Thursday, September 29, 2005

I want to stand on top of a mountain and shout this out!!!

The state ... isn't - or shouldn't be - something separate from and in charge of those who are subject to its laws (i.e. citizens). Rather it is the collective agent of the citizens, who decide what its laws are. So the question of how the state should treat
its citizens is that of how we, as citizens, should treat one another.

This quote is from the introduction of a book I'm required to read as part of my ethics class in Public Policy. The title is Political Philosophy: A Beginner’s Guide for Students and Politicians. It struck me so much because it is so relevant to Lebanon and what we perceive as some of its major problems (and solutions).


On the first level, there is this notion of state as "a collective agent of citizen" rather than "something separate from and in charge of those who are subject to its laws." The sense I get from most Lebanese is their belief that the state SHOULD be an entity that is separate from society, as a means of protecting Lebanese from themselves - i.e. from the "evils" of sectarianism, nepotism, etc.... Citizens demand that the state become a collection of institutions that is technocratic and fair even though they themselves are not so, and even worse, do not desire to be so!


I see the Tayyar el Wattani as the perfect manifestation of such a movement. Their main goal is to isolate the state from society and protect it from the negative influences of society so that it may become effective and just. Of course, considering that it is much easier to mold a state than it is to mold society, I can totally understand their rationale. Moreover, I can understand the appeal of a military man as the leader of this project. The army is the ultimate bureaucracy. It is the most powerful state entity that is given the authority to forcefully eliminate any outside influences that would threaten its chain of command and ability to accomplish its objectives.


The danger of course is that if the state does not reflect society, then it will not respond to society's needs, but rather to the individual or collective that controls it. The developing world is filled with such states - states that are increasingly being referred to as "failed states" because of their inability to maintain stability and any sense of order within their internationally recognized boundaries.


On the other hand, we can look at East Asia for examples of states which, in my opinion, are "separate from and in charge of those who are subject to its laws," yet remain (in certain senses) legitimate in the eyes of the societies and individuals under their control and are more than able to maintain order within their territory. What is so different about these states? Can the model of development they went through be applied to the Middle East successfully? Keep in mind that the closest comparison to the relationship between society and state in Singapore in our region is a country like Syria. Syria is definitely less economically successful than its counterpart, but it is also, in certain aspects less totalitarian.


Now lets go back to a section of the quote that, in my opinion, is the most relevant for Lebanon as we see it today.

"So the question of how the state should treat its citizens is that of how we, as citizens, should treat one another."

This quote is so profound for the Lebanese context! There is simply no comparison! Let me make it clear: the Singapore model will not work in Lebanon. A strong state that imposes its will on society is a recipe for disaster in our country. Therefore, in the Lebanese case, the state will always be a "collective agent of the citizens, who decide what its laws are." I know that some people will say that it is not exactly the citizen who makes the laws in Lebanon, but rather, the Sectarian Chieftains. However, the citizens do have a say because they have the opportunity to elect representatives. The results of these elections reflects on the way Lebanese treat each other and perceive each other in day-to-day life. Consequently unless that behavior changes... Or more precisely, unless Lebanese decide to treat each other differently, we will always end up with Jumblatts, Berris, Hariris, Jmeyyels; and there will always exist a small educated and secular group doing their best to elect Aouns who they believe will solve their problems by isolating the state from the evils of society.


My advice to the Tayyar el Wattani is to reshape their strategy because they are fighting a loosing battle. The only way they can win is by committing, or at least, supporting a grass roots campaign to change the attitudes of the average Lebanese and teach them the modern principles of citizenship and social justice among others. I will close with another quote that I find extremely relevant.

The state is a coercive instrument. It has various means - police, courts, prisons - of getting people to do what it says, whether they like it or not, whether they approve or disapprove of its decisions. Political philosophy, then, is a very specific subset of moral philosophy, and one where the stakes are particularly high. It's not just about what people ought to do, it's about what people are morally permitted, and sometimes, morally required, to make each other do.

