Poland, Lebanon, and the Catholic Church

churchInteresting parallels between Poland and Lebanon (this probably applies to Ireland as well). Two places where a strange marriage between Catholicism and nationalist projects took place. In both cases, a perceived “external threat” led groups to find in the Catholic church a way to not just defend their interests but also to imagine their national specificity (although arguably the threat in the Polish case was much more real judging from the successive invasion of the current territory we call Poland up until the world wars). But what was the kingdom of Poland before these invasions (with its highly diverse population) could only become the “nation” of Poland through a complex (probably unfinished) homogenizing process in which the Catholic church would play a central role. There is no other way to understand this bastion of Catholicism that is Poland in a sea of Protestant regions on one side and Orthodox on the other. Catholicism which was the last remnant of an older pre-nationalist world order became here the main locus for the development of nationalist specificity. the paradox here is that the once “universalist” brand Catholicism could strive in isolated territory because of the development of a peculiar nationalist specificity. For examples, the Lebanese specificity developed by Maronites involved a complex bridge between Europe and the East, Arab but not really, between Latin and Syriac etc). Here the “essence” of being Lebanese is always escaping but is easily substantiated by Catholicism.

Meanwhile the church’s interest involved mainly the purchasing of land (which still happens in Poland and I think in Lebanon) as they made up for the loss of territory encountered in “the wars of religion” in the rest of Europe and all the privileged they enjoyed before the protestant reformation movements. The church struggled to adapt to the rising sovereignty of nation states, by espousing the latter’s strategies of control but without ever being able to institutionally monopolizing this process leaving local nationalist project the task to preserve their interests. In echo to this, one should not find strange that Islamic institutions sponsored by either Saudi Arabia or Iran have followed a similar strategy of land purchase all around the world as they adapt and seize opportunities offered by nation state institutional apparatuses and the modern legal framework of private property.

Ironically, the Polish nationalist project was a main instigator of the persecution, displacement, and emigration of whole Jewish communities to the newly created state of Israel. Initially most members of these communities identified to their original locality (Polish from this or that city) just as much as Arab Christians were entrenched in theirs. Zionism was born out of a reaction to other European forms of nationalism with its invention of one Jewish people. It is ironic because although the Catholic church, through the Poles (or those now labeled as Poles), helped create the territorial problem of the Zionist project, both Poles and Lebanese Christians where relying on the same institutional and ideological help, that is the Catholic church, to create their respective sovereignties.

Lebanon in Syria

The fates of the modern states of Lebanon and Syria are inextricably linked. It is important to read their history not just as was done conventionally that is Syria never fully recognizing Lebanon as an independent state but also the reverse, as Lebanon, or particular segments of the Lebanese political establishment involving and using Syria for its own survival as a small state. During the first half of the twentieth century and until the 1970s, Muslims and pan-Arabists of all creed had difficulty recognizing that Lebanon should be a separate state as such. The civil war forced the Christians to realize that they needed help from the Syrians first when the Phalangists risked defeat against pro Palestinian forces around the second half of the 1970s, second when a section of the Christian establishment had allied with the Syrian help after 1982 Israeli invasion, and third after the Taif agreement of 1982. Even Michel Aoun the staunchest opponent to Taif and the Syrian regime realized that such categorical attitude was detrimental to Lebanon’s strategic advantage.

In the beginning of the 1990s, and after bitter clashes with the Syrian regime, it was Hizbullah’s turn to realize that they could not survive and strive as a resistance force without Syrian geographical strategic positioning, as well as security and logistical support. This brought them closer to other political groups in the country during the 1990s. Then events unfolding after 2005 when the former prime minister Rafic Hariri was assassinated should be understood as a struggle to fill the security vaccum left by the withdrawal of the Syrian army and more importantly the removal of the Lebanese-Syrian security nexus that was built during the post-war period. Hizbullah’s recent intervention in Syria and in Qalamoun in particular should be read in this light, as an effort to create a protective boundary around the small state of Lebanon that the Syrian regime once provided.

Likewise Sunni politics in the post-war period should be read in this way. Hariri needed pax-Syriana to implement his reconstruction program and the various economic (and oh so social) changes that ensued. It is only when he was constantly paralyzed by his political counterpart the President Emile Lahoud, that he urged the Syrians to intervene on his behalf. The Syrians refused given that Lahoud represented the security complex which helped build the pax-Syriana. And yet, it is not even clear if Hariri was fully convinced that Lebanon did not need the Syrian regime. The Hariri-Hizbullah negotiations that took place before he was killed attest to this ambivalence. After 2005, Sunni politics was slowly driven to increased intervention in Syria in trying to work for regime change. This process involved many groups from “moderate” to radical all the way to al-Qaeda and ISIS type. The Arsal episode is a perfect example of the blurred political boundaries between Lebanon and Syria.

