Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Lebanese Delusion

By Bassem Hassan

Picture:, edited by Arabdemocracy:
In the original version it said: "Explain again your definition of Terrorism?..."

I must admit to a disturbing mix of amusement and resignation at reading the articles appearing recently on this site relating to the latest episode of the permanent crisis that is Lebanon. On the one hand, I find myself amused by the grand-standing, over-poetic and hyper dramatized style- to the point of comedy- of the open letters to this, that or the other leader. On the other hand, I am resigned- no depressed- at the completely off-target content of these said letters and articles.
In some sense the dramatized style and the off-target content are a perfect fit. Not only do they go well together stylistically, they also make sense conceptually. This is because both style and content are symptoms of serious intellectual disorder called- or should be called- the Lebanese Delusion.
The Lebanese Delusion –LD for short- takes many forms. In its most mundane, and relatively harmless, form it manifests itself as a belief that “we the Lebanese” are somehow special, different, superior at the individual level. A slightly more dangerous sub-type of the disorder takes the form of cultural superiority of each and every one of the Lebanese “communities”- a euphemism for religious sects of course- over the others, and consequently over the rest of humanity. However, the most virulent variant of the LD virus is that of pseudo-intellectual recasting of the backwards tribal war that underlies Lebanese politics into some ridiculous fairy tale of ideological struggle.
Ladies and Gentlemen: forgive me if I burst your bubble. The conflict in Lebanon is not an ideological struggle between two different visions for the state, or for Lebanon’s place in the region and the world. It is- as it has always been- a conflict over economic and political power between shifting secterian alliances. No more, no less. The first priority for each political organization in Lebanon is to secure supremacy, or as much of it as possible, within its own sect. The second priority is to secure as great a share as possible of the spoils of the ruins of the state, and the corruption of the socio-economic condition of the citizen. This, the various organizations within each sect do by shifting political alliances with organizations within other sects.
Hard to believe? Disappointing perhaps? Just when you thought that some bigger, more important conceptual issue was at stake. Liberal democracy vs. Islamic fundamentalism. Wouldn’t that be cute for all you 14 Marchers? Or, resistance and national sovereignty vs. subjugation to the American project, for the 8 Marchers among you? But please don’t take my word for it. Go to Lebanon and talk to the people on the street. Ask them what they think is going on. Watch Future TV, Al-Manar or LBC. Listen to the religious leaderships of the various mafias- sorry sects. Attend local functions- weddings, funerals, you name it- in the small towns and villages. Do that, and you will experience the quasi-fascist rationalization for the hate we have for one another first hand.
No, there is nothing grand, ideological or honorable about the Lebanese political scene. It is time for the lot of you to wake up and smell the gun powder. It may cure you from LD. But if that doesn’t do it, hopefully AD will.
Brussels, 20 May 2008.

1 comment:

Arab Democracy said...

I write this Bassem as I am going through the emails congratulating me on the deal passed in Doha.

What a difference a week makes in Lebanese politics.

I, personally, am sceptical. And for the same reasons you mentioned in your article. The Lebanese have a very short memory and will reelect the same leaders again to recreate the same conflict conditions that prevailed over the last 18 months.

There is an urgent need for a new political movement with a secularist agenda and able to reach out to the population. I am not sure how it can emerge at this stage.