CAMBANIS, Thanassis. A Privilige to Die.

Inside Hezbollah’s Legions and Their Endless War against Israel.



CAMBANIS, Thanassis

Hezbollah, obrázek se otevře v novém okně


A Privilige to Die.

Subtitle: Inside Hezbollah’s Legions and Their Endless War against Israel.

Published in:

New York


First Press






978-1-4391- 4361-2

Thanassis Cambanis reported from Middle East since 2003 for The Boston Globe, The New York Times and other publications. As a Middle East Bureau chief he lived in Baghdad until 2005. Afterwards Cambanis reported on Islamist revival from the Palestinian territories, Egypt, Jordan and the Levant. As a foreign correspondent from the Arab region he was focused mainly on the second Lebanese war in 2006 and its consequences. Cambanis graduated at the Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School. His master’s degree is in international affairs. He teaches journalism and international politics at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs in New York. Inside Hezbollah’s Legions and Their Endless War against Israel, A Privilege to Die is the author’s first book.

In his book the author reports happenings of the second Lebanese war directly from the first lines of the battlefield. He travels around the war zones and tries to understand the motivation of the Hezbollah fighters and its supporters. While reporting the war doings and interviewing various respondents he introduces the realities of the country, zooms in on the political and historical milestones of Lebanon and one of its fastest rising political players, Hezbollah. Despite the very vivid and original reportage style, it might be a bit confusing for the reader who is being introduced to the topic of Hezbollah for the first time.

Hezbollah provoked a military conflict with Israel in early July 2006 by penetrating into the Israeli territory and kidnapping two Israeli soldiers. The war lasted from July 12th, 2006 to August 14th, 2006, when peace was declared. Unlike many times before when Israel and Hezbollah fought each other, this time Hezbollah brought a new dimension to the conflict and showed that Arab forces can do much more than just terrorize and threaten the Israeli enemy. They can defeat it, moreover, they can destroy it. Despite the majority of Lebanon laying in ruins, the topic of Hezbollah rising was inconsolable. Some were scared of these debates, some were euphoric, but these debates have for sure changed the Middle Eastern stereotypes. Hezbollah provoked the war with Israel and confirmed its status in the battlefield.

Unlike the other writers discussing the Middle Eastern conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, Cambanis is focused on people and their destinies rather than the political analysis. In his book he narrates the stories of ordinary people, Shia Muslims, who have lost their homes in Southern Lebanon during the Israeli bombings, the stories of educated Lebanese, who decided to come back from abroad to actively support the resistance against Israel, the stories of Christians and Druze supporting Hezbollah as well as those opposing it. He approaches the opinions of politicians, who he met during and after the war, the opinions of Hezbollah members as well as the members of the opposition, who the author discussed the future of the resistance and the future of the country with. Among those who Cambanis has interviewed are Abdallah Kassir, the director of Hezbollah TV Al-Manar, which the Israeli call Terror TV, Walid Jumblat, the leader of the Druze, who unlike other politicians openly criticizes Hezbollah and whose party fell into a military conflict with Hezbollah in 2008, Nawaf Mousawi Hezbollah’s chief of international relations, Samir Qutnar, the Israeli prisoner sentenced for 542 years for killing Israeli civilians and soldier, released in 2008. Qutnar became a national hero throughout the Arab world after Hezbollah managed to negotiate his release. These and many other interviews and incidents help Cambanis to create a unique vivid picture of the events in Lebanon between 2006-2009 and show Hezbollah, the demonized Party of God, in a human light.

The main story, flowing through the whole book, is the fate of Rani Bazzi, a fighter of the military wing of Hezbollah. Cambanis starts his book just before the end of 2006 war by meeting Rani Bazzi in the bombed southern village Bint Jbail, where Rani, as a Hezbollah militia member, was helping with the evacuation of civilians. When Cambanis meets him, Rani is having doubts about his faith, because god still did not call him to become a martyr despite numerous risky operations he took a part in. Later on Cambanis finds out that Rani’s dream has become true and he became a martyr. The picture of his face decorates now the street of his village as well as the pictures of faces of other martyrs. The writer travels to Southern Lebanon again to visit Rani’s grave, his family and widow, who is broken after losing her husband, but at the same time, her only wish is that their two sons would follow the father’s example and become martyrs, which shows the deep belief in martyrdom within the Shia culture as well as the identification with the Resistance goals. Demonstrating it with the example of Rani Bazzi’s story, the author tries to explain the Hezbollah ideology and its fighter’s grain as well as the culture of martyrdom connected with the Shia sect from its inception in the 7th century.

