Romantisizing Nasrallah

In the US, it really doesn’t feel like fall until network TV stations begin to air their fall season line up, and all our favorite shows come back on the air. That’s when you know fall has really begun. Similarly, in the Middle East, we know it’s summer when conflicts in the region begin to simmer. Our reality TV shows revolve around various plots and settings: be it in the form of Palestine, Iraq or Lebanon. The latter seems to be everyone’s favorite reality show lately. In Jordan, eyes are glued to TV sets as the conflict goes to new levels, and we tune in everyday just to see what new events have transpired as of yesterday. The highest rated episodes are those featuring a Nasrallah speech.

In Jordan, there has been a tendency to romanticize the very notion of Nasrallah and I can see the appeal. He’s blunt, yet elequont. He is perceived to be honest (perhaps comparatively). He has religious ideals, even if they are in the minority regionally. He’s shown he’s not afraid of Israel. In short, he is a stark contrast to the status quo of leadership and Arabs, especially Jordanians, respect if not admire that. Yet, since season one – also known as the July war – Nasrallah admirers have not only increased, they have become incredibly absolutist. You just can’t be critical of Nasrallah in Jordan. It is unheard of. If you are, then you’re a pro-Zionist, pro-American, Islam-bashing, something-or-other.

I am admittedly not the biggest fan of Nasrallah. I say this now so that people reading right now can stop wasting their time with the guessing, a process which will only serve to sustain my argument several lines from now. I have nothing against the guy personally. My problem is more philosophical as I have trouble digesting the presence of an ambitious armed militia, funded by external powers, that wants to become part of the Lebanese political spectrum, yet remain a militia. Especially when one considers the context of Lebanon as a place where there are many people with many differences and the desire of one party or group to become dominant at the expense of the other always leads to violence. Also, I’m weary of anyone who presents themselves or their philosophies in absolutist terms; that they have the ultimate solution to everything. Again, the Lebanese context suggests the need for all parties to be present at the table with an equal voice; it just doesn’t work any other way.

But that’s not the point of this post. It’s not about who likes Nasrallah and who doesn’t, and the reasons why they do or don’t. In fact, it is exactly the opposite.

The point of this post is to point out that we have a problem.

We have a problem when it comes to romanticizing leadership. It doesn’t matter which part of the ideological spectrum you reside in, there is a tendency to worship leaders as saviors. To make them out to be more than human. For the longest time it was done to the current leaders and their predecessors, and so the people split into two camps of those who loved the leader and those who abhorred him. There was no middle ground; you cannot simply be indifferent. It was all so black and white.

Today, Nasrallah presents himself as the alternative rock star; the lovable character. Yet, ironically, that tendency to romanticize this figure remains. It gets to the point where followers are willing to die to defend this leaders ideals, while others are prepared to die in the fight against those ideals. In actuality, it no longer becomes about the ideals or the ideology or the politics; it becomes about the man himself, the leader. This isn’t about Nasrallah, it’s about the next 10 guys that come after him. It’s about our tendency to perceive and romanticize leadership in ways that I feel are dangerous to the very notion of stability and peace.

While Lebanon is haunted by problems that are incredibly complex, this is a problem that I feel plays at the center of all the discontent.


  • Ironically enough, in a Carnegie report last year, the Jordanian IAF was described as the ‘most democratic party’ in the entire Arab world for the same reason you mention; they are the only regional political party that is mobilised around an ideology rather than a leader, and it is the only party that never saw a leader die in office – they have all either finished their terms or been internally unseated. And I say this being no supporter of the IAF.

    Other than that exception, I think both the ideology of political Islam, and of Arab nationalism, which are the two most prominent in the region, depend on public ‘mobilization’ (around a leader/cause) rather than public engagement, which is the most sustainable form of government. Sadly, the most likely ideology to achieve that, liberalism, has not yet taken a coherent form anywhere in the Arab world, even in Lebanon, where divides remain sectarian.

  • This is a very interesting piece and would like to thank you for presenting it to us. I would also like to add that I agree with your sentiments of Nasrallah (both personal and political).

