From a conversation I had with a relative

–   Yes yes some of the things Hizbullah figures say I understand and can relate to, but other claims just give me the creeps.

–   Like what exactly?

–   Well for example their claim of a ‘divine victory’

–   So? What’s creepy about it?

–   The fact that they want to insert God in everything they do.

–   Maybe because they prayed God that he would give them the strength to fight and vanquish, and once it had happened they attributed this victory to the fulfilment of their prayers.

–   Oh but that’s exactly what’s wrong here. They should be fighting for patriotic reasons. The moving idea should be ‘patriotism’ and not God.

–   But if they are asking God to help them, it is for ‘patriotic reasons’ as they want to defend their land or repel occupation. Besides what’s nobler as an idea patriotism or God?

–  Yeah but that’s not how one should pray. I don’t mix patriotism and God.

–  Don’t you pray at night for your friends and people you love to have a promising future, to stay healthy? To wake up and still be on the same roof? Aren’t they doing the same thing adding to that they are asking God to give them the strength to fight?

–  Yes but I don’t ask God to give me strength, God cannot change things for me, I change them. I only pray when I can’t do anything about things, like when someone has cancer or something.

–  I don’t really understand here. Are you saying that there are certain things one can ask God but not other things? Strength and will, discipline, and perseverance are not things one ask God to give. But magical tricks are such as curing this or that person or creating affluence while staying idle. In reality everything is asked by God according to all religious traditions, you are just restricting your prayers to a very specific set of requests, those that fall in the category of “it is now in God’s hand” no?

–  I don’t know…  we just pray differently…

New moralists, that is what we needed

That is really funny. A Lebanese NGO is filing a lawsuit against Lebanese political leaders for “violating article 317 of the country’s penal code prohibiting incitement of violence”.

The accused include party leaders Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah of Hizbullah, Samir Geagea of the Lebanese Forces, Nabih Berri of Amal, Saad Hariri of the Future Movement, Michel Aoun of the Free Patriotic Movement, Amin Gemayel of the Phalanges and Walid Jumblatt of the Progressive Socialist Party.

Ambitious innit? Most important for me is that it is just absurd and ill-directed. See the reasoning:

“It’s not just about people going to the street and fighting each other,” said Rabab El-Hakim, another CHAML member. “It’s the inner feelings of people toward each other – the hatred between different sects and political parties increases after these speeches.”

I beg to differ with this NGOist. This jump from on one side, practical measures taken to incite violence to, on the other, creating feelings of hatred, is a sweeping step. Looking for “inner feelings” can be very perverse.

First of all, this assumption of ‘provoking’ hatred through a mere verbal statement undermines the capacity of people to think for themselves: if people pay attention to what leaders say it is through a more comprehensive approach to their discourse. People try to make sense of the overall. How it fits into the grander scheme of things through time, albeit through their representation of things. And evidently enough their representations of the others have also to do with their daily practices, their lifestyles etc. Confessional and other divisions in Lebanon are socio-economic. “Hatred” whatever that means has nothing to do with it. It is this urge to moralize the conflict that helps the segregating ‘differentiating’ process between groups.

The real issue at stake is that Nation-building going hand in hand with a process of moralizing, and thus framing notions that may be way more complex in reality. For the ethical nation to strive it needs culprits. Hatred needs to be defined and pointed at: “This is incitement to hatred”. Lawyers are here to back it up. There is a process of deliberation and interpretation in order to decide if this or that means incitement to hatred. Do you realize how vague the quest here is? We are not trying to know who killed or tortured or commanded such operations, but really if the statements made do incite to this vague sentiment called hatred. This is probably one aspect of fascism (or liberalism for that matter).

Do we need to remind ourselves that modernity is built on this constant strive to spell out, define, and categorize “inner feelings”, so to domesticate him better, make him more servile to the ‘rule of law’ to the dictate of the nation-state by the sole use of his own ‘consciousness’? Embrace the modern man.

Christians back at it

Muslims had the upper hand in this, but I guess this Polish priest understood how it works in the age of modernity-print-capitalism-economy.

