Sacrifice and Self-Martyrdom in Shi‘ite Lebanon

Martin Kramer, “Sacrifice and ‘Self-Martyrdom’ in Shi’ite Lebanon,” Terrorism and Political Violence, vol. 3, no. 3 (Autumn 1991), pp. 30-47. This version, as revised for Martin Kramer, Arab Awakening and Islamic Revival (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1996), pp. 231-43.

On 11 November 1982, an explosion demolished an eight-story building used by the Israeli occupation forces in Tyre in south Lebanon. In the conflagration, seventy-four Israeli soldiers and fourteen others died. The Israeli authorities announced that the blast was the result of an explosion of gas balloons, although there was considerable speculation that the attack had been a deliberate bombing. Indeed, Islamic Jihad claimed credit for the explosion, announcing that it had been produced by time bombs it had infiltrated into the building. Little more was said until 19 May 1985, when Hizbullah’s Islamic Resistance gave a different account, claiming that the building had been demolished by an explosive-laden car driven by a “self-martyr.” The announcement attributed the act to Ahmad Qasir, a fifteen-year-old from Dayr Qanun al-Nahr, a Shi’ite town about ten miles inland from Tyre in south Lebanon.1

It is impossible even now to pronounce definitively on the origin or authorship of the explosion. Yet if the claim of the Islamic Resistance is true, then the Tyre attack of 1982 may be said to have initiated the tactic that made Hizbullah both famous and dreaded. The “self-martyring” operations took the following form: an individual would take the wheel of a truck or car loaded with high explosives, position that vehicle alongside a target, and detonate the explosives while still in the vehicle. In the resulting explosion, the driver was certain to die. The explosion also inflicted damage upon the target, although its effect could not be predicted. The most destructive attack by Islamic Jihad, less than a year later, claimed 241 American lives in Beirut. Other attacks claimed fewer casualties, and sometimes only the life of the driver.

Although Hizbullah devised such attacks, other Lebanese organizations soon sponsored similar operations, including Hizbullah’s Lebanese Shi’ite rival, the Amal movement. The first such operation by Amal took place on 16 June 1984, when a Lebanese car approached an Israeli military patrol in south Lebanon. As the patrol and the car met, the driver of the car detonated high explosives packed in the vehicle, killing himself and wounding a number of Israeli soldiers. Credit for the operation was immediately claimed by the Amal movement, which identified the “self-martyr” as Bilal Fahs, a seventeen-year-old from the town of Jibshit, near Nabatiyya in south Lebanon.

Those who claimed credit for these operations represented them as straightforward acts of war. Hizbullah’s attacks were directed against American, French, and Israeli targets in Lebanon; Amal’s operations targeted Israeli forces in Lebanon. Yet from the outset, this classification posed problems. For while the operations were no doubt conceived as acts of war, and therefore as politically purposeful, their very structure suggested sacrificial rite. The perpetrators went deliberately to their deaths; the planners deliberately sent the perpetrators to their deaths.

There was another paradox. By these acts, Shi’ites seemed united in a struggle against foreign invaders and aggressors. Yet beneath this apparent unity, it seemed as though Hizbullah and Amal had entered into a competition. In their boastful presentations of these attacks, both Hizbullah and Amal sought to amass greater credibility as promoters of sacred struggle — in the number of attacks launched against foreign intruders, in the number of claimed enemy casualties, and in the number of martyrs offered to the cause. Far from displaying unity, the escalating attacks seemed to point to an intensified rivalry within Shi’ite ranks. The two movements, Hizbullah and Amal, were waging a competitive guerrilla war against the Western presence in Beirut and the Israeli presence in south Lebanon.

This struggle culminated in the withdrawal from Lebanon of the United States and France and the retreat of Israel in a narrow zone in south Lebanon. To most observers, this represented an instance of successful and unified resistance against an onerous foreign occupation. Few noticed the evidence of imitative rivalry that drove the sacred war forward, and that channeled the growing antagonism between Hizbullah and Amal into competitive displays of violence against intruders.

