The Mediatization of Islam: Hizbullah’s Mleeta Museum, Verticality, and Contemporaneity

By Hatim El-Hibri
Submitted to Session P5486 (Islamic Media and Political Futures, 2019 Annual Meeting
Media Arts
LCD Projector without Audio;
This paper examines Hizbullah’s Mleeta Museum of the Resistance in South Lebanon to interrogate the politics of the mediatization of religion, a historical process defined by its relationship to a contested domestic and regional media landscape. The museum opened in South Lebanon in 2010, ten years after the party and militia forced the end of the Israeli occupation, and around a year prior to the uprising-turned-civil war in Syria. Set on a mountain top with commanding views, and on the site of a decommissioned underground bunker, the museum commemorates the history of the fight against Israel by guiding visitors through the details of the lived experience of armed struggle. Mleeta welcomes a visiting public comprised of a range of political orientations and local, regional, and global points of origin, speaks in a popular and oppositional idiom, and narrates a sometimes-fraught claim to the nation on behalf of a particular party (or even locality). I draw on fieldwork conducted during the first seven years of the museum’s existence, and textual analysis of the museum’s welcome film, exhibits, and promotional material. I analyze Mleeta as a mediated site and embodied pedagogy that invites visitors into the affective experience of political steadfastness beneath the violent verticalities of aerial surveillance typical of guerilla subjectivity, in which non-communicative modalities and concealment are crucial. The site also exemplifies the party’s broader project of fostering a ‘resistance’ Shi’ite subject, articulated within but in opposition to contemporary media cultures, and the Lebanese sectarian system. I argue that the museum demonstrates the cultural and economic compatibility with and integration of Hizbullah within contemporary capitalism. I also explore how the museum, which hesitantly makes a claim to tell a national story on behalf of the party, exemplifies how Lebanese sectarianism is constitutively intertwined with global political economic and racializing processes.