Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Does Lebanese History only Repeat Itself?

Or does it Progress Somewhere?

Yesterday Hassan posted an entry where he implied that the discussions we have had in the blogosphere today are simply a replication of discussions that took place in the 50s 60s and 70s. Hassan implied that history was repeating itself and that we ought to acknowledge that fact and change our discourse accordingly. I initially wrote a reply to his comment, but then was advised to post it as an entry.

Hassan, first, thanks for the link to Rahbani's work. I spent at least a couple of hours listening to the recordrings yesterday. I especially liked the one titled "the Mountains." I don't know if I totally agree with you that history repeats itself though. Most people (even those who were once oppressed) like to keep things the way they always were because that is how they feel most comfortable and secure. They feel safe in their environment. A very good example of such irrational behavior is the fear and reluctance a prisoner could feel before leaving prison.

Change does come though... it is almost a force that is uncontrollable and those who wish to keep things as they once were are forced to adapt. In the case of Lebanon for example, I can think of the rise of the Shi'a community demographically, socio-economically and politically. Another real change is the fall of the Soviet Union and the victory of only one paradigm for material progress and development in this world; therefore, all who seek such progress (from all sects) now fall into one large camp, rather than two which once conveniently housed people based on sect rather than conviction in the actual paradigm. Today, we are all Capitalists! This relative unanimity reduces reasons for divisions among Lebanese (it gives us less reason to disagree with one-another) and increases the potential for cooperation.

These two developments constitute a tiny sample of changes which the Lebanese political elite have had to adapt to. The sectarian fissures remain the same however, and I'd bet that if the Soviets were to reemerge, the Maronite political elite would probably ally with them just to stick it to the Sunni political elite who seem to represent Western interests more than at any other time in Lebanon's history. Would the Maronite community fall for that though? More pertinently, would the Maronite community continue to support Aoun if he does eventually visit Assad and form an alliance with him just to stick it to the Sunni political elite who are running the show with Western blessings? I personally doubt that Maronites would accept such a political move, which could lead to the ousting of Aoun himself from Parliament.

Such a reality is a case of convictions and beliefs overcoming the pulls and pushes of Sectarian Machiavelism - which, no doubt, exists. The reality is that if Aoun continues to refuse Franjieh's offer to sign a pact with the devil for the sake of "Maronite power," then I will continue to remain hopeful. If however, the Aounis, who I once accused of having no agenda except expelling the Syrians from Lebanon, do accept such a deal, then I will be distraught, and Hassan, you will be proven correct: We are doomed to witness history repeating itself for eternity.


Lazarus said...

I may have been mistaken in understanding what Hassan was trying to say, but I don't think that when he said "History repeats itself" he meant that the exacts incidents will be repeated.

What I understood was that the Lebanese society (since that is what we are concerned with right now), the lebanese mentality, and the DISCUSSIONS that are going on right now are fully represantive, and fully repeat the nature of each that already was 10, 20, 30 years ago.

30 years ago there was no HA. So if we discuss HA now, does that imply that we are not repeating history in the bigger picture? No. We are, because we are still viewing Lebanon through the same colored lenses that we, and the generations before us, have been viewing Lebanon. Take a look at Ms. Levantine's latest post - look what Thomson had written on Lebanon in 1850. Have things changed? No. This is history repeating itself.

I don't want to sit and preach from an ideological point of view, but the only way to remove ourselves from this vicious circle is to fully remove ourselves. There can be no half steps. We cannot still analyze the lebanese political life in the way our parents and our grandparents did, IF you want to make a change.

What do I mean by this? This blog world has the advantage of reaching a mass number. Your blog alone raja has already had 20,000+ visitors. This isn't only a discussion between friends. Use this opportunity to instigate change. Don't just analyze what the politicians are doing, or pick up the ideas that they are putting forwards and work with that. Bring in your own challenging ideas. Literally, piss people off, the same way Hassan did 3 months ago. If the blogging community had taken heed, instead of insulting him just because he WASNT with the flow, would there have been an opportunity for a change? Probably not, but it would have been a start.

This is what I see as repeating. We are still swimming the same stroke, even if the cirumstances have changed. We are still walking the same path, and are still having the same discussions.

Enough! It is time to mold our future ourselves. Otherwise, history will repeat.

It has before.

Raja said...

Lazarus, I personally went to Hassan and invited him to join this blog, not because he and I have similar political views, but because I respect him as a person, we share a similar broad outlook on life, and I also think he is highly intelligent. Most importantly, I knew Hassan would infuse a discourse that would stand out in the Lebanese Blogosphere, and that is why I desperately sought for him to participate in it through the Lebanese Bloggers. However much fellow Lebanese did not appreciate his perspective, they had to acknowledge that Hassan was (and remains) a fellow Lebanese who, by the way, was secular and highly educated.

