Globally, western forces define Hezbollah as a terrorist organization (Peate 1). However, in some sections of the Muslim world, people consider Hezbollah as a resistance movement that protects Muslims against the “excesses” of the western world. The group’s main base of operation is in Lebanon. Its popularity in Lebanon, and some parts of the Muslim world, stems from its role in resisting Israeli aggression in Lebanon.
Iran and Syria are the primary supporters of Hezbollah because Syria provides logistical support for the organization, while Iran provides financial support (IDF 4). A key goal of the Hezbollah movement is the complete “destruction” of Israel. Hezbollah has also affirmed its commitment to Islamic rule and the elimination of any imperialist power in Lebanon.
The sheer size and influence of Hezbollah in Lebanon has caused many observers to fear that the movement’s influence and powers surpass the Lebanese army (Barnard 11). However, this has not been the case. Hezbollah started as a small resistance army of young men willing to fight and risk their lives for the protection of Lebanon (Horowitz 5).
Quickly, the movement gained support in the country (especially among Shi’a Muslims) and today exists in many aspects of the Lebanese political, social, and economic spaces (Horowitz 1). For example, Hezbollah has representatives in the Lebanese government and media. Its ability to mobilize thousands of people to demonstrate against political and social issues in Lebanon demonstrates its power and influence in Lebanon. A key pillar of Hezbollah’s success has been propaganda.
Propaganda is Hezbollah’s auxiliary strategy (besides military combat) to advance its ideologies. Most of its propaganda war aims to undermine Israel and western powers. Particularly, Hezbollah has published thousands of news articles and produced many videos that contain hateful messages about Israel and America.
The same campaigns support and preach the importance of Jihad and martyrdom in the Middle East (Lyon 5). Interestingly, little propaganda refers to Lebanon (which the movement alleges to protect). This paper examines Hezbollah’s propaganda strategies by highlighting notable strategies of Hezbollah’s propaganda campaign.
These strategies include the construction of a propaganda theme park, the establishment of a Hezbollah television station (Al-Manar), the development of anti-Israeli video games, and the production of varied merchandise that promote Hezbollah’s ideas and values.
Hezbollah has built a theme park on top of a mountain, overlooking South Lebanon, as part of its campaign to celebrate its victories over Israel. The theme park provides its visitors a fun-filled day for all family members, as they learn about Hezbollah’s victories and successes in their anti-western campaign.
Dozens of buses filled with school children drive into the park daily to learn about Hezbollah’s activities (Duffy 1). Some anti-western campaigners have also visited the site to popularize it. To depict Hezbollah’s radical nature, the organizers allow everybody from all over the world except Israelites to visit the site.
A trip to the theme park starts by highlighting the history of Hezbollah. One section of the park shows a part of the combat history of Hezbollah with a display of weapons and open footprints to symbolize the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon. The organization also displays its military intelligence by displaying a map of Israeli’s military structure in one museum at the park (Duffy 4).
In the same section of the museum, Hezbollah displays its technological sophistication by showing its sophisticated military arsenal. In contrast, outside the museum (at the site of an exploded Israeli bomb), Hezbollah has preserved a damaged military tank (belonging to Israeli forces).
Lyon (12) says this site represents the organization’s triumph over Israel. At the same site, real-life depictions of Hezbollah fighters exist in a forest. Some fighters fire rockets, while others take cover. The site is a dramatic representation of Hezbollah warfare. NOW (5) says because many people come to visit the museum, annually, plans are underway to build hotels and modernize transport within the park (Lyon 7).
Overall, Hezbollah aims to let everybody learn its history and achievements at the park. However, the organization has carefully designed its messages to omit its misgivings to the society. Notably, the Hezbollah theme park only strives to highlight Hezbollah’s success without informing its audiences about its “ugly” side. For example, the organization does not highlight several airplane hijackings that it has conducted.
Moreover, there are no evidences of the organization’s participation in suicide bombings around the Middle East and other parts of the world. Certainly, although hijackings and suicide bombings characterize a significant part of Hezbollah’s history and growth, the audience does not have an opportunity to learn about this.