The whole point here is to recognize that overall, various Lebanese actors strived to change things to their advantage in Syria just as it was done by Syria in Lebanon. Some day the history of this “intervention” should be written through that lens.

Isolationism or Regionalization?

Recently the Phalangist MP Sami Gemayel has proposed to “amend the preamble of the constitution to stipulate Lebanon’s neutrality towards regional conflicts”.

“We request amending the constitution to clearly state that Lebanon must stay neutral towards regional events,” Gemayel said after the weekly meeting of the party’s political bureau. He elaborated: “We are very concerned about Lebanese factions’ participation in the Syrian war and this can lead to transferring the fighting into Lebanon.” “We remind those publicly declaring that they have fighters in Syria, particularly Hizbullah, that they have signed the Baabda Declaration that clearly states we must disassociate Lebanon from regional crises,” the MP noted.

The Baabda declaration took place in June 2012 during one of these so-called “national dialogue sessions”. Whether Lebanon should get involved in regional questions or just adopt an isolationist stance is at the heart of a historical debate that is as old as the existence of the State. Logically enough, the isolationist stance was traditionally endorsed by the Lebanese Christian Right (and still represented by the Phalangist party although recently joined by several other groups). This stance found many enemies whose political existence depended on the resolution or simply the management of regional questions. The coalitions of pro-Palestinian formations, resistance groups against Israeli occupation, pro-Syrian political parties, and so on).

It is not a coincidence that the isolationist stance went well with the famous dictum “Lebanon’s strength is in its weakness” that Pierre Gemayel (again former Phalangist leader and grandfather of the PM Sami Gemayel) declared at some point in the 1970s referring to the multi-confessional nature of the political process and the neutrality position Lebanon strove to enjoy at that time. The event following 1975 were to prove the extent to which this declaration was detrimental to those who found themselves to be Lebanese nationals. It is ironic also, that in the midst of the event following the 1975 debacle, the same party that had adopted an isolationist line had ended up asking for Syrian interference in order to defeat the leftist-Palestinian coalition. Syria was then on an integral part of doing politics in Lebanon. So in order to protect an isolationist/neutral stance the party was forced to ask for a regional cover.

More generally, the paradox of Middle Eastern states is that the more they push for national isolation (for security reasons) the less they are able to confront bigger political forces and thus end up weakening their political bargaining power. The Sunni-Shi’i conflict that has been nurtured gradually since the 1990s is the last mess that threatens to wreck any power the region can accumulate in facing forms of domination. It all started when Iran took precedence in establishing itself as the only regional force that can challenge Israel and the US, a development that left many jealous states and parties across the region. And crucially enough, Iran could only do that because Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas were working together to that effect. These movements are born from the consequence of State ineffectiveness at carrying vital political actions in order to liberate territory and create a strong military deterrence power. Again, the regional nexus permitted local parties to become stronger and voice certain political demands that could not be answered and delivered by local institutions. Whatever one’s stand toward the Syrian uprising (and elsewhere), this development weakens states at the regional at least in the short to mid term as it forces new groups to shorten their attention to “the inside”.

The irony though here is that Middle Eastern countries are not all sticking to a plan of focusing on “the inside” The Gulf and in particular Saudi Arabia and Qatar have tried in all possible ways to challenges Iranian foreign policies by targeting its proxy, first Hamas and Hizbullah, then the Syrian state. This regional war cannot be dissociated from its potentiality of boosting certain states or political formations over others that do have regional agendas. Then, in a context such as the Middle East where occupation is regionally organized, where some states have regional agendas, the isolationist stance resemble what is called ostrich politics (where the ostrich is said to try to delude her enemies by hiding her head in the sand). They fail to see how they cannot avoid the fact that any genuinely political action must involve regional interference whether from within or from without. While Gemayel shouts for a Lebanese neutral stance above, members of his most important political ally (Al Mustaqbal party) and its main sponsors (such as Saudi Arabia) are all deeply involved inside Syria.

I am not trying here to defend Hizbullah’s intervention in Syria but more appropriately to explain why it is impossible for them not to intervene, just like it was practically impossible for Palestinians not to try to wage political militant activities from Lebanese territories, or why more generally, regional issues dictates local ones. This is so because first, local quests for influence need certain regional leverage, and second, because certain political questions are irremediably “trans-national” (such as the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict). But the only way to carry out transnational actions is by putting in place a political formation of State, institutions, organizations or groups, that can operate freely away from the vagaries and individualizing tendencies of the democratic push. More on this later.