    Now, more to the point, there’s no doubt we have a problem and you’re absolutely right – we do generally over romantisize our leaders. However, upon closer observation, it’s apparent that people are far more polarized (and sensationalized) in areas of conflict (Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine). The bottom line, these people are at war, whether idealogically, militarily or politically ($$$). And in times of war there is no room for dissension amongst ranks. One might argue that sensationalization of our leaders during times of conflict is in fact necessary. It helps establish a united front and reduces the likelihood of internal discord.

    As an aside, a word of note: in a group of liars, a man who tells half truthes is considered honest.

  • well the problem is not romanticizing the leader, every person does it, it is slightly hypocritical to criticize romanticizing a leader and at the same time identifying with any ideology at all…. for example you are a muslim and you would surely revere and mohammed(pbuh) .
    So i don’t see that as the problem, the problem is that the leader becomes a separate entity from the ideology, and a self sustaining entity that demands the support based on a single act regardless of the time.
    The only reason nasrallah has any following outside of lebanon is because it’s perceived that he gave the arabs their first victory against israel, so regardless of how peccant he might act in the future it can always be muted because of that single act. so i wouldn’t call it romanticizing, it’s more nostalgic optimism in the sense that they see the future in the past tense’s bright spots .
    the problem with the people is that they only remember the good parts and are willing to ignore everything else for the sake of those good ol’ moments. thats the problem.
    Give them some monetary freedom and stability and they will be able to see things with a clearer sight

  • I think you are right on in the piece.

    however, to nuetron I want to say that it seems as though establishing a united front during a war is overrated. It is precisely during a war that things should be questions, strategies examined. If people are going to die for a cause it better be legit. What is gained by sensationalizing leaders, and war?

    Furthermore, a half truth is still an untruth and one who tells untruths is by no means considered an honest man. Even if one is the tallest midget they are still a midget. The word honest is not a relative term, either you are or you are not.

  • lol untruths is such an Orwellian term i can’t help but crack up there …. how befitting of the argument.

    Although i can full heartedly agree with you about islam (i don’t separate the politics from the religion since they are not separate to begin with) and pan arabic nationalism are based on mobilization around an idol. The most effective form of government is not public engagement since there isn’t a system that can claim public engagement in legislation. the best you can hope for is representative, which is windowed and gift wrapped public engagement.
    the problematic issue remains in the fact that we have ideologies that are beyond and over any other ideologies and are not broken by reason or logic, they are resilient and timeless. so unless we manage to tame them, it is pointless to even attempt to look for any liberal manifestation since they will be only skin deep rather than a way of thinking.

  • We have a personalization issue embedded in our culture, starting of course from prophets (Mohammad and Eissa) and their crowd. and this was not and wont be a problem or obstacle in the way of political reform or a sign of short visionary except for those who disagree with what those men stand for, not for the support they have.

    When it comes to HAssan Nassaralah or Abed el nasser, suddenly the anti-arabism and struggle concept crowd try to use this focus and support for one person as a deficiency even though the opponent pragmatic and liberal stream tries day and night to create those personal symbols with extreme funding on songs, images, slogans … etc carried out by officials here in Jordan or egypt or else where, by laws to enforce the out lighting for person over the concept of state, or maybe connecting loyalty to the land to how many pictures for the man you have in your house or organization.

    For me, i dont see it as a problem at all, it never was and never will be. its a form of expression to connect people acceptance and support not to a very wide un-controlled form like socialism or open economy market but to the ideas that is steamed from socialism but within the vision and boundaries of X and Y.

    this can be a very mature way to expressing thoughts and stands, its true that concepts and beliefs should stand first but for normal people they cant just support a mere solid idea or program with out personal guarantees. and that should be fine it should contradict the belief in the essence of the thought and idea.

  • wow, interesting comments. although i disagree with grouping of Prophets with ordinary leaders of our time, i am really enjoying reading the feedback on this post.

    and if it gets bambam to comment, then i know i’ve struck a chord somewhere 😀

  • When I was you’re age (am I sounding like a father figure or what .. LOL!) the was Saddam worship. In my father’s generation, there was Jamal Abdel Nasser worship. Now it’s Nasrallah worship.

    Among some of leftists of today, there is still “Che” worship.

    This absolutism and Leader Worship is literally killing us.

    Thanks for a very well put post.

  • It is nothing but people putting a face to their frusrations, dilusions, aspirations, etc… Nasrallah is an “in-your-face” arab leaders,and lebanon became a land of proxy wars, just like Iraq.