Reflections on campaigning

Watching the heated start of the legislative elections 2009 campaigning-marketing initiatives I could not refrain myself to remarkzz a couple of points, although quite disarticulated here is a draft for those who are crazy enough to read:

1- Election campaigns have totally new techniques (as I said earlier much better imbued with advertising brand-empowering), away from the cult of the figure, and into the elusive world of concepts. The striking transitive example is Amal that has its own brand empowering (Al Amal Youwahid, Hope unites) along with a logofied picture of Nabih Berri. this kicking in of advertising techniques are really something compared to previous elections in that flooded the country with people’s faces. Portraits should start appearing now, although I am not in Beirut to testify.

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2- Battles occur at the symbolic level where one idea of the nation prevail in reaction to what the other propose. At this level, and without taking actual intentions into consideration (meaning that I don’t care if these guys do ‘mean’ what they say), Hizbullah and Amal’s campaign are unifying symbolically, whereas LF and and Kataeb are reactive border-lining resentfulness. Tayyar campaign is a bit pompous I must say, looking overly confident and it kind of goes well with the projected character of its leader General Aoun (see here for an example). I say projected because it is how he is perceived that counts and because it mirror well with its Christian constituency social practices (Lebanon is the Switzerland of the ME, fashion, pubs etc.)

So in a sense, campaigns are reactionary, and even more so, they stigmatize quite well who is ‘more at ease’ in the perception of his political presence on the Lebanese scene. It also represents quite well the different historical perception of the different confessions of the Lebanese state. Anyway, when Kataeb Insurance-product-like ads (al Barlaman silahouna, the Parliament is our weapon) make a clear allusion to Hizbullah’s weapon, Hizbullah has a rebuttal to Kataeb newcomers (Sami Gemayel and his Loubnanouna, on which I vented), with their “Loubnanoukom, loubnanouna, loubnanouhom” (Your Lebanon, Our Lebanon, Their Lebanon) barred and “loubnan watan wahid li jami’ abna’ihi” (Lebanon, one nation for all its people). The strong is all-embracing, not out of some murky sentimental love mind you but just out of his position of power, while the weak is isolationist and resentful. I did not invent that, the last guy to elegantly conceptualize this timeless fact is Nietzsche with his morality of master and slave.

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3-So the fight is clearly conceptual. But that’s what advertising is all about. And the Lebanese advertising ‘community’ has been working on its slogans for decades now. These are the real nationalists. And its inclusion in the political ethical discourse is rather new in the Lebanese setting. But this goes hand in hand with the idea that TV, newspapers, ads, etc. are the new temples of this ‘religion’ called the Nation. And here friends and relatives, I just look from one angle of what the term religion could actually mean. These media devices are producers of morals, in the Nietzschean sense, they are the protectors of the liberal tradition: the idea that man as an individual is free and a utility-maximizer. This tradition can only exist when is erected through the new moral boundaries in which this freedom is incarcerated: “You’re free but you have to behave this way, consume this or that, be Lebanese, or Palestinian or French, etc.” My point is surely not that man could be free and is enchained once again. My point rather is that the liberal tradition has made people think they could be free in a rather novel way (from previous traditions), to conceptualize freedom as such and really believing that it is a worthy, if not the number one goal to achieve, in order to crystallize even more so the imprisonment of man in the capitalist-eco-technological-commodifying system whatever you want to call it of today.

4- I will glimpse on my last point and think about it for another post. Hizbullah’s biggest competitor on the Lebanese scene is tayyar because it is the only party that people defined confessionally as shi’a takes somewhat seriously. Here competitor can involve a constructive process. It is the challenge of the presence of Tayyar and its popularity throughout its Shi’a constituency, that will push Hizbullah to move more and more away from a politico-religious discourse, here religion means a specific reading of a  socio-historical tradition to a more national-political one. It does not mean that Hizbullah will do away with Islamic idioms, far from it, but this political ‘islamicity’ will develop quite differently (and has already been evolving in different directions for quite some time). I must say that whether you want to call the State “secular”, or “religious” or what have you, the important point that will never change is that the State is here to stay with its projected imaginary sense of a nation. Political slogans such as the liberation of Jerusalem, may well invite for new types of political solidarity pushes, but at best it will facilitate a drive to better regional integration (EU style) more than anything else. Breaking from the boundaries of the nation-state even for movements that emerged at the antipodes of it is going to be quite difficult. it does not mean that all local movements are ‘nationalists’ whatever that may mean. It just means that these group want to play the nationalist card because that’s what works and counts politically.