Sectarian Land Law

Lately, Lebanese Labor Minister, Butros Harb, has proposed a law that would forbid a Lebanese to sell land to another Lebanese of a different confessional affiliation. According, to Al Akhbar Journalist Hassan Oleik, the law does not have much chance to pass and is mostly proposed for electoral reasons, but still signals initiatives from the remnants of what was called “political Maronitism” to assert itself and defend its turf by institutionalizing the “gettoization” of Lebanese politics. Citing a certain “legal expert”, this project is said to be the beginning of the building of a “separation wall between communities”.

It is surely the case that the only area where Christian power can still assert itself in Lebanon is through land ownership. Let’s face it, in other areas, Christians do not have much power left. The Maronite church and other churches for that matter may well possess the largest amount of real estate and mountainous regions in the country. Seen in this light, no wonder why Harb, an attorney by formation, is interested in passing that law project.

But seen in the light of general Christian relations with the “Muslim world” or simply, the region, Harb’s type of politics that mirrors most isolationist practices of groups such as the Phalangists or the Lebanese Forces, poses a crucial problem. It is what one could call the “Zionist syndrome”: trying to enforce political presence through barricading cultural entities. Is there any long-term effectiveness to this policy? More to the point, in the age of the nation-state, how to build durable States that embrace difference and look outwardly rather than act like paranoid and security-obsessed political communities?

Economic rationales for community-centrism

Some fun moments to have from these wikileaks. By far, my all time favorite until now is this statement coming from Elias el Murr, former minister of Defense:

According to Murr, “when you want to fight terrorists,you are fighting Sunni and Shia; you need Christians in special forces to do this mission. If you maximize Christians, you will have the best results.”

I mean Murr’s statements have some rationale: creating employment opportunities for Christians (Something most sectarian leaders do in Lebanon). In order to do so, one can make this ‘cultural’ point that Christian forces would hate better. Economics, has its weird laws sometimes…

Examples of reading politics upside down

From beginning to end…

MP Nadim Gemayel noted on Friday that Lebanon was not victorious in the July 2006 war, but Hizbullah considered it a victory because it destroyed Lebanon, while its funding and weapons have been restored by Syria and Iran.
He told MTV that several Lebanese view the war as a defeat seeing as their economy and infrastructure were completely destroyed.
He said that Hizbullah is directing its battle against international justice and its Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s reading of the situation in his speech on Thursday was wrong.
“Hizbullah’s weapons are illegitimate … the false witnesses file is nonexistent as it is aimed at thwarting the international tribunal before it can try Hizbullah,” Gemayel stated.

A Christmas Lesson

In Christian festive times, Al Manar TV uses such rituals in order to focus attention on a political cause either pertaining to internal Lebanese issues (Jesus and messages of co-existence), regional (usually related to the Palestinian cause) or even international. On Christmas Eve for example, the seven o’clock news broadcast has most of its content devoted to the celebration of Christmas in Bethlehem and the various political performances around that event: Interviews with Palestinian leaders, review of the history of Palestine and specifically Jerusalem as center of Muslim and Christian co-existence. As a comparison, if there is a mention of some Christian symbolism in Christmas, and not just the usual global-market-legitimated consumerist style in the event of Christmas, it is in general simply about abstract concepts of love and tolerance that Jesus is supposed to have upheld. How many times have we watched on LBC and other Christian affiliated channels the different Hollywood productions of the life of Jesus and other figures of his time? When was this guy born? Bethlehem? Where is Bethlehem? In occupied Palestine. Where did Jesus make his most important appearance? Jerusalem. Where is Jerusalem? In occupied Palestine.

Why haven’t Lebanese Christians, so proud of their “Christianity” never made this link when celebrating Christmas? Whenever focusing on Christian related rituals or when simply referring to Jesus’ legacy, Hizbullah’s related media operationalizes these concepts in order to derive political engaged statements about certain forms of injustices in the world. When “Christianity” isolates itself in Lebanon by becoming a localized, privatized, and a-historical form of thinking ethics, some ways of re-thinking Islamic heritage shakes Christianity out of its torpor and tries to put it back in one of its historical continuum.

Tayyar views on Hizbullah

One has to wait a long time in order to read an article in the Lebanese press that actually takes the time to interview people from several corners of the country. I already said elsewhere that Al Akhbar contributes in a novel and ‘fuller’ way (i.e. more in line with European press standards of constructing national imaginaries).

Yet it is even rarer when the presses deal with non-elitist issues, with parties that have been portrayed in a ‘bad light’ in the more dominant press (i.e. the one in line with Western discourse or that actually write in English). Ghassan Saoud has been following Tayyar and Christian politics for quite some time now. I never posted about what he writes on this blog but anything he has written in Al Akhbar is worth reading. It is archival work on Christian politics that may serve later on, at the very least for subversive ends (like anything written and archived).

