Saturday, January 28, 2006

The dirty secret of sectarianism in Lebanon

I came back from Lebanon with a new belief engrained in my head. That belief is that changing Lebanese living in Lebanon is an impossible task. The people living in Lebanon will basically remain sectarian until Kingdom come.
Let me put it this way: if I was a "reformer" going to Lebanon to attempt to resolve this issue of sectarianism, and I had to list all the barriers I saw in my path, I would list the following:
  1. Lebanese are financially encouraged to remain sectarian
  2. Lebanese are emotionally bribed to remain sectarian
  3. Lebanese are spiritually cajoled to remain sectarian
Financial, emotional and spiritual reasons to maintain the status quo. Of course, juxtapose these incentives with the excommunication that one would experience if he or she decided to take the unthinkable path of (for example) marrying an individual from another sect.
Now you tell me how it is possible for any one in Lebanon NOT to be sectarian!
The notion of a third path is nonexistent. The third path, of course, is your own - your individual path. That route, in Manichean Lebanon, where you are either "with us or with them," is simply laughable. In our wonderful Lebanon, you are either an "insider" or an "outsider," there is no other way.
What is discussed at home is, at the best of circumstances, a mix of rational discourse with irrational sectarian jumble. The irrational jumble is the most prominent portion of the discussion in almost every occasion. It is during these grueling sessions where you begin to realize that political disagreements and conflicts are used to reinforce the long-established sectarian divisions within society - not the other way around. In other words, sectarianism would not go away if, somehow, Jumblatt, Aoun, Future, Hizballah, Amal, LF and the rest were best of buddies!
Generalizations about the "characteristics" of Mwarni, Shi'a, Druze and Sunna are thrown out there to reinforce sectarian bonds and fissures. Usually, nothing else unites the people in the room except familial and sectarian ties, so they are most comfortable when nonsense about other sects starts spewing out of someone's mouth. If you interject and try to infuse some sanity into the discourse, you will be ostracized, because you threaten the cohesion within the group and the cordial atmosphere that this insane sectarian discourse is fostering (ironic, isn't it?).
In summation, I have come back to the United States with a staggering weight on my chest. Even my desire to blog has diminished somewhat because I have come to realize the futility of this exercise. My innate desire has always been to somehow try to foment change for the better in Lebanon. Now, I believe that I need to reconcile myself with something a close relative of mine has told me over and over again:
If you want people to acknowledge that they cannot change you, your own thoughts and the choices that you have made in your life, then you must accept that you cannot change them, their own thoughts, or the choices that they have made in their own lives.
Well... there goes Lebanon!


Anonymous said...


u have wrong expectations and its normal cuz we're all human.. reedit them and get back to work..

mother teresa said: we cant do great things, but we can do small things with great love.. i really believe in that now

take 2 ppl, work on them, help them break their "sectarian" bonds and learn from that to unshackle yourself in the process.. then expand to two NEW more :) and so on,

and let the process begin

regds and good luck :)


Doha said...

Raja, this post is pessimistic, but I know that you're not like that at all. I know that you've pledged in your life to be a walking model of what Lebanon should not be.

Reality is harsh, but our beliefs and passion for change are stronger! We might think at times that we're alone, but then we find out how we are surrounded by yet a larger community of those who shun sectarianism and try to break away from its heavy shackles.

Lazarus said...


sectarianism as it is now is only a few hundred years old. as such, it can be changed. it is not innate.


JoseyWales said...

sectarianism as it is now is only a few hundred years old.

Yes Laz, but its close cousins, tribalism and clanism, have been around since we were monkeys. ;)

Good to have you back Raja.

Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

Raja, I recognized your style after 15 lines, before I even read your signature.

Nice post BTW.

Anonymous said...

Talking about monkeys;you failed to
mention that our leaders are monkeys.
Watch them on TV and enjoy the show.
I am not renting movies since Feb 14.

ghassan said...

It is very important to distinguish clearly between what is realistic and what is a fantacy. It is equally important , for most of us to operate within a human time frame and not a geological one. I submit that the view that we can ultimately transform a people and we should do it a person at a time is being very highly unrealistic to say the least. It might help in this regard to recall the famous Keynes saying: "In the long run we are all dea". Let me add that the idea of using an acorn to establish an oak forest is so very highly unlikely and impractical that I would not even consider it as an alternative. Even if iw was to successed then we might be looking at the 41st century before that becomes a reality.

May I also point to a very common and serious error that the American press and some in Europe have been committing for a couple of yearsand unfortunately the original post is guilty of this error also. Manichianism is a system based among other things on duality. It believes that "good" and "evil" coexist in the world and its views are very much influenced by Budhism. George W Bush's policy is often portrayed as being Manichian and there is nothing farther away from the truth than this idea. Actually many professors have shot down this usage in the press and one of them even went as far as to say :"To call G W Bush a Minchian is an insylt to Mani". I believe that the accurate descriptive phrase that Raja is lookinmg for is Zoroastrian. Zoroastrian escatology believed very much in the triumph of good over evil and on having the former vanquish the latter.

Anonymous said...

Ghassahn :),

do you agree that "profound" change MUST come from within.. Profound and Lasting?!

we wake up tomorrow and suddenly "sectarianism" is a thing from the past?! i highly doubt it. Most of lebanon's boiled down leaders CANNOT implement seculirsm as theyve set up themselves in a self defeating move iwth seculirsm itself. (thats assuming theyd want to in the 1st place). As Such our empowerment must COME from within, and it must come from within ourselves together, ONE citizen at a time. When we "eventually" reach tipping point, expect visible and FEASIBLE change to occur,

but until that day, im afraid and actually VERY happy that it must be one citizen at a time, simply because :)

its doable


p.S: you can call me bodhi

Anonymous said...