The book is divided into two main logical parts: The Battle and War without End. The first part reports the happenings from the battlefield of a war conflict between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006. The second part is dealing with the matters after the end of the second Lebanese war. Cambanis discusses the possible future of Hezbollah, the country and the whole region. The structure of the book is more random, based on the author’s travels around the region. He reports the events according to how they happened. As mentioned at the beginning, the reportage style might be sometimes a bit confusing, especially when Cambanis tries to explain the historical milestones and facts in between his plot. He presents the testimonies of the people he interviewed rather randomly, as he met them while reporting from Lebanon, rather than in chronological order.

Inside Hezbollah’s Legions and Their Endless War against Israel. A Privilege to Die by Thanassis Cambanis, even though it is not an academic publication, is an interesting witness of the second Lebanese war and its consequences. It might be a valuable source for further research in the field of political science, psychology or sociology, especially due to the unique testimonies of the people Cambanis met during the war and afterwards. The mosaic of the Middle Eastern events is being patched together by the testimonies of politicians, victims of the war, members of different Lebanese sects. Regarding the style, Cambanis’ book is rather a study or reportage than a scientific publication. The author himself is developing his own ideas and knowledge during the story. The audience can notice the non academic background of the writer, for example, when he mentions the incident of Rani Bazzi’s story first publication as an article (p. 240). The author misunderstood the words of Rani, when he met him in Bint Jbail for the first time. He translated and published his prayer as a fear of death, while Rani was praying the opposite, he was praying to die as a martyr, his fear was that he would never become a martyr. By publishing this article, Cambanis closed his doors to the members of Hezbollah and the family of Rani Bazzi for further interviews and research. They felt insulted by the article. If he had studied the Shia culture, which Hezbollah is built on, he would have known that Shias are not afraid of dying in the battlefield, the wish of every Shia is to follow the example of their founder, Hussein, who died as a martyr more than thousand years ago on the fields of Karbala in the hands of his enemy. That is when the schism between the Shias and Sunnis started. [1]

Nevertheless, when studying the Hezbollah-Israeli conflict it is essential to read some academic books, such as Augustus Richard Norton’ s publication called Hezbollah (2007, Princeton University Press), which is a very lucid, informed and balanced analysis of the group and brings the reader up to date on Hezbollah’s most recent actions. The study by Ahmad Nizar Hamzeh, In the Path of Hizbullah (2004, Syracuse University Press),is the first comprehensive study of Hezbollah that addresses the historical dynamics of its emergence, its ideology, leadership, organizational structure and operational policies toward Israel and within the Lebanese political system. It is the most informative and analytical book on Hezbollah available. Both of these publications are suitable for the reader who is being introduced to the matter for the first time.

If the reader is rather interested in Shiaism, its history and culture as well as the culture of martyrdom, these are depicted in the study by Souhad Kahil, Does God Have a Party?: A Rhetorical Examination of Hizballah (2007, Publish America).

When attempting to understand Hezbollah, it is necessary to examine their own views, how they see the reality themselves. Therefore, the book Hizbullah, The Story from Within by Naim Qassem (2007, Saqi Books), its deputy secretary general, might be appropriate, complemented by Voice of Hezbollah, The Statements of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah edited by Nicholas Noe (2007, Verso books). It provides an overview of Hezbollah’s charismatic leader Hassan Nasrallah’s speeches and interviews. The reader can appreciate the rhetorical mastership of Sayyed Nasrallah. However, it is essential to study the history, ideology and structure of Hezbollah in order to benefit from this publication and be able to put it into context.

The same applies to Thanassis Cambanis’ book. It is a unique supplement to all the other sources written on the topic. It provides and extra dimension to the issue. However, it is necessary for the reader to support their knowledge by another, more analytical and scientific reading to be able to benefit from the book and understand all the consequences.

[1] There is a main difference between the Hezbollah martyrs and martyrs from other Islamic extremist groups. For example, Hamas (Sunni) martyrs are mostly adolescent hormone driven kids, whose main incentive is to set off a bomb somewhere surrounded by as many civilians as possible; on the other hand, the Hezbollah martyrs are highly specialized and trained technicians who are targeting the military targets.


CAMBANIS, Thanassis. A privilege to die.


Inside Hezbollah’s Legions and Their Endless War against Israel.




Book Review






Obrana a strategie (Defence & Strategy)


University of Defence


ISSN 1214-6463 (print) and ISSN 1802-7199 (on-line)




Volume 11, Number 2 (December 2011)




21 October 2011

Accepted: 21 October 2011 
Published online: 15 December 2011 

Vytvořeno 15.12.2011 21:07:53 | přečteno 7448x | antonin.novotny


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