Hey there, everyone!
My thesis outline is DONE.
Which I am really, really excited about. And I am about to start actually writing my thesis – my first draft, at least – which is a little surreal, to be honest. It feels really good to have a direction I’m set on and moving in. So let’s talk about where that direction is.
In my thesis, I’m attempting to answer a few simple questions. Why the IRA was able to successful transition from strictly a militant group to a political organization? And: How was Hezbollah able to maintain a dual identity as a militant group and political organization? I’m trying to stick to these deceptively simple questions as much as I can. As a researcher, I have a terrible habit of trying to push my evidence perhaps farther than I should, for example, asking myself questions like: What does that tell us about Westphalian nation-states? It’s not that this isn’t a good or important question to ask; it very much is. Through this project, I’m learning that it’s really helpful to keep your questions tight and grounded in evidence. When you have a vast world of source materials, it’s really easy to get lost.
Here’s a simplified version of the historical chain I’m going to be discussing: The IRA developed as a group dedicated to the
defense of Irish Catholics from a very pro-British and pro-Protestant government. Armed struggle was always a massively influential part of their ideology. However, in the late 1960s, the British began jailing members of the IRA as criminals, which led them to aggressively campaign for the label of prisoners of war, mostly through prison-wide hunger strikes. The IRA wanted a political label, and had to allow for political action in order to obtain that label. However, in the post-prison years, the IRA returned to violence and force as its primary means of action. This willingness to use force led to a precipitous drop in the average Irish person’s support of the organization. The loss in publicity led the IRA to continue political action once again.
This loss of public support is a fascinating factor in the IRA’s decision to pursue political action. It was far from the only reason it eventually transitioned away from militant action, but it was key. When the group used force and violence, people in Ireland lost faith in it and the cause, which limited the objectives that the group could achieve. In short, violence cost them political capital.
Hezbollah, on the other hand, does not lose political capital with their Lebanese constituency through violence, usually because they direct most of their violence toward Israel. The group formed in 1982 to defend southern Lebanon against the Israeli occupation. Iran and Syria offered the group enormous amounts of logistical and tactical support, which served to encourage the radicalization of Hezbollah’s ideologies. After the occupation ended, Hezbollah rebuilt damaged infrastructure and gained community support through social services. In 1992, Hezbollah won 12 parliamentary seats in the Lebanese government. When Israel invaded Lebanon again in 2006, the group managed to hold them off for a few weeks, which was a major victory in the eyes of the Arab world. This victory won Hezbollah legitimacy in the eyes of all Lebanese, not just their traditional Shi’a supporters. In short, Hezbollah obtained political power by balancing military might and social services.
The chain of historical events that led to both of these groups’ shifting identities is complex and rich. I’m so excited to really sink my teeth into both of these stories over the coming weeks.
Thanks for reading!