Monday, December 4, 2006

The Babes of Hezbollah?

Please allow me to indulge in a bit of frivolity.

Conservative bloggers back in the Spring of 2005 were quick to note the presence of very attractive females at various protests and rallies during the so-called "Cedar Revolution" (sometimes called the "Gucci Revolution"), and hence we'd hear a lot about the so-called anti-Syrian "protest babes."

As it turns out, the current anti-government protests in Lebanon are producing a similar phenomenon, as Joshua Landis of SyriaComment notes. Apparently there is even a "babe" theory of social movements of which I had been completely unaware, as described elsewhere:

The Babe Theory, first described by P.J. O'Rourke in his Parliament of Whores book:

"Best of all, there were hardly any beautiful women at the [Housing Now!] rally. I saw a journalist friend of mine in the Mall, and he and I purused this line of inquiry as assiduously as our happy private lives allow. Practically every female at the march was a bowser. "We're not being sexist here," my friend insisted. "It's not that looks matter per se. It's just that beautiful women are always on the cutting edge of social trends. Remember how many beautiful women were in the anti-war movement twenty years ago? In the yoga classes fifteen years ago? At the discos ten years ago? On Wall Street five years ago? Where the beautiful women are is where the country is headed," said my friend. "And this," he looked around him, "isn't it."

Look for the babes, and that's where the social action is, that's where the success will be.

[snip]

The babe theory of political movements essentially holds that:

Where and when there are hot babes, an exponential number of men will show up. If 100 cute girls with voluptuous bodies are protesting for freedom, you can count on a thousand men being there as well.

If sexy babes are involved in a peaceful political movement, it has a far greater chance of succeeding. If there are no good-looking women involved, the odds of a successful (and peaceful) movement fall dramatically.

Make of that what you will. To the extent that I'm a feminist (as an aside, I know I'll be accused of being a bit of a sexist too - I won't deny it), I wonder if there is somewhere a "hunk" theory of social movements. I'll have to ask my wife about that one.

Somehow that all appears to be the sideshow, as indeed something very important is happening in Lebanon. In the mean time, here's some more of the photos making their way through the mass media for those trying to determine the merits of the so-called "babe theory of political movements":



If nothing else, the pictures are likely to blast a few stereotypes that many Westerners likely hold regarding supporters of Hezbollah, etc. To the extent that occurs, perhaps increased understanding will coincide. One can hope, right? Perhaps a commenter at Josh's site put it reasonably well:
Part of the power of bloggers is that they let us see that people in the Middle East are just the same as us, even down to the same jeans, T-Shirts and tattoos.

It beats doom and gloom all the time.
It should of course be duly noted that there is some writing and blogging on women's activism in Hezbollah and Hamas that is well worth checking out (here's just a clip to whet the appetite):

Big appreciation to ISIM, the Netherlands-based International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World, that (1) they produce such a fascinating periodical, and (2) they make the whole text of the articles available online. (Even if only in a slightly hard-to-use PDF format. But hey, it's an still an excellent contribution to the global knowledge-base.)

In this piece, Lara Deeb looks at the changing way in which, since the 1970s, women's roles have been portrayed in the annual Ashura rituals that are an important feature of Shiite community life in Lebanon (and elsewhere); and she tracks these shifts with the increased role that Lebanese Shiite women-- primarily, I think, Hizbullah women-- have been playing in public life.

Along the way she makes some thoughtful comments on the relationship between piety and modernity:

    The activist lesson of Karbala [ that is, the battle of 680 CE that's commemorated in the Ashura rituals], in its application in daily life, provides a framework for these expressions of [female] piety, and indeed, insists on public activity as a part of piety. In this context, to be pious according to such standards is a large part of being modern. Women who did not express piety “properly” were considered “backward” and in need of education to bring them into their proper role in the progressivist narrative of community development.

    While it can be argued that this is true to a certain extent for both women and men, public piety marks women most visibly...

Of course, this portrayal of what has been happening among Lebanese Shiite women challenges many western notions about the relationship between (our form of) "modernity" and public expressions of piety, which we hold to be generally an antithetical one. To be "modern" in the west is often taken to involve being scantily clad, secular, and even profane. Deeb gives us a timely reminder that that there are many different versions and visions of "modernity."
Indeed.

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