Oops… the Lebanese Air Force

Oh dear, it seems I was wrong about the ‘Israeli jet’ flying over Beirut yesterday. Turns out the Lebanese do have an air force after all: apart from a few helicopters, also in the air yesterday, it consists of one (1) plane. It is being flown these days in preparation for Lebanon’s Independence day tomorrow (November 22nd). Presumably it is called ‘Air Force One’…

The Lebanese army has this morning carried out a raid in Bab al-Tabbaneh, the sunni fundamentalist-dominated neighbourhood in Tripoli that was involved in all-out fighting with their alawite neighbours in the bordering quarter of Jabal Mohsen earlier this year. The army’s intention was to arrest some wanted salafist fighters. They encountered serious armed resistance, resulting in 2 dead (including the wanted man, called Abu Da’aas according to a Lebanese radio station) and, depending on the source, 3 to 11 wounded at the time of writing. It is not clear if the fighting is still continuing at the moment (9:30 am local time). Sporadic fighting has also been going on over the past days and weeks at the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp outside Saida (Sidon) where Fatah forces are fighting islamist factions (notably Usbat al-Ansar) in an effort to force them to deliver wanted jihadi fighters (mostly Fatah al-Islam-linked) to the Lebanese army.

The New York Times today publishes an irritatingly sensationalist but informative article by Robert Worth on Hizbullah’s scouts, schools and youth organizations: ‘“It’s like a complete system, from primary school to university,” said Talal Atrissi, a political analyst at Lebanese University who has been studying Hezbollah for decades. “The goal is to prepare a generation that has deep religious faith and is also close to Hezbollah.” Much of this activity is fueled by a broader Shiite religious resurgence in Lebanon that began after the Iranian revolution in 1979. But Hezbollah has gone further than any other organization in mobilizing this force, both to build its own support base and to immunize Shiite youths from the temptations of Lebanon’s diverse and mostly secular society. Hezbollah’s influence on Lebanese youth is very difficult to quantify because of the party’s extreme secrecy and the general absence of reliable statistics in the country. It is clear that the Shiite religious schools, in which Hezbollah exercises a dominant influence, have grown over the past two decades from a mere handful into a major national network. Other, less visible avenues may be equally important, like the growing number of clerics associated with the movement. Hezbollah and its allies have also adapted and expanded religious rituals involving children, starting at ever-earlier ages. Women, who play a more prominent role in Hezbollah than they do in most other radical Islamic groups, are especially important in creating what is often called “the jihad atmosphere” among children.’
The article devotes quite some space to the role of women in Hizbullah: ‘Born in 1985, Ms. Halawi is in some ways typical of the younger generation of female Hezbollah members. She grew up after Hezbollah and its allies had begun establishing what they called the hala islamiyya, or Islamic atmosphere, in Shiite Lebanon. She quickly became far more devout than her parents, who had grown up during an era when secular ideologies like pan-Arabism and Communism were popular in Lebanon. She married early and had the first of her two children before turning 17. (…) The two-and-a-half hour ceremony that followed — in which the girls performed a play about the meaning of the hijab and a bearded Hezbollah cleric delivered a long political speech — was a concentrated dose of Hezbollah ideology, seamlessly blending millenarian Shiite doctrine with furious diatribes against Israel. Again and again, the girls were told that the hijab was an all-important emblem of Islamic virtue and that it was the secret power that allowed Hezbollah to liberate southern Lebanon. The struggle with Israel, they were told, is the same as the struggle of Shiite Islam’s founding figures, Ali and Hussein, against unjust rulers in their time. (…) “Our veil is a jewel-encrusted crown, dignified and lofty, that God made to make us blossom,” she said at one point, gazing out into the darkness with a look of passionate intensity. “He opened the door of obedience and contentment for us.”’


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