Islamic Taoism

[A] surprising adaptation of Islam to Chinese traditions appears in the martial arts that are partly Islamized. Chinese Muslims (the Hui) are aware that they have borrowed their matial art (wushu) from the Han Chinese, but they maintain they have given it a particular form by rejecting certain techniques and adding new ones. Boxing used to be practised or defence but today it serves to maintain health. The forms of combat that are practised have names inspired by Islam. One is chaquan (cha boxing), a form that legend says was developed by a western Muslim called Chamianer or Chamier, who was probably of Uighur origin. The form begins and ends with a Muslim prayr. Another form, xinyiquan (heart and will boxing), which is also called Hui boxing, is performed slowly. It is simlar to bagua, which is based on the eight trigrammic symbols of Taoism. Among the weapons used in this martial art, besides traditional Chinese weapons – sabre, sword, stick, lance, knife – there is the whip, which belongs to the world of the steppes. This martial art is defined according to Islamic norms. Some forms such as monkey boxing are forbidden (because Islam is opposed to the idea that there is a similarity between man and monkey) and styles alluding to the drunken state (drunken man boxing) for reasons that are easy to guess at. The Hui also refuse to practice some forms that are clearly influenced by Buddhism such as shaolin boxing, but do not reject Taoist forms of boxing, for example T’ai chi chuan and Bagua zhang. In addition they think of these types of boxing as simple physical exercises and not as spiritul disciplines. The Hui also do qigong (breathing and meditation exercises). Originally boxing was practised inside mosques; nowadays it is performed in their courtyards during religious festivals. The martial art is passed on by families of masters who conform to the model of the isnâd, a traditional Muslim chain of authority and kinship. Legend dates Chinese boxing from the time of the prophet Mohammed and relates that he was an expert in the art. The most Islamized form of boxing is called tangpinggong, meaning washpot exercise The pot in question resembles a small watering-can well known among Muslims, who use it to perform their ablutions. The body adopts the shape of this object in the course of the practice; the exercise is not a series of active movements but like qigong, consists of several so-called meditative postures that are used to stimulate energy, or chi. However, the origins of tangpinggong are shrouded in mystery. Surely we must recognize an Islamic version of Taoism in the inner practices of this Muslim form of boxing.

Zarcone, T. 2003. View from Islam, View from the West. Diogenes 50(4): 57

Where I spend my days

I intend to write much more about how the department in which I am enrolled (The War Studies department of King’s College) feeds into the overall production of knowledge for dominant power’s successful policy. But for now this is just to let you know what type of ‘job proposals’ I usually get through my university email:

Afghanistan Brief

The situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating. Although some local military battles are being won and specific projects have made progress, overall, the military presence has been a disaster. It has become apparent that a military approach is unlikely to resolve the conflict. Consequently, it has been proposed that a detailed analysis of the current attitudes, behaviours, communications, sentiments, etc. be conducted so that a new approach can be communicated to the various Afghan audiences. Based loosely on a hearts and minds approach as opposed to a military approach, the central strategy would be to try to win allegiance from as many Afghan groups as possible in a joint programme of development and reconstruction. This type of “Let’s stop fighting and work together” approach is seen by many to be pointless and unworkable, on the basis that messages cannot stop wars. However, an intensive analysis of the motivations and behaviours of the different Afghan audiences might well identify the triggers and levers, which would cause change in the right direction.

The client, a global communications firm, has been asked to write a proposal for conducting this piece of work, and to present this to the UK government (at the highest levels).
We need a report/proposal writer, which can pull together all of the facts, write key elements of the report and edit the final thing into a professional 15 page document.
Date of Work:
End of Work:
14/16 Dec
Next Year:
Availability would be good
Pay will be £150 per day.
Discretion and reliability are required, however, no security clearance is necessary for this project.

Do the math

A recent poll was conducted among the Palestinian refugees of the Nahr el Bared camp (two times refugees that is). When asked which political faction in Lebanon represent best their point of view 40 percent answered Hizbullah, and another 40 percent answered none. On the other hand when asked about which Palestinian faction represent them best, 63.3 percent said no one, and only 11.7 percent said Hamas. Even worse than that, 85 percent of Palestinian two-times refugees think the PLO does not work in “the interest of the people”. And there is much more to discover in the article.

Some cultural considerations behind the exploitation of the Lebanese

Just a quick recap for those who still can’t add things up or are too overwhelmed by the prevailing symbolic and power struggle between two newly-formed factions of the numerous Lebanese turfs. Today, and for a decade or so, we, as in the “Lebanese people”, have been paying for the extravaganza of business-minded policymakers. Today without a president, and with the country in shambles, the Minister of Finance made sure that debt obligations to the local Lebanese banks were paid on time. It does not matter if the State does not pay for the supply of electricity, social security, etc, the most important thing being comforting the banks that they will get their ‘investments’ placed in the Lebanese state back intact and with interest.

