Military codes and what have you

The day after the quick removal of Mustaqbal’s mercenaries from West Beirut, a Saturday if I am not mistaken, there were no cats on the streets. The roads from Hamra to Gemmayzeh were totally deserted. At the start of the bridge of Beshara el Khoury coming from Burj el Murr, the main road was blocked by big piles of sand, and one had to go through a little street to the right in order to cut through around the bridge and end up at the other side. After passing by a couple of smiling Amal kids with talkie walkies, I ended up facing from a significant distance the UN building in down town. The UN building in down town is the biggest masquerade ever. They are more guarded than guantanamo’s prisons. But that’s a different story.

Anyway, there were a couple of guys standing under the bridge, and judging from their clothes, they were Hizbullah militants. As I was a bit lost I approached my car from them and asked one who came forward to me: “How can I get to the other side?” The guy smiled at me and said: “What side are you talking about?”. And so because I am of the humorous type (as many of you have noticed), I said to him as I waved with my hand to the direction of “The East”, “you know… The Other side”.

And this is when he answered with a big laugh: “no, you have to be more precise! Are you scared? you know, even if you are a fan of Samir Geagea (min shabibet Geagea), I have a legal obligation (Taklif Shar’i) to do everything possible to get you safe where you need to go”. This last part was said with such pride that it was spilling over all the traits of his face. I quickly answered that I’m no fan of him, that I was just talking metaphorically, and that I needed to get to next to Gemayze. So he explained to me how to get there.

Why am I telling this anecdote? Many people heard of the “Taklif Shar’i” Hizbullah militants follow, and how it is connected to Shi’a legal principles etc. But I don’t find all these essentialist and culturally-narrow theories satisfying. I want to know in what way does this differ from any code, any disciplinary mode prevalent in military organization or any institution for that matter. What type of training other armies go through (the American army for example), and what are the similarities and differences in terms of crystallizing respect of authority and self-control? What’s the resulting relation between self, group, and organization? How is the carrying of weapon add dimensions to all that? I think it is a good starting point (not the only one by all means) to understand why is Hizbullah so well organized (compared to a chaotically disorganized Arab world).

14 Replies to “Military codes and what have you”

  1. – Mustaqbal’s mercenaries
    – Hizbullah militants

    “I am of the humorous type (as many of you have noticed)”
    You’re more of the pathetically biased type.

  2. Thanks, D.

    In my experience, I have encountered nothing different from what Bech describes – if less flirtatious, but that comes with being a woman. And my experience ranges from Rawda Cafe to post-war Maroun al-Ras.

    Although I stick out like a sore thumb in “Hizballah controlled areas,” I feel completely comfortable. At a distance, though, such homogeneity sometimes makes me feel nervous.

  3. Ms. Tee, don’t tell me you too have a penchant for wearing lime-green latex unitards in urban and rural tobacco-growing settings? Wow, that makes two roving sore thumbs.

  4. Dear Bech,
    I posted this question at one of the previous posts but I recieved no answer. I am not sure if this was because you just ignored the question or just did not see it. So I’m reposting it here in the hope that I will get an answer from you this time:

    The sad thing is that you seem to wax philosophical about the situation without actually addressing the events in reality.
    You say that hizballah made a mistake, as if it is a political mistake, rather than a criminal action. I see nowhere in your writings an acutal condemnation of the attacks on civilians , the mourning of those who died or a sympathy for their families.
    What is it about these people that engenders such non-chalance by you to their deaths?”

  5. John you should follow what’s published and clear, Mustaqbal paid guys (i.e. mercenaries), set up a heteroclite force in a year or so, and then dropped them at the last second. Hizbullah has a military organization of disciplined men for a bit less than two decades. “militant” here means armed activist. activist again means ‘that acts’. Nothing ideological about. You want to call it militia, no problem, whatever satisfy your petty morals, but the idea is to distinguish between a short term mercenary army and a more enduring force whatever it is.

  6. nona, i did forget, I’m sorry, I was dealing with many different things, and at some point I thought that the debate was going nowhere because there was a big misunderstanding, and that to explain the misunderstanding was a very time consuming process. But you’re right, I should answer these questions. Give me these two days to write a new post, a post that reworks the idea presented in the other two posts explaining how I think one should view this problem, because I think I did not explain myself clearly and that I have probably used terms that could be misinterpreted.

    Just as a starting point, I think that you should also look at what you think is ‘the reality’ of teh problem, because judging if one thing is ‘criminal’ or not, is.. well judging.. which is a moral stand and so very human, subjective, etc. and has nothing to do with ‘reality’ whatever that may be. But more to come soon.

  7. Interesting way of looking at this issue.

    “I want to know in what way does this differ from any code, any disciplinary mode prevalent in military organization or any institution for that matter. What type of training other armies go through (the American army for example), and what are the similarities and differences in terms of crystallizing respect of authority and self-control? What’s the resulting relation between self, group, and organization? ”

    understanding the dynamics would require spending time in the community.i.e. studying the day to day interactions within the society that are very much at the core of what makes individuals amenable to the type of training and self control you are mentioning. In my opinion one of the biggest differences in this code is that it applies to every aspect of life even outside the confines of what is considered the “institution” and in many cases it is taught early on directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally. In addition, its consolidation came at a time where a whole community perceived itself as neglected, wronged by successive goverments and its own elites and hungry for change and self assertion.