For example, Hezbollah’s invasion in Beirut in 2008 forms a significant part of Hezbollah’s history, but there is no evidence of such information in the theme park (Lyon 7). Mass murders in Argentina and Saudi Arabia also form part of Hezbollah’s history, but such information is conspicuously absent at the theme park. Referring to the deliberate attempt by Hezbollah to “whitewash” its “ugly” history, Totten (17) says,
“Visitors are not told about the kidnapping, torture, and murder of Americans in the 1980s. A real Hezbollah museum would have a wax figure of a journalist chained to a radiator. No history of Hezbollah is complete without noting that the Party of God kidnapped the CIA’s Beirut station chief William Buckley and tortured him to death, but Hezbollah wants everyone to forget about that” (Totten 17).
To paint a clearer picture of the atrocities committed by Hezbollah, it is also important to point out Hezbollah’s failure to include its destruction of American and French bases in Beirut.
Since Hezbollah has failed to include the most significant parts of its history in the theme park, it is correct to say, the organization aims to manipulate its audience by forcing them to believe Hezbollah is a peaceful movement. Totten (16) also says they understand that what they have done may not appeal to many people and therefore they do not highlight it in their propaganda campaign. Indeed, like other terrorist groups around the world, they seek legitimacy and popularity.
Hezbollah’s strategy to control how the world sees it has replicated in other events where the organization interacts with the media. For example, in one visit to a Hezbollah-controlled neighborhood by CNN’s Cooper (1), Hezbollah prevented the journalist from talking with people in one neighborhood. However, it permitted him to talk to other people in another neighborhood. This incident shows how Hezbollah controls information outflow by dictating where the source of information should be.
The same strategy replicates when Cooper (8) and another journalist film outside “acceptable zones” of doing so. Hezbollah men took their cameras, perused the films and later allowed them to proceed with their journey, after ascertaining that they did not film what they should not (Cooper 8). Broadly, these incidents show that Hezbollah wants to present a biased understanding of its activities by denying journalists their independence when reporting.
Chomsky (11) believes that the quest to control a media source is an attempt by organizations to subvert the spirit of democracy. To understand this statement, Chomsky (5) first embarks on explaining democracy as, “One in which the public has the means to participate in some useful way in the management of their own affairs and the meaning of information is open and free” (5).
Hezbollah’s control of information subverts the meaning of democracy because it uses this strategy to “manufacture” consent and manipulate people to believe their ideas. Chomsky (11) equates this attempt to “a revolution in the art of democracy.” He also equates this attempt to a strategy of “manufacturing” consent because it forces people to agree with some issues that they are not a part of (Chomsky 12).
An interesting observation about Hezbollah’s campaign strategy is its failure to target western people as the main audience because it still struggles to achieve local support. Totten (16) says Hezbollah’s strategy to sell itself as a patriotic militia group in Lebanon is a vital strategy for its survival because many people are starting to think of the organization as a foreign-backed militia with a biased representation of Muslims.
Moreover, many people are starting to see the organization as a bully that disrespects other groups. Such negative sentiments come from the view that Hezbollah has created many unnecessary internal conflicts. So far, its involvement in the Syrian war is threatening Lebanese peace as well because its participation in the war may have a spillover effect in the country (Barnard 10). Such recent activities by Hezbollah show that the organization may be equally monstrous In Lebanon as it is in other parts of the world.
Hezbollah Television (Al-Manar)
IDF (1) believes that Hezbollah’s presence in television media would not suffice if it were not for the funding received from Iran. In return, Hezbollah promotes many Iranian ideologies in its media stations. For example, Hezbollah has supported the Iranian revolution. It also emphasizes Iran’s ideologies in the largely Shi’a Lebanese country. So far, its television media propaganda campaign has been largely successful in creating a negative perception of Israel and America.
One strategy that the organization has used to achieve this objective is “demonizing” its enemies. For example, Al-Manar often refers to Israel as a “Zionist entity” to dehumanize it among Muslim followers (IDF 3). Using the same strategy, Hezbollah refers to America as the “enemy of Islam”, thereby hoping to reinforce the idea that the US is against Islamic beliefs. The same strategy aims to reinforce the idea that the US is the main source of all global evil.