We need Lebanese citizens to be aware of the philosophy that is the foundation of the modern citizen and state. Although technically and culturally savvy, Lebanese, as individuals, are too ignorant of these principles. They look at the superficial aspects of "Western" society/state and seek to emulate without going to the core - or rather the religion - that makes "the West" what it is today.


Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

From an historical perspective, strong states in the Arab world doesn't mean anything good. Lebanon need a stable state, but not a strong state.

Anonymous said...

Raja, i just want to say that for some reason I enjoy all your criticism of the FPM when i just don't like the critisicm of most other bloggers.
Thanks , I guess.

Mustapha said...


If you go to the top of a mountain and scream that, you'll just annoy the birds and the goats.

Your blog is a much better place.

Raja said...

lol mustapha! thanks for the advice. :)

Raja said...

anon 4:23,

maybe that is because the Lebanon I would like to see looks pretty similar to the Lebanon the FPM wants to help realize.

JoseyWales said...


To split hairs:

Stable not necessarily good either (Syria, old USSR for a long time).

I think we want "decent" and "efficient" which in my book means "minimal" (but VERY strong) state.

Doha said...

It's important to note that what really needs to happen is striking a balance, between having a state that reflects society to a certain extent and a state that spearheads societal changes simultaneously. Syria's and Iraq's Baath created states that do not reflect society as much as it shaped it, but the price is no democracy, a military regime that suppresses anything that resembles the society they want to not reflect and look at Iraq, after the fall of the Baath regime, we see the society showing its true face which was suppressed for so long (sectarianism, regionalism, ethno-centrism, etc...)

On the other hand, you don't want a state that totally reflects society, lest we end up with a state that is split into fiefdoms; at times Lebanon have become that, but that's not the way to go.

Like JoseyWales, I say we need a strong state, but not in the traditional sense. A strong state in the sense that it takes part in transforming society and culture, in infusing the moral virtues of citizenship, in defining what a citizen is and what the citizen's role is, and in defining at last what "Lebanese" means, if we decide to identify ourselves as such, and not as "Druze", or "Northern", or "Cham'ouni".

Raja said...

Doha, with regards to Syria and Iraq, I want to say two things, because I've actually been thinking about them.

1. The Ba'ath ideology is superficial. Its main focus (at least in public discourse) is on the collective, the nation, not the individual citizen and his relationship with other citizens and/or the state. In that sense, I'm not speaking of an ideology... in other words, I don't think that what we need is an ideology. We need, primarily, a new understanding of the relationship between individual citizens amongst themselves. Maybe we can refer to that as a new "paradigm," or even an ideology that focuses on the individual rather than the collective. To achieve such an understanding though, I agree with your assertion that state institutions, such as the public school system, will be essential.

2. Assuming that the Ba'ath ideology was exactly what we wanted, then based on what we’re seeing today, we could arrive at the conclusion that the party was hijacked by families and individuals whose sole objective was (and continues to be) to remain in power. In such a situation those in power will compromise their party's ideology and much more to remain where they are. Much has been written in the blogosphere about Joshua Landis' publication concerning Syria's education system for example. Furthermore, Tony Badran published a very convincing rebuttal of the belief that the Ba'ath Party (i.e. Assad) is either willing or able to reform.

A solution to this problem of power sabotaging ideology (and everything else) would be for a certain powerful segment of society (I’m sorry I don’t have a better word or description – furthermore, I don’t want to use “class” because that’s too Marxist) to agree on a philosophy, a set of values, or a paradigm that would define the role, obligations, rights, etc... of the citizen and the state. This sector of society will then design the political system so that the only way anyone can arrive at a position of power and remain there would be to abide by the agreed upon values/philosophy/principles. You will then get a democratic system within very concrete boundaries - within which you may have several political parties with different ideologies that share somewhat similar fundamental beliefs.

