Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Lebanese State - a catalogue of missed opportunities

I wonder what kind of responses one would get if s/he went around and asked Lebanese what their State meant to them - or rather how they perceive the Lebanese state.

A break down of the respondents into the following categories would be revealing:

- socio-economic status
- sect
- residence (urban/rural, geographic region - Jabal Aamel, Bekaa, Mt. Lebanon, etc...)

Dear Rami/Zeina/George/Fatima/etc... what does the Lebanese state mean to you? Not the Lebanese identity... not Lebanese food or history... not Lebanon's political elite ... none of these. I just want to know how you perceive the Lebanese state.

  1. First and foremost, do you believe a state exists at all?
  2. If yes, what do you perceive the role(s) of the state to be? Prioritize, if you can.
  3. Do you personally benefit from any service(s) that only the state can offer? Please list them.
  4. What services do you receive from non-state actors/institutions that you believe the state can deliver?
These thoughts regarding the Lebanese state developed in my mind as a result of my interaction with a Jordanian friend who works at her country's embassy in DC. Through her, I've learnt that the Jordanian embassy

  • has sent lawyers to represent detained citizens;
  • hosts concerts and exhibitions featuring Jordanian artists;
  • flies journalists and opinion makers to Jordan in the interest of encouraging a more nuanced view of the country;
  • etc....
From an ex-pat's perspective, the record of my country's embassy pales in comparison. I know Lebanese who live here in the States attend social gatherings, concerts featuring Lebanese artists, and other events; but hardly any of these are held under the patronage of the Lebanese state.

The question is: what happens to a Lebanese student who gets into a little fracas with a Syrian in George Washington University, and is detained by the police? Let's assume he does not have family in the country. Does this individual call the Lebanese embassy? And if so, will the embassy have the resources to assist him? I wonder.

Lebanon's civil society is vibrant with activity, and offers a ton of services to Lebanese individuals. For example, I am very aware that the Maronite Church's role over here in the US is paramount to the community. It brings Maronites together every Sunday, and provides a platform through which social events may be organized and launched, among other services. The problem with this arrangement, of course, is that it is an inherently sectarian one.

No one is saying that the Maronite Church should not play its role within the Maronite community... however, this role should be complemented with that played by a more inclusive institution. One that fosters a national identity as opposed to a sectarian one. It is here where the embassy can come in an do its part.

Hariri's, Fleihan's, Kassir's and Tueni's deaths brought all of us here in the DC - Baltimore area, together. For example, the first time I stepped into a Maronite church was during a commemoration of the late Hariri, that the Church graciously organized for all Lebanese. However, the man is not going to die again. And even if someone of his calliber was brutally murdered today, I doubt it would foster the same kind of response.

In short, there is at least one role that the Lebanese state can play for the Diaspora through its embassies. That role could, at a minimum, help bring the different communities that constitute the Diaspora, together. It is a meager role - especially considering the failure of the state in most of its fundamental functions back home. But who knows? Maybe the first baby steps (overseas, of all places) could prove to be successful precedents regarding the State's role back home. For all our private initiative and ingenuity, there is no question regarding the utility of an effective state. We need it. We have to help realize it.


JoseyWales said...

Reverse Midas touch. Leave them out.

Everything the Lebanese state touches turns to crap.

Job one is security back home. Let them get that straight first, then we can talk.

Anonymous said...

"I am very aware that the Maronite Church's role over here in the US is paramount to the community...The problem with this arrangement, of course, is that it is an inherently sectarian one."

On behalf of the Maronite Church, I invite you to participate and join in the activities it organizes. I don't think at any point the Church reserves entrance to its believers only. Maybe we should start deleting the word "sectarian" from our dictionaries.
As Josey says, leave the state out. Let's work on getting the communities closer together, who knows, maybe we can manage in a few decades to rebuild the entire system in our state.

"And even if someone of his calliber was brutally murdered today, I doubt it would foster the same kind of response.

Why would you say that?

the perpetual refugee said...

Raja, it is up to us expats to organize these initiatives. The state is weak. Josey is right. Let them fix the security system. That's what is expected of them. We on the other hand should be Lebanon's real ambassadors in the countries we visit. When I get back home, I'm planning on lobbying for something a bit more representative of the people. If that means starting off a new sort of organization, so be it.

Anonymous said...

why are you asking the maronite church not to play any role into the state when the state is confessionalised?

lately we are hearing many rumours, such as 6 000 sunnits were enrolled into the ISF, belonging to one party etc...
i m sorry to say that if the state was not confessionalised of course we can ask the church not to play any role.
however since it s confessionalised, since our constitution main weakeness is a division of power not by executive etc... but by religion, and even without talking about who is the chief of which political outlet of the state (outlet because of the corruption) since the administration itself is confessionalised, they have as much right to talk then any other representants of the other communities.
why joumblatt as the druze chief is taken in consideration?
why hariri allied to dar al fatwa is the representant of the sunnit community etc....

i m inviting you to balance your point of view toward a new deconfessionalised system where people well be judged for what they are competent in and not for which community/sect they are and i should add that many christians by the way in lebanon are complaining nowadays that they were not taken because the seats were reserved to another community and for people who were competent.
The maronite church lately, (and i m not maronite but belonging to another community but i liked that statement) in its one of the latest statement was not asking for special privileges but to putting the right and competent people were they have to be appointed

Anonymous said...

> why are you asking the maronite church not to play any role into the state when the state is confessionalised?

frencheagle, I'll let Raja defend himself, but I did not get the impression he was asking for that in this post. All he said was "this [the Maronite churches'] role should be complemented with that played by a more inclusive institution" ...