The point of my response to Hassan's last entry was to say that there are a whole lot of similarities between the Lebanese psyche of today, and that of three decades ago, and maybe even three centuries ago; however, we are moving forward in ways that cannot be discerned from merely observing the discourse in our Blogosphere (especially the last month or so). I believe that there will always be people who will remain under the spell of the traditional sectarian psyche. Even those of us who feel that we have overcome it will be haunted by it for the rest of our lives. But I cannot believe that a whole nation can change the way it thinks in a snap.

I have changed, but I still have my parents, siblings, uncles and cousins. How do I reconcile our (in most cases) completely antagonistic perspectives with the fact that I love them so much? How can I, or anybody else for that matter, do such a thing as turn their backs on those who are closest to them because they have different perspectives on Lebanon? There must be some kind of reconciliation between the two forces. Otherwise we'll all be in self denial, or live double lives, or simply hurt ourselves and those who love us most. Ultimately, what I mean to say is that the process of "changing psyches" is arduous and legthy. It takes persistence, subtlety and wisdom. You cannot judge success based on a virtual forum.

Dr Victorino de la Vega said...


The Associated Press reports that “several prominent politicians and journalists have left Lebanon, apparently fearing assassination. Gibran Tueni, an anti-Syria legislator who is also an executive of An-Nahar newspaper, is in Paris where he was quoted as saying Lebanese officials had warned him he was on top of a hit list."

Once they get rid of the last remnants of the pro-Syrian Ancient RĂ©gime, Fuad Saniora and faux sheikh Saad Hariri Jr. believe they’ll have a free hand to do as they like in Lebanon

To those who point to their past excesses, the documented embezzlement that took place when they were in power in the 1990’s, not to mention their former association with the Syrian regime itself when the latter was strong and honest Lebanese patriots such as General Aoun had to live abroad in exile, the Hariri clan replies that “Lebanon is just a third world country like any other” and that “the practice of bakhshish has always existed at all levels of the Lebanese economy”…

Sorry Saad, but corruption is not –repeat NOT- some kind of “unavoidable oriental mental trait” ingrained in the “standard business and political practices of the Lebanese people”, a convenient “culturalist” canard used to justify Hariri & Co’s plundering the country’s wealth between 1991 and 2004 and sharing the proceeds of their theft with their Saudi “sponsors”!

I’m talking about net profit margins here i.e. after Syria’s resident Colonel Rustom Ghazaleh and/or General Ghazi Canaan levied their proverbial “khamseen percent” active participation to Hariri’s crooked ventures (in Palermo they call it “protection money”)

Let the recently “elected” MP’s and their friend Gebran Tueni stay ad lib in their five star hotels in Cannes and Jeddah: good riddance!

We should dissolve this illegitimate Parliament ASAP and start elections anew- hopefully this time without shameful Gerrymander cooked in the dirty political kitchens of the Saudi and Iranian embassies in Beirut

Dr Victorino de la Vega

acrobat said...

OFF TOPIC: raja, i find that most headlines on lebanonwire come from the usual sources, AFP, REUTERS, etc, they do not have any exclusive stories, so i think their policy of paid membership is plain silly. when you see a headline that interests you, google it, and 9/10 you land on the original free article that lebanonwire wants you to pay for giving you a link to... and of course, dont forget to use bugmenot.com when needed...

Lazarus said...

You are right. Changing psyches is arduous and lenghty, and even then, it won't be the whole nation that will change the way it thinks. The more developped countries, with their instated civil laws, still have their bigots and their racists. But I did not imply that we should be turning our backs on people close to use because they have different perspectives - they are, after all, part of the Lebanon we want to improve.

These comments are not directed at you Raja, so don't be offended. They are just a result of the frustration at living in lebanon, and at looking at if from the outside. True change in Lebanon, regardless of the amount of time it will take, will be instigated by a small group of people, who will be able to appeal to a large group of the "Lebanese comman man". There was a time when I thought that this group would be the more educated and experienced ones (what I mean by experience are those who are not just caught up in secterian matters). But now I am not that sure. Friends who have lived abroad, or who are continuing their graduate studies, or who in all other aspect of life seem well-versed, fall back into sectarian attitudes, even though they insist that they do not.

As I am not a politician (and probably will never venture into that area), I see that the best way to really start change is dialogue. I do not want people to become secular just because their zaim said it is the way to go. I want them to believe that "we and they" are actually closer then previously thought. By "no halfsteps" I do not mean that we must act above people who do not agree with us - on the contrary, we might be the ones who are wrong! But with dialogue, if you can influence one, two, even three people with some ideas, then that is a great start. And a blog, as virtual as it might be, is one way to do that.

Lazarus said...

and just one other comment - use word verification for the comments. it seems like you've been hit by blog spam.

Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

IMHO, history only seems to repeat itself. But it's never exactly the same. As Raja said, the persistance of sectarian feelings do not mean that nothing changed. A lot has changed: the balance of power in the region is different, shia exist politically, leftist ideology is dying, the peace process etc...