The rivalry reached its apex in the “self-martyring” operations that were initiated by Hizbullah and subsequently imitated by Amal. No aspect of the struggle had the same effect upon the Shi’ite community as these operations, which thrilled, fascinated, and repelled at once. This was particularly true of the two operations cited above — one by Hizbullah and one by Amal — which first introduced the technique in the struggle against Israel in south Lebanon. The attacks against the United States and French contingents of the Multinational Force in Beirut were far more deadly, but the anonymity of the bombers, preserved to this day, established a distance between the community and the acts. But the poster visages of the two “self-martyrs” who allegedly brought the method to the south are readily recognized throughout Shi’ite Lebanon. So too is the lore behind the visages. And within that lore are grains of evidence that open new possibilities of interpretation. This is true even if the actual identities of the “self-martyrs” cannot ever be independently established. The following biographical fragments, stripped of embellishment, convey the essential information.

The Short Lives of Two Martyrs

Ahmad Qasir, named by the Islamic Resistance as the youth responsible for the Tyre attack in 1982, was born in 1967. He had an unexceptional childhood. Ahmad left school after fifth grade and went to work for his father, who ran a fruit and vegetable stall in Dayr Qanun al-Nahr. He then went to Saudi Arabia where he worked for three months as a hospital orderly to save money. Upon his return, he began to drive a pick-up truck bought by his father, from which he sold produce. Ahmad would also go regularly to the mosque for prayer, and help to decorate and clean it. Like most local boys, he also enjoyed hunting and the outdoors.

Ahmad did not become a fighter himself, but he fell under the influence of young men who were fighters. He began to run small errands for them, such as smuggling arms and tracking the movements of Israeli patrols while he delivered produce. Then he began to drive the pick-up to Beirut, leaving before sunrise and returning after sunset, without offering explanations. His father, who saw that he was not carrying produce on these trips, assumed he was running weapons. Then one day he borrowed his father’s passport and transferred the registration of his truck to his father’s name. He disappeared a few days before the operation, plunging his family into worry; his father went to Beirut to find him. Perhaps he had been kidnapped, perhaps he was being held by Christian militiamen. His parents learned of Ahmad’s mission only when Hizbullah revealed his “self-martyrdom” two and a half years after the operation.2

Bilal Fahs, who carried out Amal’s first “self-martyring” operation in 1984, was born in 1967 to an impoverished family. His father sold vegetables from a cart, and lived in a one-room cinder-block house on the edge of Jibshit. Bilal’s mother separated from his father a few months after Bilal’s birth; the father remarried and had more children, crowding the house beyond endurance. Bilal spent most of his days in the room of his paternal grandmother. Bilal’s father had not registered his marriage to Bilal’s mother with the religious courts, which have jurisdiction in Lebanon over civil status. Bilal therefore did not receive an identity card, and could not be admitted to school, although he did learn to read and write. He drifted between Jibshit and the southern suburbs of Beirut, where he had aunts and uncles, and he did some occasional fighting on behalf of Amal. Eventually he became a bodyguard to Amal leader Nabih Birri. A year and two months before the operation, he became engaged, but encountered bureaucratic difficulties in legally marrying because his existence was not registered and he had no card to establish his identity. The dynamic young prayer leader in Jibshit tried to help him straighten out the matter with the religious courts, but the outcome of this intervention is unknown.

Bilal’s fiancée later said that during the three months before the operation, she saw a change in Bilal. He spoke at length about the prayer leader of Jibshit, killed allegedly at the hands of the Israelis, and listened to every item of news about the resistance in the south. He carried photographs of martyred fighters, read some Islamic books, and watched war movies and films about Islam. In his last letter, addressed to Amal leader Birri, he wrote: “I will that my brothers in the movement all join hands in the jihad enjoined upon us the Imam-Leader [Khomeini], and that we will persevere however many obstacles there might be, under the leadership of the giant fighter of the jihad, brother Nabih Birri.”3

