Mar 26, 2008

Best Time Article Ever: So You Wanna Be a Hizballah Fighter?

Normally I wouldn't repost anything from Time or other products of the corporate culture industry, but I found this article which details the inner workings of one of the world's most successful "alternative civility"-based organization making it worthy of The Revolution Script. I find Hizbollah interesting(as an object of study) because it, like the Black Panthers, Young Lords and other influential social movements essentially has two branches. It's civil society branch functions as a counter-state, as described below fulfilling the traditional roles of government in which the Lebanese government has failed. It's "uncivil" society branch trains an army of resistance fighters and conducts operations against Israel using tactics which are now popular with Palestinian guerrillas. The legitimacy gained through the actions of the first branch allows the second branch to not only exist but operate succefully.

So You Wanna Be a Hizballah Fighter?

Hizballah's state-within-the-Lebanese-state -- its hospitals, schools, banking system and even its consumer goods stores -- is a closed society that's off-limits to outsiders. But no part of the structure is more closed and more secret than the military wing, access to which is extremely limited for an American journalist such as myself. But my assistant, Rami Aysha, grew up in Haret Hrek, the mostly Shia Muslim suburb of Beirut that is Hizballah's main stronghold in Lebanon, and at my request, he spoke to a few Hizballah fighters in his neighborhood, some of them former school chums, about the process by which they became members of the formidable anti-Israeli militia.
The two phases in the development of a Hizballah fighter are like Boy Scouts and Boot Camp. During the first phase, Hizballah recruiters keep an eye out for young Shia Muslim students in both Hizballah-run schools and the national school system. They look for energetic kids, violent kids, and smart kids, from the age of seven into the late teens, and begin taking them on field trips and workshops where they are given a through ideological indoctrination, and then as they get older, a brief introduction to the AK-47 assault rifle.
Two important themes stick out: from the beginning, the training stresses the path to martyrdom, which is achieved through honesty, prayer, and combat. And from the start, Hizballah organizes its child recruits into the basic cellular structure of the organization. Each is assigned to a cell of about five kids, with each cell having its own kid commander, and their own missions: usually games and exercises like treasure hunts. This stage ideological training can last for years, or it can be done in as little as 9 months, depending on the zeal of the recruits and how much free time they have from school.
Hizballah trainers constantly separate the wheat from the chaff. Those who pass all the ideological training tests, move on to learn the basics of warfare: weapons training and outdoor maneuvers for a total of at least 9 months, much of it in the Bekaa valley. All along the way, the trainers are on the lookout for those with special abilities. The lazy ones -- with the ability to sit for hours on end without getting bored -- are chosen as lookouts to watch Israeli troop movements; the brave ones are chosen for attacks, the smart ones are chosen for intelligence and security; and the smart and unpredictable ones -- the guys who don't look or act or behave at all like fighters -- get chosen for what is called reverse security, or counterintelligence.
When they graduate from military training, the new fighters are broken up and sent off to join cells out in the field or overseas alongside veterans. Of all the fighters, about one in ten is chose to be a commander, and goes to Iran for a few months of special training. The number of Hizballah fighters is a secret, but in a recent speech, the group's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, hinted that there are tens of thousands of them.

Though men make up the majority of Hizballah's frontline fighters, there are plenty of female fighters as well, mostly reservists. And even if don't carry weapons themselves, women are the ticking time bomb of Hizballah. They vote, and (especially if they are married to another member of the Resistance thanks to a Hizballah mating service) they'll give birth to the next generation of fighters.
--Andrew Lee Butters with reporting by Rami Aysha/Beirut

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