Banning Iran-allied Hezbollah: blocking freedom of speech or attacking expansionism?

Harout Arabian from Bourj Hammoud, Lebanon [CC BY 2.0 (]

In line with Sajid Javid’s hardline approach to terrorism, Hezbollah’s ‘political wing’ has been banned in the UK. All affiliation with the group – including membership, accessing its online content and wielding its flag – will be considered a criminal offence.

Taking a hard line with terrorism is not just a security measure, but a performance of liberal democracy. We are tolerant and civilised whilst you, the terrorists, are uncivilised and barbaric. However, to what extent Hezbollah’s views and policies reflect this idea is certainly debatable. Especially when, as many Twitter users were quick to point out to Javid, Hezbollah have been a democratically elected party in Lebanon since 1992.

In defense of Hezbollah

There is certainly nuance within the Hezbollah party membership and supporting the party does not simply mean supporting a terrorist organisation. This duality is reflected in ‘Al-Manar’, the Lebanese TV channel meaning ‘the Beacon’ which airs TV shows for women and children that promote liberal, and often Western ideas, even championing American science and studies on education and civil society. Of course, there are political gains and losses to be accounted for in this performance. Nonetheless, the shows reflect a diversity of opinion within the Hezbollah party membership.

Importantly, ‘Al-Manar’ TV is also widely watched in the Arabic-speaking world, as well as in the diaspora via satellite or online. To what extend banning Hezbollah in the UK will affect diaspora communities is a question worth considering. And, in this sense, perhaps banning the group does have distinctly illiberal consequences, as it undermines a certain level of freedom of speech or at least a freedom to watch and participate in certain conversations.

A tactical political move

On the other hand, in order for Britain to continue friendly relations with Israel, it seems that banning Hezbollah is a tactical political move.[1] It is also a domestic one, since Hezbollah has formerly been accused of anti-Semitism – e.g. the 2003 TV show Al-Shatat (The Diaspora) which aired on ‘Al-Manar’, depicting anti-Semitic scenes. Amongst claims of anti-Semitism in the Labour party, banning Hezbollah in its entirety is a way for The Home Secretary to differentiate his party from his opponents.

On a wider scale, since the USA has taken steps to isolate Iran, the UK are following suit via the banning of Hezbollah. Banning Iran’s proxy is a way for the UK to satisfy the USA’s concerns about Iran’s regional expansionism.

Still, I would hazard a guess that the banning of Hezbollah at this precise time has as much to do with international relations as politics at home.

In The Conversation, Lee Jarvis and Tim Legrand argued that ‘the banning has rather less to do with national security – or even with the national interest – than it does with the performance of national identity’. In this sense banning the Hezbollah flag from public spaces is key because symbols are integral to creating a sense of shared national identity.

In 2004, France banned ‘Al-Manar’ in order for the state to maintain control over symbols and identity. In Britain today, banning Hezbollah is a way to tell diaspora communities to reserve their loyalties to one flag, one state, and one nation alone.

There is no space for plurality in Britain at these uncertain times. Brexit, the Begum case, the Windrush deportations, this. Clearly, Javid has something to prove in his production of an ever more monolithic British identity.

[1] the ban comes after reports on British-Israeli intelligence cooperation to counter Iran’s nuclear program,


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