This evidence, like all evidence, raises at least as many questions as it answers. Like all evidence, it is incomplete. And perhaps it changes nothing. It is still possible to represent these “self-martyring” operations as a straightforward extension of war, and the product of the tactical acumen of their planners. Given the fundamental asymmetry of power between the two Shi’ite movements and their adversaries, the techniques of guerrilla warfare and “self-martyring” operations constituted a tactical response ideally suited to their limited resources. It is also possible to continue to represent them as acts of individual self-sacrifice, inspired by hatred of foreign intruders, religious vision, vengeance, or psychological disorder. Such interpretations have been suggested not only for these operations, but for comparable instances at other times and places in Islamic history.4

But knowing the identities of the “self-martyrs” (or at least their alleged identities) while not banishing other interpretations, does suggest new possibilities. The one that emerges with the least coaxing is the existence of a social dimension of sacrifice in the operations. This dimension is still partly obscured from view, for the biographical accounts completely conceal the identities and methods of those who sponsored the “self-martyrs.” But the moment we become acquainted with Ahmad Qasir and Bilal Fahs, we realize that while “self-martyrs” sacrificed themselves, they were also sacrificed by others. They were selected, prepared, and guided toward their “self-martyrdom,” a fact admitted in a general manner in the announcements published by sponsoring organizations after the operations. The “self-martyring” operations combined self-sacrifice and sacrifice, and blurred the distinction between the two. It is not at all certain that the two elements can now be separated for purposes of analysis. But the sacrificial dimension was most transparent in a simple truth about the operations: the “self-martyrs” were not self-selected, but had to meet criteria that were socially and culturally defined.

The precise criteria for selection were never made explicit, but the selected “self-martyrs” shared a number of characteristics that were valued above others. First, they had to be male. That this constituted a form of selection became evident in 1985, when a Syrian-backed nationalist party launched a wave of similar operations that included several women, among them Shi’ites. The laws of sacred war in Islam do not permit women to serve as combatants, and for Hizbullah or Amal to employ women in these operations would have undermined their character as sacred acts of war. This position was explained by one of Hizbullah’s clerics:

One of the nationalist women asked me, does Islam permit a woman to join in military operations of the resistance to the occupation, and would she go to paradise if she were martyred? The jihad in Islam is forbidden to women except in self-defense and in the absence of men. In the presence of men, the jihad is not permissible for women. My answer to this woman was that her jihad was impermissible regardless of motive or reason. She could not be considered a martyr were she killed, because the view of the law is clear. There can be no martyrdom except in the path of God. That means that every martyr will rise to paradise. I do not deny the value of the nationalist struggle (nidal) against Israel, but the jihad of women is impermissible in the presence of men. I do not deny women of the right to confront the enemy, but we must ask whether all of the nationalist men are gone so that only the women are left, or whether their men have become women and their women have become men.5

This position was confirmed after the “self-martyrdom” of Bilal Fahs, when his fiancée sought to “join him in paradise” by undertaking an operation similar to his. Despite well-publicized efforts, she found no cleric prepared to declare her sacrifice permissible.

Second, the “self-martyrs” had to be old enough to be deemed individually responsible for their acts, yet too young to have incurred the obligations of marriage. Their sacrifice could not be left open to the criticism that it had infringed upon the rights of parents or the claims of wives and children, from whom the planning of the act would have to be concealed. On the one hand, this meant that persons below a certain age could not be recruited. One of Hizbullah’s clerics, asked whether young persons could fight without permission of parents, answered: “When the plan establishes the necessity of their going out to fight, then going out is obligatory, and the agreement of the two parents is not necessary. If their going out is not necessary in the framework of the plan, then they must consult with the two parents.”6Since “self-martyrdom” did not demonstrably require a minor for operational purposes, and no parent would knowingly consent to participation of a son in such an operation, the employment of minors was virtually forbidden. But given the fact that death was assured in such operations, the same ban was extended to husbands and fathers. The sacred war of which the “self-martyring” operations were a part did include married men with families, some of whom were killed. But the fact of selection, by which the “self-martyring” operations passed into sacrificial acts, required more stringent limits. Given the early age of marriage in Lebanese Shi’ite society, this placed a low ceiling on the age of possible candidates. The remaining window of opportunity was correspondingly small. Ahmad Qasir at 15 still lived at home, and was almost too dependent to qualify; Bilal Fahs at 17 was already engaged to be married, and almost too attached to qualify.