Here I want to point out certain cultural implications of this economic and political status-quo. Lebanese are really One People when they are exploited, when they pay taxes that goes to serve the interest of a few bunch who sit calmly and cash in interest hiding behind the idea that the economy will collapse if we don’t do so. In addition to that, Lebanese banks have really very small investments and loans in the Lebanese real economy. But people do put all their money in deposit and savings account. The Lebanese are doubly exploited: Through the money they put in Banks, and through the money they pay to the State none of which goes to pay for the provision of public goods or fueling the economy.

But how come this is so? How does this double-theft process happen? Because the Lebanese do not have a working self-empowering concept of what the Public is. The State can mistreat this notion at will through its daily practices but nobody will lift a finger because in practice there is not really a State, and no public policy per se. In practice, there are factions confessional-tribal-cartelized groups of interests themselves locked in their projected differences.

But the concept of “Lebanese” is only invoked when it is time to pay. In effect, the confessional system is the primary mover of this schizophrenic attitude, it calls upon you to pay your obligations to your State (taxes etc.), while at the same time escapes from providing you with not even a modicum of social security, stability. In this case, you’re used to go to your lord (some confessional/tribal/feudal instance). And if you don’t have one, then you feel inexplicably miserable. You don’t know why it is the case, how come you are so oppressed and you don’t know where oppression comes. Because we took away from you the concept needed to join the right pieces of the puzzle, or simply, it was never developed, nurtured in practice. This concept revolves around some sort of social justice coupled with non-sectarian mobilization. Even if you understand certain things such as how the politicians are corrupt and are exploiting you etc, it does not mean you can act upon it and change the status quo. Does this make you feel any closer to the ‘other Lebanese’. Of course not something lacks here. Something you never lived. Some thing called Public culture. In the meantime you rejoice yourself with fake revolutions (like the one dubbed the cedar appropriately enough, another empty concept) that are actually hate tracts instigated by your ever-shifting elite.

When it comes to make the State function for the provision of the public good, the “Lebanese” frame unfortunately breaks down, in your social encounters you are a Christian, a Muslim. Or a rich Christian, or a rich Muslim or a poor Christian begging rich Christians etc, this is how you get your social security. In this case, you never ask yourself why am I not “Lebanese”.

The confessional system exacerbates economic exploitation because it breaks down any possibility to conceptualize a genuine collective expression, except in the negative sense. So you are left off with paying, hating (the other, the Syrian for example, or simply the other “Lebanese”) and blaming those who do not respect your projected ideal of “nationhood” when you can’t even apply it to yourself.

For the record

There is something sad in this picture. See the guy behind Lahoud to the right? I know this guy. I don’t know his name, but I remember a couple of years ago, when Lahoud came often to this club (if not daily) to take a swim, I used to see him next to the swimming pool roaming around him, and from time to time divert his trajectory and pass through the various women that were sun bathing. Usually he would sit next to Lahoud and whisper in his ear some (I would guess) casual story of the day, and Lahoud, a hand holding his chin, would gently nod with a little smile. Who is this guy? I think he is the guy who kept a link between the highly misanthropic Lahoud and segments of the Christian influentials. I say segments because there was always one part of the Christian constituency, Lahoud would not be able to win over as he was aligned with the Syrians. But Lahoud’s character made it even worse as even those who weren’t die-hard anti-syrians or fiery right-wingers became so ‘anti-Lahoud’ that there was no possibilities for bridging. In a sense Christian elites have historically known a very sad legacy that ended up drawing them more and more towards the cheap petty mercantile interests of the Gulf.

But I am going too far, and I’ll go back to my initial point. For a lot, Lahoud was not a lovable creature. Nobody used to see him, he would rarely talk, and if he talked, it usually was to make these automated quasi-military speeches, where you would think he is exercising his facial muscles more than anything else. His first arrival to power was really greeted ‘with hope’. “He’s going to lift our head up”, people used to say, at least in Christian neighborhood. Plus he has a nice face, a good stature, people just loved him. And then nothing. Swimming and swimming and occasionally acting very pompous. People like glamor and sensational actions, at the very least, the business type. Energetic, successful, rich etc. the Hariri type. In direct opposition to that, Lahoud stays in his presidential palace, looks somber, does not make any public appearance. But Lahoud works like an ant. And that nobody knows it. Lahoud swims everyday, but Lahoud’s day starts at 5h00 in the morning. More importantly, this guy reinforced the very shattered links between the Lebanese groups that were totally alienated by Christian rule and the latter, such as Hizbullah. Indeed, one of the reasons why Hizbullah got more ‘moderate’ or less ‘paranoid’ was because of dudes like Lahoud. Or take the evolution of the army (not its strength in battle of course but its relation with other security institutions, and Hizbullah for example.

