Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Lebanese Blogs & Paradigms

This is the third post in a series of posts that started as an expression of disappointment at seeing our local paradigms and attitudes dominate Lebanese blogs; the current post is a deleted (long) comment on Raja's post (Does Lebanese History only Repeat Itself? ). You will find it useful to refer to previous comments by Doha and Raja.
I don't mind getting recycled news on a blog or reading it there right after I’ve read it on Naharnet on The Daily Star. What I do mind is getting that news from such few sources, mostly unanalyzed. It is like we have a "mainstream media" for the forces hogging the "March 14" tag. I say "hogging" because they are trying to except Aoun. Anyway I agree that I can give you a better feel of the Lebanese street. But I am starting to think I should dedicate my time to translating quotations from other places, which blogs tend to ignore, such as from editorials in Assafir for example. I will be doing some of that soon. I also have a side note here which is our newspapers. It feels like Assafir and Annahar are published in two different countries. Ironically enough, each has its own standards of patriotism. I am disappointed that we just accept that as the status quo, rather than object to it. This objection is definitely more worthwhile than quoting a news item that any interested reader of English will find on its primary site, especially when the adoption of such an item compromises the integrity of the blog, and this applies to almost every Lebanese blog that deals politics.

On point number 2. Closure issue: In addition to the newspapers, check the people. I live in Hamra but work in Mdawwar and it feels like the ten minute drive to work really beams me to a different country. I have also made a point of walking the slums of Beirut (East, West, and South), and they all look the same. The people on both sides are suffering the same issues, but, like in the war, they blame it on different sides. Have you never heard a service driver say he can’t take you from Sanayeh to Ashrafieh, or the other way round, because it is “the other area.” They still use the wartime word sector “qi6a3”. You may say this is because no people take that line and he won’t find anyone on that route or back. The only significance this argument has is that the frontiers still exist in the people’s minds. I actually heard many “open-minded” people saying they would rather go out “in our areas”, bi-manateqna.

Moreover, I feel that the general atmosphere of "unity" exhibited, albeit verbally, by otherwise-sectarian chiefs allowed the Lebanese to follow them, guilt-free. Many of my university friends, once-distinct voices of the Druze, Sunni, and Maronite communities, were actually declaring that they were now happy with the performance of their respective chiefs and felt well represented. These are the same people who had previously been fighting to stand out against all the conformists of their sects. I was disappointed with them praising their chiefs because I felt it was a need to conform, against their own critical thinking. Then suddenly, mostly with the elections in mind, the chiefs were acting all sectarian, self-centered and short-sighted again. This inconsistency is what blew the chance for real unity. I am not calling for a uniform society. I iconize diversity as much as the next Lebanese. But I do think we need to choreograph our diversity!

As for Saad's incompetence, I really think he has failed to make anything of the great vote of trust that was bestowed on him by the Lebanese people. This is a totally new discussion I would like to postpone, unless this is the portion of point number 2 that you wanted me to elaborate.

As for the "national unity dream," if this really is how you feel, I respect your honesty, and urge you to acknowledge the next logical step: it is now time to sit down and discuss- actually negotiate looks like a better word- how our country should be functioning in order to work out for all of us. If the States is built on opportunity for all, “the American Dream”… let’s compare ourselves with the States, provided we can handle that. This does mean canceling all confessional distinctions in, say, “public jobs.” Yes I want to allow everyone to run for whatever post they want, with their chances being a result of their competence rather than anything else. Human Rights 101. A New Lebanon requires equal rights, and it will definitely mean the abolition of the sectarian system. This is where all those calling for “a modern state” will be expected to make a stand. I leave it to Assaad Abou Khalil to describe those people, but I have heard someone else saying "Masks will fall!"

About the history book, your point is very futuristically viable on its own, but will only hold when the history books are credible rather than full of crap and lies, and when the Lebanese decide they want to be honest with themselves and look to the future. It may help if we stop referring to different histories as our own when we practice politics. It’s also an integrity issue. The next time a politician refers to the French Revolution and how we need Western values, let’s demand that he support the implementation of all those values, including Equality, in the Lebanese system. I remind you of some of the replies LP got when he said this system should empower the Shia in return for letting go of HA weapons. Any relinquishing of the current rights is out of question by many sides in Lebanon. I don’t totally agree with LP’s point, but the counter logic he got is also counter-productive. This sectarian system is feeding on and from sectarian clustering. Many say it’s a matter of interests, not ideals, and should be treated as such. I respect that too, but I ask them not to preach ideals or utopias within a system that they see as geared by interest. In such a system, blame no one for wanting their interest. That would be pure hypocrisy, another bad Lebanese habit we bloggers should avoid.


Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

I took service cabs for one year to go to AUB (=not in my region) and I never experienced any east-west Beirut problem. It may happen from time to time but portraying this as a common practice is incorrect. I don't think that a taxi driver who can barely feed his his family would spit on your money just because you live on the other side.

