when I asked a former Communist fighter from this bordering village with Israel about the now mainstream idea that Palestinian fighters were with time despised by the local population, he answered me that it is Palestinian changing environment that can account for that.
According to him, Palestinians were once the fida’yin hiding and fighting in and from the remote fields of olive trees. They slept under the trees had nomadic ‘revolutionary’ patterns of life, until increasingly efficient Israeli raids pushed them to city locations like Saida and Sour. From there, their whole modes of life changed. They settled in houses even if very poor, started having cars, lived city life, etc. Their social surroundings changed and with it their priorities and the meanings they assigned to specific forms of collective actions.
And with the increasingly institutionalized influence these groups started having in the region, they deployed more efforts at keeping political leverage, at showing who has the weapons and at sinking into intra-fighting between the various groups on the ground, than at a concerted effort to attack Israelis.
In a way this particular reading of ‘what the Palestinians became’ may hint at the fact that what really bothered ‘the Shi’as’ was not so much that the Palestinians were fighting the Israelis from their lands, but all the other practices the Palestinians were engaged in that actually obstructed an efficient strategy of fighting Israel from materializing. It does not mean that all “the Shi’as” held violently antagonistic feelings towards Israel in the abstract sense. But there was clearly, and due to the social niche (and here we can say class to some extent) to which the Shi’as belong to, some type of admiration towards whoever show modesty in behavior and commitment to resistance activities (probably the case for early fida’yin activities).
This can help explain even better what became so attractive in the more ‘just’ ways Hizbullah practiced resistance work. It ultimately explains how such a more ‘purist’ form of mobilization eventually emerged and was prevailing in the available interpretations of what is Hizbullah about (in the language, in discursive terms).
Of course all of this is just one reading, that mostly belong to this particular group of “socially aware” class (like this communist fighter). I assume here that most people of his generation were exposed to similar social activities (also according to his testimony), as the communist party was very active in the area (through public events, workshops, schools, etc.) especially prior to the first Israeli incursion of 1978.
We do not want to clash with the regime, with those who neglect us. Today, we shout out loud the wrongs against us, that cloud of injustice that has followed us since the beginning of our history. Starting from today we will no longer complain nor cry. Our name is not mitwali [a name for the Shi’a that has taken on a derogatory connotation]; our name is “men of refusal” (rafidun), “men of vengeance,” “men who revolt against all tyranny” (kharijun), even though this costs us our blood and our lives. Husain faced the enemy with 70 men; the enemy was very numerous. Today we are more than 70; and our enemy is not the quarter of the whole world….
We do not want sentiments, but action. We are tired of words, feelings, speeches… I have made more speeches than anyone else. And I am the one who most often called for calm… From today on I will not keep silent. If you keep quiet, I will not… We want our full rights completely. not only our posts, but the twenty demands… in the petition, and we will accept nothing else in exchange.
You would think this is taken from a speech made by SG of Hizbullah Nasrallah. Actually it was given in February 1974 by Imam Musa Sadr founder of AMAL (Cited in Norton, AR. 1997. Amal and the Shi’a. Austin: Texas University Press). In a way, Lebanese history can be read as a lesson of political conduct in life. At the end of the day, unequal structures once politicized must be corrected, no demands just disappear (here my emphasis come from the assumption that things must become demands, they must be made socially conscious). And where AMAL failed to address certain of these demands (the half successful piece meal clientelistic recipes of Nabih Berri), another organization arose (Hizbullah), and is hell bent on having a share in the decision making process. What Sadr was asking for, Hizbullah will eventually get.
The particular ways in which this formation of social consciousness is inscribed in specific symbols and language idioms, are what I am after.
This is taken from Hizbullah’s campaign “a victory from God” marking the anniversary of last year’s humiliating Israeli defeat, of which many highly creative billboards have been made. Check out the improvement in artistry, and the power of ideas. It shows Israeli soldiers disturbingly crying with this written in the middle: Lebanon, you fools (literal translation), or “What did you expect you morons? A walk in the park?” (Bech’s translation). Oh and by the way, this billboard was in a Christian area (near Batrun, care of Tayyar). Most of those billboards though were vandalized especially near Nahr el Kalb (where the Kataeb sign hangs above the tunnel).
This is just a couple of pictures from many I got when I was in Aynata (village in the south of Lebanon right next to the Israeli border). These bottles you see are filled with the urine of Israeli soldiers who chose this house to hide during the July-august war.
Besides the tremendous amount of trash they left behind, and the total (and useless) destruction of furniture in the house, other pictures show these bottles everywhere on shelves, tables, on the floor, and their defecations in corners.
See, they actually chose to block the toilet seat (look attentively at the toilet seat, I had to minimize the size of the pic) so that no one of them would have the smart idea of using it to release their waste…
These Israelis are more intelligent than I thought. They make sure you get the idea that it is them pissing and shitting all over the place. Their way of dealing with their own filth is way ahead of any contemporary civilization. Hereby, I salute these brave and refined soldiers.
Don’t you often hear people say “Christian in Egypt are persecuted”? This is one of the many nice little bullshit myths one hears on the Middle East or on “Islamic” practices. Copts (Christian sect in Egypt) are actually significantly present in parliament (much more relative to the size of their community), and the few Egyptians I know to seem to agree on the idea that there are no sectarian animosity there. In a recent discussion, my Egyptian musician friend Mohammed (who studied for a long time Coptic musical liturgy) explained to me how often enough the media feeds the public with the news of ‘sectarian clashes’ breaking out and once some honest reporter tries to entangle the real cause of a fight he would find behind the ‘sectarian’ element some tribal, social, or personal issue at stake that has nothing to do with the fact that the people were Coptic or Muslims.