You, and the author of this text, are obviously confusing the term Manichean with the term Machiavellian.

Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

I am sorry to post the same comments on various blog, but I think that this shouldn't be left unanswered. Please check out Landis' latest comments on Lebanon. I apologized for that but under the circumstance I think that it's OK. I am outraged by Joshua Landis' latest post.
Click here

He had the guts to write "Why Lebanon Should Repair Relations with Syria".

Syria is conducting a terror campaign in Lebanon; this might explain why Lebanon has a problem with Syria's government (but hey, why mention that little detail?). How come that a great scholar like Joshua Landis fail to see this simple evidence?

Shouldn’t Landis write "Why Syria Should Repair Relations with Syria"?

I mean Syria bombs Lebanon and it is OUR responsibility to mend the bilateral relations? What kind of a joke is that??

It’s not like Syria is asking for peanuts, it’s asking for a quasi-abdication of our sovereignty !!

The truth is that Landis is far from being naïve. He is simply suggesting that Lebanon surrender to a terrorist blackmail. He doesn't write it explicitly because it's not 'appropriate' for a scholar to say such things. But that's the implicit meaning of his words.

Are some basic moral principles like the rejection of terrorism negotiable now? Has Joshua Landis become a terrorist apologist? Does the man have any moral principle?

I understant that sometimes you need to find a compromise between values and reality, but issue like terrorism are simply non-negotiable!!

Farid Ghadry didn't call him an "American Baathist" for nothing!!

ghassan said...

Of course only grassroot movements are capable of bringing about meaningful change that is in conformity with the ideas and values of the public.
But grassroots does not imply a passive attitude of a person changing herself. On the contrary grassroots are movements that occur when the public acts in unisonas to challenge power, speak truth to it and ultimately change it. It might appear that we are saying the same thing but we are not. I cannot deny that the strategy of changing one person at a time, especially especially if that rate of conversion is adequate, could eventually arrive at the desired goal. I am not wiling to depend on such a passive method because it is fraught with danger, in particular the real danger that even if it were to occur the change will occur only after an unacceptable length of time when what is needed is change here and know. People acting together and reinforcing each other is the way to go, in my mind at least.

As for Anon, what separates Mani from Machiavelli is over a thousand years and probably a few thousand miles:-) One was a Persian while the other an Italian and their teachings are not even in the same field!!!!

Anonymous said...

Ghassahn San :),

allow me to add that not only will "one person" at a time be the inherint base mechanism but adopt ur proposal of Civic Resistance into that scope.. For they can only be successful if used together!

we can look at examples from india, to the United States and Martin luther.. for them to succeed their must be a base capable of "earning" what theyre fighting for (peacefully).. i Dont think the indians where ready for independance and as such we saw the split of india and pakistan from the english.. The People where Not READY (at least not at tipping point yet) but we can still learn so much form the indian civil resistance and civil disobedience campaign to get to that specific goal. We must do it together :), but we must be conscious that the work must be in two directions

one outward (as you suggest)
and one inward so that WE can be ready, we can be up to Par to make th Change we want, the change for the better.

in that note :) and having enjoyed reading ur post :) i leave you temporarily to continue working on myself



reem said...

I wish there was something like a "political invisible hand" to match Adam Smith's economic invisible hand...this way individual behaviour pursuing individual good would amount on a national scale to the good of the whole nation....unfortunately politics do not function like economics and is not run at the level of the individual, with one group's power-grabbing usually coming at the expense of the other groups.
however, as discussed by some above, samll individual efforts can amount to something substantial

why-discuss said...

Raja, your post describes very well what most emigrant feel about Lebanon: the sectarism is not only very enshrined in the people's mind for historical reasons but it is perpetuated by that absurb and primitive "Pacte" imbedded in the Constitution that dictates how the power is shared among the religious sects: The president must be maronite, the prime ministers sunni etc... How can sectarism be eliminated if it is part of the political system. Lebanon a democracy? This Pact must be scrapped to achieve a normal democracy and eliminate sectarism. Yet no one even mentions it!

zwixo said...

only one solution, no religion at school, instead sexual education, give lebanon 10 years, we can then catch up with... Greece... at least a civilized country.

AbdulKarim said...


Your post has stirred in me disturbing feelings and made me kind of blue. For few moments you really convinced me that there is no hope. Like you I'm an immigrant who always wait to hear good news about Lebanon from people who visit. As a regular reader of your blog, I was awaiting quite a different post on your return. But then I'm optimistic by nature and I hope what I will say will be a condolence to you and to every reader of this blog who believes in a non-sectarian Lebanon. I am from Akkar and brought up in Tripoli. I am against sectarianism in whatever form it is. I know that in Akkar and Tripoli I have a dozen of my friends who believe the same way, and every one of them knows in his turn others who believe the same way. I'm sure there are many Lebanese bloggers out there whom I don't know but still feel the same. How about you Raja?

m388 said...

wow, all of you guys are really smart...keep talking about the issue, never do address the solution...
never rise up for the challenge..
what makes me more surprised is that you all know what you want but sit and watch...
but I have one question...
If not us to change this then WHO??!
kids are getting dumber and more secular...