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Hizbullah

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The Islamic World: Past and Present What is This? Accessible coverage of Islam from the seventh century to the twenty-first century

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    Hizbullah

    The term hizb Allah comes from the Qur'an and refers to the “soldiers of God” among Muslim believers, who form the “party of God” that will triumph over the Devil's party. Shi'is in Iran use the term Hizbullah to refer to their “Party of God,” which they claim follows the teachings of Ayatollah Ruhollah al-Musavi Khomeini. The Hizbullah slogan states its philosophy as follows: “Only one party, the Party of Allah; only one leader, Ruhollah.” Hizbullah (also spelled Hezbollah) groups have been most active in Iran and Lebanon since the 1980s.

    Support for Iran's Revolution.

    Islamic activism in Iran dates back to the 1940s and 1950s, when scattered extremist organizations resisted injustices under the shah's autocratic rule and opposed his efforts to modernize society. They feared that modernization was just an excuse to “westernize” society, undermining traditional Islam and replacing it with nonreligious or anti-Islamic norms. This fear was heightened when they were denied the right to express their views. Some, including the Hizbullah, resorted to violence. In 1978 and 1979 , members of Iran's Hizbullah played a central role in the organization of demonstrations and strikes that led to the downfall of Reza Shah Pahlavi's regime. Following the victory of the revolution, they served as unofficial watchdogs for the Islamic Republican party. Often recruited from poor city neighborhoods, members of Iran's Hizbullah used clubs, chains, knives, and guns to disrupt the rallies of opposing parties. They beat members of the opposition and ransacked their offices. The violent actions of Hizbullah led to the closing of universities, enforcement of veiling, suppression of the press, and intimidation of the people into silence. In addition, Iran's Hizbullah provided a steady supply of fighters eager to enlist in the war against Iraq in the 1980s. Although the Iranian Hizbullah has never achieved formal party status, it remains very active informally. Some Hizbullah squads have become private militias for powerful clerics, and some are reported to have links to international terrorist organizations.

    Attacks on the West.

    Lebanon's Hizbullah arose among Shi'is after the Iranian revolution and became a major political force during the 1980s. The organization gained international attention for its attacks against Israeli forces occupying southern Lebanon, its attacks against French and American troops in Lebanon, and its taking of Western hostages. Hizbullah has become the major rival of the established Amal movement in Lebanon, and it has as its stated goal the transformation of Lebanon into an Islamic state. The party has used both violence and parliamentary elections to further its goal.

    In 1985 Lebanon's Hizbullah issued an “open letter” to the world stating that they “are proceeding toward a battle with vice at its very roots, and the first root of vice is America.” The letter identified four goals—the termination of all American and French influence in Lebanon; Israel's complete departure from Lebanon as a “prelude to [Israel's] final obliteration;” submission of the Lebanese Phalangists (a Christian political party and militia sympathetic to Israel) to “just rule” and trial for their “crimes”; and allowance for people to choose their own system of government. Lebanon's Hizbullah has used both open and clandestine actions to carry out its program. It created a secret branch called Organization of the Islamic Jihad to operate against Western targets. Islamic Jihad members conducted assassinations and bombing campaigns, and they implemented the policy of using suicide attackers in the struggle. Suicide attacks destroyed the command facilities of Israeli forces in 1982 and 1983 ; the Beirut barracks of American and French peacekeeping troops in 1983 ; and the U.S. Embassy and its annex in two separate attacks in Lebanon in 1983 and 1984 . Hundreds of people died in these assaults, the worst of which killed 241 American marines in their barracks. Hizbullah has also conducted kidnappings and airline hijackings to free members imprisoned in Europe and the Middle East.

    Lebanon's Hizbullah faced political change when a Syrian-backed government came to power in 1989 . In Beirut and parts of the south, Hizbullah laid down its arms and turned over positions to the newly reconstructed Lebanese army. Islamic Jihad, however, remained exempt from this general disarming and continued to wage guerrilla war against Israel in the south. Hizbullah gained credit for forcing the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon in 2000 . Although Hizbullah did not accept the specifics of the Ta'if Accord that brought an end to the Lebanese civil war in 1989 , it actively participated in the political system created by the agreement. In the 1992 parliamentary elections, it won the largest single bloc of seats—eight—and since that time, has been the leading opposition force to the Syrian-dominated governments of the late 1990s and early 2000s. See also Iran; Lebanon.

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