A Sanitized Profile of Hezbollah's Unhappy Campers
The Times' standard sanitization of radical Islamic terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah is on display on Friday's front page in an article by Robert Worth, "To Fuel Quest, Hezbollah Harnesses Youth Piety."
In the article, part of an occasional series "examining the lives of the young across the Muslim world at a time of religious revival," Worth likened a Hezbollah youth camp in Riyaq, Lebanon to the Boy Scouts.
On a Bekaa Valley playing field gilded by late-afternoon sun, hundreds of young men wearing Boy Scout-style uniforms and kerchiefs stand rigidly at attention as a military band plays, its marchers bearing aloft the distinctive yellow banner of Hezbollah, the militant Shiite movement.
They are adolescents - 17 or 18 years old - but they have the stern faces of adult men, lightly bearded, some of them with dark spots in the center of their foreheads from bowing down in prayer. Each of them wears a tiny picture of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Shiite cleric who led the Iranian revolution, on his chest.
"You are our leader!" the boys chant in unison, as a Hezbollah official walks to a podium and addresses them with a Koranic invocation. "We are your men!"
This is the vanguard of Hezbollah's youth movement, the Mahdi Scouts. Some of the graduates gathered at this ceremony will go on to join Hezbollah's guerrilla army, fighting Israel in the hills of southern Lebanon. Others will work in the party's bureaucracy. The rest will probably join the fast-growing and passionately loyal base of support that has made Hezbollah the most powerful political, military and social force in Lebanon.
The word "terrorism" is completely absent from the article about this camp run by the international terrorist organization Hezbollah,replaced by sanitized statements like "military" and "militant." Hezbollah was responsible for the 1983 suicide truck bombings that killed more than 200 U.S. Marines in Beirut.
At a time of religious revival across the Islamic world, intense piety among the young is nothing unusual. But in Lebanon, Hezbollah - the name means the party of God - has marshaled these ambient energies for a highly political project: educating a younger generation to continue its military struggle against Israel. Hezbollah's battlefield resilience has made it a model for other militant groups across the Middle East, including Hamas. And that success is due, in no small measure, to the party's extraordinarily comprehensive array of religion-themed youth and recruitment programs.
Under the subhed "Camp, With a Moral Portion," Worth described the anti-Semitic indoctrination without coming to a moral conclusion:
From a distance, it resembles any other Boy Scout camp in the world. Two rows of canvas tents face each other on the banks of the Litani River, the powder-blue stream that runs across southern Lebanon not far from the Israeli border. A hand-built wooden jungle gym stands near the camp entrance, where pine trees sway in the breeze and dry, brown hills are visible in the distance.
Then, planted on sticks in the river, two huge posters bearing the faces of Ayatollah Khomeini and Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, come into view.
Today's article goes on for 2,600 words, and Worth kept his moral concern about the violent anti-Jewish thrust of such "camping" well hidden:
"Since 1985 we have managed to raise a good generation," said Muhammad al-Akhdar, 25, a scout leader, as he showed a visitor around the grounds. "We had 850 kids here this summer, ages 9 to 15."
This camp is called Tyr fil Say, one of the sites in south Lebanon where the Mahdi Scouts train. Much of what they do is similar to the activities of scouts the world over: learning to swim, to build campfires, to tie knots and to play sports. Mr. Akhdar described some of the games the young scouts play, including one where they divide into two teams - Americans and the Resistance - and try to throw one another into the river.
Another difference from most scout groups lies in the program. Religious and moral instruction - rather than physical activity - occupy the vast bulk of the Mahdi Scouts' curriculum, and the scout leaders adhere strictly to lessons outlined in books for each age group.
Another difference between the Mahdi Scouts and the Boy Scouts: No merit badges for anti-Semitic indoctrination among the latter. Here's an example of what Worth benignly termed "religious and moral instruction":
Jews are described as cruel, corrupt, cowardly and deceitful, and they are called the killers of prophets. The chapter on Jews states that "their Talmud says those outside the Jewish religion are animals."
In every chapter, the children are required to write down or recite Koranic verses that illustrate the theme in question. They are taught to venerate Ayatollah Khomeini - Iran has been a longtime supporter of Hezbollah, providing it with money, weapons and training - and the leaders of Hezbollah. They are told to hate Israel and to avoid people who are not devout.