    By the way, Netenyahoo will soon become the prime-minister, he will first attack hizballah, then he will attack iran, and Obama will loose the elections 😉 How is that for a prediction?ha?

  • percieving some as saviors is result of dispair, when the public is willing to forgive the worst of actions because of good deeds or loud voices.

  • bambam, I really like your comments about the one positive act mitigating all other future negative ones.

    mjwells … “establishing a united front during a war is overrated”??? Just pick up the newspaper (arabs are the best example) or any history book. Regarding the truths and “untruths”, besides missing the point (i.e. an okay leader looks amazing amongst corrupt self-serving leaders, ahem, Nasrallah), there is not a single thing in this universe which cannot be defined in relative terms (with some exception to light). Even in your argument, midgets, you are speaking relatively (i.e. the tallest midget is still small relative to the average person).

    (warning – I’m totally digressing from the main topic – you may want to skip)

    In science, we call it Galilean Relativity (and much later, Einstein added to this – the Theory of Relativity). In colloquial terms, it is best explained with examples. Define good without knowing evil. Try explaining red to a person who lives in a blue world. Upon reflection, you’ll find that most things in life are defined in relative terms.

    I’ll give you some credit, you’re thinking in terms of an absolute reference frame, which is valid but only part of the picture. This dates back to the pre-1600’s era.

  • I admire Nasrallah for his courage and charisma and his relentless drive to liberate his country from foreign occupation, certainly he is one of the best Arab orator and speech writer and presenter ,his charisma and eloquence in Arabic language makes me proud of him, he is a heroes for thousands of Jordanian whether we like or not ,especially when his fighters stood to the most powerful army in the Middle East in 2006 and taught the israeli army a lesson they will never forget ….

  • Nas – thank you for that! Especially given how stimulating and intellectually challenging your posts are 🙂

    BamBam – I full heartedly agree with you regarding the limits imposed by representative democracy, but what I meant by public engagement was spaces for discussion and debate rather than the public voting for legislation. An example would be the ‘deliberative democratic models’ of governance advanced by green parties as well as other progressive left leaning parties. I also think that this model has echoes in our culture, were the Friday diwaniyat used to allow the citizens to express their problems and concerns collectively, but also be part of brainstorming solutions. This is what I mean by public engagement, more channels for input and feedback from the citizens about the policies affecting their everyday lives.

    (However, I want to point out that I do make a distinction between religion and politics, I was referring specifically to ‘political Islam’ which is the backbone of the Muslim brotherhood, Hezbollah and other similar movements)

    I also full heartedly agree with you regarding the current dominant ideologies being resilient, timeless, and beyond reason and logic (most of the time), but I do not see that as a deterrent to liberalism. Aren’t we having a discussion that is reasonable, logical and civil? Isn’t that what liberalism is? I think the problem with liberalism is that it is scattered in our countries and has not yet taken a coherent form.. that does not mean it doesn’t exist or can not manifest. But then, I have had a good weekend so I may be overly optimistic today 🙂

  • Very interesting post and comments!
    – I think an honest polititian is an oxymoron, let’s not ask the guy to be honest.
    – Hizballah is not merely a militia, it has a very wide popular base in Lebanon, it is also a political party. True, it gets support from Iran, but what’s the alternative if you are facing Israel, and if your inside opponents get support from Saudi Arabia? Without outside support they would suffocate. Traditional Arab armies have failed repeatedly in the conflict against Israel. Hizballah has been so far a successful alternative, disarming it would be insistence on failure. I think we must learn from the model and further develop it.
    – In order for a political movement to achieve popularity among common people, there has to be a charismatic leadership. I disagree with romanticizing the leader, it creates simplistic views, but if it is necessary to reach the masses of ordinary people, let it be.

  • Nas,
    I’m sorry if my reply is not really what this post is all about, but I personally think it’s a little bit too objective. I know it’s all what mass media should be about, but I would like to see more opinion go into that.. Come on!!! It’s a personal blog after all!!

