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What the Lebanese Public Thinks of Hezbollah

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Now for a sense of popular opinion in Lebanon, we go to Beirut and to Michael Young. He's opinion editor of the English language newspaper The Daily Star. Thanks for being with us.

Mr. MICHAEL YOUNG (The Daily Star): Thanks for having me.

BLOCK: When you hear Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah today say that Hezbollah has won a strategic and historic victory over Israel, would you say that that opinion is shared by the majority of the Lebanese people?

Mr. YOUNG: Well, it's certainly shared by a majority of Shiites, I think. There are other non-Shiites who would share that opinion who would say that at least Israel wasn't able to achieve its goals on the ground in south Lebanon.

On the other hand, I think there are a lot of Lebanese also saying what kind of victory is this, where we're several billion dollars back, where our infrastructure is destroyed, and where in a way, it may have been victory on the ground in the south, but the rest of the country is demoralized, and I think we may take many years to get out of this. I tend to agree with this view.

BLOCK: You're pointing to one of the many divides within Lebanon, and there are many. It's an incredibly diverse society that's seen its share of sectarian tensions before, to put it mildly. How worried are you that those sectarian tensions will bubble up at this point to something very damaging for the country?

Mr. YOUNG: Well, I don't think anyone really wants a new civil war. What worries me, however, is that this evening I was listening to Nasrallah, you mentioned his speech. Nasrallah today sounded very much like a president. And I think what worries me is that he will use the momentum from this victory and try to essentially stage an, effectively, a coup de tat against the system and take it in hand.

And, of course, if he does try to do that, then I am very much worried about sectarian tension.

BLOCK: You know, a year ago, we were talking about, obviously, a very different situation. This was the time when Syria was withdrawing following the assassination of Rafi Khariri(ph). It seemed to be a time when Lebanon was coming together, as opposed to fracturing, as we're talking about now. What do you think happened to those ideals from a year ago?

Mr. YOUNG: Well, I don't think Lebanon was coming together at the time. I mean, I think that the absent community from the unity many people saw after Khariri's assassination, there was one big community missing, and it was the Shiite community. They did not have deep, philosophical problems with Syria or with the Syrian presence. Indeed, it's under the Syrian presence that the Shiite community and Hezbollah essentially rose, took on more power in the society.

And on the other side, there was what I continue to say was a majority of Sunnis, of Christians, of Jews, but who were really united around one thing, their dislike of Syria.

BLOCK: And does that dislike of Syria translate to a dislike of Hezbollah now?

Mr. YOUNG: No, it's a mixed bag. I think it's a different reaction. Hezbollah is Lebanese, though of course it takes a lot of its orders from Iran, it's kept alive by Iran. But it remains obviously anchored in Lebanese society. And so it's I think quite a different reaction to Hezbollah than you would have to Syria, which is of course a foreign power.

BLOCK: And what would reign in Hezbollah at this point? What would keep the scenario from unfolding as you've laid it out?

Mr. YOUNG: Well, I'm afraid at this point nothing will reign in Hezbollah except another war, and I'm certainly not calling for another war. I think we should make one thing very clear. Hezbollah is not a political party that decided to arm. Hezbollah was created as an armed group. The notion that Hezbollah will give up its arms, I think, is ridiculous. I think we're in for very tough times ahead with Hezbollah, and I have almost no doubt that we will enter into other crises with the party in the future.

BLOCK: Michael Young, thanks for talking with us.

Mr. YOUNG: Thanks for having me.

BLOCK: Michael Young is opinion editor of the English language newspaper The Daily Star in Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.