“The World Tomorrow (Episode 1: Hassan Nasrallah)” (Russia Today, 18 April 2012)
First in a series of 12 interviews conducted by Wikileaks dissident Julian Assange and hosted by Russia Today, this interview of Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah the Secretary General of Hezbollah is straightforward and highly informative. Sitting in a room with two Arabic-language interpreters, Assange uses a basic question-and-answer approach with Nasrallah to elicit his views on the status of Israel, the Arab Spring across the Middle East and north Africa, Tunisia’s refusal to recognise Bashar al Assad as the legitimate leader of Syria and the US blockage of Hezbollah’s Al Manar television network. Assange listens to Nasrallah’s replies respectfully while Nasrallah explains his opinions clearly and the reasons he holds them.
This was the first time I had seen Nasrallah at all and he conducted himself graciously and pleasantly, and at times humorously. He favours dialogue and political reforms in Syria instead of violence which he suspects is being fomented by the United States and Israel. This perhaps was the reason Assange decided to interview Nasrallah: at the time the interview took place, Syria was convulsed in civil strife and there was talk in the Western media of NATO intervention under the pretence of the Responsibility To Protect doctrine; Assange wanted to know what Hezbollah’s role might be should the unrest continue. Throughout the interview, Assange allows Nasrallah to explain his position on various issues and the reasoning behind his position, never interrupting him and challenging or distorting what he says. In this way, Nasrallah comes across as reasonable even though you and I may not always agree with what he says about Israel’s legitimacy (or lack thereof) and what he believes is Hezbollah’s purpose in the Middle East.
Towards the end, the interview topics become lighter, more personal and more humorous as Assange and Nasrallah slyly converse about encryption – Assange says he knows a lot about encryption (though he doesn’t say not enough that he could have prevented two British journalists from giving away the password to his encryption software program linked to a file that contained hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables, in a book they wrote) – and about Nasrallah’s joke about simplicity defeating complexity in the context of how Hezbollah’s encryption codes befuddled Israeli intelligence code-breakers. Then Assange throws a curve-ball question at Nasrallah: would Nasrallah be willing to challenge monotheistic religion’s “totalitarian” hold over people? Nasrallah guesses the motive behind Assange’s question – it’s a challenge to his personal beliefs and identity, questioning whether he sees contradictions between his worldly jihad and his spiritual jihad – and skews his answer to say that monotheistic Abrahamic religions are inherently instinctive and human-based: therefore belief in these religions is consistent with wanting to resist the United States and all other countries and institutions working to deny freedom and the right of individuals and countries to self-determination as freedom, striving for justice and truth, and self-determination are human and instinctive motivations.
If one fights for social justice, one must be ruled by one God and cannot fight for several gods or the universe would be in ruin: Nasrallah may have been literal but there is a more complex philosophical truth in what he says – the ultimate goal, achieving freedom and bringing that to others so they may transform their lives, end poverty and injustice, and make the world a better place for future generations, is the most important issue and we must remind ourselves of this aim constantly. There may be other issues leading off from this objective along the way but we must remember they are aspects of it, just as in, let’s say, Hinduism the hundreds of gods and godlings are aspects of the Supreme Being Brahman, or in Islam there are 99 aspects of Allah (as described by the 99 beautiful names) but there is only one of him.
On the whole, I found this interview was well-conducted and I learned quite a lot about Nasrallah, his worldview and that of Hezbollah. The questions Assange asked were fairly open and were not aimed at tripping him up. It may be that had Assange pressed Nasrallah more and on controversial issues such as whether Jews deserve to have a homeland in Palestine, the Hezbollah leader might have revealed himself as prejudiced against Jews per se, though from the answers Nasrallah gave to two questions, he appears religiously tolerant. Some questions on Hezbollah’s organisation and its day-to-day concerns could have been asked – I was interested in learning about Hezbollah’s environmental department and the organisation’s efforts in educating Lebanese people about living in an environmentally sustainable way that’s consistent with Islamic Shi’ite beliefs – but Assange may have been pressed for time due to the satellite link-up which was necessary as he remains under house arrest. I am looking forward to the next installment in this series.
The interview can be viewed here.