Some things in life are quite simple. Their simplicity can range from the self-evident to the easily explainable, but the beauty of these simple things is that their simplicity does not take anything away from their sophistication or even complexity. Let’s take the address of this site, www.arabdemocracy.com, as an example.
The parts (www) and (.com) immediately tell you that I am pointing you to a space on the ‘world wide web’ and that this space or is part of some sort of a non-profit public interest type concept. Simple! Now, the word democracy is also fairly simple. Of course it refers to a very complex concept, but that does not take away from its simplicity. We would all immediately understand that we are talking about a specific political system of government. Furthermore, none of us would really have much trouble recognizing, for instance, that most European countries are democracies and that most Arab countries are not. Simple! Finally, that leaves the word Arab. Arab, which despite referring- like any other identity label- to a very complex set of cultural, historical, geographical and political realities, nonetheless is an easily recognizable term. We can all agree that an Arab is someone who hails from one of the twenty one countries that make the Arab world, who speaks Arabic and who considers themselves a product of a largely Arabic-speaking cultural heritage. We would all realize that this is a blanket operating definition and that there are numerous exceptions to it and nuances within it. Yet, we would not have difficulty reaching consensus around it, such that we can agree to call someone an Arab. Quite simple really.
Being a Lebanese leftist is an equally simple thing! Yes, yes…I know. There are many lefts and various forms of each and…and…and…but its still simple. Here’s the deal: if you are a leftist-or at least if you became a leftist anytime after the late 1800’s- then there are three basic principles you adhere to and they define you as a leftist. You don’t just wake up one day and decide you’re a leftist because you wore a red T-shirt with Che’s picture on it. You also don’t get to deviate fundamentally from these principles and retain your exclusive rights to being a Lebanese, or Arab, leftist. You would display more moral courage to simply do the democratic thing and accept that you are not a leftist anymore!! So what are these three principles? Well, they’re simple really.
First, a Lebanese leftist, like any other leftist, is a historical materialist. This means she believes that history is driven by forces defined chiefly- but not exclusively- by the interaction of the different socio-economic classes of society, and the logic of the distribution of economic power among them. In this context, a Leftist has very few illusions about what she means when she speaks about equality and social justice. Second, a Lebanese leftist is a staunch secularist and a sworn enemy of sectarianism. She does not accept that a sectarian political structure is a necessary evil because “that’s how we Lebanese are” or because “we first have to convert all Lebanese to secularism before we dismantle the sectarian institutions”. This is a deceptive and pathetic excuse. A leftist would generally be intelligent enough to realize that, in fact, it works precisely the other way round! You dismantle the institutions that rob humans of their rights as individual citizens, in order to break the vicious cycle that binds them, like slaves, to the sectarian chieftains. As such a Lebanese leftist knows that she has no business being in an alliance of sectarian factions, regardless of which day in the month of March they happen to prefer! Third, a leftist, in a Lebanese context, has very little confusion about her position on the Arab-Israeli conflict. She has a very clear idea of the history of Israeli aggression against her country and the countries of fellow Arabs. Yet her opposition to Israel is deeper than that still. She understands that this struggle is not simply about one army occupying the country of another. It is also not about the conflict of two ethnic groups or an eternal enmity between two mythologies. Rather, she knows fully well that Israel is an apartheid state and an entity built upon a mixture of self-styled ethnic and religious exclusionary racism, and by a continuing process of genocide and ethnic cleansing.
The bottom line is this: if you decide that a liberal free market economy is “cool”; that secularism is just one option in a multiple choice sectarian question; that a brutal oligarchy you- rightly- bitterly oppose is a greater threat than an enemy whose openly advertised goal is the obliteration of your identity and the destruction of your possible future, then you are not a leftist. Period.
Obviously, you are free to make this choice. Who knows, you might even be right… but you’re certainly not left.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
The Simpler Things in Life
By Bassem Hassan