The role of rhetoric in legitimizing authority : the speeches of Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah during the 2006 War
Hopkins, Rebecca Ann Gutow
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In 2006, Hizbullah operatives captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border attack, prompting a 34-day war in which neither Israel nor Hizbullah emerged victorious. Yet despite Hizbullah’s instigation of the war, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary-General of Hizbullah, largely retained both his popular appeal and his legitimacy during and after the conflict. Noting this paradox, I examine how Nasrallah maintained his legitimacy, defined as having an accepted claim to authority, throughout and after the war. To do so, I perform content analysis on the seven major speeches that Nasrallah delivered during the war in order to answer the following question: How did Nasrallah utilize rhetoric to maintain his legitimacy as Hizbullah’s leader throughout the 2006 war between Israel and Hizbullah? I then draw upon these observations to discuss my subsidiary research question: How does having a better understanding of political rhetoric, particularly in terms of Hizbullah, affect U.S. policies towards the Middle East, and specifically in Lebanon? I argue that Nasrallah framed his message in these speeches using three particular themes: the “us versus them” narrative; the fulfillment of a divinely inspired mission, also known as the NasR ilaahi, or the divine triumph theme; and Hizbullah’s role as the protector of the Lebanese and the Palestinians. In tandem with Hizbullah’s self-identification as a resistance movement, I show that Nasrallah continuously qualified Hizbullah’s mission as defensive. I also demonstrate that Nasrallah chose his words to foster a sense of community and common purpose. Additionally, I note that he often appealed to values widely held through the Arab world, including the sense of karaama, or dignity, and taDaamun, or solidarity, in his remarks. To answer the second question, I review current U.S. policies towards Lebanon and note the ways in which these policies may not resonate with the Lebanese population. I argue that current U.S. policies, which focus on supporting the Lebanese Armed Forces, the Internal Security Forces, developing stronger civil society, and promoting democratization, do not counter Hizbullah’s power partly because U.S. public diplomacy initiatives do not take Nasrallah’s rhetoric and legitimacy into account.