The continuous downfall of political Maronitism

Or “Yet another morbid tale from the land of the free”

Anyone seen the latest billboard campaign of the Lebanese Forces? Check out how pathetic and empty their slogan is: “You are the Cedar and we are its red line”. What the fuck does it mean? Does it mean that this mostly empty-of-any-historical-signification-symbol the cedar is embodied in some “people” (of course The Christians, the actual real/authentic people of “Lebanon”), and they are going to protect this imagined entity?

I have been amazed by the particular types of nationalisms deployed in this little chunk of land that came to be called Lebanon. Old Christian aristocratic french-mandate nationalism is something, Kataeb nationalism is kind of different (trying to catch up with ‘aristocrat’ status but never fully succeeding), Tayyar today is also different, along with Hizbullah, or Mustaqbal brands. Anyway, one can talk a lot of all those imagined histories but let’s focus on this particular violent one, one that is born during the 75-90 war, a virulently isolationist type that lives on a dead-born idea, the one of the Lebanese forces. And their campaign is here to testify. Billboards show in turn different dead Lebanese famous political actors, some are obviously claimed by the LF, such as Bashir Gemayel (founder of the LF), and Pierre Gemayel (his father and leader of the Kataeb party). Others are less so, boys and girls, such as Charles Malik (a so-called human right activist who is actually a horrible anti-Muslim demagogue), and Camille Chamoun.

Wait… what? Camille Chamoun? For those who don’t know, Chamoun was one Lebanese president who at the time (50s) symbolized the apex of political Maronitism under the auspice of British intelligence, struggling to distance the country from its ‘Arab’ color. But that’s not the point. Chamoun’s son, Dany, during the civil war had a militia of his own (the Tigers…) like all good grown up political feudal heirs, and he did his share of butchering, training with Israelis, and what have you. Now here comes the interesting part, early in the war, the Lebanese Forces, then a rising organization under Bashir Gemayel, proceeded into killing most of ‘the Tigers’, in effect removing potential rivals on the “Christian arena”. Dany Chamoun was spared till much later, assassinated along with his two little sons, wife, and dog, though maid and daughter could hide in closet. His daughter Tamara vehemently accuses Samir Geagea then and now leader of the LF of having perpetrated the act.

Dory Chamoun, the brother of Dany, who still tries to carve himself a space in Lebanese politics held the position that it was the Syrians who killed his brother and not Geagea, thereby making possible a rapprochement between this ill-fated family and the last bastion of violently isolationist Christian political formations. Look at how pathetic this last Chamoun is: allying with the most probable murderer of his brother for simple power equations. But then again, I want to ask a question. Lebanese politicking is so random in terms of the political choices made by actors. Why then did not Chamoun brother allied with Aoun? He was a fierce anti-Syrian, represented one political facet of Christian affirmation, and has most likely not killed his brother.

This is the viciousness of Lebanese politics me friends… And now, Lebanese Forces billboard can re-appropriate one symbol of Lebanese political Maronitism, Camille Chamoun, as another dead person repesenting this so-called red line circling the cedar. What irony that while browsing youtube, I found these videos (see part 1, 2, and 3) of unpublished footage of Dany Chamoun lobbying two Bkerke Priests, the clerical maronite authority in this little chunk of land called Lebanon, to pressure the LF to give their weapon to the Lebanese army (then under the command of Michel Aoun) and stop ruling over the Christian street. We’re in the late 1980s by the way. And that’s the best part: In these videos we hear Dany complain that Geagea LF is using his father’s picture and putting it up on Christian street while engaging in practices such as coming into his house, searching for papers, messing the house upside down and pillaging. The same picture is used for their campaign today, 20 years later.

So yes all this is very sad. So many layers of sadness piling up on each other: Traditional Maronite political elitism being succeeded by remnants of Maronite political dreams extracting their legitimacy, their ‘substance’, from antagonistic ghosts, that only serve the cause of building the imaginary Christian memory once they’ve been dead and can’t speak about these bloody antagonisms. All this put on the back of a tree, the cedar, inflated with notions of height, and cheap feelings of superiority.

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Autonomy, independence and other treacherous words

Even Fawwaz Trabulsi, in his new book, The Modern History of Lebanon, thinks that Mount Lebanon (The ‘Imara that is) enjoyed some ‘degree of autonomy’, since the 16th century. I have a problem with the concept of “autonomy”. I am reading the Arabic version of the book, that Trabulsi himself wrote (he originally wrote in English), where he uses the word ‘istiqlal’. First of all, if it is administrative autonomy we are talking about then yes, as long as you were paying your taxes and aligning ‘foreign policy’ (if that meant anything for confessional feuds) with Ottoman’s interest, you can call the rest of the bothersome task of making these people agree on things an autonomous process. But that’s without counting the numerous wheeling and dealings that Ottoman, French, British, etc. diplomats had to go through to make the system work.

Nothing different from Syrian ‘occupation’, or before that French Mandate and its sequels. The only thing that probably helped foster the “Lebanese” political model is the slowly crystallizing sectarianism that still changed in modes of action after the fall of the Ottoman empire.

But I want to go beyond that. No historian is able to go out of reading history without using present concepts. Instead of trying to locate a ‘starting point’ in Lebanon’s history, why not look at how the different imaginative spheres that created the idea of “Lebanon” or “being Lebanese” changed over time (according to changing political social and economic factors). Then we could probably fix this particular way of writing history. For me, evaluating ‘degrees of autonomy’ is falling in this trap because it emanates from a very present concern, a concern of justifying Lebanese statehood ‘now that it exist’.