A Christian, a Lebanese French language newspaper, and a date to remember

Not long ago was the 13th of April. And in the age of nationalism, we celebrate particular dates that symbolize an imagined common, communal experience, inscribed in time, Lebanese remember in this case the beginning of the ‘civil war’, in 1975 of this date.

I have nothing to say on this date. I prefer to scrap dates, lose time markers once and for all. But nothing can make my ulcerous side boil up more than articles that profit from this occasion to remember their narrowly defined interests.

Not long ago, I have started with a friend a new blog, in French, to try to point out the neo-colonialist and socially distinctive practices of the French speaking (mostly Christian, if not Muslim turned gentiles) community in Lebanon. I have a special relation to that as I come from this environment and have fought ambiguous battles with the French cultural heritage in Lebanon (if not in any post-colonial political creation). I speak French and read sometimes passionately some French writers as you could see on this blog. But I deplore the fact that this language became a source of social distinction, and the advancement of chauvinistic views.

But let’s go back to the subject of this post, a Lebanese columnist, Fady Noun, writing in this pathetically elitist newspaper called L’Orient le jour (on the 15th of April 2009), in French about the 13th of April. I wrote a lot on L’Orient le jour media practices, previously. Noun writes about history as if it was Christian history. Lebanon is Christian imagined sense of belonging. Some people called Palestinians emerges at some point in this honorable history and caused disruptions on their haven site. Noun relentless asks for justice to made “rendre justice” as he says, for this noble cause that is a “free Lebanon”. But at no point does he explain how to do justice. Worse than that, after being falsely compassionate with the “Palestinian people” who got stuck in this swamp with the “Lebanese people”, we see emerging a third type of ‘people’ that subjugated the first two. But you should read him yourself:

Et puis, en sommes-nous vraiment sortis ? N’avons-nous pas tous deux été manipulés par un troisième peuple, qui cherchait à nous soumettre à sa volonté, à ses plans, à ses visées ?

Gee, I wonder who is this third category of ‘people’? Can it be that he means the Syrians? So the Syrian ‘people’ have a ‘will’, have ‘plans’, and ‘objectives’ my friends. Yes yes, believe it or not. It is a battle of people. In the age of nationalism, it is politics turned upside down. People carry out their destiny and they differentiate themselves in this fictitious and shallow way. The political process is inverted. People have wills and elites are merely complying with their goals. If we could theorize that ‘fascism’ as a cultural phenomenon exists, that may be an excellent example of this type of process, even though I don’t like using a historical phenomenon quite specific to European political experience in order to explain something in this region, but the parallels are striking.

Fady Noun never clarifies his point instead goes into abstract consideration of, again, justice urged in order to save some type of blood spilled, etc. Needless to say that his Christian centered considerations makes me want to vomit. Come to think about it, the relation between the 14th of March culture of justice-seeking based on blood spilled (falsely  cross-sectarian because each community re-appropriates its martyrs) but devoid of actual social causes is highly reminiscent. A clear contrast is the nationalism of Hizbullah that has some form of social consideration. This becomes highly clear in the electoral campaigns as I will show in a coming post.

Fady Noun keeps on repeating that confessionalism is not the main problem behind the ‘war of people’ in Lebanon. While I tend to agree with the fact that confessionalism in itself as a concept is not something to be dreaded (especially compared to other forms of nationalisms), the Christian experience of confessionalism, in practice, has evolved from being very ugly (with the establishment of the state of Lebanon) to totally pathetic and pitiful today with the rise of other confessions as main players in the Lebanese artifact. The Christian argument is always reactionary whether Aounist, LF, Kataeb, or what have you. They all fall back to this attitude of “what can we do so that we remain special, as Christians”, or worse “what can ‘the other’ do to make us remain this prodigy child”. This perception of a lost prideful past, and this perception of a gloomy present or a bleak future will not take Christians anywhere.

The problem is the identity card not the sect!

There is a little clarification at the end of this post.

Some people voiced satisfaction over the idea that the sect was removed from the personal status register (it was already removed from the identity card). I don’t find this that extraordinary. If anything, this consecrates an even more irrational and ill-founded idea of ‘being Lebanese’.

