The Shia and Hizbullah: What explains the Appeal?

It has long seemed odd how Hizbullah appeals to the Shiites, of all classes, backgrounds and degrees of religiosity.
I have come across Shiites who have married outside the faith, have no connection to Shiism in any way other than their heritage, rooting for Hizbullah and some getting emotionally scarred by any criticism of the group which the US classifies as a foreign terrorist organization
This has puzzled me and others.
The Lebanese Shiites are a rural community with about 85% of them living in the underdeveloped areas of South Lebanon and the Bekaa.
My friend Professor Imad Salamey of the Lebanese American University (LAU aka BUC) of Beirut co-wrote an article emphasizing that economic issues have played a major role in the appeal of the group to the Shiites who live mainly in underdeveloped areas or in the largely impoverished suburbs of Beirut called Dahyeh.
Along the same thinking, Mr. Ahmad al Asaad, the son of the previous Speaker of the Parliament, Kamel al Assad, in his recent visit to Washington spoke about massive Iranian financial support and how about 37,000 Shiite families are direct beneficiaries of Hizbullah. This level of support has built a major constituency for the group, Mr. Al Asaad argued.
The economic factor is definitely important. But the economic argument cannot explain why wealthy non- observant individuals, even those born and raised in the West and never having stepped foot in the Arab world, strongly support Hizbullah. (Overwhelmingly- this support is emotional and not of the illegal type).
Professor Ahmad Nizar Hamzeh, previously of the American University of Beirut, has a better explanation that he provides in his excellent book, In the Path of Hizbulah.
In this book Dr. Hamzeh goes over the history of the Shiites to make an argument for a Shiite “identity crisis” that made the community ripe for the appeal of the Hizbullah.
He begins his book by a short but highly informative overview of the emergence of Shiism. He writes “The most outstanding aspect of the Shiite belief system is their conviction that their community, because of its lineage from the prophet through the Imams, is he legitimate interpreter of Islam” (p. 8)
Then he goes over the history of the sect that dominated the Muslim world in the 10th century, a dominance that receded and had no signs of resurgence until the revolution of the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979. Shiite Islam’s dominance in the 10th century had the Shiite Buyids dynasty ruling Iran and Iraq while the Shiite Fatimid Ismailis ruled Egypt, North Africa and Syria. This dominance ended with the conquests of Salah al Din Al Ayyubi and the Turkish Mamluks.

As to Lebanon, the Sunni Mamluks distrusted the Shiites and pushed them away from Kisrwan, replacing them by the Christian Maronites and in the coastal areas replacing them by the Sunnis. Historically, the Shiite community lost land and associated privileges to the benefit of the Druze, Sunnis and the Maronites. Even Fakhr al Din, a giant of Lebanese history, is said to have persecuted the Shiites.
I think Dr. Hamzeh's explanation carries water.
It is the only analysis that explains why Haifa Wehbe’, the half- Shiite Lebanese, half Egyptian artist (famous for the Wawa song, among other classics) would declare that she supports Hizbullah and its leader! She neither wears a chador nor wants economically.


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