The station also camouflages extreme terrorist actions, such as suicide bombings, by using more Islam-friendly words (like Jihad) to speak to its audience. The station also creates a positive spin to terrorism by using Islamic words, like Shahadah (IDF 3). For example, the television station often reinforces the belief that suicide bombers that dedicate their lives for the achievement of Jihad goals get a reward in heaven.
The station also commits itself to glorifying Jihad activities, such as suicide bombings. For example, in 2001, the station praised Muhammad Mahmoud Bakker Nasr for blowing himself in a restaurant and injuring dozens of people (because they wanted its audience to understand that such an action was a noble activity that warrants praise) (IDF 4).
Tactfully, the station conveys these messages to specific demographics (audiences), depending on the nature of their audiences. Mainly, Al-Manar tailors its propaganda to appeal to Arab audiences, western audiences, and Lebanese audiences.
The main message conveyed by Al-Manar to Lebanese audiences is that it is Lebanon’s main defender against calculating forces (Israel and the US). IDF (3) believes most of the messages presented by this media outfit aim to make the Lebanese audience believe that the terror outfit is independent and nationalistic.
Although the television station aims to make its people believe these falsehoods, it mainly fosters the ideas of Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah through the station. IDF (3) associates the ideas of this leader to the creation of the state-of-the-art theme park in South Lebanon, as a direct way for Hezbollah to teach people its ideas and beliefs.
Many observers believe the perception of the terror outfit as a nationalistic movement is a clever cover-up by Hezbollah’s leadership to conceal its main activities (terror). IDF (4) dissects this truth by saying Hezbollah’s existence does not stem from the support it gets in Lebanon, but the financial support it gets from Iran and the political support it gets from Syria.
The organization therefore uses the Lebanese people as a shield to gain legitimacy and undertake its terrorist activities. For example, the IDF (4) reports that the organization has used the Lebanese people as human shields during combat.
Unfortunately, Hezbollah’s propaganda movement does not spare young and innocent Lebanese children because it inculcates them into a culture of terror and intolerance to diverse views as well. The creation of Iman Al-Mahdi scout movement is one example that shows Hezbollah’s initiative to recruit young boys into its movement. Besides the Lebanese audience, Al-Manar also aims to appeal to a wider Arab audience.
To appeal to Arab audiences, Hezbollah often strives to associate its goals to the Arab contempt for the western world. The hatred for Jews, Israel, and America are therefore common denominators that Hezbollah exploits when interacting with Arab audiences. A common message that has appeared in Hezbollah’s television station is the comparison between Israel and Nazis. Here, Al-Manar advocates the view that Israel is worse than the Nazis.
The television station has also run a television series that conveys the same message. For example, Al-Manar ran an anti-Semitic television series titled, Al-Shatat, which conveys an anti-western idea of global politics (IDF 4). Usually, such series run during Ramadhan and aim to create intolerance towards Jews and America. This way, Hezbollah strives to appeal to a wider Arab audience by exploiting their anti-Western sentiments. However, when appealing to Western audiences, Hezbollah uses a different strategy.
Unlike its Middle Eastern audience, Hezbollah adopts a different tone of broadcast whenever it addresses a western audience. The main message conveyed to this audience is that of reconciliation and understanding. Hezbollah strives to achieve this objective by justifying its terrorist acts to its western audience by highlighting Israel’s shortcomings.
At the center of this messaging is the portrayal of the Lebanese people as victims of Israeli aggression. Sometimes, Al-Manar uses photographs of injured, or dead, Lebanese people (mostly women and children) to show how Israeli forces cause harm to Lebanon.
Hezbollah’s propaganda campaign draws significant similarities with the American propaganda machinery during the Woodrow Wilson administration. In 1916, Woodrow Wilson was committed to engage in World War II, but the reluctance of the American public to engage in a European war dampened the hope of participating in the war (Chomsky 7). The government thereafter established the Creel Commission, which engaged in widespread propaganda to change public opinion regarding the war.
This commission engaged in Hezbollah-like campaigns of demonizing Germans (similar to the way Hezbollah demonizes Israel). In a few months, public opinion regarding America’s involvement in the war changed and many Americans supported its government’s commitment to participate in the war.