Not only that but Coptic Pope Shenouda III has made it clear that the biggest problem in the Middle East is divisive American foreign policy and the growing ego-centric urges of some Copts (Check the rare gem that is Pope Shenouda, here, here, and here are the enemies of Shenouda). For a nice comparison check History of the Maronites in Lebanon 101.
See, American policy have this really nice special feature in that they create new ‘substance’ to re-actionary identities. Thanks to NGOs of all kind and religious rightist groups Christians in Egypt are starting to feel they are in danger because hell they’re Christians. To make sure these fears are crystallized, they are simply financed.
Come on marNasrallah Boutross Sfeir, that is the best role model you can get in this par of the world.
The answer is easy: Because they don’t need it. Because thanks to the confessional system in place in Lebanon, they found everything they could want without having to establish an Islamic state. The skeptic would retort: “But why did they vehemently proclaim all throughout the eighties that they wanted an Islamic state?” Well because at the time they did not know that they could get all their interests preserved thanks to the confessional system without having to go through the painful process of imposing the idea of an Islamic state (of course here ‘interest’ is a term that is at best elusive and must be understood as historically determined, changing according to available opportunities and conceptualizations, so that we avoid making retroactive arguments).
So here I want to first object to the idea that it is out of a process of vague “Lebanonization” of Hizbullah that they decided to drop the idea of an Islamic state. I want to object of course to the idea that they secretly (in a demonizing way for the scared Lebanese) entertain this dream. Actually to clarify what I meant, I would like to accept the “Lebanonization” thesis only by clarifying what Lebanonization mean in the institutional political and social sense by dropping the essentialist bias inherent in the argument. Yaaneh, Hizbullah was never “not Lebanese” and suddenly became “Lebanese”. Hizbulllah starting from an ad hoc group of zealous and enthusiastic few, with sufficient backing, discpline, and favorable local and regional circumstances developed into a fully fledged organization with institutional over-reach. This ‘developmental’ change is key here and nobody (to my knowledge) worked on the intricacies and implications of this change, except from a broad ‘elitist’ and ‘essentialist’ perspective. Yaaneh, scholars focused on the broad political agenda of Hizbullah as a monolithic formation with a leadership making rational decision in the face of changing opportunities. Example: When Nasrallah became secretary general (but already at the time of Moussawi) he saw an opportunity to play by the rules. What does that mean exactly? It means first a conscious decision of the party to get involved in the Lebanese political life indeed, but most importantly it inscribes itself in a process of long-term change that slowly crystallized the idea that ‘we’re much worth it like this’. This last phenomenon was never carefully understood because to do so one needs to understand how Hizbullah slowly became very much dependent on the confessional system.
This requires in turn an understanding of the evolution of not only the institutions and organizations of Hizbullah but in what way the new political class of Hizbullah became very much part of the political system in Lebanon. Actually both these process are intermingled. I don’t have a detailed answer to that, and actually this should be a research project on its own, but I would like to point out on an intuitive basis why this looks like a strong argument.
To name but a few, electoral processes, municipalities, social welfare (organizations, etc.), schools, hospitals, all work according to confessional categorizations in Lebanon, meaning that it is most of the case a particular religious group that holds decision making in these collective activities. Hizbullah found in this case a haven for his own activities. One can study how this affects identity formation through the daily practices of people in these institutions and fosters even more the marks of confessional ideas meanings and beliefs into the consciousness of individuals. Here I want to stress the “culture” of the confessional system is highly alien to the one of an Islamic state at the very least because of the completely different institutional structures in place.
It is important to point out here that Hizbullah is only imitating what other sectarian groups did before them and first and foremost the Christians. Christian schools hospitals etc. are the oldest, and the political system of confessional piecemeal rule was a Christian innovation. The only difference here is that by controlling key institutions in the State, Christian elites were able to export the idea that they were a ‘secularizing’ force as their management of State affairs was resemblant to what goes on in say European states. But in effect, all the institutions of the State, and the institutions of social life in general were heavily divided along confessional criteria. Slowly but surely, Amal then Hizbullah learned to play by these rules. What’s interesting in the Shi’a example is that because they are new comers you can basically see how the confessional system, first makes it virtually impossible and highly costly to organize collective action outside of it, and second, sucks in new comers to build on the available institutional confessional processes and mechanisms.
Activists who later became Hizbullah starts off from various discursive background (communist, Lebanese public schools, religious, clerical, etc) find a voice in sectarian groups like Amal and then decide that through Amal things are not going to work for them (in terms of conflict with the Israelis, utter marginalization of South and Bekaa etc.). The Iranians say we give you a hand and you can export the revolution. That seemed like enough of a mobilizing element for these few radicals. Then organizational capacity develops, these people starts achieving political and socially on the ground, their affinities with their allies have concrete instrumental implications, but are coupled with their grasp of new ways to preserve their interests or the interests of a broad movement inscribed in newly developed and virulently efficient religious (confessional) institutions (just like any other similar institutions whether Christian or Sunni, just take the Jesuit school Jamhour and university Saint Joseph for a comparison).
Basically Hizbullah learned the correct way to get things done in Lebanon. An Islamic state would probably destroy most of what they built until now. It would transform a situation of mutual interest built on solid institutional ground into a big mess where they will have to start afresh and create such gigantic structures in order to reap the same political economic and social benefit.