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reason: Gibran Tueni, the editor of al-Nahar newspaper, commented to me recently that Hizbollah always says it won't establish an Islamic state by force, but doesn't rule out establishing one through political means.
Fneish: Today in Lebanon there are native people of Christian origin. There are 18 different religions. Inside each of these, different political groups support different views, political programs, and agendas. We are one of these groups. It's possible that we differ from these others in our commitment to what we believe in as Muslims. But the way we deal with our society is not by aiming to force Islam on anybody, or to bypass reality. In the society of Lebanon, with all its freedoms, could I stop a Christian from converting to Islam, or a Muslim from converting to Christianity? Nobody could. Could I stop anybody from agreeing with Hizbollah's views? Nobody could. The government does not come from above the people. It comes up from the people. We don't have any plan for an Islamic government because a government can't be separated from its people.
reason: What did you think of Afghanistan, where the Taliban did force their system on the country?
Fneish: The Taliban movement was the greatest threat to Islam. In their way of understanding, believing, and practicing, they were very bad for Islam. We were never in accord with them or their beliefs.
reason: If you had agreed with their way of practicing Islam, would you have favored their way of running the country?
Fneish: No, that's not possible. To agree with them on practices is one thing. To agree with them on forcing your authority is another. Authority does not exist without the will of the people. And beyond that, their understanding, their school of Islam, was not true.
reason: So in your opinion, there is no country where an Islamic political system has been forced on the people?
Fneish: Let me tell you something. Today there are Islamic nations and political systems, for sure. And there are, worldwide, very few political systems that reflect the will of the people. In my opinion, among the Islamic governments, only the system in Iran came as an expression of the will of the people. This is a system that I agree with to a large degree, in my principles and in my thoughts and beliefs. But I don't agree necessarily with all the political and administrative decisions in Iran.
reason: What do you think when you see how many Lebanese consider your group a threat to the country? In the place where I'm staying, everybody seemed pretty nervous when I told them I was interviewing somebody from Hizbollah.
Fneish: Where are you staying?
reason: In the Koura [a majority Orthodox Christian region in North Lebanon].
Fneish: (Laughs) The Koura! I thought people were a little more open up there.
There are responsibilities on both sides. We have a responsibility to be clear with people about who we are. It's possible that in the beginning the nature of our situation kept us from being open with the media. We did not have a media presence and weren't interested in having it, because our mission in the beginning was very hard. More recently, we have come to recognize the importance of being out there: We have seats in the parliament, a media presence, and a political presence. I tell you, those who read and who communicate with us can find out what they want to know.
But we ask of others that they not form a premature opinion of us that never changes. Because how did that opinion form? Did it form by communicating with us or reading our literature? It's possible that this opinion was formed by listening only to propaganda or rumors. You know how rumors go around in Lebanon; and we had a pretty unusual war here. Things are much better today.
reason: Hizbollah has close relations with Iran. Based on recent developments and statistics, it seems the Islamic movement in Iran has run out of steam. The economy is weak; the people are expressing a lot of dissatisfaction, and the government is using harsher means to control dissent. Do you think there's a future in this model of politics?