In this article Saoud writes about a series of views given by Christian or more broadly Tayyar sympathizers of activists from north to south. Opinions range from “Hizbullah should definitely keep their weapons not just to liberate Shebaa but to liberate Jerusalem”, to their fear of the ‘religious dimension’ which is ‘a common subject amongst Christian constituencies’, and many others highly diverse and some times surprising viewpoints.

What I find highly interesting is how the Tayyar and Hizbullah alliance has pushed Christian constituencies to face several types of contradictions with their more isolationist pasts (even if they build upon that past quite effectively), resulting with sometimes contradictory opinions about this unknown entity called Hizbullah.

On Palestinian camps

Al Akhbar is probably the first Lebanese newspaper to have added a section on Palestinian camps to its publication, along with political news, society, economics, etc, as part of its ‘local’ news pages.

Rome to Beirut or Tel Aviv

The airport of Rome sticks the gate of the plane going to Beirut to the one going to Tel Aviv. Every single time I use Italian airports for flight connections it is the same story. It could be taken as a lesson of ill-directed pride. It could be read as something like: for us you are the same, chunks of lands juxtaposed, bunch of brown people with similar attributes, so your gates should be just like Paris and Brussels, gates next to each other. Or it could be read as laziness to separate both gates just because there is a conflict between the two post-colonial countries even tough ironically enough, the actual planes are separated because of “security issues”…

I usually go and sit between the Israeli crowd. As I am early, only one Rabbi sits there with his usual big belly eating a sandwich. I take out my laptop and starts listening to Bach’s art of the fugue (blabla). Try that, listen to Bach gently setting a serene almost mystical atmosphere while seeing Israelis arrive. Slowly emerge out of nowhere passenger after passenger and this weird feeling of being surrounded by something different, hostile but exiting overtake me. “Khkhkh” that’s all I can hear. I try to rationalize things thinking that these are individuals, mostly harmless “civilians” as prevailing political legal structures would have it, but my mind seem to evade my will. I always play this game actually. Every time I travel and the occasion presents itself I do that, I go and sit with the Israelis, and each time, I try to feel somewhat differently, this overbearing feeling of irritation but struggle to understand and subliminally ‘reach out’.

This time I listen to a conversation next to me, and it is in Lebanese Arabic. At first, it seems like these two men are Lebanese, like me, and thought of playing this stupid game of “sitting between the Israelis.” But it turns out these are Lebanese who live in Israel. Later on, I sat between the Lebanese, the ones sitting for the plane leaving to Beirut, and I watched the other Lebanese board on the plane to Tel Aviv. I want to wave them goodbye, do something, anything. And then the brouhaha of spoken Lebanese slowly embraced me and gradually tame my ardors. There were more pressing voices bursting into my thoughts. Our own divisions is the subject of the day. The recent armed clashes in Beirut, the various political squabbles following the election of the new parliament, the appointment of Saad Hariri as prime minister, the Sunni-Shi’ite conflict, the increasingly scared Christians and their ill-understood liberty, and so on, and so on…

I give a couple of clicks to my computer and listen to Zaki Murad, that great Jewish Egyptian singer of the early 1900s: Yes’ed layalik, laya…alik, ya…a…a…amar! Akh ya Zaki…

Read to know the world

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By now it is all out in the news, that Druze leader Walid Jumblatt met yesterday with Hizbullah SG Hassan Nasrallah. Beyond all the political implications of this meeting that was anyway foreseen given the shifts in Jumblatt position, I want to point out a very interesting development that happened during this meeting. According to Al-akhbar’s account, Jumblatt offered Nasrallah one of Tariq Ali’s books on Pakistan. Now I know from my own sources (that can always be questioned of course) that Nasrallah loves reading right-wing Political books on Israel, ex-army or politicians memoirs, American and Israeli think-tanks pundits, and other Huntingtonians, as well as the Zionist intellectual sphere. But does Jumblatt’s gift mean some kind of peace offering? Is it akin to when tribes would sit and seal reconciliation with gifts of sorts (say goats or lambs, or precious artifacts)? Or is it just another way of saying: “I’m keeping up with news, they’re basically focusing on Pakistan and Afghanistan right now, I know what the Americans are up to”. All is speculations of course, just imagining scenarios for the new Jumblatti motion picture.