Third, the “self-martyr” could have no ties to anyone who might consider himself socially responsible for avenging the death against its sponsors, which would be conceivable were the operation to fail tactically. Ahmad Qasir had no older brother, while Bilal Fahs was the sole product of a dissolved marriage without legal standing, and lived as an outcast. The lack of fundamental social ties — to responsible parents, dependent wives and children, avenging brothers — rendered both of these “self-martyrs” acceptable candidates for operations.

Finally, those selected for “self-martyrdom” had to have a minimal measure of pious intent, and no traits understood in surrounding society as signs of emotional disorder. This was usually demonstrated in a published will and the testimony of parents and friends. While the “self-martyr” obviously would have to be someone susceptible to suggestion, he could not be suicidal. If he were, his death would smack of exploitation, not devotion.

Selection of the “self-martyr,” which is done secretly but on behalf of all, is thus a social and cultural selection. When the “self-martyring” operations are understood as collective rather than individual acts — as sacrificial acts — the dynamic of sacrificial competition becomes clear. That competition took place on the level of sponsorship, as Hizbullah and Amal sought to demonstrate their capacity for mobilizing the many resources necessary for the operations. The operations, far from demonstrating Shi’ite unity, proved to be a powerful indicator that a once-united community was rapidly heading toward civil war.

What were the origins of this escalating competition? Before Hizbullah’s appearance, virtually all of Lebanon’s Shi’ites identified with Amal, subsuming their profound differences under the mantle of a charismatic leader, Sayyid Musa al-Sadr. To carve a niche for itself, Hizbullah had worked upon those differences, splitting families, neighborhoods, villages and towns along existing lines, and infusing ideas into existing rivalries and feuds. Hizbullah raced through Lebanon like a hundred rivers along the dry beds of division that break the Shi’ite landscape of Lebanon. The potential for reciprocal violence was enhanced by the influx of arms, provided to Amal by Syria and to Hizbullah by Iran. On more and more occasions, in local settings, small-scale violence erupted, which took the form of gunfire and kidnapping between Amal and Hizbullah.

For the first five years of Hizbullah’s growth, that violence was contained and conflagration avoided. The clashes remained expressions of endemic local feuding, which sought shelter in the distinction between Amal and Hizbullah. The much more consistent element in the relationship between the fraternal movements was imitative rivalry. They competed in professing their fealty to Khomeini, in distributing aid, in organizing marches, and in covering walls with posters. But as the rivalry intensified, the pursuit of a balance became ever more fundamental to the preservation of peace — and ever more difficult to achieve. When Hizbullah took the dramatic and unprecedented step of launching “self-martyring” operations, Amal had no choice but to do the same. The sacrifice of Ahmad Qasir (and the still unnamed “self-martyr” of Islamic Jihad who did a comparable operation a year later) sealed the fate of Bilal Fahs. Amal, too, would have to recruit and dispatch “self-martyrs.”

It was at this point that the (obligatory) sacred war began to fade at its edges into (forbidden) sacrificial rite. Perhaps the first casualty of the competition was operational planning, which became less thorough as Hizbullah and Amal (soon joined by leftist and Syrian-sponsored parties) worked to outbid one another in the frequency of their operations. The sacrifice was no longer expected to obtain immediate results; “self-martyrdom” was presented increasingly as its own reward. Thus, for the Amal movement which sent Bilal Fahs to his death, the fact that he killed no one did not detract from the value of his sacrifice as a counter-point to the sacrifice of Ahmad Qasir. The monument which Amal erected to Bilal served the double function of commemorating the “self-martyr” and reminding the community that his sponsors commanded the resolve and resources to sacrifice him for the good of all.7

At the same time, Hizbullah and Amal sought to elevate the standard of the sacrificial “self-martyrs,” by selecting slightly older youths who had more thorough religious and ideological commitment, and who had demonstrated the depth of their commitment by past participation in conventional operations. One such instance was the bombing organized by Hizbullah on August 19, 1988, which sacrificed a most promising cadre, Haytham Subhi Dabbuq, from Tyre. Dabbuq was twenty at the time of his operation. He had joined Hizbullah’s Islamic Resistance at the age of fourteen, later participated in conventional operations, and once had been wounded. After graduating high school in 1986, he visited Iran, where he underwent religious and advanced military training.8 From the point of view of selection, Dabbuq was the ideal “self-martyr.” From a military standpoint, it was unfortunate that his operation failed to kill any Israelis. But his death had its own redemptive quality and demonstrated Hizbullah’s willingness to sacrifice its most promising young recruits. As purer “self-martyrs” were offered for fewer immediate results, the measure of sacred war in the operations diminished, and that of sacrifice increased.