Of course I’m not saying it is thanks to him as a person, but it is thanks to his placement in this institutional position, and how this made a lot of people coalesce to work in this direction. There is a lot to be said about both of his mandate but my point is that Lahoud never blocked or initiated something that ended being detrimental to the stability of this country. Now that is already quite an achievement judging from the political pedigree of other political actors that are unfortunately staying for some time to come, and judging from the quasi-doomed institutional partitioned and confessional system in which this state continues to swim.

We think that ‘peace’, ‘stability’, is the natural order of things, and that hard serious political work starts really when there is a conflict or a war. This thinking derives from the fact that there is some kind of right to it, and so we should get it ‘naturally’, we take it for granted. Also, because nobody writes about the daily life of peaceful times people focus on moments of tensions. Nobody writes about the infinite numbers of social/political interaction constantly taking place that keeps people close to each other, or the policies and procedures carried on to that effect. But people should know better that peace and stability are hard won, they are the fruit of difficult processes of coordination and cooperation, of bridging gaps and sensitivities, of making both ends meet while preserving dignity for everyone. You will never hear of the people who really work in this direction in Lebanon. In general, they don’t appear much and when they do, they don’t ‘flash their badges’. But this work is a full time job in Lebanon. And there are few candidates!

Before the concept of Independence!

As some of you know, today is ‘independence day’ for what came to be called the “Lebanese”. This time I won’t bother you with my sentences. I’ll just translate Ziad Rahbani’s column that sums well my point of view (bear in mind that the joke is made in the Arabic language and that the gist is completely lost, but the idea I want to arrive at is fortunately not, so yes I prove again that I am desperately boring):

– Ok but before the Israeli planes, dad, who was violating Lebanese airspace?
– Nobody was violating it.
– You mean that our sky was free and clean?
– no, it was not our sky
– How come?
– It was the British planes violating Syrian airspace
– What has Syria got to do with it?
– Son, do you at least know that today is independence day?
– Yes I know
– Fair enough, but apart from that, it does not seem you know much.
– What do you mean?
– Because before this celebration day, we were at rest from all the meanings of independence and from its skies, and from the violation of our sky by Israel, and the skies of the school I send you to, and from your sky! Do you understand my son?!

On clerical power in Lebanon

Reading the Lebanese press involve the discovery of many fascinating things and we are all most familiar with this. But one of them is the recurrence of stories stating that this or that politician had a meeting with this or that religious instance. Lately, I have in mind the various patriach-ical initiatives supposed to come up with lists of names for the presidency. These activities spark a number of visits, declarations, letters, etc to the Maronite clerics either to be in their grace or to criticize a specific move.

If we step back for a moment and try to think about this, you may agree that it is kind of weird. How come all these virtuoso politicians that have been through so much history, how come all the diplomatic initiatives involved from west to east cannot solve a problem that a few monks living a somewhat ascetic life in Bkerke can? You’ll tell me, this is the confessional system, the respect of religious authority, the legitimacy they inspire, etc But I would say these are vague answers at best. I am pretty damn sure that most politicians do not have transcendental respect for the views of the clerics, and even if there are some that do, why is it that everyone including Aoun who claim to ‘reject confessionalism’ find it necessary to ‘play by the rules’? Also if “it is the confessional system”, what type of actual power these dudes have? The confessional system distributes power among sectarian elites but that are not clerics. Except for Hizbullah who has an overtly clerical leadership and although their political actors (parliamentary members, ministers, etc.) are non-clerical, there are no religious figure who possess official institutional political power. If I’m not mistaken, this is not a constitutional rule, but still in reality there are no instances of political clerical leadership within the confines of the Lebanese state.

So why do politicians still ‘play by the rules’? For the obvious and apparently silly reason that they have to. Because on the level of formulating political arguments you cannot escape sectarian discourse, and given that sectarian discourse is mostly framed by clerical elites then political actors go through this ritual of respect. This leads me to ask the following questions:

1- What type of power is invested in clerical actors? What are we looking at here? Economic assets, land ownership, capital? Security structures, military assets? The capturing of institutional facilities, legal credentials? Symbolic power to name, to influence the terms of speech, of consciousness (what is said, thought, expressed)?
2- How does all this constrain political actors and the people at large in their social practices?
3- What are the forms of resistance to this authority (if any) that emanate not only from the people but from the leaders themselves?
4- What is then the room for discursively defined non-sectarian politics in Lebanon?