By doing so, the state's institutions will be dedicated to molding society in accordance to the agreed upon beliefs no matter who's in power. Why would such a system motivate presidents to resign? Well, because he would be sure that the next guy is gonna share his core beliefs about the state and the citizen, and because he won't be scared for his life or property once he’s no longer in power. Ultimately, such a system will promote not only a common identity among the populace, but also consistently promote the values/philosophy/principles that the "sector-in-power" has agreed upon. The closest real example that I can provide you is Turkey. But I also think that Europe is pretty similar. Look at the scandal caused by Le Pen's victory in France, for example - he won despite the fact that the entire political system is designed to prevent the likes of him from rising to power.

Raja said...

by the way, I don't know how (or if) such a scenario could be juxtaposed onto Lebanon. Considering Lebanese society and the nature of the state, I doubt it would work. Now the question is: how do we acheive it without the state? Through parties like the FPM? Through private schools like the American Community School, which educate the elite? The media? What other non-state tools exist for us to utilize?

Anonymous said...

What's wrong with using class?
Most of the societies of the ME (including palestine and syria) are classist par excellence. Perhaps in lebanon it is hidden under the thick veil of sectarianistm, but that removed, it will show up, and both classism and sectarianism will feed off each other and thrive.

Two words: Social Justice. Without social justice the country won't survive much longer. Let's not stick our heads in the sand and blame all on education, the citizen, on the government etc...
The Roussou-ian goverment won't work because you can't ask the citizen to give when he/she's got nothing.

Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

Josey, that's what I said: stable but not strong (read authoritarian). You said stable and minimal, that's exactly what I meant.

Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

Actually, Lebanon is a special case and I am willing to drop my minarchist credo. The state in Lebanon, should push for social and cultural change.

Anon above, drop the class non-sense will you? Have you ever visited Bourj Hammoud? I am fed up of hearing that Christians are rich and that maronite are poors. And by the way, supposing what you say is true, how did it happen?

Left is as much sectarian than anyone else in Lebanon, if it says that rich=christians=bad. You can hide sectarianism under a socialist propaganda, if it makes you feel better. Until you're able to create the economic growth that the poor people need instead of destroying the economy, spare us the pravda-talking. Leftism is an economic failure, live with it.

Beside, apart from Beirut's downtown, the most expensive areas in Beirut are in Ramlit el Baida today (and I don't have any problem with that).

Lazarus said...


I didn't see in anons comment anything saying that rich=christians. Unless of course he has said that to you previously.

Nor anything about leftism. Unless you're saying social justice is a purely leftist concept. Aren't you for social justice? "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" for ALL.

Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

Lazarus, I was referring to this statement.

" hidden under the thick veil of sectarianistm"

Classism = sectarianism means that class = sect .

Maybe I misunderstood it, but this kind of rhetoric has been used for equating Christians with rich people (which was partially true, in the past but you can't imagine the social problems that are afflicting the 'rich' Christian community after 15 years of happy Baathi rule).

I am not very fond of the class concept. I don't think that they exist, you can't label people and group them according to a criteria it's simplistic, and the human reality is complex.

I think that a certain level of inequality is good, which means that a certain level of social justice is good. If there isn't something better, if you can't make more money, people will not be motivated to work. In communist Albania, there was two level of salaries that were almost the same. The system was a failure

So it's important to have an acceptable (not absolute level of social justice). The concept of social justice does not belong to the left. But the idea that social justice is mainly achieved through a state policy comes from the left. The concept can be abused: look what happened in Syria in the name of social justice. The Baath pushed the elite to leave the country and damaged the economy for decades. Social justice made the country miserabler. Too much social justice lead to great social injustice.

I believe that the state has only a marginal role when it comes to social justice. Social justice mainly derives from sound economical policies and growth. There can't be no social justice in a failing economy. The state can help (especially in the educational field), but without jeopardizing the growth.

What is really important, is to have an equal opportunity for all. This is related, but different of social justice.

