On my relative Muhammed from South Lebanon (I)
Youssef Bazzi - 07/01/2009
Muhammed disappeared from the house. A kid of eighteen, no more than a sweet boy during the July War of 2006, who spent most of his time either in the countryside or school, simply vanished. His family, shocked by his sudden absence, quickly figured out the reason: they lived in Bint Jbeil, a Southern Lebanese village like any other, and they knew--they had seen for themselves countless times--where their sons went, and why.
These young men of the villages and towns who suddenly vanish from view, leave their homes in the early hours while their families sleep and make their way to Hezbollah, to join its training camps in Lebanon and abroad.
Muhammed left without warning. His family report that he showed no signs of the change in behavior and deportment usually displayed by those who fall in with Hezbollah. He showed no marked increase in piety, like refusing to shake hands with women or refraining from telling off-colour jokes. He continued playing computer games for hours on end and hanging out with other young men in the village square. Muhammed still wore the same clothes he always did, tucking his shirt into his trousers not leaving it dangling out. He continued to shave his beard and watch soap operas and Arab music videos on TV.
His parents never noticed that he seemed particularly interested in reading about politics, for instance, or following news reports and bulletins on party activities. He brought no new friends to the house. The language he used, his little temper tantrums, his ideas, none showed signs of the transformation that usually accompanies membership of a political party, especially Hezbollah.
The Muhammed that I knew during the summer war, two and half years ago, was a cheerful well-mannered person. And so he remained, right up until the moment of his carefully planned disappearance, when, in one fell swoop he abandoned callow youth for the macho call of arms and the promise of war.
The inhabitants of his village say that Muhammed's contemporaries are joining Hezbollah's military wing in ever-increasing numbers. It’s a return of partisanship, just like the old days. The decision to join Hezbollah is no rational choice, in which the new member steeps himself in the principles and conditions of extreme piety, submits himself to rigorous reeducation and engages in a commitment to certain forms of behaviour, religious practice and thought. Now, it seems, membership is open to all. It's gone public, if that's the right expression, to meet Hezbollah's ambitions to militarize and mobilize the south of the country on the one hand, and on the other, to fulfill these young men's fantasies of emulating the heroes and heroines of the July War, of being a part of the People of Divine Victory, a phrase that signals the Hezbollah's almost total assimilation of Shiite theology.
Muhammed's family from Bint Jbeil, loyal Hezbollah sympathizers and devoted followers of Al-Sayyid Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, have been badly shaken by their son's actions. In anticipation of his return, Muhammed's father applied on his behalf for a US visa. America is home to his married sisters, his cousins and many other relatives, all of whom live in Brooklyn, New Jersey and Michigan. The father did exactly the same thing to help his eldest son Ali avoid conscription into a pro-Israeli militia prior to 2000.
Muhammed returned from his stint in the training camp wholly dedicated to a military career in Hezbollah. He turned down his monthly salary (almost $400), donating it instead to the party's orphans, a gesture eloquent of his newfound enthusiasm and faith. He came back to Bint Jbeil ready for battle, but he didn't stay long. He never got the chance to fight, because his family forced him to leave for America (The Great Satan according to Hezbollah) to work in a petrol station owned by a relative in order "to make a future for himself" in the words of his mother, a lady who watches Hezbollah's Al-Manar television station day and night.