By Mohammad I. Aslam:
Lina Khatib, Dina Mater and Atef Alshaer, The Hizbullah Phenomenon: Politics and Communication, Published by Hurst, 2014. New from £18.84 (Amazon paperback). ISBN: 1849043353.
In Hizbullah: Politics and Communication, a trio of authors endeavour to shine light on the evolutionary transformation of arguably the most powerful sub-state political and military movement in the Middle East, Hizbullah. They do this by dissecting its sophisticated political communications strategy.
The authors, evidently aware that most previous studies on the Hizbullah movement have tended to focus on its cultural, ideological, military and political paradigms, attempt to bridge a gap in the analysis of the movement by focusing on how the dexterous use of mass communication goes hand in hand with its nearly 30 years of exponential growth.
The main gist of the narrative is therefore designed to furnish readers with a corollary of descriptive examples demonstrating how the movement was able to not only successfully remain relevant through turbulent times, wars and civil upheavals, but to propagate into a global movement in the process.
The authors attempt to accomplish this by analysing and connecting segments of Hizbullah’s elaborate interplay of culture, image, language and self-presentation on the one hand, and spectacular military and political campaigns on the other.
In addition to this, a sizeable and crucial concentration is given to the movement’s most successful propagator of political communication, its Secretary-General, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, whom the authors quite rightly view as giving the movement a sense of exaltation and infallibility.
Other essential factors which are given credence are the movement’s central messages of “victimisation”, a successful penetration into archenemy Israel’s political and military establishment, and Hizbullah’s emphasis on nationalism, which is aligned with the group’s political progression.
The book has many strengths. Firstly, the authors are all Middle Eastern with expertise in media studies, and are thus able to provide readers with a better understanding of the complexities and emotions that are inherent in Arab audiences – and for that matter confessional groups in Lebanon of which the Hizbullah-supporting Shiites happen to be the largest.
Secondly, and despite generally appearing to be complimentary of Hizbullah’s communicative efforts, all three authors are clearly scholars with no personal interest or stake in the movement’s message. This is vital to ensure a balanced and concise view of its communicative success and failures.
The final chapter of the book keeps audiences aware that despite an impressive run of communicating its political message across the country (and even internationally to a certain extent), apparent shortcomings and weaknesses in this otherwise very successful strategy have become more noticeable. In particular, the movement’s media strategy designed to justify its support of the incumbent regime in Syria has not been selling well with Arab audiences.
Overall, the book is a diligent piece of media analysis and one that deserves the attention of those interested in the nonlinear communicative strategies of powerful sub-state actors like Hizbullah.
Mohammad I. Aslam is a PhD candidate in Political Science at the institute of Middle-Eastern Studies, Kings College London. His research analyses the Political and Military dynamics of Lebanese Hezbollah.