Anonymous said...

I never equated class with sect, what I said was that most of the ME societies (syria, jordan, lebanon and syria) are classist, and that may or may not be hidden via sectarianism. How did you interpret that to mean the two are the same?

Do you deny that at one point in time they fed off each other and that it may happen in the future? I'm well aware that the poverty in lebanon hit hard, when it did both the Orthodox in akkar and the Shia of the south, as well as the maronites of the mountain. Vox took it for granted that I must fall into one of the three groups. I don't.

Anyway, an IMF agenda in lebanon will cause a new interpaly between classism and sectarianism, which will cause the country to erupt. That is what the Hariri Agenda will bring to lebanon. It is both a classist and sectarian agenda that will bring bane to us all, and yet, most are blind to it.

It amuses me, though, that some people assume, automatically, that you must be a leftist-yet-sectarian-underneath-shia if you talk about classism and sectarianism in the same sentence. I'll make it easy, I'm not Shia, I am not leftist (though I share a lot with the left, but I have my own grief with them), but I do believe in social justice and the indivisible one-ness of human rights.

And equal opportunity means that a child born to rich and a child born to poor parents have equal rights and opportunities. Do you see that in the cards, the way lebanon is heading? I don't.

JoseyWales said...

Social Jusice? Sounds very nice.


Charles Malik said...

It's good to see all of the government bashing, and interesting to see Raja's support of Aoun (or the FPM spirit that it is now popular in the blogosphere to disassociate with Aoun).

Saad Hariri, Taymour Jumblatt, and Pierre Gemayel don't know what it is like to be Lebanese.

Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

Yes anon, I deny that classism is related to sectarianism, the two things are independent. You put an empty phrase, but you fail to explain the practical mechanism behind it .

How does classism feed sectarianism? Rich families are creating the sectarian tensions to control the people? It's simplistic and wrong.

Lazarus said...

You're right JW, social justice is very broad - and can be seen as meaningless.

Let's just say for now, that social justice is when people (in this case lebanese) have the basic neccessites - water, food, housing, clothing, education. You can add a few more if you want. I am not implying by social justice that everyone becomes equal in status.

Anonymous said...

"The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries."

Rincewind said...

Ok (it's anon from above)

Again, I didn't say classism and sectarianism are necessarily dependent.

But, as two forms of racism, the dominant one will hide the existence of the other. Hence my statement about lebanon. In palestine, there is a classism that you need to be an 'insider' to be able to detect, because of the colonization, which hides it from view.

In lebanon, both existed, like you said, indpendently. However, under the right circumstances, one was used (class divide and the lack of social justice) to strengthen the hold of other (sectarianism) on people. That was wrong, and a cheap tactic, and caused the just, non-religious fight for social justice (in the form of social security, agricultural subsidies, infrastructure, etc...) to disappear completely.

Why should people ask for their (social) rights, casting their demands in socio-economic terms (and lebanon can be easily put as a failed capitalist state, which is pretty bad for the poor), if they can wrap their rhetoric in terms of a religious inequality and achieve their goals faster?

I'm not saying that this is the right way to go. On the contrary, I'm against casting one in terms of the other, but such are the ways in lebanon.

a said...

is it just me, or is this guy handling that EVIDENCE without any gloves?!

Anonymous said...

Ricewind, let me quote you

"Again, I didn't say classism and sectarianism are necessarily dependent. "

You also said the following:

"Perhaps in lebanon it is hidden under the thick veil of sectarianistm, but that removed, it will show up, and both classism and sectarianism will feed off each other and thrive."

And what the hell brought racism to this discussion? Since when race = religion? Cheap trick man! If it's the case, then just go ahead and say that Arab=Muslim.

Don't confuse everything, different words have different meanings.

rincewind said...

What brought racism into this is synecdoche. Don't take words too literally; after all, they are just words.

Leb4Ever said...

I truly agree with you, unity is very important :)