A box office success…

… Karim Makdisi nails it:

Lebanon’s June 7 national election was a box office success. It had it all: shady politicians, foreign intrigue, bribes, beautiful women, meddling religious figures, sectarian agitation, recently exposed spy rings, fundamentalists collaborating with capitalists, the poor and oppressed voting for the rich and privileged. It was a brilliantly marketed production with more twists and turns than a Hitchcock thriller, and an unpredictable finale in which the ‘good’ guys (the pro-US, anti-Iran, pro-‘moderate’ Arab, pro-‘peace process,’ March 14 coalition headed by Prime Minister-in-waiting Sa’ad Hariri, son of assassinated former PM Rafiq Hariri) defeated the ‘bad’ guys (the pro-Resistance, pro-‘Axis of Evil,’ anti-corruption Opposition coalition led by Hizbullah and Christian leader Michel Aoun) to retain their Parliamentary majority. All this accomplished with few security problems, record voter turn out, generally magnanimous winners and dignified losers. No wonder Western elections observers were smiling from ear to ear as they proclaimed, “free and fair” from the rooftops. They were, in the words of Jimmy Carter, so “proud” of the natives, who showed that they could be “democratic” and even managed to re-produce the patented “third world” grin and blue-ink-thumb of Iraq 2005 fame.

And see I’m not the only one who says it (although he writes it much better than me:

All in all, 80-90% of the parliamentary seats on offer had already been decided de facto prior to election day: most districts with clear Sunni or Shia’a Muslim majorities voted in their districts with frightening uniformity and discipline for the March 14 coalition and the Opposition respectively, and only the mixed Christian districts were genuinely in play with fierce competition between the two sides. The focus on Christian districts, in turn, brought out the kind of jingoism and chauvinism that has long characterized Christian elite discourse and inflated self-regard, with each side insisting it represented and defended the true interests of (Christian) Lebanon.Post-election analysis within elite Christian circles has thus centered on which side had won in the “pure” or “clean” districts, meaning those areas with Christian-majority electorate unsullied by Muslim voters. Under these conditions it is no surprise that fascist-lite candidates, notably from the March 14 Lebanese Forces and Phalanges Party, gained seats by recalling their old project of dividing Lebanon into ‘pure’ sectarian cantons.

To read also is Raed’s Gramscian insight on how the elections were doomed to be biased towards the majority viewing how the media and producers of knowledge are structured.

The return of the right

I don’t know if this has gone unnoticed, but there has been something strangely disenchanting about local Christian politics in modern day Lebanon.

I will list a couple of disjointed points:

1- The Loubnanouhom paradigm is gaining institutional currency. Once a remote petty reactionary movement led by the son of a disgruntled leader followed by a plethora university followers, now the leader of Lebanon-old party, the Kataeb, and a parliamentary member, Sami Gemayel may well be the representative of Christian isolationism for the decades to come. As this article makes clear, Gemayel will still brandish the federalist option as a suitable system for the Lebanese tiny hell-hole of 10452km2. I remember having this discussion with a friend who said that these guys will always be marginal to the Lebanese political system. That was without counting Christian betise. In a matter of a bit more than a year, Sami Gemayel is now at the top of the most reactionary and elitist political organization of the country. Today Loubnanouna is the Kataeb party: Young, re-energized, very elitist, anti-Muslim, and ready to impress.

2- The Tayyar/Hizbullah is not just being undermined in the economy of texts, meaning, and knowledge, but is most probably the one trigger of the winning of more radical Christian right-wing brands. Basically, Christians were not prepared to understand such rapprochement, it is just anathema to their different cultural viewpoints. I won’t cite here the multitudes of media propaganda that kept on bashing this very unusual political step judging from Lebanese historical practices. From my own experience, I felt that whether coming from Tayyar or from Hizbullah, both parties had a very strong interest at keeping a solid alliance that reached down social networks and localized activism. But what is scary here is to see that Christian chauvinism has trumpeted the culture of this agreement, and has actually rejected. Hizbullah is still a weird and unknown beast for many Christians from Tayyar who if anything do bear the marks of historical Christian isolationism. This is not a condemnation I insist. This is the very core of Lebanese first national narrative: the Maronite re-writing of history of geography and community. It just cannot be otherwise, unless you do away with On what parties like the Lebanese Forces and Kataeb are betting by allying with Hariri, I still can’t figure it out. But I find it hard to believe that they could have found an admiration for Sunni politics, even though Sunni politics has dramatically change throughout the years, going from a form of contesting the very existence of the Lebanese state and its Maronite dominance to adopting a virulent the concept of Lebanon, change the national mythologies.

3- One of the reasons why Hizbullah is hardly accepted is because they present new national stories that are quite different from the earlier Christian even though quite dependent on them. Hizbullah’s weapon is not really an issue in itself because it is the way one perceives these weapons that changes the picture: Hizbullah is seen as contradicting actual (sanctified, official, etc) Lebanese national priorities. Whereas Hizbullah supporters and allies find it very logical that Hizbullah has weapons for ‘national’ reasons, whatever the reasons it makes sense to them, in the same vein others are truly scared of that. But the scary aspect of it is caused by a cultural factor. Countless times did I have discussions with Christians (when I say Christian I talk of people belonging to a specific social ‘niche’ like me for example), who after showing the rationale behind the weapons (Israeli threats, resistance, etc) would quickly revert to the argument, “but we don’t want to live in an Islamic state” or “we want to still be able to drink alcohol” etc. That is the frightening part, even if baseless.

