Josh Wood

A journalist's observations on Lebanon and elsewhere

Fadlallah’s Funeral

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Women throwing flower petals over mourners at Fadlallah's funeral in Beirut July 6, 2010. Photo courtesy of Sam Tarling -

And so begins my first foray into blogging, something that I’ve been meaning to do for a while but never quite got around to setting up.

I’ll cut to the chase.  I’m not going to bother rehashing Fadlallah’s very significant life as since he passed away on Sunday this has been done countless times already.  Rather, some notes on his funeral which I attended yesterday in Herat Hraik in Beirut’s southern suburbs.

Firstly, it was an incredibly passion-filled experience.  Hundreds of thousands of people crammed every major avenue in Dahiyeh with many more clambering up on rooftops to pay their respects as Fadlallah’s casket meandered its way through the streets.  People were upset.  I found myself standing next to a group of women who sobbed uncontrollably for the better part of an hour.  As Fadlallah’s casket passed by, the crowds surged to try to touch it or climb atop it.  At this moment a man in front of me seemed to slice open his palm and held it up to the sky, letting his fresh blood flow down his arm.  I say seemingly as I could not actually see the cut occur, but the wound that resulted was a clean and symmetrical one, as if done with a knife.  Note that this was not the norm – this was the only such instance I saw yesterday.  With all of the emotions of those in attendance rising along with the mercury, heat exhaustion took its toll and I spotted quite a few people collapsing.  With all of these elements strung together, it was something that was very spectacular to see and stood apart from similar events I have been to in Lebanon.

Second: While Fadlallah has largely been referred to as Hezbollah’s “spiritual mentor” in the Western media and elsewhere, he – along with Hezbollah’s leadership – have long denied any formal organizational leadership.  Of course, however, Fadlallah was the main marja for Hezbollah’s ranks.  Despite not having any formal arrangement, Hezbollah really took the reins of his funeral.  Throughout Herat Hraik yesterday there were walkie talkie-carrying members of the organization wearing hats and vests emblazoned with Hezbollah’s logo.  This was quite an odd sight – generally in the southern suburbs you’ll spot people who are quite visibly Hezbollah (walkie talkies, carefully manicured short beards are easy giveaways) but they never wear anything that denotes them as Hezbollah nor are they everywhere.  And of course, if questioned, members of the opposition will almost always deny or deflect any questions to their affiliation unless trust is built (during a recent detention by Amal in southern Lebanon, I asked one militiaman if he belonged to Amal to kill some time and see what he would say – he replied “I am Lebanon”).   The Hezbollah guys in Herat Hraik who would usually jump on foreigners with a camera out or aimlessly wandering the streets on any other day were extremely laid back which again was quite different than it normally was but very welcome.  Back to the point though – Hezbollah used the funeral as a show of force – if their logos are present on clothing items, this is always what is going on.  Besides Hezbollah, lots of members from Fadlallah’s own organization, Bayyanat were on the scene, ensuring that everything moved as smoothly as possible.

It’s going to be interesting to see where we go from here.  Acclaimed scholar Vali Nasr has already stuck his head out and said that Lebanon’s Shia community that followed Fadlallah will start to tilt towards Iraq’s Sistani.  But, I’ll refrain from making any suggestions just yet.


Written by woodenbeirut

July 7, 2010 at 2:03 pm

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