    In Lebanon, the lack of general order and the lack of a “code” similar to what is present in other countries under which all citizens can find a common ground, has lead to the emergence of several “codes” over the years each attempting to “protect” the rights of the group that identifies with it. The inability of any group so far to dictate its “code” as the general one has been a blessing and a curse at the same time.

  8. I love this blog: we’ve got a comical wannabe who just writes a lot dadasonofabitch and Bech who needs time to explain his position. Awaiting ya Bech.. like even the little words you use you show discrepancy and bias. Mercenary because they got paid?? and HA’s monkeys don’t get paid either, they do it for the love of the country?? or religion? or out of they kind gentle hearts?

    We have a peace deal now.. so cheap is the blood in lebanon: very unlucky if you get caught in the bullets of the next power grab.

  9. John,

    Really dude relax. Its semantics. Its economics vs. ideology that all.
    But don’t read any further as I am most definitely of the biased type.

    Another couple of anecdotes for you.

    My late Uncle owned a number of apartments in Beirut. In early 2000 he was visited by a man who told him that he had squatted in one of his apartments during the war. My Uncles initial belief was that the man was coming to demand money for vacating the apartment. But the man said, no, he had come to ask forgiveness because he wanted to join Hizballah and they had told him that before he could join he had to find and get forgiveness from all those he had wronged.

    A second anecdote relates to the 2006 war. A very close friend of mine owns a large enterprise based in the Dahyieh. When the war broke out, a number of his employees disappeared. Some simply vanished while others claimed to need to go South to help family. I was sitting in his office in August after the war finished. A young man walked in who we knew was a fighter and who had disappeared when the fighting started. To be honest my friend (his boss!) and myself looked at this man in awe.

    Being Lebanese you would have expected this man to enter like he owned the place, chest out head held high, considering what he had been part of, and knowing that everyone in the building were supporters of the Resistance. But no. He walked in with the utmost humility, APOLOGISED!! for his absence and asked, not demanded, if it were possible if he could come back to work.

    Taklif Shar’i differs from most other codes because it demands a discipline not only of military but also of civil, spiritual and personal. It is in my opinion unique. It melds the discipline of a well established military organisation into a group of people who are to all intensive purposes, civilians; It follows the cellular structure of a classic Resistance/ guerrilla movement; It instills a sense of civic duty found maybe only in the Scouts (outside of a govt. organisation) and most uniquely the whole thing is bound by the spiritual aspect, the Islamic code. And the Islamic aspect is the most important difference.

    Training other armies go through is the same, the differences being based on the strategy and weaponry available. Much of the discipline is instilled early. It is perhaps easier in such an organisation to get that respect because unlike a normal army which is either mobilised ot stood down, the Resistance, by definition, is constantly mobilised and therefore the slightest error is existential.

    As for carrying weapons, as you know, if they aint fighting they aint packing. Its simply not allowed.

    Why are they so well organised? I know, its suspicious for Arabs to be so well organised…:) But the truth is probably much to do with the way they were formed and the enemies they have had and the mistakes that have been made that have taught them that without the organisation there can be no existence.

  10. Maze, I think I have answered more clearly than that. Hope you understand what’s written.

    Mo, your anecdotes are really interesting. I have others of the same type, following the July 2006 war. A couple and their kids came back to their house in the south right after the war, and found hizbullah fighters still hiding in it. The guy was astonished to find very shy and constantly apologizing guys, that did not know how to justify their presence in the house of the guy, while the latter was trying to assure them that if needed they could take his house to fight. The guy told me that they had hidden the tv and dvd set wrapped in plastic (!!) from the living room in the cupboards of the bedroom so that they don’t get damaged, and that they had left notes on the fridge saying things like “excuse us, but we took three olives from you fridge because we were hungry”. Now that’s crazy stuff.

    There are many other stories but that’s no place to pile up deeds and honorable acts. What’s honorable about those is that they are not bragged about. And that’s not the point I wish to make in this post but rather to understand where did this discipline come from. These ethics. It is ‘totalizing’ encompassing many sphere (political, military, spiritual, etc.). But as I said there are communists just like that. I know one for a fact, a fighter from the south militating in the 80s against the Israelis. Ideas and beliefs don’t have fixed effects and they are not fixed just like that. There are many other conditioning procedures in which ideas beliefs etc. take on particular meanings and not others, and ethics form. This also involved a specific perception of the body. Anyway more on that later.

  11. Perhaps the fact that it is Hizballah and the Communists you are comparing and not SSNP or Amal answers your question. A belief in a greater ideology than yourself, a selflessness that you do what you for a greater good and that motivitation in itself intills a pride in yourself that motivates you to embrace it further?

    Im not a psychologist but I know I can tell someone who is a member of HA from a mile off by thier demeanour.

  12. Bech,
    Being polite towards people who agree with you is not difficult. Allowing people to disagree with you and still be polite is much more difficult. This is where Hizballah fails miserably, and this is why all their “politeness” means nothing.

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