I don’t see why people cannot be happy to be called Maronite, Sunni or whatever but must find it very normal and ‘just’, probably more ‘modern’ to be called “Lebanese”. I seriously wonder which tradition precedes the other and which has richer claims over “authenticity”.

The confessional narrative itself is not what is to blame but how it is used to advance political interests. Confessions like any other form of imagined belonging to a community (such as nationalism) will draw boundaries of differentiation but not especially create conflict. Differentiation can also mean respect for differences, curiosity and knowledge.

The nineteenth century saw the rise of confessionalism as a political framework to resolve conflict. It is the later creation of the “Lebanese State” that kind of dealt the most severe blow. Some Lebanese historians like to think that the confessional system itself is the real evil. I think that it is the creation of the Lebanese State which has solidified one political style of preferential confessionalism that has really messed things up. Were it for the creation of an Arab state or a Syrian one after the fall of the Ottoman empire, we may have seen a different outcome. But then again, colonialism and the ‘westernization’ of institutions in what was called the Middle East had already paved the way for a gloomy future.

So the solution is not to remove the sect from the identity card in order to conform more and more to a replicated version of European nation-statehood, more homogeneous and so more discriminatory to whatever escapes the liberal paradigm.

The solution is to reform the idea of an ‘identity card’, create other types of legal and institutional mechanisms that are more elastic in order to accommodate for the different sources of tradition. The idea of an Islamic state could go in this direction, but for now owes too much of its intellectual elaboration to Western conceptions of polity.

If the Ottoman system or any pre-capitalist Islamic system should be praised it was because of an elastic sense of ‘identity’, or naming not based on a system of rights but that of belonging to a community of tradition that has texts, ‘rituals’ (to use a Western terminology) and ways to create virtuous human beings. It does not mean it always worked in terms of avoiding conflict but it looks like it avoided way more clashes than in the age of nation-state, ‘human rights’, democracies, and being catalogued on an identity card.

Clarification: I did not mean to say that there is something more authentic about being defined by the confessional label. I just meant that one is not better than the other (the national one). In the first place I am questioning the problem of ‘definition’.

Walking through the Arabic book fair in Beirut (first glance)

Christians writing history

Around the start of December 2008, Beirut hosted a multitude of publishers from all around the Arab world and beyond (Iran). I went there practically everyday and noted down a couple of things that struck me for the beloved reader of this blog. Let’s start with an anecdote:

In the beginning of the month of November 1914, Turkey went into war alongside Germany and set forth the task of getting rid of acting minorities in the empire. The Armenians were massacred. In Lebanon, the genocide was much easier to execute. The Ottomans closed down the frontiers of the country after confiscating the provisions and capturing the vigorous men for the hard tasks. (my translation from French)

Now you would think that I am quoting the history essay of an 18 year old student, who may have well been brought up in a Christian area of Lebanon. Think again. This is written by a history professor at NDU (most probably because it is edited by their publishing house) and its title is “Abouna Antoun, the missionary hermit of Lebanon”. Abouna Antoun, some monk living in Tannourine, described by the author as “an immense village perched on the Lebanese mountain”, was most likely a modest person trying to go about his pious ways on his path to unite or at least experience God. So Imagine this, Abouna Antoun working on such a petty goal as being a national symbol, not least, the symbol of a nation that does not yet exist!

It is probably worthless to analyze how many biases, historical fallacies, nationalist propaganda, anachronisms, bad style, superiority complexes this book is plagued with. You can already read all of that in this little paragraph. But alas I cannot resist! For example, the mention of how “Lebanon” was a “country” in 1914, with frontiers closed by ‘Turkey’ that also did not exist. I cannot but mention how a whole century of successive clashes with the Armenian community, boiled down to “The Armenians were massacred” in 1914. And why oh why would the Ottomans capture the ‘vigorous men for the hard tasks’. What are these tasks? And also, it seems that ‘Turkey’ had one thing in mind in 1914, to get rid of the ‘acting’ minorities. Well it does not matter anyway. Open any other history book by most Christian writers, especially those edited by Kaslik university, or NDU, and you will almost invariably find that minorities were persecuted whether, by the Ottomans, or ‘the Muslims’, the Mongols, and what have you.