A couple of remarks though: The clerics don’t have just any type of power. Their leverage capacities are limited in many instances. So one should try to point out the sphere of their actual reign. For the most part, I would suggest looking at certain social aspect of their dominance through

  • Legal/Economic power: The various ceremonies rituals etc. that manage people’s life for example are all in the hands of clerics. Birth, marriage, Death, certain types of inheritance procedures.
  • Symbolic power: the hegemonic confessional discourse. If you are Lebanese you cannot but define yourself in terms of the sect you were told by the various ‘references’ (family, school, state institutions)
  • This leads me to another point which is that the various non-religious institutions in Lebanon are dependent on the clerics. the exact type of this dependence is still not clear. But suffice it to say for now that it is as if everybody works for the clerics from the day you are born till the day you die.
  • The power to discipline the body through rituals, the use of objects, sexual practices, etc.

More on this later. First, your thoughts.

Terrorism and Democracy

I was watching the Battle of Algiers, a film on the Algerian resistance against the French occupation made in 1966, only four years after the actual declaration of independence of the country. A film most of you have probably seen or heard of but was completely unknown to me until yesterday!

Beyond the fact that the movie has many great subtleties at the level of its images, screenplay, etc I just want to point out from this film one underlying penetrating question that stayed on my mind. After the arrival of the “Colonel Mathieu” who is sent to destroy the terrorists FLN (Front de Libération Nationale) and the start of the “interrogation” that is a facade word for torture in order to extirpate information from any suspiciously looking Arab, there is a very interesting dynamic at play that the authors (possibly not voluntarily) put in image. The film shows in a very raw and powerful manner how the world (here the UN) sat silently while thousands of people were tortured in order to dismantle the FLN:

The eyewitness reports and recently published documents leave no doubt about the brutality, extent and systematic use of torture in Algeria. Part of the daily practice included mass rapes, submerging victims in freezing water or excrement, and repeated use of electric shocks. Even in the Algerian hinterland where there was no electricity, electric shock torture was carried out using the so-called ” Gégène“, utilising the pedal-powered generation system used for the radio stations.

So to go back to the film, the Colonel holds a press conference after we learn that one of the leaders of the FLN have committed suicide in his cell. After several questions prodding indirectly the practices of the military, one journalist decides to directly ask about torture. And the colonel stops him short by saying that he and his military institution are no ‘fascist’, “a bunch of us fought in the resistance against the nazis” he says by adding something like “we are designed to fight and win, once YOU have decided that Algeria should be to France”. The directors of this movie are verbalizing the idea that the army was actually imprisoned of French politicking, and was kind of ‘doing its job’. But there is something much more important to this event, especially when you view it in light of the half a century that passed since then.

Beyond the French policies of the time, it is the French people and their ‘voices’, the intellectuals, the press, and others that are targeted here. Of course I don’t think the directors of the movie tried to make a value judgment imparting full responsibility on either the army or citizens or whoever. And I personally think we would miss in this way the real lesson learned from this very contemporary movie. I think there is a lesson to be learned in the age of mass-mobilization politics. What’s important here is that there is a kind of symbiotic relationship between ‘terrorism’ and ‘democratic’ politics. People have probably written about this before, and no time here to refer and elaborate (but please advise if you’ve seen something written about it) but terrorism is kind of a by-product of democratic politics. Terrorism takes very seriously that it is the people at the end of the day – “in this day and age” – that are structurally linked to the decision taken to exploit, colonize, etc. other people.

But why are we horrified when civilians get killed etc. when most of the time it is civilian pressures that end up extracting political decisions? Of course we all know that when militants hit civilian targets, when they want to create “terror” it is exactly for that, to extract political gain. I just want to stress the fact that although this happens people are still horrified by militants not restricting their targets to military infrastructure. And beyond the fact that ‘terror’ is also practiced by the powerful to extract political gains or just for revenge (for example the Israeli in Lebanon in summer 2006), when we look at terrorist acts arising from an oppressive colonialist situation in this age of democratic politics, people cannot stand horrified at these practices, turning a blind eye at how decision-makers are actually representing them.

In western societies, people take pride in their revolutions, their ‘rule by the people’, the concept of democratic citizen etc. when it actually suits them. The revolutionary narrative (in America or France for example) is either a long gone metaphor that keeps the public at large self-imbued, satisfied by their ‘rights’ gained etc, or just a nationalist idiom that help create a collective imaginary. But when it comes to actual ‘dirty work’ on the ground performed by their military, there is some kind of disjunction. They are not linked to it. It is not them giving the orders. Structurally though it is. Actually the modern state and its democratic/capitalist practices permits this decentralization to the fullest. There is a fantasy in which the population of a country live in that is kept alive by the very institutions they glorify. But more on this later.

Lebanese advisers to the US senate

Hey Abu Muqawama I took this from your blog. Because a point must be made. See the US does not need anymore home-grown policy advisers, they come all the way from Lebanon to offer their services.

