Why Kill Yourself?


Dying to Win author Robert Pape weighs in on the Hezbollah issue, but I'm not totally convinced of his take. Pape defines Hezbollah as "neither a political party nor an Islamist militia" but rather a "broad movement that evolved in reaction to Israel's invasion of Lebanon in June 1982." So far so good, but I think he takes this theme too far in saying the organization was "never tight-knit," and more of an "umbrella organization…of a loose collection of groups with a variety of religious and secular aims," more akin to the "multidimensional American civil-rights movement of the 1960's." This is the same stuff they've been saying, probably accurately, about "Al Qaeda" for years, but I don't know that it's applicable here. If I may channel my inner Raphael Patai for one generalization: Decentralized decision-making is a feature of many elements of Muslim society, and I'd rank Hezbollah as being far more centralized than the average.

Some combination of multi-interest dynamics could explain why Hezbollah's political maneuvers in Lebanon have been so inconsistent over the years, but when I went to interview Mohammad Fneish, for example, they certainly seemed organized, requiring a battery of security checks, disclaimers to fill out, personal information, etc., and that's after you go by a bunch of hard-looking characters who patrol outside their headquarters building (or patrolled; the building is gone now). The tasks of the security people, the PR people, the politicians, and the clerical staff all seemed as well established as you'd see in a military organization, and this was just to get access to a politician.

The problem may be that Pape seems to be working with 20-year-old information, but some of that information is pretty interesting. Contemplate this on the tree of woe:

In writing my book on suicide attackers, I had researchers scour Lebanese sources to collect martyr videos, pictures and testimonials and the biographies of the Hezbollah bombers. Of the 41, we identified the names, birth places and other personal data for 38. Shockingly, only eight were Islamic fundamentalists. Twenty-seven were from leftist political groups like the Lebanese Communist Party and the Arab Socialist Union. Three were Christians, including a female high-school teacher with a college degree. All were born in Lebanon.

Suicide attacks, however, haven't been a central part of Hezbollah tactics for quite some time. I'm not optimistic about Israel's ability to whittle Hezbollah down to manageable size, nor of the Lebanese state's ability ever to get the monopoly on violence it needs to be viable. But Hezbollah has had its head out of the water for years, and could be vulnerable in the ways an organization becomes vulnerable when it grows out of its guerrilla/terrorism stage of development.