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.