Chomsky (8) says that the British government also participated in the same propaganda campaign by persuading American intellectuals to disseminate the same propaganda to its citizens. This campaign worked very well to involve both countries in the war.
Courtesy of the constant supply of money from Iran, Hezbollah has reached many western audiences because of the expanded coverage of Al-Manar beyond the Middle East. For example, the IDF (4) says, Al-Manar broadcasts in many European countries. Many of these countries have successfully shut down Hezbollah broadcasts in their region, but the organization still reaches thousands of people in the western world, through the internet and unregulated broadcasts.
Overall, Hezbollah uses Al-Manar and other media broadcasts to advance its goals in Lebanon, Middle East, and the rest of the world. Based on the contents of its broadcasts, it is also important to point out that Hezbollah’s media does not hesitate to use horrific imagery to manipulate its viewers to support, or legitimize, its activities.
Efficacy of TV propaganda
Hezbollah’s propaganda war stems from different elements of television viewership that influence human behavior. At the center of this understanding is the spread of consumerism among audiences who consume television messages.
Miller (327) says this process occurs subconsciously because even as people struggle not to have pre-conceived ideas, or prejudices, regarding other people, they live up to the standards set out in television messages (subconsciously). This explanation explains why Hezbollah’s television campaign has been effective.
Hezbollah’s propaganda campaign has transcended media and political campaigns to venture into the production of merchandise. Most of these merchandises aim to popularize the organization’s leadership. Particularly, the face of Hezbollah’s Secretary General, Hassan Nasrallah, appears in many types of merchandise produced by Hezbollah.
For example, Utz (1) says, “Step into any shop in Dahiya, the Hezbollah-controlled suburb of Beirut, and you are bound to find a variety of peculiar souvenirs portraying the face of Hezbollah’s Secretary General, Hassan Nasrallah” (Utz 1). Some of these merchandise includes cups, air fresheners, stamps, key chains, lighters, colognes, door bells, rings, and keys (Utz 1). These types of merchandises have the picture of Hezbollah’s leadership.
Utz (1) says the organization has effectively used this strategy to popularize the movement, as it does not differ from the political strategy used by politicians in America (or any other part of the world) to popularize their parties. By having different types of merchandise, Hezbollah is everywhere. People see Hezbollah in their homes, schools, streets, cars, and similar places. It is therefore difficult to ignore its existence in the region.
A deeper analysis into Hezbollah’s merchandising campaign shows that the organization’s key messages (that it is a nationalistic movement fighting for the freedom of Lebanon) are false. Propaganda is the best way to explain this misinformation because Hezbollah’s activities in the last three decades show that the outfit has only helped to further Iranian interests in the Middle East.
Al-Rashed (7) paints a more accurate picture of this view by saying Hezbollah’s activities have eased Iran’s struggles with Lebanon, Israel, and the wider Arab world. Notably, Hezbollah and Iran have successfully destroyed Palestinian and Lebanese national powers by eroding the legitimacy of existing powers and replacing them with ad-hoc authorities.
Observers say Hezbollah has carved out an image of a winner in Israeli-Arab conflicts by distorting facts and playing with people’s psychology (Al-Rashed 7). For example, in 1985, Hezbollah fought alongside Iranian forces to destroy Palestine (Al-Rashed 8). Instead of Arab media calling the war a massacre, it supported Hezbollah and Iran, as they committed widespread human atrocities on Palestinian camps.
Hezbollah also used propaganda in the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the early 1990s (Al-Rashed 8). Although Arab media reported that Hezbollah won the war, facts show that the two warring factions reached a truce by signing a peace agreement (distortion of facts) (Al-Rashed 8). The same propaganda emerged in the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon in the early 2000s because Hezbollah claimed to play a significant role in this withdrawal, but it had nothing to do with Israel’s actions (Al-Rashed 8).
Hezbollah has also used propaganda to misinform the Lebanese public about its intentions for having weapons. However, history shows that instead of protecting the Lebanese people, Hezbollah has used most of these resistance arms in Lebanon. Proof of this fact exists in the widespread assassinations and violence that preceded the collapse of several Lebanese parties.