4- But still Hizbullah will have to come to terms with that. If they want to be part of the Lebanese game (i.e. nation), which is surely what they want, they will have to accept Christian petty fears. But as I already mentioned here, the biggest competitor to Hizbullah is Tayyar at the end of the day. This may be exacerbated now that the Tayyar/Hizbullah alliance is being shaken from its foundations. I don’t think thought that this alliance will fall apart, but will surely assume other priorities. Maybe more interesting ones. Let’s see.

Voting, fear, hatred and other mundane acts in the age of democracy

Well, I might as well write something about the elections. As I woke up to read about this, I have to say, surprising state of affairs, I really felt sad throughout the day for many reasons. Genuinely sad. I am mostly concerned with the ‘public’ (or the phoniness of this term) state of affairs and not really with general party strategies and whether one wanted to win or to lose, as many people speculated that actually Hizbullah wanted to lose. I don’t buy this argument. I find it hard to believe that any political actor would wish to lose. Politics in the age of democracy and nation-state is like playing any game: the spirit of ‘competition’ prevails. And regardless of the pompousness of the Tayyar who really thought they were getting it right this time, through such a pretentious campaign, I still think that what tipped the balance is fear. Fear and hatred.

1- Christians showed that they are more chauvinistic and more ignorant of the other than ever before. Not only did they vote overwhelming because of fear from whatever Hizbullah represented to them that they were ready to elect inept kids only because they symbolized some sort of a glorious past the Christians were supposed to have.

2- Democracy on the long term works like the capitalist-liberalist system. Consumption works hand in hand with fear. Nationalistic feelings solidify and become narrower, pettier, and the realm of a fantasized universal reality. So much so that in a country such as Lebanon one can breed division within the already narrow-minded imagined nation (through say sectarianism, social and cultural difference, etc) and think it is highly noble to spring out of it (of course imagining that it is springing out of it) and raise a voice for the nation. This feeling is justified and rendered noble through the consumption of concepts such as democracy, rights, independence, liberty, and other elusive terms that subdue the social actor. So there is gap, or this lag, between the actual narrow mutually-exclusive condition one lives in and the projected ideal he/she thinks he is defending.

And that is precisely what happened when people went to vote for the Gemayels and Tuenis, as well as other candidates of the same movement. They thought they are voting for some righteous, something that is restoring the balance, something that is giving a more ‘just’ possibility. But you never need to point out what is righteous what is just unless you are scared, unless you fear something. But fear breeds hatred. And that is precisely what happened in the previous days.

The exact culprits behind this exacerbation of isolationism? Media, ‘Intellectuals’, priests of all sorts, basically the economy of knowledge. The time span? Oh no, I can’t even go there…

3- What made the day even the sadder is that Jamal did not write about the elections.

Addendum to electoral campaigns

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There is no State in Lebanon ok? Fix your conceptual frameworks

Yet another analysis of Hizbullah very sneakily undermining the functioning of the State of Lebanon, this time by none other than the only Muslim writer of the French Colonialist-nostalgics, chauvinistic and socially elitist Lebanese newspaper L’Orient le Jour. I don’t understand this guy by the way, Mahmoud Harb. Doesn’t he realize how anti-Muslim this newspaper is? Is this some new kind of ‘gentrification’ occurring here in the Middle of the East? Ironic innit?

It may never become boring to emphasize that these analyses assume very comfortably that there is a State in Lebanon. This trend of thinking assumes that if some political actor changes his behavior then the State would re-institute its ‘rule of law’ that it is dying to perform. Which means that Hizbullah should just ‘play by the rules’, here rules being the textbooks rule emulated from State-practice in the West. But here, the rules are different, indeed have nothing to do with rules elsewhere because there simply is no State in Lebanon and there is no rule of law because ALL the actors on the Lebanese scene undermine the possibility of having a State by their VERY presence and specific political activity in this delimited geography.

Hizbullah is neither a culprit nor a Samaritan in this game. They face the same problem others political actors would face which is the fact that the State cannot give them what they want. Because it is simply not functioning, and that even if they want to make it function they would clash with the interest of others.

Indeed friend and relatives, this is why every political actor in Lebanon constantly balance between having sudden drives of taking-over the State and establishing centralized decision-making, which would create more sense of talking about a ‘State’, and just letting things go and try to carry on with what is available, using that semblance of a State when possible, and using parallel structures when one has to. It is not a joyful decision, but one that is made out of frustration. This last statement is key to the discussion.

