Was this a (mini) Civil war?

For those not interested in academic empty quarrels you can skip this post. Our colleague, friend and fellow blogger Abu muqawama, has proposed to call the conflict that is happening in this little slice of land that came to be called Lebanon another civil war. And here, he provides more evidence of that. I think one should wonder why we try to call a war “civil” in the first place. Is it to differentiate it from wars that take place between “armies”? What makes a militia become an army? What’s the sanctifying procedure? Usually classical reasoning would be to say that an army is ‘the regular army’ when it answers to the commandment of the State in place. Here there are so many question that opens up on our way to understand State formation especially in post-colonial divided regions like the Middle East. What’s the difference between Hizbullah’s military structure, other military structures (like those they fought), and the Lebanese army one? What “causes” are each of them defending?

The interesting aspect of what’s going on in this place called Lebanon is the fact that a party is trying to adopt State discourse without really holding State power. A party adopting State-like practices without really claiming to become a State. I’m still astonished as to where Hizbullah think it can go using such method without really controlling the country.

But to go back to our point, calling a war ‘civil’ adds to it another moral (legitimizing) dimension, it hints on the idea that a war is happening between ad-hoc military formations emanating from within the population. This discursive insertion of ‘civil’ takes for granted the idea that there is some sort of an imagined community (here the Lebanese) and that this community is tearing itself apart. Hizbullah actually uses and is constrained by this discourse, the one projecting the existence of a Lebanese community (the one of multi-confessionalism, consociationalism, etc). In the case of the last few days, the party considered itself doing a “cleaning job” that in the end will serve the interest of the State. So it was considered very normal for its media channels (and other opposition medias) to talk about the storming into offices of the Mustaqbal militia, and the collection of weapons as a ‘restoring order’ operation, and relegating the matter to The Law (i.e. the army in this case).

I won’t write more because I promised myself not to make lengthy posts. I will probably re-articulate these (very disarticulated) ideas in other coming posts.

6 Replies to “Was this a (mini) Civil war?”

  1. What ’causes’ ARE they defending? That is such a good, althoug clearly rhetorical, question. I am curious, though, if you have an opinion on hizballah’s priorities- where do shi’a ascendancy,resistance to Israel, and increasing their own power within the lebanese system lie on the priority scale? Do you think there are clear priorities or can you discern any?

  2. I think, to call it ‘civil’ means that the possibility of the community coming out of the war a community is not precluded. We cannot pretend that it means only that the parties are from within the country, since both the opposition and the government claim that the other side is simply playing the role of external parties. But maybe once one of the parties begins demanding autonomy, we begin to have a war of independence and partitions on our hands.

  3. Bech, there is a little irony here in that when the average American thinks of “civil war” he or she thinks of a war — the American Civil War — which was fought by two armies. (Political scientist James Fearon makes this point in his testimony to Senate a few years back about the civil war in Iraq — the average American has a very limited concept of “civil war.”) The English Civil War was fought by two armies as well, as was the Spanish Civil War. The Lebanese and Iraqi civil wars, meanwhile, feature armies but not *exclusively* armies. There are/were militias as well. As for where one draws the line between militias and armies, I imagine its a somewhat arbitrary line but that social scientists have come up with definitions. Have you searched the literature? I just typed “define: militia” into the google machine and came up with all kinds of stuff.

    To give one example, in Iraq, there are two armies on the battlefield: the Iraqi Army and the US Army. There are also a lot of militias. (And things we would call “militias” claiming to be “armies.” JAM, for example.) I think the difference is that an army claims to represent a political entity with defined borders. Does Hizbollah represent such an entity? If so, maybe they’re an army. Either way, I don’t think it matters much. I promise there is no evil Western academic plot to label all you easterners as “militias” while we occidentals get to have armies. 🙂

  4. I think you missed my point Abu Muqawama, and you provided an excellent example that supports my argument.

    The American civil war was not called a civil war at the time it was happening. It got this appellation decades after when the imaginary construction of “the American community” had changed in content. Once the country was under central control (one institution having the means over security), then a war like that, thinking retrospectively, plugging present understandings in past occurrences, made the war a “civil”, a war happening between “the American people”.

    This is why my point was to say that the idea of ‘civil’ precludes the ideological existence of some ‘community’. The “Lebanese people” is a notion still subject to significant discursive elaborations caused by the different security imperatives facing this little chunk of land, and according to the different groups/geographic segments present.

    Now the constant effort at creating this consciousness, this history of collective belonging (the Lebanese) will surely try to elaborate the idea that wars happening on Lebanese ground are “Civil”. But that’s a political action in itself.

    Here of course I put into question both the definitions you provided on your blog that I find too “positivistic” because not address the origins/meaning of the terms used to make up this definition.

    Hopes things are clearer now. And no I never said there was a Western plan or anything like that.

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