Yet the lives of the “self-martyrs” were a small price to pay for the Shi’ite peace. For these operations served to forestall the outbreak of fratricidal violence from within. The competitive cycle of sacrifice, done in the name of Islam, averted a competitive cycle of violence among adherents of Islam, between Hizbullah and Amal. The jihad, while liberating the believers from foreign intruders, also postponed the incipient fitna — the destructive strife that threatened Lebanon’s Shi’ite community from within.

Rulings For and Against

Lebanon’s Shi’ite clerics provided the legitimation of this balancing mechanism. They assured the “self-martyr” and his sponsors that his sacrifice enjoyed the highest sanction. According to one of Hizbullah’s leading clerics,

those who blew up the [U.S.] Marines headquarters and the Israeli military governate in Tyre [Ahmad Qasir] did not martyr themselves in accord with a decision by a political party or movement. They martyred themselves because the Imam Khomeini permitted them to do so. They saw nothing before them but God, and they defeated Israel and America for God. It was the Imam of the Nation [Khomeini] who showed them this path and instilled this spirit in them.9

In addition to the role of the clerics in reassuring the “self-martyrs” themselves, the support of the community depended largely upon the verdict of clerics on the admissibility of the operations. And since Hizbullah and Amal entered the sacrificial competition also to win a larger share of Shi’ite allegiances, both valued the sanction of the clerics. It was widely understood that the “self-martyring” operations were religious acts, but only in an emotional sense. Religious feeling had helped to generate them, but in a raw and dangerous form with strong sacrificial overtones. They could be made Islamic only by sanctification, which takes the form of reconciliation between the act and abstract principle, done by those qualified to interpret sacred law.

The Shi’ite clerics had no difficulty in urging armed resistance to perceived enemies, and indeed did everything in their power to encourage it. They achieved this, at least in part, by the transference of Shi’ite anguish from self to other. That anguish found its most vivid ritual expression on Ashura, the annual Shi’ite day of mourning for the seventh-century martyrdom of the Imam Husayn at Karbala. There were some whose zeal for ritual self-flagellation on Ashura landed them in hospital, especially in Nabatiyya in the South, where the practice had the longest tradition in Lebanon. Hizbullah’s spiritual mentor, Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah, sought to transform such self-immolation into the immolation of others, when he called upon self-flagellants to desist from the practice and join the resistance against Israel:

Do you want to suffer with Husayn? Then the setting is ready: the Karbala of the South. You can be wounded and inflict wounds, kill and be killed, and feel the spiritual joy that Husayn lived when he accepted the blood of his son, and the spiritual joy of Husayn when he accepted his own blood and wounds. The believing resisters in the border zone are the true self-flagellants, not the self-flagellants of Nabatiyya. Those who flog themselves with swords, they are our fighting youth. Those who are detained in [the Israeli detention camp in] al-Khiyam, arrested by Israel in the region of Bint Jubayl, they are the ones who feel the suffering of Husayn and Zaynab. Those who suffer beatings on their chests and heads in a way that liberates, these are the ones who mark Ashura, in their prison cells.10

This kind of argument abolished a vital distinction, transforming struggle against the self — the ritual purpose of self-flagellation — into struggle against the other. And following the initial successes of the “self-martyrdom” operations, Shi’ite clerics were inclined to do the same, this time abolishing the distinction between death at the hands of others and death at one’s own hands. Fadlallah argued that if the aim of one who destroyed himself in such an operation “is to have a political impact on an enemy whom it is impossible to fight by conventional means, then his sacrifice can be part of a jihad. Such an undertaking differs little from that of a soldier who fights and knows that in the end he will be killed. The two situations lead to death; except that one fits in with the conventional procedures of war, and the other does not11 In another formulation, he determined that “the Muslims believe that you struggle by transforming yourself into a living bomb like you struggle with a gun in your hand. There is no difference between dying with a gun in your hand or exploding yourself.”12 “What is the difference between setting out for battle knowing you will die after killing ten [of the enemy], and setting out to the field to kill ten and knowing you will die while killing them?”13 There could be no more thorough endorsement of a technique that seemed to border two forbidden acts: sacrifice and suicide.