Raja said...


With regards to the people, let me just say that I feel with you brother. I've already mentioned that there's too little interaction between individuals from different sects in Lebanon. That needs to change. That said, I think Vox has a point. In other words, your statement is a generalization that collapses especially in the face of the all-powerfull dollar.

As for the general impression of "unity" exhibited by the political leaders, I must admit that I partially fell for it, along with a lot of the other Lebanese bloggers. In fact, I attribute the relative atrophy in the Lebanese Blogosphere to partially be the result of that particular miscalculation on behalf of most of us bloggers. In one instance, we were supporting "Lebanese" politicians working for Lebanon, and in the other, we found ourselves supporting Sectarian Zu3ama. It almost felt like being naked in a crowded street! But what can I say Hassan? We want "unity" and non-sectarian Lebanon... so when powerful leaders adopted our line, we fell for it. My motivation was not to conform, but rather to accept powerful Lebanese political leaders who claimed to aspire for an end to sectarianism. They had (and continue to have) the power to bring about change, but I don't. So when they claim to seek change for what I percieve to be a better Lebanon, I cheer!

With regards to Saad's failure, please post an entry that explains your position. I am hungry for such an analysis.

As for the concept of "National Unity," thanks for accepting how I feel about it. I will elaborate my position in an upcoming post. But, understand that in my own opinion, such a concept shifts the blame for the general malaise in Lebanon from the elite to the average Joe/Mo on the street. The search for "national unity" as a solution for Lebanon's malaise is similar to the Alchemist's search for the Philosopher Stone as a means of converting metal to Gold. I always advocate the position that to solve the problems we complain about every day, our focus must shift from the glamour and grandeur of such issues as "identity," "religious beliefs," "the Arab-Israeli conflict," etc... to such pedestrian issues as administration, economics, garbage collection, traffic alleviation, public transportation, etc.... There is no other solution. Every one agrees that they want safer roads. Hardly any one can agree on personal religious convictions. Period!

Finally, on the issue of history books. Hassan, I have a question: who is to decide what is bullshit and what is not? That is a question that confounds anyone thinking about history! Especially history concerning events that supposedly took place hudrends or thousands of years ago. Anyways, one of the ways Lebanon is progressing rather than moving in cycles is, ironically, with regards to history. Lebanon, as an independent country, was born in 1943. In exactly 83 days, Lebanon will be 62 years old. The country is getting older and its own history is growing with it. Therefore, issues of Phoenicia or Arabia ought to grow less and less important as the history of the country of Lebanon itself grows. It ought to be easier to come to an agreement on more recent history than ancient history which is shrouded in myth and lore. Therefore, I am a little more optimistic on this front.

Lazarus said...

Yes, it does seem that the failure lies with us. We (and i'm generalizing here) need this concept of a protector, and since our government doesn't (and i don't think really ever has) provide us with a semblance of it. If the government can actually focus on the menial tasks of electricity, social security, road maintenance, economy+jobs, etc., then people will feel less and less inclined to look up to someone for help and down at someone for blame.

Concerning history: there is no real truth. It isn't a problem if one area teaches a slightly modified version (where they stress on some things slightly more than other things). But this isn't even the case. "History" is (and has been) a product of the area (and of the community). This is the "bullshit" that has to be ammended. I think it was actually Walid Jumblatt who said that Lebanon cannot really advance before it agrees on its history. And therein lies the problem. To agree on something common (even if there are slight variations) means that some communities would give up their power, and others would give up their oppression.

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


Regarding the history book. The crap is mean is the inaccuracy. (Faking an independence battle, faking some heroic deeds for, and exaggerating accomplishments by, former rulers of “Lebanon”, especially the Ma’nis and Shehabis).
Salibi’s opening of “A House of Many Mansions” is “To create a country is one thing; to create a nationality is another.” Along those lines, I think this argument will take us to the whole idea of creating a Lebanese identity.
Back to your point, I’d rather discuss current, more practical, affairs.
So we won’t agree on less recent history. Taking Lazarus’ argument, I don’t think we need to, but, again, I do think the minimum we need is a real closure of our war(s). This is more relevant now that Samir Geagea has been released.

I’ll do the Saad Hariri piece later.

You say “our focus must shift from the glamour and grandeur of such issues as "identity," "religious beliefs," "the Arab-Israeli conflict," etc... to such pedestrian issues as administration, economics, garbage collection, traffic alleviation, public transportation, etc”

I agree with you. We need more of these on blogs. We also need to be less inhibited when tackling these issues incriminates some "leaders", and it will.

JoseyWales said...

Maybe if people (and stupid intellectuals) would focus on what they want in the next 2-3 years, as opposed to past "grandeur(?)" and future unrealistic idiocy ("arab unity" and "palestine liberation"), we could find some measure of domestic peace, sanity, unity and, God forbid, better education/economy/daily life etc....