The framing of a “research question”

resources-for-the-mediaI came across this paper written for a particular Middle East Policy Council. I have never seen a more awkwardly posed question regarding Hizbullah’s political development:

Hezbollah’s evolution speaks to a larger question in the literature on nonstate actors, both in the Middle East and elsewhere: Why do some nonstate military groups survive attempts to uproot them from particular pieces of territory while others do not? And what lessons do organizations learn from earlier confrontations that enable them to better survive later ones?

So Palestinian organizations, have been “uprooted”, “commies” too, other Arabic or Islamic infestious protuberances all gone. Now Hizbullah. Why are there only failed attempts at uprooting that bad plant? I mean, they did come from outer space (like all the other predecessors) after all? What can Israel or the US, the indegeneous, do to fix this problem? They did try everything after all…

If, “The Middle East Policy Council is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to contribute to American understanding of the political, economic and cultural issues that affect U.S. interests in the Middle East”, then it’s quite understandable that finding that “rootedness” is a resilient attribute of the link between Hizbullah to its people can pose a big problem!

Unearthing civilizations

How did the “Lebanese” discover that they had a Phoenician tradition? Or for that matter how did the Arabs discover that they had some past glorious tradition that was decimated by the Ottomans? Don’t we read Arabic history as one that stops around the Abbasid era, and that then picks up around the end of the nineteenth century with what is called the “Nahda” (a concept copied from the European “Age of Enlightenment“). This reading of history finds its most perverse account in the writing of people like Samir Kassir who longs for another enlightenment Arab style.

This is the unearthing of civilization, of golden ages. In his study Popular Culture and Nationalism in Lebanon: The Fairouz and Rahbani nation, Christopher Stone ( 2008 ) makes this argument forcibly. He draws on other post-colonial scholars like Chatterjee ( 1993 ) on India who argued that the “national” paradigm has been unescapable by present post colonial polities. Stone has an excellent way of formulating this dynamic at the heart of this “classicization of tradition”:

the same historical construct that paved the way for colonization could, ironically, do the same for independence: “You were once great and need our help to become so again,” becomes tweaked to read, “We were once great without you and can become so again.” (p.14)

I would argue, that Islamic movements are totally in line with this process of recuperating history, contrary to Chatterjee idea that ‘Islamists’ are breaking out of the ‘national’ paradigm. Wherever there is State, there is Nation or a discursive efforts at producing a historically continuous imagined community, or different attempts at justifying the presence of the State.

Of course, it does not mean that “Islamists” are conventional nationalists, quite the contrary, and that is the historically unprecedented aspect about them: How are they struggling to make sense of these discursive contradictions? Read Tariq el Bishri in this case for interesting conscious elaboration (especially this one) of state territory and tradition in Egypt. Hizbullah’s intellectuals is a completely different story, that I may tell later.

Was this a (mini) Civil war?

For those not interested in academic empty quarrels you can skip this post. Our colleague, friend and fellow blogger Abu muqawama, has proposed to call the conflict that is happening in this little slice of land that came to be called Lebanon another civil war. And here, he provides more evidence of that. I think one should wonder why we try to call a war “civil” in the first place. Is it to differentiate it from wars that take place between “armies”? What makes a militia become an army? What’s the sanctifying procedure? Usually classical reasoning would be to say that an army is ‘the regular army’ when it answers to the commandment of the State in place. Here there are so many question that opens up on our way to understand State formation especially in post-colonial divided regions like the Middle East. What’s the difference between Hizbullah’s military structure, other military structures (like those they fought), and the Lebanese army one? What “causes” are each of them defending?

The interesting aspect of what’s going on in this place called Lebanon is the fact that a party is trying to adopt State discourse without really holding State power. A party adopting State-like practices without really claiming to become a State. I’m still astonished as to where Hizbullah think it can go using such method without really controlling the country.

But to go back to our point, calling a war ‘civil’ adds to it another moral (legitimizing) dimension, it hints on the idea that a war is happening between ad-hoc military formations emanating from within the population. This discursive insertion of ‘civil’ takes for granted the idea that there is some sort of an imagined community (here the Lebanese) and that this community is tearing itself apart. Hizbullah actually uses and is constrained by this discourse, the one projecting the existence of a Lebanese community (the one of multi-confessionalism, consociationalism, etc). In the case of the last few days, the party considered itself doing a “cleaning job” that in the end will serve the interest of the State. So it was considered very normal for its media channels (and other opposition medias) to talk about the storming into offices of the Mustaqbal militia, and the collection of weapons as a ‘restoring order’ operation, and relegating the matter to The Law (i.e. the army in this case).

I won’t write more because I promised myself not to make lengthy posts. I will probably re-articulate these (very disarticulated) ideas in other coming posts.

Where I spend my days

I intend to write much more about how the department in which I am enrolled (The War Studies department of King’s College) feeds into the overall production of knowledge for dominant power’s successful policy. But for now this is just to let you know what type of ‘job proposals’ I usually get through my university email:

Afghanistan Brief

The situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating. Although some local military battles are being won and specific projects have made progress, overall, the military presence has been a disaster. It has become apparent that a military approach is unlikely to resolve the conflict. Consequently, it has been proposed that a detailed analysis of the current attitudes, behaviours, communications, sentiments, etc. be conducted so that a new approach can be communicated to the various Afghan audiences. Based loosely on a hearts and minds approach as opposed to a military approach, the central strategy would be to try to win allegiance from as many Afghan groups as possible in a joint programme of development and reconstruction. This type of “Let’s stop fighting and work together” approach is seen by many to be pointless and unworkable, on the basis that messages cannot stop wars. However, an intensive analysis of the motivations and behaviours of the different Afghan audiences might well identify the triggers and levers, which would cause change in the right direction.

The client, a global communications firm, has been asked to write a proposal for conducting this piece of work, and to present this to the UK government (at the highest levels).
We need a report/proposal writer, which can pull together all of the facts, write key elements of the report and edit the final thing into a professional 15 page document.
Date of Work:
End of Work:
14/16 Dec
Next Year:
Availability would be good
Pay will be £150 per day.
Discretion and reliability are required, however, no security clearance is necessary for this project.