Mleeta and Mediation: The Hizballah ‘Museum of the Resistance’ and the Aesthetics of Open Secrets

By Hatim El-Hibri
Submitted to Session P3716 (The Art of Islamic Media: Technology and the Sacred, 2014 Annual Meeting
Media Arts
Cinema/Film; Cultural Studies; Iranian Studies; Media; Nationalism;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
In 2010, Hizballah opened the Mleeta ‘Museum of the Resistance’ to the public. Set on a mountaintop in the south of Lebanon with commanding views of the nearby countryside, the museum transforms the site of a decommissioned underground militia bunker into a pubic exhibit. From the gift shop, to a cinema hall that screens a film telling the party’s history, to the shrines of ‘martyred’ fighters located in the spot they supposedly died, the space is premised on the presentation of a space originally designed to be kept secret. With the Hizballah flag flying next the Lebanese one at the site, and with plans to open a multi-millionaire dollar resort nearby, the museum also represents a historical shift in the sort of claims to the nation and state made by the party. This paper examines the how the Mleeta museum attempts to secure a particular version of history in universalizing terms, engaging with modes of mediation which transform the contours of ethno-religious belonging in the process. I argue that the museum is a key site to understand the interplay and mediation of space and memory in contemporary Lebanon. Through a situated analysis based on visits to Mleeta, I argue that museum embodies and anticipates critical strategies of ‘suspicion’ which aim to go ‘below the surface’ in the very structure of the space itself. The site quite literally inverts the media of surveillance systems. I also argue that the museum exemplifies a novel co-articulation of Islamic practices of remembrance, media processes, and contemporary capitalist and consumer practices, creating new instabilities between them. By examining this particular object of inquiry, this paper addresses two main questions: What is Islamic about Islamic media in the contemporary moment? And what can a site like Mleeta (which goes to great lengths to cultivate certain affects and historical attitudes in its visitors) tell us about the line between the sacred and its outsides, always already made blurry by the materiality of media?