  • يعني معلش يا دينا تفسر يلنا مصطلح اليبراليه يعني صرتي راميه مصطلح اليبراليه علينا أكثر من مرة،يعني قبل أن نبحث عن أي فكره أو أي أتجاه فكري معين ،يجب علينا أن نفسر الكلمه وما وراء هذا المصطلح

  • Why is leadership in the west something that companies pay millions for while in the arab world its viewed as idol worship? throughout history military, political, scientific and even social victories are always attached to a leader, so are defeats, The problem is not with having a leader, the issue is with the quality of leadership, so if we live in a sea of corrupt and incompetent leaders , how are you going to recognze a good leader when you see one? Its similar to neutron’s argument about explaining red for someone who lives in a blue world.

    If You ask a group of people to divide the following list of leaders into good and bad:

    Napoleon, Rommel, Bill Gates Rosa Parks, MLK Jr., Hitler, Ben Gurion, Theo Hertzel, Ehud Barak, Jamal Abdel Nasser, Sadat, Reagan, Nixon, Carter, Lenin, Che, Castro, Bill Gates, Ken Lay……

    you will be surprised by the results.

  • Alurdunialhurr- reading my post back now I do realise I went way off topic in explaining my concept of public engagement to bambam. So I apologise to Nas, you, and the other readers- ma kan azdi armi il mustala7 abadan..

  • Deena thanks actually for the explanation, and i disagree that your were digressing… what you were touching on in terms of public engagement and liberalism stabs the leadership idolizing issue at its heart actually.

    The lack of open channels of discussion and public engagement and the spirit of liberalism amongst the people drives the poles into pro-anti rather than a plethora view, hence everything in the arab world always seems black and white cause we stopped caring about the deeper implications for things since honestly it’s too costly of an investment at a personal level to undertake.

    So that makes leadership idolization a direct result of the absence of those factors, and makes it a lot easier to mobilize the populace.

    i’ll try to explain its definition here since i kinda know where ur heading with that…
    its liberalism in the classical liberalism sense… which simply stresses personal freedom and lack of governmental intervention. the focus is more on the social than the economical, and the classical sense can’t be confused with the revival of it, the neoliberalism, since it doesn’t hold the same view on social issues or even economical issues.
    thats what i mean when i use the term liberalism in that sense void of any prefixes.

  • Dears,
    we have to be clear here and I hsould point out tha every party or sector has its own hidden agenda. I dont doubt Nasarralah’s patriotisim or his love to serve his country, but I also dont doubt that the pro lebanes government fractions are as dirty as hell and they all have been finacialy supported by the US such as Waleed Junblat and the war criminal Ja3ja3. Also Harii has provided Al Qaaeda suspects with waepons in Naher el Bared. So Ladies and Genetelman, all of our politicinas are dirty and not trust worthy, the only thing I respect about Nasrallah that he has defended south elbanon for 20 years and kicked out the Israelis. But I do blame him on the july war and also on not being passive during the past week. But if he was passive, wouyld the Lebanese army intervened and would the fighting have stopped? I dont think so
    Please stop reading the 24/7 bashing on Hizbullah in Jordanian news papers, it makes me sick to the stomach

  • I think the best comment was that of BamBam, comment 4 above. I think we are fixated on the positive deed and we will ignore everything else. Without getting into Lebanese politics, we all learned in college that there is no free lunch in life, and certainly there are no angels amongst mortals. I wonder what Iran expects for its $400-900 Million annual donations to Hizballah. Ali you really don’t believe the Harriri giving weapons to Alqaida in Naher El bared crap do you? I know Nasrallah said something to that effect though. Oh, I forgot this post was about romatasizing leaders.

  • I wonder how truth is there in your claim of the favourism of Jordanians to Nasrallah. I see a lot of people who really hates him and many who know very well that he only brought self destruction into lebanon last summer. It was no win over Israel. It boils blood in my head hearing such claim and celebration for the destruction of lebanon.

  • “My problem is more philosophical as I have trouble digesting the presence of an ambitious armed militia, funded by external powers, that wants to become part of the Lebanese political spectrum, yet remain a militia.”

    isn’t this how most Arab despots found their way to power? need I bring the Arab history book for you to refresh your memory. and no need to get anyone else’s history book but ours.

    would love to speak some more on this issue but since I heard you track IPs I will have to say my farewells.

  • The Observer,,

    مشان النبي ما تحكي في السياسه لنها ليست من مجالك

Your Two Piasters: