Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Episode I: The Common Man On The Airplane And Our Particularisms

This is the first of a number of episodes on my interactions with the Lebanese Common Man while I was back home.

Kamal Salibi once wrote in "House of Many Mansions" about our society's different tribal particularlisms. In his view, Sunni particularism was known as Arab nationalism; Greek Orthodox particularism was pan-Syrianism; and Maronite particularism was what he called Lebanism.

I say my particularism is Lebanism. Therefore, Maronites no longer own this sort of particularism. We have been born in different times than our parents'. In our times there was no Jamal Abdel Nasser, no Ottoman rule, no French mandate. We were born to bear witness to a country wrecked by a civil war. We learned in the school of life that sectarianism and ideology equal death and estrangement.

When I was 8 or 9, I recall being made fun of in school because I didn't have a President, because our country was drowning then in anarchy. And whoever was laughing at me were fellow Arab children. I grew to love my country, Lebanon being an end in itself.

While I claim that my generation's particularism is Lebanism, I found myself astounded by a competing view of Lebanism, that of a fellow I met aboard the airplane that was taking me back to my Lebanon.

His notion of Lebanism is outright fear and disgust from Islamic religiousity. Not that I'm an advocate of religious fanaticism, but Lebanon is home for more than a dozen sects, and I was raised to coexist with and appreciate the diversity.

He was a person who has lived in Nigeria since the late '80s, has married an African, wishes to raise his children outside of Lebanon indefinitely, and claims that Lebanon will never change, that it's a hopeless case. Interestingly, however, he recently returned to Lebanon to hlep in the Aoun-Franjieh electoral campaign. I asked why he suddenly cared about Lebanon and he said that he was helping Franjieh win the elections as he is the sole service provider in his town where his parents still reside.

He kept on telling me that he's not sectarian, but continued spewing hate words towards non-Christians. I was unnerved, because my notion of Lebanism is different, a notion free of sectarianism, free of hate, free of fear, and free of militancy. He thinks that Israel is closer to us than Syria and that those in power (Hariris) have exchanged Syrian tutelage for Saudi.

I sat thinking about what I have in common with this fellow Lebanese...he has rejected me before knowing who I am. I kept on assuring him that there are a handful of Lebanese, like me, who think far beyond sectarianism, far beyond pan-something ideologies that transcend Lebanon as a permanent country in its own right. He succumbed reluctantly and said that he hopes my optimism would prevail and be translated into reality, but he has bet against progress for Lebanon...

It's funny, but long before, the Lebanese fought amongst each other because some wanted Lebanon to be part of an Arab nation as a final home, or a Syrian nation. I think I will fight to have Lebanon never divided, Lebanon that country that never had a chance at ruling itself in its own self. Now that many Muslims on the popular level have finally bought into this mantra (Lebanon-an end in itself), would some other sects in Lebanon start calling for Federalism?....

"Nobody knows how many rebellions, besides political rebellions, ferment in the masses of life which people earth."

20 comments:

Raja said...

Doha,

the debate in Lebanon has turned from whether or not Lebanon should exist to the nature of Lebanon. I see this as progress. Okay, now that the Sunnis and members of other sects have accepted the legitimacy of Lebanon, will they accept its uniqueness, or will they try to make it just another Arab country? I believe that that question is on the minds of most people who call for a Federal Lebanon. I also believe that the answer is no - i.e. the Sunnis understand that Lebanon is unique. But, it is up to Hariri and the other winners of "Freedom Square" to create a political process that would not alienate any sect - especially the Maronites. Maronites should also act responsibly and accept members of other sects as equal players, and not subbordinates. Lebanon probably was created for the Maronites, but it is now for all of us, and we should learn how to live and work as equals

Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

Doha, as a Federalist myself I think that I can explain this man's behaviour.

True, historically most Christians advocated Lebanism. But there have been a radical shift in the way of thinking these last decades. Lebanon as we know it and most of its political system was formally created by the French, but according to the desire of the Maronite community. So why are more and more Christians advocating a federation?

The answer is easy: radical Islam. Demographical changes are really less important. If the problem was purely demographic, Maronites wouldn't have created a country where they represented a third of the population, a country where the Christian community represented a small 51% of the country. Why do you think that night-life shifted from Hamra to Monot? Whatever the arab country we look at, we can see that religion is becoming increasingly important for Muslims. Omar Bakri will be happy to hear that political Islam is something that we fear and will fight. People * can see what is happening to minorities in the Islamic world, * to put it short, we don’t want to become Copts.

Sunnis and Shias are not tolerating each others in places like Pakistan, Irak, Afghanistan, Iran, Bahrein, S. Arabia etc… How can we expect tolerance for Christians when even Muslims are not accepting themselves? The objective of a federation is to protect our identity and maintain equality through institutional means. I am certain that, on the long term, a refusal to establish a federation will create a secessionist movement in the Lebanese Christian community – something that I oppose because it would lead to a catastrophe. Of course, this will never happen because a federation will be created: it is inescapable.

Lebanese Muslims are arguably the most secular in the Arab world. Some of them are nothing more than formal Muslims: agnostic person from a Muslim background. We federalist know that. We are neither dumb nor blind: we know that fanatics are a minority, but for how much time? This is a long term issue. The fact is that religion is becoming more and more important and nobody knows where this will stop.

In a sense, Lebanism is stronger than ever. Christians, Shia and Druze will oppose any merger with the Arab world, even if they will favour any cooperation that does not compromise their independence. A large part of the Sunni community shares this point of view. Lebanon’s existence is not at risk anymore.

But you can also say that this Lebanism is dead, because traditional Lebanism advocated the construction of non-sectarian Lebanese identity. Neo-Lebanism is build upon fear of the outside world. Instead of considering Lebanon as a country inhabited by Lebanese compatriots, neo-Lebanism considers Lebanon as a place that will shield us from the Arab world.

The Sunni community produced a new generation of politicians that are opened to the world, business-friendly, pro-democracy and above all, strongly Lebanese. This is unique in the arab world. These are the kind of leaders that we dreamt of for decades. Had this generation come two decades earlier, it would have changed the Lebanese history. Today may be too late.

barney said...

I am saddened to post this....

I always thought that division would be terrible for Lebanon, regardless of their many sects, as Lebanon is already too small. But after following events in and around Lebanon, very closely for over a year now, I an becoming convinced that FEDERALISM is a meaningless question.

Lebanon IS divided now both geographically and sect-wise and IRAN will never give up its holdings in the south.

It will take a very strong military force to dislodge Hzba. They have already declared that the Army can not come in. The other day, Hzba arrested two men and turned them over to IRANIAN intelligence officers in the south, according to news reports. That means that Iranian military officials are already there, and are in control.

Iran's feelings about Israel are immutable. The mere existence of Israel is, I believe, anathema to Iran and is the sole reason why Iran wants nuclear weapons. The possession and occupation of the south of Lebanon is the only chance that Iran has to be able - easily - to carry their war to the Israel homeland, other than by air attacks. IRAN WILL NEVER GIVE UP THEIR FORWARD BASE in the south of Lebanon!!!

So, in my opinion, Lebanon is already fragmented.

barney

Doha said...

Thanks, Vox Populli, for your insight. I personally don't think that it'too late for our country. I believe that religious revival usually comes about due to certain circumstances, most important of which are economic. Just look at the soaring unemployment rates around the country and on the local levels. I am yet to post some more episodes of the common man that reflects this reality. The middle class that we have always boasted about has been disintegrating since after the civil war and we're moving more towards polarization of classes: poor and rich. I believe that such an economic reality leads to frustration; idolness can lead to hardened views about the world and the future. People naturally start to become more fatalistic and gravitate towards clustering around one another and performing more religious rites in the hopes of gaining salvation in some way. And there goes my assessment of the core reason for a such a phenomenon.

Therefore, if we're able all to work together towards creating more job opportunities for our youth, we'll be able to save our country. Just think about people like me who are forced in one way or another to seek jobs abroad and miss out in contributing to the country and to our communities in a meaningful way to induce change. Such policies are what might just reverse the unfortunate tide.

Lazarus said...

Welcome to the true Lebanon Doha. This person is not alone, and such a stream of thought is not particular to christians.

Raja, you are right. It is a big step that lebanese are now concerned with the nature of lebanon and not if lebanon should actually exist, but I have to mention that part of the war was fought over what lebanon should be.

Each person/party/sect (to generalize here) had their own perception of what Lebanon should be. The more worriesome fact is that a large number of these people still believe that they were right, but to quote a person I know who was in the war: It was pointless, because we didn't get what we want. We were fighting for Lebanon, but we couldn't win.

What Lebanon? Whose Lebanon?

One thing that does annoy me (and, you can call this ignorance if you want) is that we still talk in terms of sects. No, not all maronites want federalism. Most LF do. But not all maronites are LF.

(BTW:Kamal Salibi specifically pointed out that the upper class Sunnis particularism was Arab nationalism (something that was started by the more powerful christian familes).)

My main point is that as long as we keep talking in terms of sects, as long as we keep saying THE Maronites want this, THE Shiite want this, THE sunnis want this, etc, without narrowing down the sect to its actual political divisions, then we will never overcome the sectarian divisions. There might be many people that dream of a secular state, but their state is one that tries to equalize between sects, versus between communities (which is not equal to sect) and individuals. Thus, it will never be secular.

Finally, just a comment about Hzba (something that I have said on several occasions). They are not the only issue that is wrong with Lebanon. We have some fundamental social issues that have to be dealt with, and we can't keep using Hzba as a scapegoat.

khaled said...

Hi Guys,

Sorry to be off topic, but I have created a blog called just for laughs..
My intent is to include in it jokes about Lebanese Politics ..

I can not maintain it myself, as im not that creative:-)

I would appreciate anyhelp you can give, and I invite any one who can contribute to participate to become a member in this blog.

http://forlaughs.blogspot.com/

ps: you can email me at kjmc66@hotmail.com

Anonymous said...

Doha,
Funny that you should have touched on the topic of "our particularisms" and lebanism...today, I was interviewed by a British student writing her dissertation on Middle Eastern students in the UK. She asked me how I think of myself, in one word (in terms of identity). I hesitated for a moment, and then she added "do you think of yourself as Lebanese, Arab, etc?". I said lebanese, but then it hit me that what I meant by 'Lebanese' was not necessarily what others meant by it...Somehow, to me, it is more about forging an identity than about identifying with a fixed set of ideas. It seemed to me like something in flux, because I equated the idea of being Lebanese, with the idea of Lebanism, ie what we would like Lebanon to be, as opposed to what it is- but then I suppose you would argue that Lebanism for you is something very clear and unchanging. I guess that for the moment, it appears more to me as the process rather than the end. Sorry if this reads like a confused blob!!
Reem

Abu Kais said...

Vox, I will not let you get away with this post.

True, historically most Christians advocated Lebanism. But there have been a radical shift in the way of thinking these last decades. Lebanon as we know it and most of its political system was formally created by the French, but according to the desire of the Maronite community. So why are more and more Christians advocating a federation?

Historically, only Maronite elites who entered into a pact with the Elite Sunnis wanted Lebanon this way— even though I doubt the French really consulted anyone when they decided to join the Bekaa valley, Tripoli and the south to Mount Lebanon. The French thinking was that for Lebanon to be economically viable, those Muslim parts needed to be included. Some extremist Maronites quickly realized that they would eventually be outnumbered by Muslims, so there were calls, very early on, for a population transfer or territorial reduction (and even settling of Jews in the south). But the French rejected all that. Of course not all Maronites thought along those lines. Some who viewed Lebanon as a merchant republic and a cultural intermediary between east and west formed a bloc along with Greek orthodox Christians called the Constitutional bloc. Bchara Khoury, Lebanon's first post-independence president and Michel Chiha, who was responsible for drafting the constitution, belonged to that bloc. The Constitutional bloc entered into an alliance with the Sunni elites and the 1943 pact was born. I should add the 1943 pact which distributed power according to a 6:5 formula was based on a manipulated census that made Christians look like the majority in the country.
I am not sure of your claim that “more and more Christians want federalism.” Not even Bashir wanted that, or at least he didn’t have time to formulate his vision though many in his cadres had no faith in a power sharing formula and wanted a federal state. I think that when Bashir matured as a politician, he realized that his father’s position, which he had opposed, was the most pragmatic: Lebanon is part of the Arab world and a co-existence formula with Muslims is the only option.

The answer is easy: radical Islam. Demographical changes are really less important. If the problem was purely demographic, Maronites wouldn't have created a country where they represented a third of the population, a country where the Christian community represented a small 51% of the country.

Demographics are important to Christians. Why do you think, then, they oppose settling the Palestinians Muslims? Many Palestinian christians were naturalized but not Muslims. The 51 per cent number is wrong— it is 58.5 per cent (1932 census). This number does not include many Muslim communities who were labeled as “foreigners” due to unrealistic and stringent criteria to be considered Lebanese. Of course the number now is very different.

Why do you think that night-life shifted from Hamra to Monot? Whatever the arab country we look at, we can see that religion is becoming increasingly important for Muslims. Omar Bakri will be happy to hear that political Islam is something that we fear and will fight. People * can see what is happening to minorities in the Islamic world, * to put it short, we don’t want to become Copts.
Night life shifted from Hamra to Monot because of radical Islam? How can you support a claim like that? Hamra has always been one of the few neighborhoods in Lebanon with a mixed population, Christian and Muslim. Which is more than I can say about Ashrafieh. Following your logic, how do you explain that night life shifted from Kaslik into Monot and downtown Beirut?? Last time I checked, Kaslik didn’t have many mosques or radical Muslims. Also, we all must remember how the churches in the Monot area have campaigned against those pubs. It wasn’t the lone Ashrafieh mosque. Also how do you explain that most brothels are still in and never left Hamra? Does prostitution not count as a liberal pastime along with drinking and dancing on bars?

Sunnis and Shias are not tolerating each others in places like Pakistan, Irak, Afghanistan, Iran, Bahrein, S. Arabia etc… How can we expect tolerance for Christians when even Muslims are not accepting themselves?

That just shows you that politics plays a role in discrimination, and not just religious differences, which is what your thesis is.

The objective of a federation is to protect our identity and maintain equality through institutional means. I am certain that, on the long term, a refusal to establish a federation will create a secessionist movement in the Lebanese Christian community – something that I oppose because it would lead to a catastrophe. Of course, this will never happen because a federation will be created: it is inescapable.

Vox, what identity do you want to protect as Christian? And how would federalism really help Lebanon? I still don't understand.

Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

Manfromosas,

First of all, the current Lebanese borders were practically drawn by the patriarch Hoayek during the Paris conference, in 1918 or 1919. It was he, and not the french who advocated. Of course, some maronites (like Emile Edde) were against this but we can't say that they were a minority : there was no referendum and 80 years later, it's hard to tell. And the reason for this is that there was a famine during WWI and this is why the patriarch wanted to add more areas to the country. I think he based himself on the early state of Fakhr-e-Din I, if I am not mistaken.

Night life did not shift to Monot because of radical islam, but because of more conservatism in the area - being more conservative does not mean you're an islamist, it means that some commerce are not welcome. Some of my family are from Saida, and they tell me that very few shops sell alcohol nowadays, though it was fairly common in the 70's.

Becharra el Khoury had a minor influence on the constitution which was mainly drafted by Michel Chiha.


The christian identity is about a lot of things,
-a partially different cultural and religious heritage,
-the fact that I have a different relation to arabity: arabity is strongly linked to Islam, even if it's not the same thing. I qualify myself as a half-arab or different arab. Anyway ara
-above all the aspiration to a liberal (in the Adam Smith meaning) and free state on the long term. This may be your case, but it remains to be seen if it's the desire of a majority of muslims on the long term. I said that the future of Islam is unpredictable currently, meaning that in can go both ways (more extreme or more liberal). As long as it remains unclear, I will support a Lebanese federation and more and more people will think the same.

So you see... I got away with it.

Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

How will federalism help Lebanon?

I think that federalism will decrease the tension between communities. A lot of the decisions will be made at the community level and this will remove a lot of point of frictions - there will be less things to fight about.

We always thought that the current Lebanese formula will protect the communities because each community had a de facto veto right. I was surprised by the fact that the Syrian easily manipulated a system that was intended to be indomitable.

It's clear that through federalism, I am mainly trying to create community-based institutions with rights engraved in a constitution. I think that it becomes impossible to exclude a given community under such system. And this is what I want to achieve.

As the man described in Doha's post, I don't see myself as sectarian if you define it as seeking to impose your community's will on others. It's quite the opposite: I want a system that will prevent a community of imposing itself to others. The true nature of Lebanon is sectarian and the state has to be built on this reality.

By the way, all (let me repeat : all) democratic and multi-identary states are federations. Diversity and democracy can only live together through a federation.

Abu Kais said...

I am not sure you did, but fyi, yes, Howayek did play a role in drawing the current borders, but only under the belief that the Muslim popuplation would be controlled by the "better educated and westernized" christians. If you hit your history books, you will see that he later changed his mind and lobbied the French for territorial reduction.

What do you mean the future of Islam is unpredictable? And why always presume Christianity is liberal? If your argument for a federal state is based on the threat of Islam and religious conservatism, then I suggest you support a secular state and not a federal one. Besides, won't splitting Lebanon into Islamic and Christian provinces worsen the religious divide? And what would you do with Beirut?

I won't get into the identity thing.

Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

Interesting fact I didn't know that.

Still, I can't blame the patriarch for his first initial of a big Lebanon. If you look at it from the 1920's perspective, the Lebanese formula was supposed to be a success. Inter-religious relations were a lot better in these times. What the maronites did not predict was the creation of Israel which exacerbated arab nationalism and resulted in the refugees problem. Without the shockwaves of the Israelo-Arab conflict, I am sure that all communities would have integrated in a more peaceful manner.

Raja said...

vox, I think that you are well-intentioned and you recommend a federation as a way the communities can get along better. There is an American saying, which I'm sure you are aware of; "good fences make good neighbors." However, I doubt such a system would work in Lebanon because it is simply impossible to implement. Geagea tried to "relocate" the Christian populations into the Keserwan - Zghorta region but failed. Maronites live in almost every region of the country: North, South, East and West!

I am of the belief that tensions between the communities are a consequence of political friction more than cultural friction - even though both types do exist. For example, look at what is happening with the security and judicial appointments today. This issue is very political by nature, but is resulting in friction between the Maronite and Druze collectives because it is perceived as a battle of wills between Jumblatt and Lahoud (who, more importantly, is the Maronite President of the Republic).

These relatively pedestrian political matters will not go away with the creation of a federation with distinct Maronite, Sunni, Druze, Shiite, Orthodox, Catholic and Armenian Cantons! The Lebanese state will still need a head of the Armed Forces, Judges, Internal Security personnel, etc.... My point is simple: we might assume that friction between the sects are caused by historical, religious and cultural differences; whereas, in reality, the friction really comes about as a consequence of the national political process.

In certain ways, Lebanon is a federation today. Too many Maronites have never visited Beirut in their lives; never mind Tripoli, Saida or Sour. Too few Sunnis, Shi'as and Druze venture into Keserwan or Zgharta. There is too little intimate interaction between people in Lebanon - all they see are family members who then talk about those abstract "muslims" or "christians" or "druze." A federation, if somehow implemented, will only institutionalize what already exists on the ground . Rather, we need a more effective and equitable governing system. Although such a system will not solve all the problems, it will definitely take us a step closer to better relationships between members of the different sects and ultimately to a better Lebanese state and polity.

Raja said...