For example, Hezbollah used its weapons to assassinate Hariri and other notable political leaders in Lebanon (Al-Rashed 8). A broader analysis of this action shows that instead of protecting the Lebanese people, Hezbollah has used propaganda to foster Iranian interests in the region (notably, the domination of Lebanon).
Anti-Israeli Video Game
Alongside its theme park strategy of teaching young children the principles of Jihad and propagating ideological wars against Israel, Hezbollah introduced anti-Israeli video games for children to play with. These video games exist in one Hezbollah website where simulations of jihad missions exist. Using real-life missions (that Hezbollah has participated in) Hezbollah aims to foster a culture of resistance among young children, through the games.
For example, the organization has created virtual simulations of its 1982, 1986, 1996, and 2000 wars against Israel and other enemies (MLK 3). The video games provide a virtual exposure of young children to weapons. For example, the Anti-Defamation League (3) says the anti-Israeli games have only three levels of conquest.
Each level requires a player to use advanced and sophisticated weapons to fight. The games also require the players to disable their enemies by knowing how to slip under their radar and kill them. For example, the Anti-Defamation League (4) says, “In the 1986 game, players advance on a fortified hill to an outpost using a variety of weapons until they are able to kill all the Israeli soldiers, take control of the outpost and seize ammunition and equipment” (Anti-Defamation League 4).
Al-Manar television station has played a key role in developing these games because most of them feature videos produced by the television station. Overall, the production of such a video game is not an alien concept because the organization has produced several video games since 2003 (Anti-Defamation League 4).
The most popular games are special force one and special force two, which depict Israel as the enemy. The organization reported more than 10,000 sales of these games (Anti-Defamation League 4). It says its key markets are Middle East, Australia, Germany and Canada (Anti-Defamation League 4).
Type of Propaganda
Based on the evidences provided above, it is important to point out that Hezbollah uses social propaganda. Social propaganda mainly aims to unify a group of people behind a specific cause/issue. Unlike political propaganda, which aims to achieve a political goal, social propaganda wars aim to achieve a social goal (Ellul 63). The main similarity between Hezbollah’s propaganda and a social propaganda war is the organization’s effort to impose it on other people.
This paper already shows the strategies used by the organization to do so. For example, its nationalistic call is a strategy used by Hezbollah to rally the Lebanese people around a nationalistic goal of protecting the country from Israeli aggression. The spread of Christian propaganda in the middle age provides one example of this type of propaganda, because Hezbollah also uses Islamic undertones to rally its people behind its goals (Ellul 63).
Unlike other types of propaganda, a social propaganda war is often complex and multifaceted. However, distinctively, it differs from other types of propaganda because it supports specific ideological components, from a sociological perspective.
Social propaganda wars operate from a reverse psychology point of view because, as opposed to other types of propaganda, which use medial channels to convey a message, it uses sociological elements like (religion) to make people accept ideologies (Ellul 63). Such ideologies prompt people to act, or support an idea.
Effects of the Propaganda
Ellul (162) believes the greatest impact of a propaganda campaign is psychological crystallization. He says propaganda wars make the vague and unclear elements of an issue become important. Essentially, such campaigns reduce any objection that a person may have towards an issue, thereby aligning his thoughts to reflect a pre-determined system. This outcome is especially true of the series of campaigns propagated by Hezbollah against Israel and America.
Few researchers dispute the fact that these campaigns have reinforced prejudices against Israel and America (more so, in Lebanon). Ellul (162) investigates this phenomenon and says such an outcome is a common occurrence. Furthermore, research shows that the stronger the conflict, the stronger the prejudice that exists between the warring factions (Ellul 162).
Unfortunately, when propaganda proves to be successful and crystallizes people’s thoughts and opinions about an enemy, it becomes difficult for a person to reduce his animosities. The chance of realizing any compromise or tolerance also significantly reduces. A deeper analysis of this fact shows that propaganda wars provide people with a set of assumptions and judgments about people, which make it impossible to convince someone that what he believes is false.
Such convictions prepare people to experience anything. To sum the effects of propaganda on people, Ellul (163) says, “Propaganda standardizes current ideas, hardens prevailing stereotypes, and furnishes thought patterns in all areas” (Ellul 163). Overall, these are the effects caused by Hezbollah’s propaganda campaign.
