A Privilege to Die: Inside Hezbollah's Legions and Their Endless War Against Israel
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HOW HAS HEZBOLLAH, WHICH HAS NOW WON TWO WARS WITH ISRAEL, managed to become the most dynamic movement in the Islamic world, why do millions share its beliefs, and what do they want? The Islamic revolutionary movement has become the most powerful source of militancy in the Middle East, forging a mass following and global appeal. A Privilege to Die offers the first on-the-ground look at the men and women whose fervor has made Lebanon’s Party of God the gold standard for radical movements across the region and the world.
Through deep and vivid portraits of those who do Hezbollah’s grassroots work—on the battlefields, in politics, in nightclubs, and with scout troops—Thanassis Cambanis, a veteran Middle-East correspondent, puts a human face on the movement that has ushered in a belligerent renaissance and inspired fighters in Gaza, the West Bank, Egypt, Iraq, and beyond. This riveting, remarkable narrative provides an urgent and important exploration of militancy in the Middle East.
people would have to help him. On an individual psychological level, impassioned people like Aya, or many others I met who aspired to martyrdom (for themselves or their children), seemed capable of simultaneously embracing self-preservation and doomsday prophecies. Aya wanted to fight at the front of the Mahdi’s Army; she wanted another war with Israel sooner rather than later (why dread the inevitable, she argued); and found the idea of heroic martyrdom attractive. At the same time, she worked
through a shared Shiite experience, and then inspired that base along with a wider public by calling on them all to shed the old parochial shackles of sect and rally around the universal identity of Resistance. The Arabs in control of the government, comfortably bound to the axis of accommodation that ran through Amman, Cairo, and Riyadh and had a direct line to Washington, D.C., failed to notice that the bulging ranks of Hezbollah included plenty of Christians, Sunnis, and Druze. Hezbollah was a
intelligence services. (At the end of the civil war in 1990, Syria had 40,000 peacekeepers in Lebanon; by the time they pulled out in 2005, they still kept 14,000 fighting men in Lebanon.) A temporary peace, like a fog, rolled over this fraying sectarian landscape during the 1990s. It was uneasy at best, people trying in public not to talk about the grievances of the civil war or to openly chart their sect’s performance in the power sweepstakes. Rafik Hariri grew richer than ever while
the grass on the median, his legs splayed out, and I was cross-legged beside him. He reached out with his strong arm and forced me to him, kissing me on the cheek without any tenderness, locking me in his grip—“but we do not hate the people.” His rage flowed from a deep reservoir, filled long before this war and replenished by every round of destruction. Nothing he said suggested he had actively supported Hezbollah. But in this time of accelerated entropy, with the roofs literally caving in
striking important military objectives, the soul and conscience of their entire community. Anyone killed in service to Hezbollah was considered a martyr. Those like Rani who volunteered for risky missions with a high chance of death were accorded special status. Most prestigious of all were that comparatively tiny number deployed to blow themselves up, on what the party called “martyrdom operations.” Only men of exceptional battlefield prowess could apply for martyrdom operations, and only a