couldn’t include extensive translations from the speech, so I thought I’d make them available here. For context and the broader argument, check out the original post here.

I’ve been criticized before for my admiration of Nasrallah’s rhetorical skills, but I found the speech in question deeply disturbing (and unfortunately, so did Saida’s Salafists).  This is an aspect of Hizbullah that its liberal admirers like to ignore, imagining that the Party of God is far more progressive and non-confessional than its “feudal,” “fascist,” “right-wing,” “clientelist” opponents. I’m always puzzled by this notion, because it seems fairly straightforward that Hizbullah is just as adept at anyone at deploying sectarianism in the service of politics.

I challenge you seasoned Lebanon-watchers to listen to the final segment of the speech (I’ve cued it to the right spot) and tell me that it is not one of the most blatant and unashamed examples of sectarian incitement they’ve heard coming out of the mouth of a Lebanese politician in recent memory. (The relevant section is translated below for English speakers, along with time stamps).

I leave you with this thought. If Samir Geagea were to give a speech calling Nasrallah a modern-day Judas Iscariot, or if Saad Hariri wrote a tweet accusing the Shi`a of being heretical Uthman-killers and Aisha-slanderers, how quickly do you think the March 8th media outlets would be down their throats, calling them bloody-minded sectarian feudal warlords? I’m no fan of any of the individuals attached to the proper names cited in this post, but let’s be serious for a moment and recognize demagoguery when we see it.


[1:06:38] “When we speak about al-Husayn, we are speaking about his suffering but also his steadfastness. We begin with his abandonment by the people despite the fact that he was the son of the daughter of the Prophet of God… This would cause any human being to suffer.

[1:06:58] For example, you felt, during the July War, that you were on the side of righteousness, and yet you were being killed and shot and [your homes] destroyed, and many people in the world left you, abandoned you, and even blamed you and insulted you. Did this not cause great pain in you?

[1:07:23] Al-Husayn’s abandonment is the first [cause of his suffering]. The second is the treachery of those who swore their allegiance to him and then abandoned him. This is even more painful. There were people who abandoned us and did not aid us [during the July War] but there were others who promised us help and pledged their allegiance to us and committed to us, then defamed us and attacked us… this was also the case of Husayn. At the very least, they could have sat on the sidelines and been neutral, but no: they attacked and killed him. This added to his suffering.

[1:07:51] The constant threat of being killed from Medina, to Mecca, to Karbala: this caused suffering. A severe siege, severe thirst… al-Husayn and his wives and his children and companions were prevented from drinking water for several days before they were martyred… You go to speak to [your tormentors] and they don’t listen to you; this causes suffering. Imagine if you were the grandson of the Prophet… Sometimes one goes through such an experience. Even if you speak for a hundred years or two hundred, it doesn’t matter. Some people are not interested in listening.

[1:09:00] The third thing [that causes suffering] is fighting with few supporters. This choice is also difficult. And finally, the arrival at the stage of martyrdom. Martyrs were falling right in front of al-Husayn. His loved ones, his brethren. Who were these martyrs?

[1:09:18] Some of you are the fathers, mothers, siblings of martyrs. Everyone knows that when one’s son or brother is martyred, one suffers. What if your son is killed in front of your eyes? Your feelings would be different. If people came and told you that your son was hit during the battle, he was killed, he was martyred, etc., you would suffer.

[1:09:51] But when we speak of Karbala, we are always speaking about the highest ceiling [of emotions]. Al-Husayn’s son was killed in his arms, Ali al-Akbar [Ed: I think he meant Ali al-Asghar here]. Imagine if your son was a young man who exceled and fought and was martyred… you would suffer. But this is completely different from one whose son is an infant, a baby, a few months old. You hold him in your arms, and ask for some water for him, and he is slaughtered in your arms. And his blood runs upon you. How much more painful is this?

[1:10:35] We have families who have lost one, or two, or three martyrs over the course of years; their brothers, their children. Those who were killed with al-Husayn at Karbala were his children, in his arms and in front of him. His brothers, all of whom were young. Al-Husayn was himself young, only 57. His brothers were all younger than him. They were killed, along with their children, their cousins; this is all painful. Then the weeping of the women; mothers bereaved of children, widows. When you go into the home of a martyr’s family, with the mother or the wife crying, your heart breaks. Al-Husayn looked all around him and saw these eyes full of tears; the weeping of orphans, from hunger, thirst, and pain. And on top of all that were the wounds inflicted upon him. And in the final moments, on top of the wounds, the screams of women and children, as the warriors attacked the tents and the fires were lit.

[1:11:58] How much pain did this one heart endure? And how much can a human heart endure? And yet, al-Husayn was not shaken, he did not retreat, he did not weaken, he did not stumble, he did not submit, and nor did his companions…

[1:12:41] This is our leader. This is Karbala, from which we learn the lessons of steadfastness, and honesty, and the loyal pledge [Ed: repeated in mid-stride to correct the case from accusative to genitive… amazing]. This is the school in which we sit these days and nights, learning, suffering, crying. You and I are the ones who pledged our allegiance to al-Husayn in our Resistance in Lebanon. We are the ones who went out to fight the occupiers, even though were only a small minority. And we are a minority that is accused of insanity, accused of committing ourselves to ruin, accused of not understanding balances of power, accused of acting with the zeal of immature young men…

[1:14:00] My brethren, on this night… we say to al-Husayn: “If only we were with you at Karbala, so that we could have won a great victory!” As one, we say to al-Husayn on this night, and repeat it on every night, and on the tenth day: “Oh great leader and martyr, we, men and women, in these difficult times, despite all the challenges, dangers, threats, insults, and the determination and trickery of the enemy, and despite the scarcity of our supporters, oh Abu Abdallah, we will not abandon you, or your religion, or your flock, or your Karbala, or your goals, even if we are killed and burned, and our wives and children are captured as yours were. We say to you that we – men, women, children, elderly, young – who were steadfast and withstood the July War, are not frightened by their war, their weapons, threats, and trickery. Just as we were steadfast before, we shall continue, as long as there runs in our veins a drop of your blood, and a breath of your breath is in our bodies, and your strength is in us, and your will, we will remain Husayns and Zaynabs, and we repeat with you until the end of time: “Hayhat minna ‘l-dhilla!”

Click HERE to read the original article.

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