The result was a "piece," which after some consideration, I decided to post on this blog. So maybe others who are wondering the same will understand a little more. Anyways, here goes:
Thanks for the long e-mail. I will try to explain to you why I a write the way I do. Before I do, though, I would like to say one thing about myself. At one point of my life (as a child), I admired Saddam Hussein's challenge to the West; I was (and still am) proud of what the Arab armies accomplished in 1973, and I even sided with the Russians during the cold war. I want you to know this about me because I do not wish for you to think that I am not conflicted, and have not really thought about my positions with regards to everything that is transpiring in Lebanon and the Middle East .
Conflicts are always multi-layered, and multi-dimensional. The recent battle in Lebanon is no different [I say battle because it is merely one chapter in a long war that goes back to (in Lebanon at least) the first Palestinian operations launched from the South]. The conflict in Lebanon , today, consists of a local layer, a regional layer and an international one. I don't think I need to explain each one to you because you seem like you're a well-informed individual. As for dimensions, I see a conflict between two visions of how people ought to live their lives, a sectarian conflict, a conflict between established elites and up and coming counter elites, and a conflict between two solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
I will delve a little into the dimensions of this conflict:
- Visions of how individuals should live their lives:
Hizballah's vision is clear because the organization is transparent about it. For as long as I can remember, Hizballah has proclaimed its goal of creating what it calls a “culture of resistance.” So what does that mean? Essentially, a “culture of resistance” means a population that, in one way or another, takes part in a military struggle. A culture of resistance, in other words, means: a militarized culture that, in Hizballah’s case, is founded on Islamic Doctrine and the Sharia. You are probably wondering why I am against this since I do not appear to be a Shi’ite myself. Well, my answer to you is that such a vision inherently contradicts the vision (or idea) of Lebanon itself – which is a republic founded on modern principles (albeit, imperfectly translated on the ground). Another reason I am vehemently against a militarized culture is because such a culture needs an enemy, and Hizballah does not rule a Shi’a Lebanon. If Hizballah takes its militarized population to war, it takes the rest of us with it. The Shi’ite population under its influence probably won’t mind so much because they are constantly prepared for war psychologically by their leadership, but the rest of us aren’t, and can never be, since Hizballah’s ideology is limited to and defined by Shi’ism. This reality causes tremendous friction and tension in an already fragile country. It adds one more challenge to a country already fraught with challenges.
- Sectarian Conflict:
Lebanon is almost defined by sectarianism. Its political system is designed to accommodate a sectarian reality. For Lebanon to exist as a stable and viable country, no one sect can dominate. The Christians tried doing so, then the Sunnis and Druze, and now, I guess, you could say the Shi’ite political elite is having a go. Don’t tell me that all they want to do is fight Israel , and all that nonsense. The decision to go to war is the most important decision any polity can make, and by taking it upon itself to decide on behalf of all Lebanese to conduct military operations against Israel, Hizballah (de-facto) utterly dominates its counterparts – it acts as a national leader, whereas it is merely a sectarian one.
You mention, in your e-mail, how “there is something positive to be said for how much Hizballah and Amal have played within the system to the degree that they have.” Well, in response to that, I say that if Hizballah and Amal gain any more influence, Lebanon will simply become a Shi’ite state!
The Lebanese state spares no one with its incompetence! All regions of Lebanon were and continue to be subject to the state’s inability to offer services. The reasons for the relative wealth in Mt. Lebanon has nothing to do with state-intervention, and everything to do with immigration patterns (and the consequent remittances), as well as the Beirut-Damascus highway, which makes it a little more convenient for tourists to drop by! Over the past decade and more however, as more expatriate Shi’ites make their fortunes, the situation has changed dramatically, and the overall well-being of the Shi’a population has improved significantly!
As for Beirut , what can I say? It is the capital of Lebanon , and welcomes members of all sects. You also have to keep in mind that Lebanon's resources are limited and that investments in infrastructure need to pay off (at least in the long run). Building a university in every region of the country for the sake of satisfying sectarian competition is simply unfeasible! Building a university in Beirut though, where all who wish to attend may do so is, of course, the better , more feasible, alternative.
- A conflict between established elites and up and coming counter elites
In Lebanon the established elites are members of old political families that still retain a traditional base of support. Jumblatt is a perfect example of this club. I am a Druze, and most Druze who support Jumblatt are people I dislike for a myriad of reasons, which can be summed up in one phrase: traditional communitarianism. Their support for the man merely manifests their “Druzeness” and has nothing to do with social, economic or political preferences. Anyways, the same can be said of most of the common Lebanese folk to some degree or another – except with Hizballah, which I will get to in a moment.
Going back to the elite counter-elite competition though, you could easily place Hizballah as a counter-elite. The traditionally powerful Shi’ite families are the Khalils the Asa’ads, the Hamades and many more. Hizballah has used its religious legitimacy and the endless amount of resources it gets from Iran to undercut the support that these families would otherwise have received from the Shi’a population. The alliance between General Aoun and Hizballah, when seen through this prism, is actually pretty natural. Aoun sees himself as a common man, and despises the traditional Christian elite (including the Maronite Patriarch, who he perceives as a rival). Ever since his return to Lebanon , for example, Aoun has called for an overhaul of the Lebanese political class.
Where do I see my self in this particular battle? Well, despite his political choices, alliances (at the local and regional levels), and his obvious flaws, I have always had a soft spot for Gen. Aoun. As for Hizballah, I acknowledge their skills and organizational capacity, however, I cannot but stand against them because of their vision.
- A conflict between two solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict
The first option is a diplomatic track suggested by the Saudis where the Israelis would get full recognition by all Arab states in exchange for returning to the 1967 borders. The second track is what I would call the Tehran track… which essentially implies that there will never be peace unless an agreement involves, and is approved by, Tehran . I have personal doubts regarding the rational capacities of Israel ’s leadership. However, their withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, and Gaza just this past year, at least indicates their awareness of the futility of imposing their will militarily.
Some would argue that these withdrawals as well as the construction of the wall on the West Bank merely conveys that Israel is no longer interested in negotiations, but rather is creating a situation on the ground that it could live with indefinitely. If such were the case, these people argue, then the military activities of Hizballah and the Palestinians would be justifiable because it prevents the Israelis from imposing a settlement as opposed to negotiating a mutually agreeable one.
You see what’s happening here, don’t you? Each side is preparing for the next round of negotiations by doing their utmost to weaken the other in order to secure a stronger position at the table. The Iranians are basically saying, if you leave it to us, we’ll ensure that the Palestinians get a better deal! REALLY? How much of a better deal? And at what price? Will the “better deal” be worth everything the Palestinians and their neighbor to the North are paying? I doubt it. And all that is happening here is a prolonging of the conflict and a trend towards escalation that may lead us to Armageddon.
No, in this case, I am with the Saudis.