Writing Hizbullah

An excellent article today in Al Akhbar by a friend of mine deciphering the various media and other type of intellectual production in the “Lebanese” sphere that came to shape how Hizbullah was and is written. In so doing Raed Charaf goes through a very detailed account of the various types of intellectual activity that shaped how Hizbullah is perceived today and the different political actors backing these discourses, and thus making these discourses possible. At last, someone taking a step back and understanding the formation of discourse in its socio-historical context.

Campaign ads again

I see that Al-Akhbar has finally picked up on blogs’ favorite topic and decided to publish a feature article on campaign ads uncovering even more rebuttals coming from March 14.

How do you find this one for example:

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Campaign ad revisited, for women

And just to be fair, a counter attack:

3053_169365435709_672930709_6694575_892960_n(Be clever and don’t vote, no one cares about your rights)

Grand, petty concerns, and other electoral events

I am soon going to write a comprehensive post about electoral campaigning in this place that came to be called Lebanon. But I can’t help myself not to send you previews such as the one in the last post. It is quite amazing how far imagination can take one to uncharted territories.

Check for example this potential independent candidate in Jbeil:

bechara-abi-younes

So as you can see, Mister Abi Younes, apparently an environmentalist, has a very interesting electoral program. First, Abi Younes wants to plant trees all over Lebanon. Great. Second, Abi Younes wants to “revive the memory of Adonis and Ashtarout”. Now, what that is supposed to mean, except for being a call to paganism (which I rather like in a sense) is I fear going to be forever lost in translation. So for those who don’t know, Adonis is a character from Greek mythology, and this wikipedia page enlightens us quite further on a very interesting aspect of Adonis’ story:

there is no trace of a Semitic cult directly connected with Adonis, and no trace in Semitic languages of any specific mythemes connected with his Greek myth; both Greek and Near Eastern scholars have questioned the connection (Burkert, p 177 note 6 bibliography). The connection in cult practice is with Adonis’ Mesopotamian counterpart, Tammuz: “Women sit by the gate weeping for Tammuz, or they offer incense to Baal on roof-tops and plant pleasant plants.

Regardless of the fact that there may be no connection between Adonis and Tammouz (Alas for the Phoenicians), reviving the cult of Adonis could explain why Abi Younes would want to plant trees ‘all over Lebanon’. He probably should think of planting trees from here to Mesopotemia if he is really serious about reviving the cult. And here for Ashtarout.

Third, and here is the most problematic point of his campaign: Bringing back the sarcophagus of Ahiram to Byblos.. ahem.. Jbail. Now, you would excuse my ignorance, but I did not know where this sarcophagus was. For a second, taken by a semi-nostalgic semi-nationalist fever, I browsed the net to find out who were the bastards (surely some colonial power) that took it from us. It seems that the sarcophagus is actually in the national museum of Beirut. So Abi Youness wants to plant trees all over Lebanon, because he’s a nationalist you see, but he needs Ahiram to rest in Jbail. He needs his Ahiram in his little provincial city. He needs to revive the cult of a figure only discovered less of a century ago by some French archaeologist who for some reason left it in Beirut (Maybe he did not feel that it was worthy enough for it to be paraded in the Louvre or some other post-colonial voyeuristic place in the West). There you have it, colonial powers whether they want to or not end up messing things up!

I have called this the politics of grand, petty concerns, because it situates itself between a complex mythological history encompassing vast geographies, people, etc. (Hebrews, Mesopotemians, Phoenicians, Greeks and what have you), and a very narrowly defined, petty indeed, city-state, canton-style, lubnanouhom type of politics.

Winner of the best electoral campaign Ad

It is the Tayyar, one must admit…

tayyar1(Just be beautiful and vote)

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.

Electoral philosophical injunctions

This tiny chunk of land that came to be called Lebanon is entering in full force its circus legislative elections. It is highly re-assuring to see that indeed the Lebanese advertising culture is now using its long-worked on branding concepts for the benefit of the various political factions. But from the Lebanese Forces who play it dirty or the Kataeb and Tayyar doing word games, I have to say that the ones that impressed me the most, that puzzled me to the extent of fascination is the Mustaqbal’s party campaign.

Mustaqbal decided to propose certain philosophical reflections, on the concept of.. well, the future. For example one billboard says “the present is a time that only exist in the future”. I have to say this one made me think for a while. It may be that someone in the marketing team read Bergson’s theory of time, and it may well be that he just came up with that intuitively. To that I would retort quoting Edmond Jabes (and I may come up with that on my own) that “the future is the past that comes”.

