(British Ambassador Frances Guy veiled for a meeting with Lebanese Shiite Spiritual leader Sayyed Muhammed Hussein Fadlallah, regarded by many as religious figurehead for Hizbullah's followers)
After eight long years of mixing oranges and apples, the Europeans appear to have finally learned the distinctions between constituency-based and societally-active Islamist militant movements, on the one hand, and takfiri, transnational terrorist groups, on the other. The former, notably Hizbullah and Hamas, have grievances founded primarily on nationalist grounds. These grievances relate, for the most part, to their nations' loss of land in previous armed confrontations with Israel. Their overriding objective is to reclaim of these territories, as well as gain political power. The latter, however, is interested in a much grander project that finds little sympathy amongst Muslims. The Al-Qaeda-types seek to depose all heads of state in the Muslim world, get rid of foreign occupation, and establish a Caliphate system. In pursuit of these objectives, takfiri groups have no qualm about murduring every one standing in the way, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
That the differences are glaring between both camps is easy to conclude. Nevertheless, Western government have long refused to acknowledge, at least not publicly, the differences, preferring to lump all militant Islamist groups in an uneasy monloithic bloc. In some instances, non-violent Islamist parties, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, were thrown into the mix.
It is no secret that the aforementioned strategy have not yielded progress on any front. The situations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza and Lebanon are virtually the same now as they were a few years ago. But we might be witnessing a reverse of the tide. On June 9th, Hizbullah Member of Parliament, Muhammad Ra'd, held a 2 hour meeting with a British parliamentary delegation, accompanied by the British ambassador in Beirut, Frances Guy. The delegation included members of Britain's three largest political parties, the Labor, the Conservative and the Liberal Democratic parties. Ambassador Guy had previously met with MP Ra'd last month.
Yesterday, French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, announced his intent to meet with representatives from the Shi'a Lebanese militant party. If the meeting does take place, it would be the first such meeting between a high-level European diplomat, and a member of a group identified by the US State Department as a terrorist organization. Meanwhile, there are rumors that the EU's High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, will be meeting soon with Hizbullah's Hussein Al Hajj Hassan. There is definitely no dearth of Europeans meeting with Hizbullah.
Could it be that the Europeans have suddenly become more nuanced in their foreign policy posture towards the Middle East, whereas the United States has not? Probably not. I think the Obama administration is already stretching the limits of its domestic constituencies by appointing an ambassador to Syria, seeking dialogue with Tehran and opposing expanding Israeli settlements. Washington may have tacitly supported this engagement process, which the US itself cannot pursue, to test the waters, and see how much can be agreed on diplomatically with Hizbullah. After all, Hizbullah is not on the EU's list of terrorist organizations.
I would like very much to hear your thoughts on the reasons behind this series of meetings between European diplomats and Hizbullah members of parliament.