Yet the ratio of ten to one could not be guaranteed, and when it dropped precipitously, the sacrificial dimension of the operations came into clearer focus. At that point, although operations continued to contribute to the inner equilibrium of the community, they lost their value as acts of war. On that score, some Shi’ite clerics began to reason that the “self-martyring” operations had lost their Islamic justification. A failed military tactic now threatened to degenerate into a purely sacrificial rite. And when it appeared more sinful than saintly, it had to be stopped.

The Shi’ite clerics therefore issued a conditional ban. According to Fadlallah, “we believe that self-martyring operations should only be carried out if they can bring about a political or military change in proportion to the passions that incite a person to make of his body an explosive bomb.” He deemed past operations against Israeli forces “successful in that they significantly harmed the Israelis. But the present circumstances do not favor such operations anymore, and attacks that only inflict limited casualties (on the enemy) and destroy one building should not be encouraged, if the price is the death of the person who carries them out.14 “The self-martyring operation is not permitted unless it can convulse the enemy. The believer cannot blow himself up unless the results will equal or exceed the [loss of the] soul of the believer. Self-martyring operations are not fatal accidents but legal obligations governed by rules, and the believers cannot transgress the rules of God.”15

This ruling undermined the sacrificial cycle that had bound up Hizbullah and Amal in a competitive race to produce “self-martyrs.” A few more operations were launched, at very wide intervals of time. But the field was largely left to smaller factions, whose sponsorship of additional operations did not threaten either Hizbullah or Amal.

Civil War

Yet the de-escalation of the sacrificial cycle between Hizbullah and Amal did not end their fraternal rivalry. Indeed, when the cycle was broken, the violence turned inward upon Lebanon’s Shi’ites, in the form of a fratricidal war.

On one morning in January 1989, several Shi’ite villages in the area known as the “Apple Region” of south Lebanon became a killing ground. In the early hours before dawn, a group of several hundred Hizbullah fighters, with photographs of Khomeini affixed to their chests, entered the villages by surprise. But this time their targets were not Israelis. Instead they sought out sleeping adherents of the rival Amal movement. In the darkness of the night, a massacre ensued. Some of the victims were shot; others had their throats cut. In a few instances, the killing engulfed the families of the victims. This was later confirmed when photographers and cameramen entered the villages. One villager, choking back tears and standing over a pool of blood in his garden, told of how two masked men of Hizbullah had seized a member of Amal and slaughtered him “like a sheep.” Clerics in Beirut had to issue rulings prohibiting the deliberate mutilation of bodies.

“The day will never come when Shi’ites fight one another,” Fadlallah had declared only a year earlier. Those who saw the rivalry and predicted fighting did not understand the Shi’ite community, he said. It had multiple mechanisms of mediation, and a strong taboo against shedding Shi’ite blood.16 Was he sure Hizbullah and Amal would not fight? “I’m one hundred percent sure,” he had replied.17 Not only was Fadlallah wrong. His own endorsement of the “self-martyring” operations had helped to make a fatal suggestion: that one Muslim might legitimately consign another to death in the name of Islam.

For two years, Lebanon’s Shi’ite community descended into fitna — internal strife, the antithesis of sacred war, pitting brother against brother. As Israel withdrew to a narrow belt in south Lebanon, Hizbullah and Amal contested the ground they had liberated, and the conflict that had always existed between them threatened to rise up and gut the Shi’ite community itself. The fratricide began in early 1988. Then came assassinations: one of Hizbullah’s clerics was shot dead in an ambush done by Amal, two of Amal’s foremost leaders in the South were gunned down in their car by Hizbullah. The weekly newspapers of both movements repeatedly published photographs of the bullet-torn bodies of the slain leaders. For sheer ferocity, these recurrent clashes matched any conflict between militias from different confessional communities. Clerics in the community appealed for an end to the conflict and banned the killing of Muslims by Muslims, but to no avail.