My grand uncle passed away recently at the age of 101. There is a lot to be said about this man who was a diplomat and who saw the rise of the present political state, unfortunately, I never had a chance to talk to him and lately he was kind of tripped out. Everybody in the family directly affected by his heritage was eagerly waiting for this moment. He was the proprietor of a beautiful old house in Amchit built by my Great great grandfather (The grandfather of my grandfather let’s say). Anyway, now cousins and what have you are snatching their percentage share of the house. I went there two days ago to see an uncle who was packing stuff, and I stumbled on a picture of my ancestor with his Turkish tarboush, his Ottoman long mustache, his Sherwal and nice collarless jacket. He had this virile, piercing look while holding in one hand one of his kid and in the other, his wife, who’s semi-veiled by the way: the black long veil that Maronite women wore in villages.

This Great great grandfather had made a door inside the house with an Ottoman inscription and the Ottoman crescent and star on top of it. Now why would he do such a thing? Next to his picture, my uncle had put up a picture of his son (the son of the GGgfather, grandfather of my uncle), taken probably 20 or so years later, dressed in a European suit, with French style hair of the 1920s, and kind of a feminine allure. Between one epoch and the other there is the fall of an immense administrative edifice, and the rise of a new one, the nation-state.

How did my Great great grandfather think of himself? Probably that he was an “Ottoman subject’, a Maronite Christian, an Arab (?) whatever that signified for him at the time, a silk and salt trader who needed to be on good terms with Ottoman political circles and many many other things that reminds us that the concept of ‘identity’ is so phony. It does not mean that my GGGfather thought highly of the Ottoman empire, or maybe he did, and all that does not really matter. The point is that he was trapped in a completely different worldview, he was playing by very different rules of the game to ‘become’ what he wants to ‘become’.

So What did “Lebanon” mean to my GGGfather? Surely not what it means to Fawwaz Trabulsi or to any “Lebanese” subject today, including me. How can we recapture what it meant to him and how it was different from what it meant to his son twenty years later, during the French mandate?

Maman …

Okay, so Mother’s Day is just around the corner, so this post goes out to She Who Brought Me Into The World. Having already established herself as the foremost (okay, only) Arab nationalist in the Middle States, the Giver of Life has abandoned such profane matters and taken an earnest, but somewhat comic (earnest + comic = cute) interest in phenomena Islamica. So I was thinking of her and our many talks on the historical relationship between religion and politics when I read this most hilarious article in the Wall Street Journal (subscription only) about the Pontiff’s recent trip to Brazil:

As the first Brazilian-born saint, Friar Galvão is big news here. The country’s leading newsmagazines have run depictions of the friar on their covers, and the faithful have been snapping up tens of thousands of “Friar Galvão pills,” small capsules nuns produce that are said to have miraculous properties. The government considered declaring a national holiday in honor of the new saint but scrapped the idea for fear of slowing economic growth. Brazil has so many official and unofficial religious holidays already, even the country’s Roman Catholic bishops opposed the notion.
The pontiff’s visit — the 80-year-old’s first trip to Latin America since he became pope two years ago — comes at a critical moment for the church here. Although Brazil has more Catholics than any other country in the world, around 125 million, Catholicism here is in a quickening decline. About 74% of people said they were Catholic in a 2000 census, down from 89% in 1980.
The losses are coming mostly at the hands of evangelical Protestant congregations, primarily Pentecostal churches, despite Catholics’ efforts to compete. In the 1970s, the church became politically active, resisting Brazil’s military dictatorship and reaching out to the poor. More recently, it has encouraged “charismatic Catholicism,” whose practitioners hold evangelical-inspired revivals, speak in tongues and even carry out exorcisms. It has also given its blessing to Marcelo Rossi, a singing priest who does aerobics during mass and has sold millions of albums.
Sister Cadorin had to work 16 years for the Vatican to recognize Friar Galvão’s miracles. She looked through 23,929 purported miracles to identify a second case, involving a difficult pregnancy by a woman living in Brasilia. The nun says she had to obtain expert medical opinions, hire theologians, and prepare fancy presentations to send to officials in Rome. “The first miracle cost $95,000, and the second cost me between €45,000 and €50,000 [about $60,000 to $68,000],” she says. The money was raised through donations.
The São Paulo nunnery founded by Friar Galvão has been drawing crowds, and demand for his pills has soared. They are swallowed but they don’t actually contain medicine, rather, prayers written on tiny slips of paper. According to the Rev. Armênio Rodrigues Nogueira, a priest who works at the convent, the nuns’ production of pills has jumped from 3,000 a week to 30,000 since the Vatican announced the new saint in December.
Lucila Ortonho and Odita Ponte, São Paulo housewives, say they have visited the convent three times since then to pick up pills through a rotating wooden door, behind which unseen nuns dispense them. “I believe because his miracles were proved by the church,” says Ms. Ponte, 60, who said she was praying for good health.
Father Nogueira says the faithful can also request the miracle pills through the convent’s Internet site.

It is all about retail, mom. Here, there, everywhere … So in that spirit and on “Mother’s Day,” you can know I love you because the card is in the mail … 🙂

Deadman

Well, while we’re at it, let me remind our reader that Apokraphytus is from Dar el Shaytan, and so we will show no mercy…

Box Score: Dave 1, Bech 0

Just for the record, Bech is furious that I have mentioned basketball in his blog on the Middle East. He would prefer we present ourselves through this blog as somber intellectual types pondering the serious questions of our times rather than braying sheep susceptible to the hysterics of such mass delusions as organized sports.

As one can glean from this blog, I play Bloom to his Daedalus. Thus, I am always encouraging him to join us lowly beasts of burden by recongizing his status as a domesticated mammal.

So in that spirit, baah, baah, baah!