Emile Hokayem (a Lebanese Expert on the Middle East) gives advice to the US senate not to engage Syria before taking into considerations a few things:

In examining whether the US should engage Syria, the Senate should consider why Syria has failed to cooperate with every attempt to obtain Syrian cooperation on Lebanon— some of which have offered attractive incentives. Saudi Arabia and other Arab states offered Syria reintegration into the Arab fold and much-needed investments; France has promised “spectacular returns” in exchange for a hands-off approach to Lebanon; the European Union has offered economic assistance and cooperation; and countless European officials have promised to support re-launching the peace process with Israel.

Damascus has rebuffed all offers because it is still hoping for a complete reversal of fortunes in Lebanon. One needs only to look at the delighted reaction of the Syrian leadership following the visits of American congressional delegations and European foreign ministers over the last year, or invitations to participate in Arab League meetings, and the utter lack of Syrian responsiveness afterwards.

So don’t engage Syria because these people are fickle!! It is important to bear in mind that when you advise the US on future policy course you must not at all include in your analysis of the politics of the region the actual US foreign policy approach that is already on the ground and how that could possibly influence state (or non-state) actors on the ground. This is a rule Emile diligently respect. Syria ‘behaves this way’ not because it perceives a threat (say US expansive military strategies in the Middle East, or US plans to change the regime, or complete Arab-state alliance with the US, etc.) but simply because the FINALITY, the ESSENCE of Syria’s foreign policy is to control Lebanon. This tautological argument (that there is no other rationale to control Lebanon but to control Lebanon) has erased all real and rigorous considerations of Syrian strategy-making in its region.

And here the ideological creeps in more visibly (my emphases):

The logic of unconditional reengagement carries other risks and costs that its proponents dismiss too easily. US engagement without Syrian concessions on Lebanon will hurt further US credibility in the region, jeopardize multilateral processes, alienate Arab allies worried about Syria’s alignment with Iran, and comfort Syria’s image as a tough resister that can force the United States to come to terms on Syrian terms.

Unconditionally reengaging Syria is tantamount to subordinating the sovereignty and future of Lebanon to the fortunes of the peace process, Syria’s cooperation on Iraq, or the fluctuations in the Persian Gulf, and this is after more than a million people turned out in the center of Beirut on March 14, 2005 to peacefully demand and obtain the end of Syria’s hegemony over Lebanon.

Emile is concerned about US credibility in the region. Emile is also concerned about Arabs getting more scared of Iran. See the real problem in the Middle East is the ‘rogue’ behavior of Syria and Iran. How best can you internalize dominant discourse? But also and this is the weakest part of his argument, how on earth if you engage Syria and find a constructive (of course assuming you dropped the idea that Syria has an ontological irrational drive to eat Lebanon) solution will this alienate other ‘Arabs’? Since when compromise and solution alienate?

But see here is the trick: there are “more than a million of people” that screamed ‘Syria out’ on March 14. These guys primordial worry is that the US show ethical integrity to them and only them. And the only thing Lebanese care about is not that the US show some military restraint, find lasting peace, stabilize, stop its warmongering activities (that in a way may probably change Syrian policy but that is not even taken into consideration as I explained above).

No the US must help in taming Lebanese paranoia vis-a-vis the Syrians, and restore our dignity (narrowly defined). You can continue doing your stuff in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine (and soon enough in Iran and Pakistan), but at the very least save your face in Lebanon, because we in Lebanon esteem your efforts.

This is why dissociating Syria’s foreign affairs from its obligations towards Lebanon is a serious mistake. It is ironical but only fair for Lebanon to constrain Syria’s policy options after Syria did so for so long.

Now this is expertise! And look how convincing! Did you notice what is the ideological charge in this argument? Please refer to previous posts on the moralistic in reasoning. Practical advice (constructive advice for the resolution of conflict) is based on the subjective idea of fairness, what ‘Lebanon’ whoever that is thinks is fair), meaning the abstract idea of a Lebanese nationalism. Forget about what the other half of the country think it is ‘fair’ for example (Hizbullah).

Now of course towards the end, Emile clumsily integrate all this in an overarching diplomatic argumentative twist. The idea is to propose a resumption of talks for a possible peace negotiation with Israel, stopping the Syria Accountability Act, etc. All that is beautiful (and certainly nice in wonderland), but if one cannot point out from the beginning the dynamics of Syrian foreign policy, which would involve not reading them from a Lebanese persecuted perspective, then I don’t think one can arrive at any piece of advice to be given to the US. And this my take on the subject: Any advice to the US government must include a full critique of current US foreign policy in the whole of the Middle East and beyond. Syria calculates according to that, nothing more nothing less. Follow the big fish.

