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Snap Judgments

About That Nasrallah Interview

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

On August 17 we published a very interesting interview with Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah. A CounterPunch reader had found it on the Marxmail list, moderated by Louis Proyect, and passed it along to us. The interview was translated from Turkish, in which language it had appeared in the Turkish socialist daily, Evrensel, on August 12 and 13. We didn’t publish the full interview, which had some sections on the war that had been somewhat overtaken by events. Of interest to us was the very radical timbre of Nasrallah’s language and his remarks about the world struggle against imperialism.

The interview hadn’t been up our website for long before it was the target of a rather blustering denunciation by As’ad AbuKhalil, on his Angry Arab website, claiming that this was clearly a forgery and was perhaps an interview with the Nasrallah kidnapped by Israelis in a raid on the hospital near Ba’albek. Around the same time a few readers forwarded to us a note to his list sent by Gilbert Achcar, the Paris-based writer on Middle Eastern politics, saying "the interview seemed quite bizarre for people familiar with the topic". Achcar said he’d contacted "a source in Beirut in close touch with Hezbollah" who "has confirmed to me that it is a forgery."

We established that the interview had indeed appeared in Evrensel, a serious newspaper, and Nasrallah’s remarks had aroused some comment in the Turkish press, particularly because of his homage in the interview to the Turkish revolutionary Deniz Gezmis. CounterPuncher Ali Tonak in Beirut confirmed that the English translation from Turkish was good.

Of course there are always fakes floating around, but we weren’t particularly impressed with the outburst on Angry Arab which seemed to verge on a sort of "proprietary" bark, almost as if he owned Nasrallah and resented trespass. There was even a whiff of orientalizing, about what a Shi’a leader should or should not be capable of saying. Our view is the Nasrallah is a very smart fellow, and knew perfectly well he was addressing a left Turkish audience.

Then Professor Idris Samawi Hamid who teaches at the Department of Philosophy at Colorado State University forwarded us a note that he had sent to Angry Arab:

There is no prima facie reason to suppose this interview is fake. There is nothing in it that conflicts with the revolutionary Shi`i ideology of the Hawzah. A close reading shows that Sayyid Hassan [Nasrallah] is subtly but clearly critical of socialist movements and is trying to bring/return them into a common platform.

Dear Brother Abdollah Irani is apparently not very familiar with revolutionary Shi`i, or even revolutionary Islamic, discourse. Even the martyr Sayyid Qutb was close to many socialists. His letter to Ayatollah Kashani during the Mosaddeq crisis is illustrative.

There have been at least one other interviews with Sayyid Hassan since the start of the war, with al-Jazeera.

Unfortunately academic leftists in the West (and that apparently includes Khalil) have for the most part refused to truly study Islamic liberation theology (especially the school of Imam Khumayni) and its categories; the disbelief in the interview stems largely from believing their own anti-Muslim/anti-Islamic movement propoganda which, often, is no less venomous than that of their right-wing opponents.

As a professor of Shi`i studies and philosophy I can confidently state: A careful study of this interview shows that, even if it is fake (possible but unlikely), the faker has a very strong knowledge of Islamic revolutionary discourse and the mindset of Sayyid Hassan. There is not a single sentence that is out of place.

Instead of shouting "fake!" we should be encouraging the kind of broad anti-imperialist front that this interview encapsulates. This includes the toning down of the generally virulent, hostile (and mostly false) anti-Islamic movement propaganda of Western leftists and socialists.

Professor Hamid, who is editor-in-chief of International Journal of Shi`i Studies emphasized in a later note to us that "as an academic in the field I can state that there is no compelling reason to assume the interview is fake. A careful study of this interview shows that, even if it is fake (possible but unlikely), the faker has a very strong knowledge of Islamic revolutionary discourse and the mindset of Sayyid Hassan. There is not a single sentence that is out of place."

Professor Hamid remarked to us that:

"the diversity of Islamic movements, and the distinction between Islamic movements and extreme anarchist anti-movements like al-Qaedah (the mirror image of the neocons) needs more analysis and discussion. For example: it has been popular in the corporate media to associate Bin Laden and Sayyid Qutb, though there is in fact very little in common between them. If you read his letter to Kashani the chasm between them will become apparent (economic justice, for example, where Qutb is a virtual socialist)."