Hassan said...


I think you understand what I wanted to say.

It started when I went over many Lebanese blogs lately, and most of them seemed to be falling into the same paradigms that our country is suffocating in. It is depressing to see that these groups of Lebanese youth, most of whom live abroad, are not capable of transcending the limits set by our local petty politics. Nor are we capable of filtering some of the news items, images, stereotypes, you-name-it… that we get from Lebanese and international sources.

I had made my first non-conformist contribution to this blog back in April, but it was directly coined "The Other Perspective", and I got so many labels: "petty", "small picture", "disdain", "narrow minded", "brainwashed", and, my personal favorite, "homeboy". I didn't mind back then, but no I understand how these people think and I really think we need to be looking at that before anything else.

Anyway, I am making the following propositions:

1) The history of our country seems to repeat a certain general cycle, the eminent milestones of which are the wars (civil/ regional/ global) we have been able to endure, ending our own civil wars without proper closure. A side note here is the incredible hypocrisy we exhibit when we say it was not our war, rather other people’s war on the soil of Lebanon. This is followed by a certain unwillingness to discuss the war, or anything else, openly. The Truth is a demand we should make for all major happenings in our history, at least modern one, not just for Hariri’s assassination.

2) We had a good chance for closure after Hariri’s assassination, but it was wasted because we wanted to see our country through the eyes of our sectarian chiefs. It was also wasted because Saad Hariri, entrusted by most of the Lebanese people to run this country, has not been able to do this. There are many reasons for this, beyond what I see as incompetence on his behalf.

3) The cycle also includes those periods of hope where we think all will be ok and we are achieving national unity; how many times have you heard the teem “a national unity government.” We go through those times, only to be harshly shocked by reality. No one stops to wonder why the other person goes to war. If everyone loves each other so much, why are they hoarding weapons?

Anyway I can go on and on about this. Tell me what you think.

Hassan said...

oh, I said (how many times have you heard the teem “a national unity government.” )

I meant "term".

Doha said...

Hassan, a note about "regurgitating" news items: Living abroad has definitely its limitations. The onus is on those bloggers living in Lebanon, like you, who are able to almost give us an alternative perspective from what the mainstream media provides us, which we people outside of Lebanon are exposed to and have no other option. I mean if I was in Lebanon, I would do that. My stories of the common man (which are not over yet, but postponed due to the accelerating speed of news on the Hariri investigation) were a result of being there in Lebanon, of talking to people, something I love to do but find myself immensely limited and missing that when I'm away.

What we can do here on this blog along with my fellow bloggers: well we can definitely transcend the limiting paradigms and talk about theory and thought or perhaps dreams. We can dig deeper when reading newspapers or listening to the news. But again, we will not be able to present something innovative. Again, the onus on people like you who live in Lebanon and are able to do that.

Raja said...

Hassan, please elaborate on point #2.

Also, I just wanted to say that the concept of "national unity" is shallow. It simply means nothing. How do you define "national unity"? To what extent do we have to be unified to qualify for such an ideal? Furthermore, I think the concept is dangerous because it can be used to justify anything by anybody.

What unifies Americans or French or Turks or Israelis is not the fact that all Citizens see themselves as one and the same. In fact, if you look at Americans, they all seek to be different and to stand out. I once complained to an American friend that in Lebanon we don't have one history book, and her reaction was that why is that a problem? She thought it would be insane if the United States had only one history book that was used in all of its public schools.

What unifies citizens is the overwhelming sense of an effective and paternal state. Look at aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. For the victims, the only thing that confirms they're "Americans" is the fact that the Federal Government will respond to them in a time of need and do what it can to help them rebuild their lives. African Americans, Latinos and Anglo-Saxons have less in common than do Druze, Shi'a, Maronites and Sunnis. So enough with this "national unity" dream; it's never gonna happen; and we don't need it! We do need an effective Lebanese state that Lebanese citizens can rely on for opportunities, order, security and relief in times of distress. Only then will Lebanese have a stake in Lebanon and really start to sincerely identify themselves with their country!

Lazarus said...

I won't get in the arguement again, but I have to mention something that Rahbani said in one of the sketches Hassan linked to: that there are two main groups of students in lebanon - one that ends up studying french history, and the other that ends up studying Arab history. No one knows lebanese history :D

About having one history book: i think that one of the main things that americans disagree on, although I don't know if it is this pronounced anymore, is their own civil war - between the south and the north. And maybe that is a normal thing.

But we can't keep comparing ourselves to the states. They are leaps ahead of us. We have to see what is best for us, and maybe, just maybe, if we can agree on a similar history between all the diffent groups (it doestn' have to be exact) then things might just be better in future generations.

Hassan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Hassan said...

I'm creating a new post for the comment I deleted.