The revolution in Lebanese Shi’ism now threatened not the world, but the Shi’ites themselves. The violence was perhaps that same violence which attended the birth of Shi’ism. It had been suppressed and subsumed, until all that remained was the sacrifice of tears, shed once a year for the martyrdom of the Imam Husayn. But by the 1980s, that violence had broken free of the bonds of pious restraint. Self-repentance yielded to self-flagellation, then to sacred war and individual “self-martyrdom.” With the passage to fratricide, some in Lebanon’s Shi’ite community shed the last restraint.

The successive rounds of bitter fighting ended only after a thousand Shi’ites had died. Syria and Iran negotiated a truce in late 1990, and it has held. But the scars remain. In 1993, Fadlallah claimed that “extensive cooperation and coordination” had been established between the Hizbullah and Amal. But he also admitted that “some time is needed before all the residual negative sentiments that surfaced due to the conflict can be erased.”18 Vengeance was the deepest of these “residual negative sentiments,” and it became the ever-present shadow of the Shi’ites. It remained to be seen whether the Shi’ites of Lebanon would ever again be completely free of the temptations of self-immolation, and the threat of self-destruction.


1Ahmad Qasir’s identity was first revealed in Hizballah’s weekly newspaper, Al-Ahd (Beirut) 24 May 1985.
2The biographical information is drawn on the obituaries reproduced in Al-Amaliyyat al-istishhadiyya: watha’iq wa-suwar: al-muqawama al-wataniyya al-lubnaniyya, 1982-1985 ([Damascus]: Al-Markaz al-arabi lil-ma’lumat, [1985]), 22-35.
3Details on Fahs and photographs, Al-Amaliyyat al-istishhadiyya, 68-81.
4See Stephen Frederic Dale, “Religious Suicide in Islamic Asia: Anticolonial Terrorism in India, Indonesia, and the Philippines,” Journal of Conflict Resolution (Beverly Hills) 32, no. 1 (March 1988): 37-59.
5Interview with Shaykh Abd al-Karim Ubayd, Al-Safir (Beirut), 28 July 1986.
6Al-Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah, Al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya: Afaq wa-tatallu’at (Beirut: Lajnat Masjid al-Imam al-Rida, [1985]), 118.
7A photograph of this monument appears in the Lebanese weekly Nouveau Magazine, 17 June 1989, p. 60.
8Dabbuq’s obituary in Al-Ahd, 9 September 1988.
9Speech by Sayyid Ibrahim al-Amin, Al-Ahd, 23 January 1987.
10Speech by Fadlallah, Al-Nahar (Beirut), 27 September 1985.
11Interview with Fadlallah, Politique internationale, no. 29 (autumn 1985), 268.
12Interview with Fadlallah, Middle East Insight (Washington) 4, no. 2 (June-July 1985), 10-11.
13Al-Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah, Al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya fil-janub wal-Biqa al-Gharbi wa-Rashayya: tatallu’at wa-afaq; Nass al-muhadara allati alqaha samahat al-allama al-mujahid al-Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah fi kulliyat idarat al-a’mal wal-iqtisad al-far’ al-awwal, bi-ta’rikh 19 Shawwal 1404 al-muwafiq 18 Tammuz 1984 (n.p., n.d.), p. 18.
14Interview with Fadlallah, Monday Morning (Beirut), 16 December 1985. Fadlallah specifically mentioned the operation undertaken by Ahmad Qasir in Tyre, as well as a later operation near Metulla, as “successful.”
15Speech by Fadlallah, Al-Nahar, 14 May 1985.
16Fadlallah interview, Al-Nahar al-arabi wal-duwali, 21 February 1988.
17Fadlallah interview, Nouveau Magazine, 27 February 1988.
18Fadlallah interview, Kayhan (Tehran), 3 March 1993.