That being said, I myself would not want the maronite church to play any role in the state even if the state is confessionalised...
If "6 000 sunnits were enrolled into the ISF" it's not the church's problem to resolve. If others are doing the wrong thing that doesn't mean the church should too!


Raja said...

Pat, thanks for the clarification. I believe that quite a bit of what I typed may have been lost in translation when F.E. read it.

Anon 1:56, I appreciate the invite. I am pretty confident that I will be welcome in any Maronite Church I decide to visit. But I would definitely prefer a secular/neutral ground that is a little less restricting than a church to meet up with acquantances and friends from across the sectarian divides.

Josey and Refugee... you both suggest compelling propositions:

We should not depend on the state to help foster a stronger national identity. Rather, we should try to accomplish that feat by ourselves (i believe even anon 1:56 essentially made a similar argument).

the question is: can that be done? can civil society (or elements w/in civil society) effectively execute a task that historically has been carried out by the state?

Evidence collected by respected social scientists like Theodore Hanf suggests that the Lebanese identity has strengthened since independence (despite the civil war). In other words, the state could not have played a role.

So, who knows? Maybe all three of you are right. We do not need a state to foster a stronger national identity. We can all do it by ourselves!

However, my desire for an "effective" state (as opposed to strong, or over-bearing) one lingers. States have the potential to offer so much that families, businesses, NGOs and religious institutions simply cannot. I don't think we can simply turn our backs on the Lebanese state. We would lose so much!

Anonymous said...

@ pat

my point was the following:
we are in a confessional system therefore the church has as much right to express its opinion then joumblatt as a feodalist druze warlord etc...
if the system wasnt confessionalized the game would be different.
the current taef aggreement is increasing the communitaristic mechanism in lebanon. before the appointments by religion/community was due to traditions, now it is a constitutional obligation, threatening to hire the right people in the right places as they do not have the right religion.
i m against for exemple that a community controls the security forces. i wouldnt mind if they were appointing the right people.
Of course on the political outlet it s normal to put its own people, but not on a larger scale meaning on the whole administration scale such as the ISF.

everything is a matter of equilibration..

my second point about the christian point of view is the following:

since most of the christian that left lebanon since the civil war, it s normal that they still have a morcelled vision of this country.
when they are coming back, they see that this vision is true since we are having again a constitutional system working with confessions.
if they left lebanon it s because of the christian politician warlord that commited mistakes and even collaborated with foreign powers.
even the "clean kornet shewan" guys such as nassib lahoud (appointed as ambassador of lebanon in 1990 explaining the reasons why syria had to bombard baabda at that time) or boutros hard (ministry of education in 92 during the syrian occupation) samir geagea (we all know his sins) etc... collaborated with syrians at one time or not.
these christians were pushed toward exile.

which instution in their mind remained clean ?
the church. this explains why the church has still such impact as a moral guaranty

Anonymous said...

My problem is the following: the Maronite church itself tought me that if I see something wrong I should stand against it EVEN IF EVERYONE ELSE IS DOING IT so I am just applying what the church itself thought me! :-)
Even if walid jumblat is using sectarism to get more political power I don't want the church to do that.

EVERYONE is against one community controling the security forces, but instead of implicating the church and and solving the problem by giving christians control of some other institusion in order to make a balance I am advocating leaving the curch out of it and working politically to losen the unfair grip of that other community without the church's interference.

> which instution in their mind remained clean ?
Why did you chose the Maronite church as an answer? It is not and should not be a political institution, why is it better than any other non-political organization that remained clean?
I donnow, you tell me ... Charitas? The red cross? Zahrat el i7san? Gregoire Hadda's social movement?
Why aren't you advocating the red cross gains a political role! After all it remained clean too!

To make my point shirta nd clear,
A famous guy once said : "Give back to Ceasar what is Cesar's and to God what is God's" I simply beleive politics is cesar's game and not God's so it is not the church's role to play it. I just want to church to follow it's founder's advice.


Anonymous said...

@ pat

does the church has a parlement member?
but our feodalistic leaders yes.
they have the right to critize as most of our politicians are dirty and have on their hands the blood of our war's martyrs.

we had a very bad post war period, our war criminals are even now in the governement, cleaned , virginized etc... due to a amnisty law that is the worst that could have been applied in the world.
only the church among the christians remained clean and this is currently explaining that impact.

let us continue our cedars revolution, getting ride of those war criminals, or those 15 years syrian collaborators and the story would be different.
the church is the only christian organization that is really virgin of the crimes that happened.

second thing
caritas is related to the maronite church in case u dont knw
the red cross is an international organisation created after the 1871's war btw france and prussia etc... they aim to be equal distant to any of the belligents so the story is different and of course you are out of the focus of the discussion.
the last one i dont know it

but today many of the social organisation present in lebanon are sponsored by people that have political goals.

we should also ask hariri to stop to bride the population through his social movement, the hezbollah as well, fares etc... if you go that way.
this is far more important and has a biggest impact as they are controloing other center of the power, medias etc...

to end reply:
yesterday i assisted to a conference in LAU jbeil about the corruption in lebanon and i enjoyed to hear the intervention of a german guy, working for aub, chairman of a department i dont remember which one.
he was saying that our main weakness that is the cause of all our trouble is our political divided system. he was saying that this country is not a country, there is no lebanese nation.
he was saying the only way to deal with that weakness is to look to singapore etc... as model of development with a strong political executive.
i was feeling to hear myself.

my point is the following till we end to live in a political deconfessionalised system, the church has as much right if not more right to talk as a moral garant then our dear bloody handed politician

ps: the other part of the conference were as well enjoyable, especially when you are hearing corm explaining what are the problem he faced as a ministry to know the size of the debt, or why the current economical policy will a failure