This question resurfaces that evening during our meeting at a diner in one of Beirut’s popular meeting zones by the sea.
Rida showed up in jeans, looking younger out of uniform than what I calculated were his thirty years. He might have been another university student out of class. On the road back to Beirut after we stopped off for him to change clothes, he said there are those who think someone joins the Resistance out of despair, but that the assumption is wrong.
Hizb Allah pays its full-time fighters salaries, however these are not at the high end of the pay scale or even comparable with private career, corporate jobs. The money doesn’t make up for the dangers, risks or lifestyle changes for those who are not completely convinced of the cause.
Rida revealed glimpses of his own family background. He is not typical perhaps, in that he comes from a well-off family, maybe even rich, though he is at pains not to state this or too much about his family explicitly.
He studied economics at University and was apparently offered good jobs with great salaries at private banks but turned them all down. Why? Because he says, they required all his time and attention which he could not give a job being in the Resistance. And because, he already had many comforts growing up in life. He didn’t need more to prove anything to himself or those that knew him.
‘When I joined, I had everything. Life was beautiful. Everything you could imagine a person wants. The best clothes, the best of everything, I had it.” The tone is straightforward, matter-of-fact.
He has at least two brothers it emerges throughout the day. They do not think like him. In fact, one is more like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever.
This brother dresses in Gucci and Armani and spends his life chasing beautiful women and fast cars, the American dream. The other brother is younger and has yet to choose his path. Rida appears to be the exception and not the rule in his family. He spent one summer in his late teens on a tropical island, his family sent him there on a kind of Club Med holiday.
‘There couldn’t be a more beautiful place on earth,’ he said of the island that made him consider his life options.
‘Beauty, work, money… And then what? It’s an empty circle.’
Since he was young his father would say to him, ‘You shouldn’t be anybody in life. You should be somebody.’ He has never forgotten the advice.
‘Do I want to be like anybody? No one made a difference.’
Rida says everyone is searching for perfection. Some find it
in women, in money, in power.
The more they get, the more they find that they need more and more. It’s an endless search towards the vision of what they assume is perfection.
‘They don’t know that what they’re searching for, the only perfection in Life, is God. They call it women, cars, knowledge,’ but he contends these are false objects of worship.
In his search for happiness at a younger age, Rida says he tried tracking it everywhere, ‘everywhere that I could look. I wanted tranquillity, peace. I wanted to be at one with my surrounding. I couldn’t find it.‘ Then he found what he was looking for. Or, it found him.
‘When I found God, when I became really close to God, it was like…. crystal clear water,’ he said. ‘No stress.’ Imagine - no stress - bottled and sold. He would be Bill Gates. It may only be a day but throughout it, Rida comes across as a very calm person, at ease with himself, modest and natural with those around him, considerate, in small but frequent ways, hard to phase or ruffle. He seems to have enormous patience with everyone. Things that might drive a normal and impatient person nuts in Lebanon, he takes in his stride. It should be an act, because it’s good. But the sincerity isn’t forced. His eyes aren’t glazed or on autopilot. The ways are spontaneous and alive. His mixed up, ordinary family apparently envy his aura of zen calm, and he’s desperate to share it with them, but this is a magic formula you can’t give to someone. They have to want it, seek it, find it for themselves.
‘To get closer to God’ and ‘to do good things in life,’ this and the Resistance are his main aims in life. Although, it doesn’t preclude his hope of falling in love, getting married, sharing his life with someone. In Rida’s view however, the first two are ‘the ONLY way that you can gain happiness, tranquillity and get everything you want.’
‘They have something I do not want’ he says, speaking of his family, ‘I have something they want.’ What is it? He says, it’s a treasure. And when he describes it you want a stake. His eyes light up, he’s a child describing how it feels to be rich. He likens belief in God and purifying one’s heart and path in that belief, to owning a treasure that he wants to share.
Happiness doesn’t die with the body, it’s infused in the soul. Death, which he has come close to, maybe more than once, is ‘different than the theories. Death is very strong. It’s your soul, your life, your flesh, your blood.’ And the only way to meet it, the only way to prepare for it, Rida says, is through total submission to God.
‘Willingly or unwillingly, if I choose to or if I don’t choose to, I’m going to meet God. All the bad is from us, man. God can not be injust. He is justice. We are harming each other and ourselves, and corrupting societies.’
‘When you see the end of the road - when you have certainty - it makes you stronger. It makes the path in front of you clear. It builds up your determination.’ It is this determination and this discipline that has given Hizb Allah the strategic edge over a vastly more advanced army in terms of technology.
‘They don’t have certainty,’ Rida states of the Israelis in their cause. ‘We have certainty. It’s all psychological.’ He says that Israel is the aggressor in the region. Hizb Allah and the Palestinians are exercising their inalienable rights of self-defence, the same rights of reprisal and protection of their people, with which Israel and the United States justify their own actions.
The war against Israel is a ‘war of determination and will. The one who gives up faster - is the one who loses the war.’
‘The death of their soldiers breaks down their determination,’ in a way that it doesn’t seem to have the same impact on Hizb Allah’s ranks, as over twenty years’ experience and more than a thousand deaths on Hizb Allah’s side of fighters, has shown.
But the enemy? Who and what are you resisting?
‘The Zionists are the enemy. I know who my enemy is, why he’s my enemy, and why I’m doing what I’m doing. This is crystal clear for me. The US is also an enemy. Not the ordinary people of the US, but the government and the Army. Resistance means military, cultural, political - everything that I can do. They are not only fighting us on the military front. Even in our consumption, they have influence. We have to be aware of all these different forms of occupation and counter attack.’
Who is fighting? Who are the Mujahideen?
‘They are unknown even in their own society. They want it that way. But they want to inspire everyone who is without hope, to have hope. The goal of the Mujahideen, is to give people hope.’
What about the Palestinians? Where is their hope?
‘We will not leave them alone,’ he says calmly. ‘Even if it’s Rida alone. It takes a Palestinian with a button and he will blow up everything. They want us to surrender to a false peace which they want to force on us. It takes a button to show how fragile their peace is.’
‘Peace is our objective in life.’ By this, he obviously means the kind Israel and America aren’t offering the Palestinians, or the Arab world. Rida looks forward to the day that it will come. He genuinely believes that it will come.
‘Everyone will cherish that peace, and everyone will benefit from it.’