Sunday, October 14, 2007

Lebanon without the Shiites

By Joseph El-Khoury

Just imagine that great place. The Switzerland of the Middle-East with rolling hills, beaches, a liberal society with a service based economy, a vibrant nightlife and round the clock feasting…even during Ramadan. A prosperous oasis isolated from the barbaric hordes surrounding it from all sides and oblivious to the millennium old conflicts plaguing its neighbours. This sounds absurd, but seems to be the unconsciously or consciously held belief of many in the pro-March 14 camps or should we say the Sunni-Druze-some Christians alliance.

This myth is not new. The Shiites of today are the Palestinians of yesterday, who incidentally still play an important role as a scapegoat for all Lebanese whatever their allegiance. A Lebanon free of a section of the Lebanese; the troublemakers, the poor, the radicals, the unfashionable, in brief the ones who have no place in our idealized constructs was dreamt by many in the pre-independence era and developed into a strategic plan by a few during the Civil War. These would still speak of a Lebanon of 10452km ….not of a Lebanon of 4 millions or so, as if the land was more important than the people. The chosen ones to make the decision were clearly identified as self-styled ‘Real Lebanese’. The issue of who deserved to inhabit and shape this Lebanon was more contentious. Unfortunately today the empty rhetoric continues. Would an Iranian styled Islamic Republic of Lebanon still be worthy of our patriotic enthusiasm? Or would a federal state make us a lesser country? These questions are rarely debated in serious forums and are drowned in the sea of nationalist propaganda and counter-propaganda promising us no less than the impossible: A country and a society that looks, feels and talks like us and only us. Not the neighbour down the road or the compatriot with whom we share only our stubbornness and determination not to pack and leave. There is no agreement on what type of Lebanon we want if we want one at all, and there shouldn’t be. There is nothing uglier than a homogeneous and content society free of debates, discussions and disagreements. Do all French, Americans and Brits share one vision for their respective countries. Surely not! What they all agree on are the democratic rules of the political game and the limitations they impose on themselves in promoting their views. A similar pact could bring back Lebanon from the brink of disaster.


Maysaloon said...

To be honest I've lost faith in democracy years ago as a system of government. Something like that would be a catastrophe in our regions and perhaps what we need is a Singapore style benevolent dictator. Anything less and we'll be at each others throats. The French, Americans and Brits don't have it because they have some inherent capability to adopt democracy, it is because the systems of state control and manipulation are much more subtle and sophisticated than what we have in our region. Couple this with a complacent and consumer population and it is easy to see why we think they have democracy ,when in fact, they practice it in a way that they deserve to lose it (As Rousseau once said of the British).

Arab Democracy said...

Democracy is useless when coupled with ignorance or a frankly individualistic society.I am not suggesting that the system adopted in the west is ideal or even fair but it is undoubtedly better than what we have in the Middle East. You cannot compare post 1789 and 1848 Europe to the days of absolute monarchy. One person cannot be entrusted with the fate of millions without a system of checks and balances whether he is enlightened or a tyrant. And I dont see many enlightened dictators in the neighborhood.


Anonymous said...

The title could be changed as it doesn't reflect the true content of the article but a particular example of those people sigled out as trouble makers by neo/classical lebanese right wing rhetoric, traditionally Maronite but now more of a Sunni thing with the Druze being the leading propagandists (personally i prefer to avoid generalizations and sectarian language, but it was used by the blogger).
A few things are worth saying though. The problem with the view embraced by
March 14ists is that it dates back to a far past, which in turn is only imaginary as lebanese people have these illusions about switzerland and stuff..
The point is that neither was lebanon that prosperous at anytime, nor are shiites "the poor, the radicals, the unfashinable".. What should be tackled, I think, is not the classict-discreminatory view latent in the approach, but how far from reality it is. It seems more efficient to speak of numbers, indicative of "bitter" facts, than to point out moral defects in others' understanding.. especially in the country of uneffaced stereotypes.

To be able to build a sound and healthy - not to say sane - society, we have to
know more about it. Everyone in Lebanon is equally suffering from poverty,
thinking of migration and afraid that another civil (or uncivil) war will come.
The view that sects are still maintaining certain charactestics, whether positive or negative, can only indicate how retarded this understanding is. I would think that this sort of "reasoning" is what prevented us from learning any lesson from the 'civil' war, and keeps us pyschologically prepared for another..
By the way, do the clerics, the chief instigators of the masses on either side, approve of the model of lebanon as dreamt of by march 14ists?

Arab Democracy said...

Thanx for your comment.

I used this title as it is an expression I have heard personally in certain circles over the past few months..not because the Shiites are a particularly oppressed sect. This is to exemplify this 'us and them' mentality that is common among Lebanese of different sects. In my view there is no solution for Lebanon within its sectarian system. Alliances shift and positions change but the result remains a fragmented and tribal society.

Regarding generalizing:Latest polls show that support for Hizbullah runs at around 90% among Shiites while smaller but similar figures are seen on the Sunni side for Hariri. Lets face up to the reality that most Lebanese adopt sectarian political positions even when it goes against their personal values.