Posted by: sean | November 21, 2008

The politics of scouting in Lebanon

Mahdi Scout badge

Mahdi Scout badge

As part of its “generation faithful” series, the Times has a piece up about Hezbollah’s scouts, the Mahdi Scouts, with a photo slideshow here. There is some interesting information in the piece, but I’m disappointed that Worth didn’t put the Mahdi scouts into the larger context of Lebanese scouts, which can be seen as a microcosm of Lebanese politics.

Last year, I was surprised to find that there’s only one national scout association in the country. In fact, all of the other groups (and there are a lot), from the Mahdi Scouts to the Scouts du Liban, are affiliated with a political party, and in most cases, also a religious sect. Even the Armenians have their own scout group.

Muslim Scout badge

Muslim Scout badge

It’s a little problematic to me that Worth didn’t seem to take a look at those other scout groups to see how the Mahdi Scouts compare. The only time other scouting organizations in Lebanon are mentioned only in passing. In a 2,500-plus-word piece, I’d like to see some more about the other scouts. He does give us the interesting statistic that with 60,000 members, the Mahdi Scouts are six times larger than the next biggest scouting group. (Although we’re not told which group that is or from where that statistic comes.) Then he goes on to compare the militarism of the Mahdi Scouts, but only by quoting someone else: “Even their marching movements are more militaristic than the others, according to Mustafa Muhammad Abdel Rasoul, the head of the Lebanese Scouts’ Union.”

It would have been helpful for Worth to have gone to other scout meets for other groups. I’d be curious to see how much Sunni religious doctrine is seen in the Future Scouts, or how much Christian theology is stressed in the Scouts du Liban, whose emblem is a cross with a cedar. It also would have been interesting to see how the mixed national scouts do things or what the PSP Scouts learn about or what kind of relations the Orthodox Scouts have with the Maronite scouting groups. These are all questions that I’d love to hear about, but probably never will.

The problem is that news organizations aren’t terribly interested in looking at this sort of context. Hezbollah is a sexy, salacious topic, and editors always seem interested in focusing purely on this group while ignoring the rest of the country. But Hezbollah does not exist in a vacuum, and while it is perhaps the most important political group it the country, it can’t be properly understood without the rest of the Lebanese political scene.


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