Stretching My Gambes

Martyrdom in Lebanon

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Driving through the villages surrounding Tyre is a somewhat schizophrenic experience. On the one hand the scars of the 2006 Israeli invasion are visible due to the remaining rubble and bullet-holes, while on the other it is hard not to be struck by the vibrancy and vitality of everyday life. Experiencing the hospitality and generosity of local families confirms this and rather belies the trauma of their recent history.

A photo of a martyr.

A photo of a martyr.

This trauma is vividly displayed on row upon row of streetlights. Young men who lost their own lives gaze over the continuation of life below them. All are the brothers, fathers and sons of local families who resisted Israeli attacks; some are members of the internationally lamented but locally revered Hizbullah.

Looking at these images, these iconic representations and statements of resistance, I wondered as to how the loss of a loved one impacted on the families. Of course there is the natural grief and suffering that stems from losing a loved one. However, I wondered if a family’s identification with losing something so dear and irreplaceable to them conferred respect or status within the local community?

A community’s experience of conflict and militarism is well documented as impacting on constructions of gender roles and relationships.

For example, Achim Rohdhe argues that eight years of war with Iran led to the identification of Iraqi men, and especially soldiers, as the saviours of the nation. Although this is perhaps not an unusual claim about male gender roles during a time of war, it is curious to note the damage the conflict did to the relatively progressive policies towards women embarked on during the 1970s.

They were reneged on for a variety of reasons induced by the war. For example Hussein’s acquiescence to demands from leaders of communal groups, particularly some tribal and sectarian groups, in order to ensure their support, led to ‘conservative’ and ‘traditional’ policies towards women. This reinforced classical patriarchy’s essentialist binary of masculinity and femininity that had been previously unpicked.

Julie Peteet’s analysis of conflict in the Palestinian territories suggests that beatings by IDF soldiers conferred a sense of heroism and manhood to young Palestinian men. It also created access to roles of leadership for young males; older males became increasingly bypassed for resolving community disputes in favour of those men who had illustrated their capacity to resist the occupation. This usurped the classical pattern of the patriarchal system; senior male social dominance.

In reference to Lebanon Lara Deeb’s work on Shi’a women engages with the photos of martyrs. She claims that the public portraits of martyrs ‘…memorialized the deaths of individuals while representing solidarity with the community epitomized by the lives that were sacrificed.’ The iconic status of these men, the photos that adorn streetlight after streetlight, thus serve to establish community solidarity and political loyalties.

However, her study fails to engage with my query as to how having a martyred brother, father or son impacts on the family within the community. It appeared that the images were hoisted with pride and the men were admired within the community; they had denied their own needs in order to provide for others. Constructions of martyrdom and heroism are perhaps to be expected when conflict exists so symbiotically with the lived experiences of communities in Southern Lebanon.

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Written by Henry Smith

07/10/2009 at 00:32

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