Comparison to Soviet Union Propaganda War
Hezbollah’s propaganda war draws sharp comparisons with the propaganda wars of the Soviet Union in the early 1940s (at the height of communism). One notable similarity between the Soviet Union and Hezbollah propaganda war is the quest to undermine the west. The Soviet Union however undermined the west because of capitalism and its antecedents. Hezbollah undermines the west because of its affiliation to Israel and its support for Israeli wars.
The Soviet Union propaganda aimed to exploit America’s defeat in the Vietnam War (against communist North Vietnam). It also sought to exploit the defeats of other western powers in Africa (uprisings in Kenya) and Asia (Malaysia). At the same time, the French had failed to cement its rule in Algeria and South Vietnam. The Soviet Union propaganda war therefore aimed to exploit the failure of these capitalist powers by providing an alternative model of governance (communism).
Taylor (255) says the Soviet Union campaign machinery was elaborate because it included almost all types of media. Communist propaganda existed in the print media, television, and radio. Unlike the Hezbollah propaganda machinery, Taylor (255) says the Soviet Union propaganda machinery used words as a powerful tool for advancing communist ideologies.
He says Soviet Union used words to define peace, disarmament, independence, and liberation because these concepts largely differentiated the communist and capitalist systems. Taylor (255) also says the Soviet Union propaganda war led to the start of the cold war because America sought to erode the new boldness of communism by imposing capitalistic principles around the world. The main objective was to influence the international political system by setting the agenda for international discourse.
The Soviet Union propaganda machinery aimed to advance its objectives by creating fear about the west. The main target audience was third world countries because the Soviet Union perceived these nations to be most vulnerable to western influences. Moscow strived to have different countries supporting communism (independently), as opposed to the Soviet Union’s speaking for these nations. One fear used by Moscow in its propaganda war was the exaggeration of a possibility of nuclear wars by the west.
Taylor (255) says such propaganda wars aimed to exaggerate the military capabilities of the west and underplay the same capabilities in the Soviet Union. The same machinery aimed to exploit the influence that independent voices in the west would have in undermining capitalistic principles. For example, academicians and journalists participated in the propaganda war to provide internal resistance to capitalism in western countries.
The above strategy mirrors Hezbollah’s strategy of creating internal resistance in America by appealing to Western audiences through its official television station. As explained in earlier sections of this report, Hezbollah tailors some of its news to appeal to Western audiences by highlighting Israel’s “excesses.” They therefore strive to create sympathy for the organization by creating internal resistance in western countries.
The Soviet Union used this strategy well, as a “divide and rule” tactic for concealing its real intentions (changing international discourse in its favor). This campaign was elaborate because independent estimates show that the Soviet Union used about $2 billion, yearly, to sustain this campaign (Taylor 256).
America and other western powers countered the Soviet Union’s propaganda campaign by developing military, economic, and political power, to demonstrate to the free world that capitalism worked. The US therefore tried to instill faith in the capitalistic system by underplaying the doubts expressed by the Soviet Union (about capitalism and usefulness to the world). Overall, although Soviet Union’s propaganda war was global, it shares many similarities with Hezbollah’s propaganda war against the west.
After weighing the findings of this paper, Hezbollah’s propaganda war emerges as an elaborate campaign to influence Lebanese and global citizens to support the organization’s activities. Its dynamic campaign has spread through television, online gaming, merchandise production, and theme park development.
These campaign channels are the most vivid representations of Hezbollah’s strategy. However, other campaigns supporting the same objective also exist. A broader analysis of Hezbollah’s propaganda machinery depicts significant similarities with Soviet Union’s propaganda machinery during the cold war. Both protagonists share anti-western rhetoric.
Although Hezbollah’s venture into online gaming and theme park development is unconventional, both factions have realized tremendous success in their propaganda war. Resistance is the main goal that Hezbollah wants to inculcate among its followers. However, based on the organization’s activities and its affiliation to Iran and Syria, evidence to show that the organization fights for the rights of the Lebanese people is non-existent. However, its propaganda machinery serves to portray the organization as a nationalistic movement.
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