Islamic history, Lebanon

Bekaa Valley, hash fields and Jihadists

Bekaa Valley

Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley is situated to the east of Beirut, it shares a 75 mile border with Syria and is notorious for its Jihadist roots, symbolised by the the rather imposing Shia cleric and Hizb’allah founder Hassan Nazrallah. Hizb’allah’s inception (1985) was amid the civil war (1975-1990) and in response to its perceived failures of the other main Shia Muslim party, the Amal Movement. As the war rumbled to a close the electoral process resumed (1992) and Hizb’allah won 8 parliamentary seats. Its participation was, in crude terms, a needs must decision if the party was to inspire the trust of the more secular element and succeed in its pursuit of a fairer lot for the Lebanese Shia population. Media focus is currently on Hizb’allah’s role in the Syrian conflict but the party hotly denies allegations that hashish production finances its endeavours. This is a moot point but one certainty is, that hashish cultivation long predates modern warfare.

Hashish/Cannabis

Inhabitants claim that the rather distinctive hashish plant grows naturally in the Valley, which provides a rational explanation for the failure of the Lebanese government to eradicate the plant completely. Hashish (Arabic for grass) is otherwise known as cannabis, derived from the word kanneh or kannabus (Hebrew for aromatic reed/hemp). Unfortunately the plant does not share its semitism with either language as both Judaism and Islam are anti its use for much the same reason; it is said to cause people to lose control of their sensibilities and render them incapable of fulfilling their duty to God. This view is in tandem with the majority of national laws, with the notion of a deity being replaced by the state. Apart from the possession and growth of miniscule amounts the use of hash for recreational purposes is outlawed globally.

Hizb’allah, Hermel/Baalbek district

Currently Hizb’allah holds 12 parliamentary seats, just one less than the Amal Movement, five are in Bekaa’s Baalbek/Hermel district and one of its parliamentary members is a Sunni Muslim. This is no surprise as, among the inhabitants of Bekaa, there is a very real fear of the threat posed by the Syrian rebel groups, which transcends the sectarianism so prevalent throughout Lebanon. The government has recruited more troops in the last three years though they are more concentrated on the far northern border just south of Syria’s Hims Highway. Regardless of the barrage of media attention highlighting an alliance with Syrian President al-Assad and Iran, Hizb’allah appears committed to not only serving its constituents but to safeguarding Lebanese sovereignty. Circumspection as to its role in the hashish trade thus is rendered secondary to its preparedness to defend Bekaa against invasion by Islamic State.

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