Aug 10, 2009
Hezbollah chief becomes Facebook star
Attacks on lone Twitter blogger echo across Web BEIRUT: Love him or loathe him, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has earned himself celebrity status — at least on Facebook, where a good 20 forums are dedicated to the Lebanese Shia militant leader.
Many are favourable to Nasrallah but others are extremely hostile to the controversial figure, whose organisation is claimed by Israel to have a stockpile of 40,000 rockets.
‘May God bless you Nasrallah,’ ‘Nasrallah deserves to burn in hell,’ ‘God is with you, oh symbol of dignity and the resistance,’ and ‘Nasrallah is a goddamned Nazi’ are just some of the comments posted on forums dedicated to the charismatic 49-year-old, who has headed Hezbollah since 1992.
He has not appeared in public for over a year and resides in an undisclosed location in Beirut but his visibility on the social networking site could hardly be higher.
The Facebook groups have titles ranging from ‘Fans of Hassan Nasrallah’ to ‘Support the assassination of Hassan Nasrallah,’ and they are loaded with fervent comments in English, French, Hebrew, and Arabic, many from subscribers identifying themselves as Lebanese or Israelis.
In July 2006, Israel launched a devastating 34-day war against Hezbollah after the militant group kidnapped Israeli soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev in a cross-border raid. Three years on, the ‘July War’ remains a hot topic for the online forums.
A French-language forum entitled ‘For the elimination of Hassan Nasrallah,’ demands the Israeli government get rid of Nasrallah ‘to avenge the blood of Ehud and Eldad,’ whose remains Israel reclaimed in 2008 in a comprehensive prisoner swap with Hezbollah.
Visuals, too, send strong messages: some groups show a softer side of the Shia leader, posting pictures of the child Nasrallah smiling in a garden by a bowl of fruit, or carrying a little girl in his arms. Others display cartoons of Nasrallah dressed in a bikini, portrayed as a cockroach or at the centre of a target.
People are ‘free to express what they want’
Hezbollah maintains that people are ‘free to express what they want. If they want to express their love for Sayyed Nasrallah, the party will not forbid them to do that.’
The Lebanese themselves are divided on how they feel about Nasrallah.
For some Facebook members, the Hezbollah leader is ‘fighting to protect the fatherland against Americanisation, Zionism.
‘He is the cedar in our Lebanese flag, the master of all,’ reads one post, in a reference to the symbolic tree of Lebanon.
But on a forum called ‘Hezbollah out of Lebanon right now!’ members using screen names openly express their hostility towards the pro-Iranian group, which they say is ‘a major threat to Lebanon.’
Israelis, too, have much to say on Hezbollah, which is blacklisted as a terrorist group by the Jewish state and Washington though its political wing forms a bloc of 13 MPs in Lebanon’s 128-seat parliament following elections in June.
‘Take the advice: Kick Nasrallah out and you can have living standards like we have in Israel,’ writes one subscriber, who identifies himself as an Israeli soldier.
‘Look, before 2006, Lebanon was booming,’ writes Avi. ‘Your economy was good, many tourists came and so on. After 2006 Lebanon was wasteland because of Nasrallah.’
A rush of heated reactions flowed in moments after Avi’s post surfaced, accusing his country of having ‘destroyed Lebanon’ and slamming Israel as Lebanon’s ‘first enemy.’
‘Avi, shut up and find yourself a hole where you can hide! May God protect Nasrallah!’ writes Nihal.
The 34-day July War killed some 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers, and destroyed much of Lebanon’s major infrastructure. — AFP