There seem to be quite a few myths knocking round about Hezbollah which I think it's important to counter. Here are some of the comments I've read or heard so far and a brief summary of my objection(s):
They want to subject Lebanon (and the world) to Sharia law.
Well, this is out of date, unnuanced and part of the "Political Islam" critique that sees every political movement with an Islamic brand as part of a large homogeneous lump. It seems to me it's worth referencing what they actually say rather than simply tapping into a straight anti-Islam programme.
When Hezbollah were set up they were indeed for a state modeled on the Iranian regime, but as they gained influence and support among non-Muslims in Lebanon they made a commitment to a democratic state that recognised the diversity of the Lebanese people. Even the BBC admit that "this idea [of Sharia Law] was later abandoned in favour of a more inclusive approach that has survived to this day."
Their '96 manifesto (here) put their objectives as;
"- Abolishing political sectarianism...
"- A just and balanced electoral system that treats all the Lebanese even-handedly, allows for real representation, and leads towards developing the Lebanese political status through the approbation of Lebanon as one constituency with a proportional representation system.
"- Establishing real political institutions that can not be summarized in individuals, nor emptied by the dominance of parties or groups, or employed to serve the "favorites" and "guys". The most dangerous thing that confronts the state and topples its logic is politicizing the administration and linking it to political loyalties away from the criteria of qualification and equality.
"- Applying the principle of administration decentralization through a consistent and proportionate law that guarantees achieving administrative divisions capable of accomplishing efficient development in the various areas besides reviving the municipal and mayor councils to allow for real participation by the civil society in running its development and social affairs...
"- To work carefully and persistently on safeguarding public freedoms, i.e. the freedom of belief, freedom of syndical and political activity, freedom of practicing religious rituals and schooling, in addition to accomplishing the regulation of the media without abating the freedom of press, on one hand, but while preserving the maintenance of the identity, public ethics and morals on the other."
Part of this argument is that they are anti-democratic and would have me shot if they got the chance.
Now I think this is just fanciful and draws upon the events of the Iranian revolution - events that are not replicated in the Lebanese context. But I think the biggest argument against this is that they don't shoot their political opponents.
I was chatting to a Palestinian socialist who'd spent many years as an activist in Lebanon on Friday and I asked him this question. He was very clear, that whilst he opposed Hezbollah (rather vehemently) political assassinations are just not part of their agenda - and why would it be when pursuing democratic methods has paid off so well for them in the south?
They are the puppets of Iran and Syria.
Hezbollah certainly do receive political and financial support from Iran and Syria, but that's hardly the same thing as being their puppets. It's like saying thast Israel is the puppet regime of the US, or that Solidarity or Al Quaida were the CIA's puppets because they provided both organisations support.
It seems unlikely that Hezbollah fighters would willingly have plunged themselves into this conflict simply for the interests of Iran, as some are arguing. It's difficult to see the Iran/Syria baiting outside the context of the current US policies in the Middle East - they've already shown that if you're part of the axis of evil you are responsible for everything bad that happens in the world. I don't think that's a analysis that helps us understand the world.
They use civilians as shields and are cowards that hide in urban areas.
I would like to point out that this is the Israeli State's PR which parts of the media have been willing to repeat uncritically, so anyone who repeats this should be aware of the source of these allegations. Particularly in the early stages of Israeli operations this was the line that the IDF et al were using to justify bombing civilian areas, so it's partly down the line war propaganda of the kind we should have no truck with.
It's also important to understand that Hezbollah are not just a militia they are a political organisation that runs hospitals, social welfare programmes and other projects. The Israeli armed forces targetted political HQ's and the homes of leading Hezbollah members - where else would these things be but in built up areas?
In fact there are some that are arguing that Hezbollah have learned the lessons from Palestine and never commit military operations from urban areas because it leaves them open to spotting by collaberators. I don't know if that's true, but there's a logic to the argument.
They caused this problem by kidnapping IDF soldiers and should lay down their arms.
"Why is it that the whole world moves when 2 Israeli soldiers are kidnapped but nobody bothered to take action when Israel kidnapped two people, Cheikh Obeid and Cheikh Dirani from their homes in Lebanon and imprisoned them for more than 10 years? Why is it that the international community condemns Hezbollah for crossing the blue line at the time when according to the UN inspectors in Lebanon and since 2000 Israel has violated the Lebanese territories 11782 times?" (here)
The context of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon was one in which Israel has kidnapped literally thousands of Palestinians and Lebanese, including over half the Palestinian cabinet and have been conducting attacks that have regularly killed civilians for quite some time.
Hezbollah seized these two soldiers with the explicit intention of a prison swap of the like that have happened before - Israel have used this as a pretext to create mass terror in Lebanon creating over half a million refugees and killing more than 500 people - plus however many are still dying in Gaza. The idea that this was some sort of unprovoked attack is bizarre to say the least.
What would a Hezbollah ceasefire mean right now apart from immediate suicide? We can see today how far Israel's promises are worth, absolutely nothing, the only demand worth making is the immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon and Gaza because it is the precondition for a wider ceasefire.
They are linked to Al Qaida (or in a softer form they are like Al Qaida)
Hezbollah is a Lebanese mass movement based in civil society, the government and general culture - where as Al Qaida is a purely Islamic organisation with no roots in any particular country or struggle. Where Hezbollah exist in the open, believe in democracy, and gather their support from non-Muslims as well as Muslims, Al Qaida are incapable of doing any of these things.
The fact that Al Qaida would have nothing to do with Hezbollah as they don't even regard them as Muslims in the first place should give people some indication of how likely cooperation between the two groups is.
To define Hezbollah simply as a terrorist organisation I think is to ignore it's real social roots and motivations. It's also to underestimate how very dangerous they are.
It's been quite interesting trying to clarify facts because the moment you try to discuss the accuracy of what someone has said about Hezbollah you immediately become a loyal supporter defending them from the enemy - is it actually possible to want a political debate to be free of unthinking propaganda no matter what side its coming from without being seen as a defence of that group rather than a defence of the facts?
Rather coincidentally while I was in the middle of drafting this a really interesting briefing was published by Ed Rooksby here. Read it!