Meanwhile we asked Ali Tonak in Beirut to contact the interviewers, which he duly did. According to Tonak, they form a radical "anarcho-communist" film collective which did solid work during the war. They told him that they’d sought an interview with Nasrallah from the outset and that (of course) it was genuine. They ridiculed Achcar’s admittedly very vague reliance on an unnamed source, relying in turn on another unnamed source in Hezbollah. They said that in fact no one in Hezbollah had denounced the interview which, so they told Ali Tonak, had been read out ­- presumably in Farsi — on Iranian state radio.

Ali Tonak relayed to us the collective’s lengthy Turkish statement, flush with militant rhetoric, mostly ­ as Ali reports — a diatribe against Zionism and the authoritarian left.

Title: Dedicated to Internet Revolutionaries and Intellectuals

We were able observe the 33 day attempt to invade Lebanon and the resistance against it on the ground. We did this in the face of the monopoly of the imperialist information outlets of the west, we had the privilege of observing a people’s resistance against occupation in the battlefield while as if they were honorably proclaiming "enough talk it’s time for action."

While bombs and nuclear death rained upon people, the west, underneath the mask of human rights and anti-war rhetoric was busy chastising Nasrallah and therefore Islam and his resistance to invasion. All these were done in the name of Marxism and the left. By using talk along the nonsensical lines of ‘Israel is a commiting a crime but (but…but…but…) Hizbullah is a religious fundementalist, backwards etc.’ the western intellectuals had no shame in merely observing the fire raging in the region.

While we were in the region we observed the incredible difference and the wall of comprehension between east and west. While a fire was raging in the east, in the west there were commentaries on the virtual Internet battlefields that were littered with but…but….buts and occasionally racist language.

Even though neither Nasrallah or Hizbullah has refuted the interview, the supposed internet intellectuals of the west, hiding behind a mask of so-called human rights and anti-war position, are trying to drive a wedge between the possible unity of oppressed people. If they think they are successful in their animosity towards Islam and the East, they should remember that in the actual battlefield there are honorable oppressed people of the east who have obliterated imperialism and Zionism…they should think of this African saying "Until the lions have their own historians, stories of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.

It is easy to smear and rhetorize on internet battlefields. It is easy to win a war and make a revolution in the virtual world…. it is easy to make prejudiced political analysis in the virtual world…. we don’t have the time to bother with so-called internet intellectuals or revolutionaries but we had to make this short statement and while withholding our right to privacy on certain subjects we dedicate this to the online revolutionaries and intellectuals."

Reading this, one thought we have here at CounterPunch is that on their original account the Seyh Bedreddin Film Kolektifi was told by their Hezbollah escorts that no recording devices would be permitted ­ very understandable in the age of homing devices and Israel’s oft-expressed intent to murder Nasrallah. If the interview was in Arabic and the interviewers taking notes, some of their own idiom could have found its way into the text. But this is merely a speculation.

Another very well placed person, politically and intellectually well attuned, also made direct enquiries to a senior member of Hezbollah on CounterPunch’s behalf, thus far eliciting no response. As our intermediary remarks: "Perhaps [he]is too busy with other things now, or perhaps he is puzzled I would ask about the authenticity of an interview that in fact occurred." In our intermediary’s opinion Gilbert Achcar had been "too eager to declare the interview a forgery".

That’s what we know at this point about the Nasrallah interview. The remarks of Idris Samawi Hamid bear repeating:

Instead of shouting "fake!" we should be encouraging the kind of broad anti-imperialist front that this interview encapsulates. This includes the toning down of the generally virulent, hostile (and mostly false) anti-Islamic movement propaganda of Western leftists and socialists.

And who knows, suppose now there comes a denial from Hezbollah? Maybe there could have been a subsequent feeling that the interview was impolitic in the Turkish context. In the late 1970s I and Jim Ridgeway, working at the Village Voice, went to interview William Winpisinger, head of the International Association of Machinists and a powerful, left-ish labor leader. At that time organized labor’s feelings against Jimmy Carter were running high. Jim and I laid our tape recorder on Winpisinger’s desk, turned it on and asked, "What can Jimmy Carter do to redeem himself in your eyes?" Without hesitation Winpisinger answered, "Die." There was a long pause and then, reluctantly, he added some decorous qualification. When the interview was published on the front page of the Voice a couple of days later Winpisinger’s press guy called up, frantic, and vehemently denied Winpy had said any such thing. But he had, right there on the tape.