Emile, I think I remember now that we were in the same class at school (I just checked your picture on google, amidst the ‘research fellowships’ you have accumulated, and yes it is certainly you). What a long way we have come to, you advising the Americans on tightening the screws on the Syrians, and me… well me… not much for now…

The moralistic way we inquire about things

In a very Nietzschean fashion, Asad deconstruct our quest to understand suicide bombing in this most penetrating passage:

So how unique is suicide bombing? If it is special – and I believe that in a sense it is – this is not because of the motives involved. Intentions may be validly deduced from actions in the sense that they define the primary shape of the action (the agent deliberately kills himself together with others, and that is what makes it a particular kind of action), but motives are to be distinguished from causes, because we speak of motives when we demand an explanation in terms of reasons: “Why did he do it?” Not everything that is done has a motive, by which I mean that we ask for an explanation in terms of motive only when we are suspicious of what the action means. We are not satisfied with “He did it because he wanted to kill others (whom he regards as his enemies) by killing himself.” We ask: Why? – and assume that there is something bizarre about the action. But motives themselves are rarely lucid, always invested with emotions, and their description can be contested. They may not be clear even to the actor. Most important, explanations in terms of motives depend on typologies of action that are conventionally recognized and to which individuation is central: for example, by the judicial system that determines (by using one or other psychological theory) guilt and innocence, or by theologies of salvation that trace the origin and consequence of sin, or by a secular theory of the unconscious that claims to make us understand our perplexed unhappinesses. The uniqueness of suicide bombing resides, I think, elsewhere. It resides, one might say, not in its essence but in its contingent circumstance. (Asad 2007, p63-64, my emphases)

"the other" is like me!

Check this Jewish guy discovering that “Hizbullah people” did not feel like barbecuing him when they discovered he’s “a Cohen” (thanks Emily). Notice how simplistic and naive his existential questions are. It is always with great childishness and innocence that we discover that most of what we believe are creations of the authority that ‘raised us’, because the internalization of these views are done in such an infantile way, that their demystification requires a jump in past processes. Freud called this ‘regressive states’.

Another face of Christian culture in modern Lebanon

Loubnanouna has just celebrated its first year anniversary, and al-akhbar had a story summarizing their views on what the political system in Lebanon should be like (federalism, decentralization, etc.). It is interesting to see that Loubnanouna has come a long way in terms of refining their ideas. I don’t want to jump to hasty conclusion and I need to understand better the movement, but now “pluralism” seems to be the golden word taming the less popular term “federalism”. Or let’s say that federalism is called for because of pluralistic principles. So because we respect ‘the other’ we should draw clear boundaries. It is kind of ironic when one knows that it is because one hates the other, looks down upon the other, that the question of separation arises.

But anyway I don’t want to go into that, I just want to say that Loubnanouna whether people like it or not is here to stay. And I’m talking to the new generations that are going to live side by side the people that are slowly going to group around this entity. The only merit Loubnanouna has is at it says loudly and proudly that it wants a federal system. This in itself is a legitimation political mechanism. It makes it acceptable, because arguable out on the open, in the “public sphere”. And so the more time passes, the more the party is going to refine his ideas, and these ideas (like any ideas you refine) will just make perfect sense. Of course, on a practical level, federalism under the present political and social local and regional circumstances, and given the state institutions and economic structures we have is totally nonviable (this can be discussed separately) and probably destructive. It is suicide. But this will not stop people from wanting it.

So all I can say for those who don’t want to see this reality happening, is pray. Pray the hell out of your gods and icons. Pray that those currently in charge in Lebanon fix things durably. Pray that the political system will be made in a way that the desire to have a federal system will be cut at its root. Pray desperately.

N.B.: A question to those who pick the news on the website of Loubnanouna. Why out of all news did you select the moving of the tomb of Toutankhamoun as worthy of appearing between Lebanese related news? I mean I understand the flurry of articles on “Islamism” and other terrorist related affairs, but why this archaeological story? Very weird.

The "Islamic" as outside the "secular"

Check this very interesting passage of Asad’s series of lecture on suicide bombing:

…however reprehensible it was to liberals, the violence of Marxists and nationalists was understandable in terms of progressive, secular history. The violence of Islamic groups, on the other hand, is incomprehensible to many precisely because it is not embedded in a historical narrative – history in the “proper” sense. As the violence of what is often referred to as a totalitarian religious tradition hostile to democratic politics, it is seen to be irrational as well as being an international threat. (p.8, emphasis added)

Exactly! What is outrageous about violence discursively defined as “Islamic” is its non-inscription in History, that is in the writing of history by social and political institutions. Leftists, or “progressive” have their place in this history, they can be condemned, but they are pretty much part of it.

The secular discourse has a history. Ex: antiquity, middle ages, renaissance, enlightenment, modernity, etc. These are all historical events injecting the narrative, the story, the plots, that forms the Secular. Even when we read the history of the region labeled as Middle East, the history of Arabs, or Muslim, etc. We read it through these markers (from school years up to history books, etc). The hidden question is then how does the Islamic world fare with regards to the onward march of the secular world?