Now the question: What is a "better and comre equitable governing system." To say that I had the answer would be foolhardy and arrogant. I cannot decide for all of Lebanon what is the best solution to their malaise! The answer will come about as a consequence of continuous debate and negotitiation between all Lebanese. Here are some points though:

1. No federation because I believe our problems can be solved without moving farther appart. I have hope!
2. A bi-cameral parliament as a means of expanding the political process and as a transition to a secular political process.
3. Unanimous concensus on behalf of all political players in Lebanon to create the institution of the market in Lebanon where ALL players are equal under the rule of law. Lebanon is renouned for private enterprise, but there is a difference between private enterprise and market enonomies. Too many decisions with regards to allocation of resources are made in the political realm. Politicians need to step back and allow the market to make the decisions for them.
4. Civil Marriage must be sanctioned and sponsored by the state. This step will be a big one towards the creation of a new community in Lebanon - the secular community. Furthermore, with inter-sectarian marriage, more and more people from different sects will interact and sectarian boundaries will begin to crumble.

I can go on and on, but four points will do for now. I am also sure that almost every Lebanese of my generation who reads what I wrote will agree with most of it. It's so ironic that eventhough there is a broad consensus among Lebanese concerning a better Lebanon, nothing ever gets done.

Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

What a lot of people fail to understand is that Lebanon is already a de facto federation. If we return to the electoral that before 1960, we'll have a system where sends a number of deputies to the parliament. This forces the government to take into account each region, and this is very close to a federal system.


Add to this the decentralization process that is included in the Taef accord- decentralization is different of federation, not in nature but in degree.

What could happen is that we keep this electoral law and keep having super-majorities. After all, representative christians are a minority in the parliament, so in theory, the systemt could go forever. But Christians reluctantly accepted the current gerrymandering because they expected it to be temporary. They have waited for decades to see Syria going out and they can wait a few years more to come back to the old system. If we don't come up with a better electoral law next time, the state legitimacy is going to crumble (at least in christian areas) and Lebanon cannot fly with one wing, even if it's the bigger one.

Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

"Now the question: What is a "better and comre equitable governing system." "

I have two priorities
-the economy: without propsperity, people will be driven to extreme ideologies.
-the corruption: it needs to be stopped. Past is past, but this cannot be tolerated in the future.

For the economy, we have Siniora, but he need to be helped. Today, the business-friendly politicians are mainly sunni, it's surprising but it's a fact. On the economical issues, they have no ally: PSP is leftist (or so they say...), same for the Shias, Aoun and the LF are centrist when it comes to economy (I know that this is strange since LF are depicted as right-winger, but I am talking economy).

For the corruption we need a brand new justice. This is a very important issue. The judicial appointments must be done on a consensual base. I believe that this will force the politicians to chose impartial judges since other groups won't let a politician appoint his own corrupted judges. A fair justice is an essential base to any democracy.

As for the political deconfessionalization, I don't believe in it, because the root of sectarianim is in the mentalities, not in the institutions. Removing one without the other will only lead to greater conflicts: people will still elect confessional leaders, but weaker communities will lose the institutional mechanisms to defend them and will be excluded. But we can go for a bicameral system with only one assembly being elected on a religious basis.

Anonymous said...

Could someone please help me understand something? It seems that there are many arabs (maybe a majority) that cringe at the word "Federalism", especially the Arab-Nationalists. Being a true conservative (as in small government, greater state powers) from America, Federalism seems like a good idea. Gun-carrying, pro-death penalty Texans have many differences with liberals from Boston. Federalism protects both.

True, America is not a Federation, but why is Federalism such a nasty word?

-q

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

Why is Federalism such a nasty word?

Because a lot of people associate fedralism with "takseem". A sort of balcanization of the arab world into small and week ethnic countries.
Look at Iraq, they say. Before, it was a strong country, now there are three inter-warring ethnic parts.
According to the anti-federalists, this would somehow fit into a diabolic Israeli hegemonic plan to maintain control over the region.

Raja said...

Well Mustapha, that's not exactly why I think federalism is not a good idea with regards to Lebanon. I simply want more details. I'd like to see what concrete measures will be taken under this federalism initiative. Another reason is that Federalism will legitimise what is already obvious to all Lebanese: We are sectarian and tribal to the core of our bones. We always like to fool ourselves into thinking that we're not and are at pains to say that we are "Lebanese above everything else," but when you break the country up into Sectarian Cantons then it just gets too obvious, and worse, much more difficult to overcome.