Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Militarization of Sex


The story of Hezbollah's halal hookups.

Mohammad, a 40-year old Lebanese Shiite who lives in Hezbollah's stronghold in Beirut's southern suburbs, was holding forth on the virtues of resistance, loyalty, and sex. "You could create the most loyal army by providing political power, social services and fulfilling the desires of your men -- namely, sexual ones," he declared.

"And Hezbollah has been very successful in this regard," Mohammad continued.

It is hard to disagree.

Hezbollah liberated South Lebanon from Israeli occupation, expanded the Shiite community's political power within the country, and has provided social services, such as health care and education, to its constituency since the 1980s. Today, it is also working to fulfill the sexual needs of its supporters, though a practice known as mutaa marriage.

Mutaa is a form of "temporary marriage" only acceptable within Shiite communities, one that allows couples to have religiously sanctioned sex for a limited period of time, without any commitments, and without the obligatory involvement of religious figures.

In conservative Muslim societies known for their strict sense of propriety, mutaa offers an escape clause. The contract is very simple. The woman says: "I marry myself to you for [a specific period of time] and for [a specified dowry]" and the man says: "I accept." The period can range between one hour and a year, and is subject to renewal.

A Muslim woman can only marry a Muslim man, but a Muslim man can temporarily marry a Muslim, Christian, or Jewish woman, as long as she is a divorcée or a widow. However, those interviewed for this article confirmed that Hezbollah-the "Party of God"-has allowed the practice to spread to virgins or girls who have never married before, as long as the permission of her guardian (father or paternal grandfather) is obtained.

Temporary marriage has long been practiced by Shiites around the world. However, it has recently become more commonplace in Lebanon, notably within Hezbollah strongholds in Beirut's southern suburbs and in southern Lebanon after the 2006 war with Israel,

Hezbollah's recent encouragement of this phenomenon highlights the compromises it had been required to make in order to remain the preeminent force among its domestic Shiite constituency. As the party gained strength due to its effectiveness in fighting Israel, it was forced to cope with the reality that many Lebanese Shiites did not share the Iranian-inspired religious beliefs of Hezbollah's leaders.

They came to dominate a community that was shaped by the secular leftist trends of the 1970s and 1980s, and the cosmopolitan culture embodied by Beirut. Today, Lebanese Shiites are exposed to pop icons such as sexpot singer Haifa Wehbe, countless Western advertisements and programs, and technological innovations such as online dating.

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