The secular system is perceived to be an abstract system people strive for, and the Europeans reached it. But in truth, it is overloaded with these historical markers. it is the product of a history. Reifying it this way makes it a political weapon to claim moral superiority and legitimizing coercion. I do appreciate better the historicization of specific conceptions of the political. Marxist, leftist, etc. are part of a euroamerican (as would call it Asad, when he, I assume, wants to avoid the term “western”) history. Things that just pop out of nowhere are bound to be demonized even further. Ok, we know the rest of the story.

But what interest me the most is how did the secular discourse permeate all our understandings of social and political processes (especially locally)? Why today when we talk of ‘religious’ movement, when we think of religion, or the religious, we cannot but think of it, in secular terms? The extraordinary conversion of the planet into “nation-states” with all the related institutions, rule of law, particular use of the written, etc must have something to do with it, and the way some Arabic state lived this change is surely symptomatic of our general conceptualization of what is religious. The modern subject is allergic to the religious not because of what came to called religious movements as such but because of what he thinks the religious is (that plugs back into his perception of these movements), and so what the secular is. Because of what he thinks “belief” is, or private/public life is etc. The whole repertoire of concepts that entail the secular/religious division paradigm have to be unearthed, in order to focus better on the actual practices any type of movement engage in and how they are conducive to social or political change.

Faces of Christian culture in modern Lebanon

I hope that one day we will have a detailed historical and social account of the rise of a chauvinistic culture among the Christian constituency of this newly created state of Lebanon. It mustn’t stay in the generalities, like ok they were rich and all (because that is not accurate at all) or privileged, but it will have to really go deep into an analysis of their changing lifestyles, educational patterns, different placement in the economy, material and spiritual expectation, the dynamics of colonial and post-colonial influence etc. But until then, and for fear of repeating myself I will continue pounding in this direction.

So in another post away from this blog, I quoted this Lebanese Parliamentary member’s very luminous political convictions. I thought that was it, but I don’t know why his words got stuck in my mind for a couple of days. As it was part of a nice article written in French and published in L’Orient le jour on the lifestyles of the parliamentary members that were locked in the Phoenicia hotel and because I wanted to comment further on these words, I translated the haunting passage:

From his first [Bassam Chab] words we understand that he is against all type of compromise, “because it could be the prelude of the end of Lebanon”, he thinks. “There should be no concession in our decisions because we are not waging a political war, but a battle against an ideology that refuses to be in phase with its epoch, an ideology that will sink the country in the darkness of the Middle Ages and ring the tocsin of a free and modern Lebanon. We are struggling with a system of the past that is fanatic and mediocre; against a foreign culture that has nothing in common with our cultural heritage.” Chab even refutes the principle of “neither winner nor a loser”. “Either I am a winner and I live like a free man or I am a loser and I leave this country. A country where it is enough for a person to put on a robe to crown God and decide to humiliate me in public [too bad I can’t translate the word he uses here: gémonies] because I drink alcohol or because I am Christian. I want a definitive solution to the Lebanese problem. I don’t want to see my kids to live what I am living now. They (Hizbullah) liberated the south? So what? The Communists have fought the Nazis, but this is not a reason to accept a system that has violated human rights and has been responsible for 10 million death.”

Ok breath in slowly, and breath out even slower…

See, every single word, clusters of words, are a sign of so much prejudice and ideological content. I won’t even mention the style in which this paragraph was written (the particular French syntax), but this betrays the practices of two agents, the journalist and the deputy. Instead of commenting lengthfully on each, I am going to list a number of points that comes out of this paragraph:

1- The ‘Middle Ages’ metaphor (imported from the West) to symbolize ‘backwardness’. The other is the enemy and the enemy is inferior. (Post-Colonial rhetoric of social difference)
2- We have a ‘cultural’ heritage, ‘the other’ does not. Superiority is always established through symbolic struggle, the power to name or to set the terms of speech (Sahebna Bourdieu)
3- Demonization of the enemy through the ideological. Hizbullah is like “Communism” (the idea) because on the ground, Communist was ‘responsible for so and so’, so Hizbullah must surely be the same thing, no need to judge Hizbullah on the ground. The alcohol example goes in line with this type of reasoning. (Shrikna Zizek).
4- The idea that ‘we don’t compromise’, patriotism is either I win everything or I get out. What follows from 1 to 4, is a chauvinism and a complex of superiority that precludes the possibility to negotiate, to engage ‘the other’, the other has been abstracted as an idea. In turn this signals no real capacity for diplomacy and engagement.


Look at this guy… Why does he need to look so ugly? the Islamist type is serving as template to symbolize militias! This is part of a campaign (surely Leo Burnet and the billboards provided by Picasso), to ‘build’ some kind of ‘awareness’ about the fact that the different Lebanese factions are arming themselves and are getting ready to play the civil war game again (le3bet el dama to refer to the famous sketch played by Ziad Rahbani and Jean Chamoun on Saout el Shaab Radio in the mid seventies right after the Syrian entered to help the Christian factions).

