By Younes Saramifar While reading (VU University Professor) Hallah Ghoreshi’s Ways to Survive, I recalled the December of 1994 with amusement. She has written about her fascination with weapons during her school years in Iran after the Islamic Revolution. It seemed similar to my own enchantment with the AK-47, particularly on that day when we had to pass the exam for the course called “Preparing for Defence”—the most exciting course for a 12-year old boy with a textbook full of pictures of weaponry and war machineries; the promise of an exam in the shooting range made it all the more attractive. I still remember the cold sensation of the barrel and the shining brass of exactly five Kalashnikov bullets that we had to push inside the magazine, against the force of the spring and the cold wind of winter in the shooting range. I passed my exam with a smile and exciting memories, but I never imagined a day would come when I would name my book after the AK-47!
I am born of an Islamic religious tradition known as Shi’ism and “embracing The One and rejecting The Other” is one of the first principles of this tradition. I have sought myself within this tradition and my pursuit brought me to wonder about the “brethren” who were “fighting” Israel and “protecting” Lebanon and the “ideology” that we shared. I grew up with the notion that their battle is my battle and their land seemed to be much closer to my “identity” than my own homeland, Iran. However, sociology showed new ways of asking questions and I learnt to understand myself while interrogating the given notions of these “brethren” and “I”.
I began to ask who the rejected “other” is and what this rejection entails. To that effect, I explored Hezbollah, the Shi’a political party that maintains a militia wing to “protect” Southern Lebanon from Israel. I did not try to research its history and find out why the Shi’as assume Israel to be the enemy. I ignored the annals of the fall of the French mandate and the independence of Lebanon and the plenitude of stories about the formation of Israel; I didn’t even care to examine the bloody civil war in Lebanon. Instead, I needed to know what happens when one hates, and felt the urgency to understand how an ordinary shop-keeper becomes a “full metal jacket” ready-to-kill.
I thought that if I researched how indoctrination, recruitment or ideology work, then I could answer my “grand” question but it took all the years of my PhD to realize that I needed to look at the other side of the AK-47. Therefore, I felt that asking who the enemy is was redundant; rather, I had to devise a theoretical method to realize who is the weapon-holder. As a result, my ethnography constituted observing militants and probing their training through three constitutive elements: weapon, language and then the “enemy”. My book Living with the AK-47, published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing (2015), is the juxtaposition of stories to make sense of the theoretical framework of subjectivity and tensions within the various forms of desire within the material life of a militant. I have tried to tell the stories of those who could not narrate themselves except by exposing their everyday life to an ethnographer. Therefore, I avoided the usual structure and narrated some stories independent of any theory or academic jargon. My book is an account of an ethnographer attempting to speak academically by deconstructing the forms and methods of writing. I think I narrated the contradictions to stay faithful to the notions of life and suggest the “realist’s imbecility”. Therefore, “I” offer a narrative that displays “me” within the reflections of story-tellers of the journey that I undertook.
Younes Saramifar is a PhD candidate at VU University Amsterdam, now working on memory and narrativity in post-war Iran.