A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

a second look at hope

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 24, 2009

A few weeks ago H and I got into a super-charged lunchtime discussion about the relationship between Amal and Hizbullah – a no-doubt thrilling experience for those at adjacent tables. (As those of you who have spent time in New York know, an “adjacent table” is usually three-to-six inches away. So they definitely got to listen in, interested or no.)

H has been doing some background research on the way that Hizbullah began positioning itself from the mid-1980s, if I remember correctly, by using Amal as a foil. So H decided to use me as a test case: what does the average self-appointed foreign expert think of Amal?

What do you think of when you think of Amal? H asked as I doused my lunch in carrot tahini.

I think of Amal as being more secular and also more corrupt, I said, playing right into H’s hands.

Ah, H said, nodding sagely. That’s exactly what you are supposed to think. From what H has read, these stereotypes about Amal were cultivated partly by Hizbullah as a way of distinguishing the two groups from one another. If Amal was secular and corrupt, Hizbullah could be religious and honest. And when Amal’s members do exhibit their religious faith – as on Ashoura – Hizbullah’s followers distinguish themselves further by commemorating the event without (or at least with less visible) bloodshed.

I’ve had an unpleasant run-in with one of Nabih Berri’s children, not to mention the goobers who “guarded” my neighborhood last May, so I suspect that my antipathy towards Amal is largely the product of an extended fit of pique. But still: H’s research made me feel like a dupe.

(I should note here that both parties have evolved considerably over the past twenty years, which seems to be when this “if you’re defined as this, we’ll be defined as that” approach seems to have been employed. But I do think that these stereotypes continue to frame how outside observers, at least, understand the relationship between Amal and Hizbullah.)

It also made me rethink a photograph I snapped last June, of recent graffiti on the back wall of a particularly decrepit parking lot in Hamra:


I took this photo without much of a purpose: I noticed the new graffiti, thought “hunh – Amal graffiti that mentions Ali, how interesting”, took the photo, and left it to languish on my computer for the next ten months.

Now I look at it and wonder: what else have I missed :)?


2 Responses to “a second look at hope”

  1. qussa said

    It’s not just foreign observers that have absorbed these ‘stereotypes’, i hear this from Lebanese as well. I actually thought what H’s findings confirm for the first time in May last year, when for the first few days Hezbollah kept saying they weren’t using their weapons; they were directing Amal ‘thugs’ where to use them…

    Would H care to share any of his sources?

  2. qussa said

    (Sorry, it should probably be ‘foreigner observers who… 😉 )

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