Holy Jihad Tourism, Batman…

Photo: Lara Setrakian/ABC News

Tourists in Lebanon have a brand new attraction to visit: the Hezbollah “Museum for Resistance Tourism” in the town of Mleeta. In a world full of questionable tourist attractions, I can’t say I’m surprised by to see Hezbollah-Land join the ranks. As the word terrorism become an overfamiliar part of our day-to-day vocabulary, museums and attractions dedicated to attempting to explain or contextualize contemporary ideas about terrorism are bound to pop up. Recent attempts at making sense of terrorism include centres as diverse as the Anti-Imperialism Museum in Tehran (housed in the former US Embassy), Denver’s Center for Empowered Living and Learning, aka The Cell, and Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre in Israel. All of these locales put the issue of terrorism on display, but none of them does it with quite the same élan as the Mleeta site.

This Museum for Resistance Tourism experience begins with two promotional films: one about the making of the museum, the second on the history of Hezbollah. The historical film includes battle footage and, as ABC news puts it, “a version of history that casts Israelis as the ultimate bad guys.” Visitors are then taken to various exhibits described in the article as stacks of stylized pyramids of small arms left behind by Israeli forces and a sunken terrace titled “The Abyss” which holds the debris of Israeli tanks and equipment, arranged around what is meant to be a tombstone, emblazoned with the Hebrew acronym for the IDF.The museum is part of a larger tourist development which will include motels, playgrounds, camping areas, and spas and swimming pools for visitors. It’s one way to entice support from the general population, and the museum has seen over 300,000 visitors since it opened its doors in May of this year.

Clearly a fair amount of thought and planning went into this museum. To start off, the location of the museum is impotant in Hezbollah history. According to blogger Sietske in Beirut, the museum is located on the site where the first resistance fighters were trained (Mleeta hill). She also describes the area as a “dead zone” where Israeli planes used to dump unused bombs when returning to their base, so they would not have to land with them onboard. This practice was done in uninhabited areas so the risk of civilian deaths (and the expected retaliation) was low. As a result, there is a huge pit on the hill created by years of the dropping of these bombs. The museum is built around this unnatural landmark.

As is the way with all tourist attractions constructed around polarized histories, Hezbollah-Land is an act of propaganda, and an unashamed one at that. My favourite quote from the ABC story is from Rami, a tour guide at the museum. When asked if he thought the museum advances terrorist propaganda, he said:

“I believe it’s our right to have our own propaganda. The important thing is that this is the sincere and true propaganda.”

The museum is part of Hezbollah’s overarching strategy: in times of peace, the organization invests in creating social and economic bonds with its followers, for example by building homes and supplying hospitals. There is no better way to retain your supporters than by giving them a roof over their head (especially if their roof has been bombed away by the enemy), improving their quality of life and providing them with a social safety net. The museum, and the planned entertainment complex that will be built around it, plays into this strategy while simultaneously promoting Hezbollah’s message through edu-tainment. Histories used to be written by the victors, but increasingly they are being written by those who find the most amusing and entertaining ways of delivering their “sincere and true propaganda”.

On a side note, when researching Hezbollah-Land, I came across an article in Wired that describes another interesting site that uses popular culture as a forum to promote a terrorist cause — Hamaswood (or the Asdaa Land for Artistical and Media Production), a movie set owned by Hamas and located near the Gaza town of Khan Yunis. This set has been used for several years to create content for the Hamas owned media network. And though the studio maintains that is not reserved exclusively for use by Hamas, all the current projects filming there are about the conflict with Israel. Of course, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for the studio; in the winter of 2008/09, airstrikes from Israel heavily damaged administrative buildings and other parts of the studio, causing several hundred thousand dollars worth of damage.

At the Hezbollah museum site, Rami, the tour guide interviewed for the ABC piece indicated that the possibility of war was always on the minds of the residents in the area, but, he says, collateral damage doesn’t worry them because they have been reassured by the backing and resources of Hezbollah. And what about the museum? “If it is ever destroyed by the Israelis, we will just build again” was Rami’s answer.


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