the terror of mimetic isomorphism

The Boy Scouts started out as a sort of quasi-miliatary organization in the UK. Turns out Hezbollah has now started their own scout troop, with rather similar goals of quasi-military training and religious socialization. From the New York Times:

On a Bekaa Valley playing field gilded by late-afternoon sun, hundreds of young men wearing Boy Scout-style uniforms and kerchiefs stand rigidly at attention as a military band plays, its marchers bearing aloft the distinctive yellow banner of Hezbollah, the militant Shiite movement.

They are adolescents — 17 or 18 years old — but they have the stern faces of adult men, lightly bearded, some of them with dark spots in the center of their foreheads from bowing down in prayer. Each of them wears a tiny picture of Ayatollah Khomeini, the Shiite cleric who led the Iranian revolution, on his chest.

“You are our leader!” the boys chant in unison, as a Hezbollah official walks to a podium and addresses them with a Koranic invocation. “We are your men!

I agree with the NYT authors that we should be distressed at any organization that channels young people into armed conflict, but the NYT seems surprised at the moralistic tone of the Mahdi Scouts. That’s exactly what the regular Scouts do. It’s an explicitly religious organization that promotes morals and “manliness” in their members. And in their early years, the Scouts were meant to be junior league army. The Mahdi Scouts are just another group using religion for military goals. It’s Durkheim with a grenade launcher, jihad style.

Written by fabiorojas

November 21, 2008 at 2:04 am

Posted in education, fabio

7 Responses

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  1. Great post! In fact, the Boy Scouts’ militaristic tinge is no accident. Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the scouting movement, was a fascist sympathizer.



    November 21, 2008 at 3:14 am

  2. For what it’s worth, in the troop I was in the in SF Bay Area, the scoutmaster (i.e., adult troop leader) was an Ayn Rand style objectivist. To the extent that religious beliefs figure explicitly into the organization’s rule, those rules were rarely enforced in my experience.


    Michael F. Martin

    November 21, 2008 at 3:41 am

  3. _”It’s Durkheim with a grenade launcher”_ — please someone register that as a bestselling title!



    November 21, 2008 at 10:04 am

  4. Interesting article, though I did find some issues with the framing. “They are adolescents — 17 or 18 years old — but they have the stern faces of adult men” — last time I checked, the US also sent “adolescents” into the military and taught them how to fight. This includes lining up, marching in a “particularly militaristic way,” and teaching them to kill. This is simply another way of enlisting para-military sympathizers.



    November 21, 2008 at 12:44 pm

  5. There is an important difference between the scout movement and these “Mahdi Scouts”: the scout movement has since its early years always promoted international cooperation and tolereance. It is true that the world organization is explicitely religious (although not christian), but there are national organizations (in the Netherlands and Belgium, for instance) where Scouting is secular. Moreover, one shouldn’t take the Boy Scouts of America as representative for the whole scout movement, as they particularly conservative, militaristic, nationalistic and religious.
    All in all, such comparisons should not be made lightly. Comparing an over 38-million member youth organization to Hezbollah is not funny…



    November 23, 2008 at 3:41 pm

  6. I was a girl guide. When we weren’t learning how to cook three course meals on an open fire (useful skill, if a tad gendered) we were marching around in uniform, with flags, promising “to do my best: To do my duty to God, and my country” – I think your compassion is well made.


    Aileen O'Carroll

    November 26, 2008 at 7:07 pm

  7. “Ayn Rand style objectivist”

    Is there any other type of objectivist? I thought that was her thing.



    November 29, 2008 at 3:21 pm

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