There is something completely surreal in the visual effect of this billboard. I’m still trying to work out the social dynamics of it, but one thing is sure advertising companies in Lebanon have for a while became a third (after the State and the Confesssional/sectarian) disciplinary institution, but in this case a very perverse one: As its moral program does not have any ‘practical’ implication (it does not change in any way the lives of people, their habits, dispositions, etc.) its materially empty discursive production can at best create schizophrenic attitudes among people (something to be observed in itself).

Here is the article from which this picture is taken from, a set of rumors and investigations on the different re-armings of the Lebanese population from loyalist and opposition side in the Iklim al Kharoub region. Basically, according to the various people the journalist interviewed in these villages, Hariri partisans are getting training through private security and organizations while Hizbullah is said to create a parallel military apparatus for internal conflict purposes.

By the way, talking of Rahbani and Chamoun’s sketches, please check this most funny passage illustrating a conversation taking place on a plane coming back to Beirut from the US (again mid-70s after the Syrian entry). So many things in this conversation… some things remain unchanged.

Inscribing the political in the body: A tentative Lebanese case

Please read this article in full. It is just excellent. Every idea, every answer is just full of interesting cultural stereotypes and social urges. I am still trying to know who wrote it (it was published in the Daily Star and taken from Agence France Press) because the wit is good, although some questions are still left unanswered (why Geagea, and why Bashar? And why not Nasrallah?). It is an interesting mix of Christian-Sunni political culture with traditional bekaa-grounded divisions at stake that we probably have here. But still, the way the re-appropriation of ‘nationalist’ symbols is done can be sometimes so fascinating. My only open question is, how did it all add up in this father’s head? If one can find an answer to that, then he may have found the best ideologue for a Lebanese nationalism (although he still need to fit in a couple of Shi’a figures). And yet…

QABB ELIAS: Lebanese Christian leaders Samir Geagea and Michel Aoun may be at each other’s throats politically, but their namesakes in the Okla family get along like a house on fire.

Mazyad Ibrahim Okla, a farmer in the Bekaa village of Qabb Elias, 50 kilometers, east of Beirut has named his five sons Aoun, Geagea, Chirac, Lahoud and even Bashar after Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Now another baby is on the way, and Okla is impatient for the election of a new Lebanese president so he can give that name to the child if it is a boy.

Each child’s birth has coincided with a major political event.

“Aoun was born in 1990 at the end of the Civil War and general Aoun was a hero,” said 48-year-old Okla, who has also fathered four girls.

A visit by former French President Jacques Chirac to Lebanon in 1996 prompted him to name a son after the former French president, who does not remotely resemble the gap-toothed olive-skinned boy.

“France is our best friend, and Chirac was Hariri’s friend,” he said of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri whose assassination prompted this devoted loyalist to name a daughter “Irhab.” The word means terrorism in Arabic.

“My wife gave birth 10 days after the assassination. If it had been a boy I would have called him Hariri.”

Okla does not regret naming his plump-cheeked blond-haired 2-year-old “terrorism” even though it may raise the ire of feminists and women’s rights groups.

“I want everyone to ask her what her name means when she grows up, so she can tell them about dear Hariri,” the proud father said of the slain anti-Syrian five-time premier.

Of his sons, Lahoud – named after the incumbent President Emile Lahoud – is teased the most at school.

According to his sister Waad, the eldest child who cares for her siblings when their parents are working on the farm, Lahoud came home one day from school and was crying.

When she asked him what was wrong, he replied: “Everybody tells me my days are numbered. Why is something bad happening to me?”

As Waad tells the story, Geagea goes off to milk the cows in the barn and Aoun who is 2 years older goes to help him by holding the pump. Little Bashar hides behind milk churn, and shyly looks on.

Aoun says he wants to follow in the footsteps of the head of the Free Patriotic Movement and join the army or the police, while Geagea – who is the best student among them all – wants to become a fighter pilot.

With another baby due soon, the Okla family plans to name the new arrival after the next president. But the politically divided country has been unable to choose a new head of state because of ongoing disagreements between the anti-Syrian majority and the Hizbullah-led opposition. If the new arrival is a girl, therefore, she will be called “Salam” which means peace in Arabic.

Okla and his wife Hammama, Sunni Muslims, plan to have “as many kids as God wants” and say they will continue naming them after politicians.

With a Chirac and an Assad already in the family, another “foreigner” being accepted into the fold cannot be ruled out.

But asked whether they would name any new children after President George W. Bush or his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, both shake their heads emphatically and shout “la, la!” – “no!” in Arabic.

“Only after the French, because they really like us,” Mazyad adds.