Making of a resistance identity: communism and the Lebanese Shiʿa 1943-1990
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date31/12/2100
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This is a study of the identities and political mobilisation of the Lebanese Shiʿa throughout the modern history of Lebanon. Currently, the dominant paradigms for such studies focus on the question of sectarianism in Lebanon and the corresponding Shiʿi political movements, Amal and Hizbullah. This thesis presents an alternative approach. It argues that secular identities have also been an important component of the Shiʿi community’s political mobilisation. This is explored through an analysis of the relationship between the Lebanese Communist Party (LCP) and the communist Shiʿa. Drawing on interviews with senior LCP officials, current and former Shiʿi communists, party documents and additional interview evidence from the documentary film, We Were Communists, this thesis examines the origins, evolution and transformation of the relationship between the LCP and the Shiʿa after Lebanese independence in 1943, until the end of the Lebanese Civil War in 1990. Utilising the concepts of identity and political mobilisation, this thesis develops a hybridised approach to the study of political identity that combines primordial with constructionist readings of identity. This acknowledges the presence of a repertoire of multiple and varied identities among any individual or group, and their potential for mobilisation. Rather than assuming the domineering influence of primordial sentiments, such as sectarian identity, the hybridised approach requires an analysis of the conditions under which a particular identity becomes the basis for political mobilisation. In the aftermath of Lebanese independence in 1943, the Shiʿi community’s political mobilisation was characterised by a politics of resistance. This was a product of the legacy of the Shiʿi community’s experience of the French Mandate (1920-1943), as well as the newly reformulated confessional political system that was established by the National Pact (1943). The net effect of these processes was the marginalisation of the Shiʿa. The LCP, as a prominent anti-system opposition movement in Lebanon at this time, became the Shiʿi community’s main vehicle for the mobilisation and development of their resistance identity. During the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990) the relationship between communism and the Shiʿa transformed as the LCP went into decline and new Shiʿi political actors emerged. The mantle of the Shiʿi community’s resistance identity became subject to the tensions between communism and communalism within the community. In the end, the Shiʿi community’s resistance identity was adopted and repackaged by Hizbullah, under whose auspices it remains today. The Shiʿi-communist relationship constitutes the Shiʿi community’s first engagement with formal, party-based and ideologically driven political mobilisation in Lebanon. The impact and legacy of the LCP’s influence on the Shiʿa in these terms encompasses not just the communist Shiʿa, but every other political actor in the community. Concern over the growing influence of communism led directly to the political mobilisation of the previously quietist Shiʿi religious clerics. This outcome is represented by the arrival of Imam Musa al-Sadr to Lebanon in 1959 and his stated goal of combatting the influence of communism among the Shiʿa. This thesis is an important addendum to the current understanding of the origins of Shiʿi political mobilisation, which erroneously place Musa al-Sadr at the beginning of that process. This study’s emphasis on alternative, non-sectarian forms of political identity is also a reminder of the Shiʿi community’s political diversity at a time when critical voices, resentful of Hizbullah’s and Amal’s monopoly, are currently emerging from within the ShiʿI community.