There are many different linguistic twists that these billboards carry. Very interesting yet disputed statements such as: “the future is where you spend the rest of your life”. But by far my favorite one is: “They asked the time, “where to?”, he answered: “I’m going to meet my future”. Priceless.

Understandably one should focus on his future so as to work and make a better life. Thus: “For every person who has ambitions, the door of the future is open”. Or this one: “It is nice to have history behind you, but it is even better to have a future”.

But I have this urge to tell Mustaqbal dudes that their fixation with the international tribunal, with the death of Hariri, with their martyrology culture they have been promoting in competition with Hizbullah is a regressive obsession with the past blowing up all their ‘philosophical’ reflections on the future as the driving force of political, social and economic change.

And with that I would end with another beautiful statement by Edmond Jabes: “Death is the past that persists” (La mort c’est le passé qui persiste).

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.

After you ‘commit suicide’ they trade your organs

or how to surveil your kid.

One country after another is stopping its ‘nationals’ from coming to work in Lebanon, especially those destined to private homes. The new one in line is Madagascar as they learned that body organs were being traded after strange deaths were happening. Most of the time, official doctor autopsy declares ‘suicide’ cases. But according to a guy who has an agency ‘importing’ workers and with who I happened to have a little chat, it is known that suicide cases most of the time involve a caring helping hand pushing you out of the balcony for example. According to the same guy, it is the hospitals from where these autopsies come from that are involved in the trade of organs.

So now, basta, game’s over, you can’t play with bodies anymore. First Sri Lanka, then the Philipines and now Madagascar? Now where will the Lebanese look to keep them lazy and abusive?

Several thoughts here:

The situation is so sad that countries like Madagascar are taking political decisions based on a purported ethical choice. Countries who never really cared that much for its people (no country does) but mostly care about what the international community says about treatment of their people – something that could decide on whether money is sent in these countries or not – have decided to cut the flow of outgoing workers  even though they bring a lot of money home.

See girls who come to work in the Switzerland of the Middle East have “housemaid” written on their Malagasi passport as an identity marker. That is how Malagasy authorities actually issue passports. Next to that, having your sect listed on the Lebanese one is a blessing. There are two types of ‘citizens’ in Madagascar: the average local people and those who go to work outside as housemaid.

It seems also the case that Malagasy families perfect their little teenager girl’s education by delivering her to the good care of a Lebanese family and make sure the latter is watching her whereabouts. I heard from people who have an 18 year old Malagasy woman working at their place that her father calls practically every other day in order to make sure his daughter is behaving and summons its employer to keep a watchful eye on her. I remember seeing the poor girl being punished on new years and not being to go out with her friends for that reason.

Now on the Lebanon side of things, what brings us into this mess in the first place is not that human beings in this country are champions in unethical behavior easily rivaling with Israeli practices, but the actual system that makes all this possible. Lebanese law virtually gives total discretion to an employer over his employee by making the former totally ‘responsible’ over the latter.

Although home workers have some form of work-visas, they can only get them once an employer agrees to pay for a fixed fee to get the papers. The employer pays a fee, a sort of ransom and keep the passport of his employee under custody. The employer has all the economic incentive to control the employee: He is actually legally paid for the possession of someone. This is a form of slavery, and lest I would shock many of you if I said that I have nothing against slavery in principle provided it has an appropriate social setting, slavery in a capitalist system create forms of exploitation that have much greater excessive implications.

Special dedication to Haqid who loves the practice of the raised arm

Following an intense conversation with EDB the one and only (who vowed to re-start the writing from the Banana republic), I thought that this scene pictured below showed that Hizbullah looked like a bunch of punks compared to these dudes. Discuss amongst yourself!

p02_20081124_pic1full

And this time haqouda, it goes hand in hand with the uniform! Funny that L’Orient le Jour puts the picture on its front page and does not feel that there is something fishy about it. Here is their caption: “Une foule monstre acclamant et saluant le chef des Kataëb au cours de la 2e commémoration de l’assassinat de Pierre Gemayel”. This is what I call internalization. Say, where are we with the plan of bringing down their offices? Ask Sean.

There is a good article in Al Akhbar on the changes undergone within the party and the merging of Samy Gemayel’s Loubnanouna into Amin Gemayel (his father)’s kataeb. We are marching towards a brighter future.

A bit of sugar with your coffee?


Another amazing shot taken by Bilal Jawisch who very nicely let me put his pictures on the blog. This was taken on the 8th of May (if I recall the date Bilal gave me), during the recent confrontations in Beirut. The guy you see here with the shiny kalashnikov is an Amal fighter.

Fetching bread in times of war


This picture was taken by Bilal Jawich a photographer from Al Akhbar (that I thank for letting me publish it on the blog), during the recent battles of Bab el Tebbaneh in Tripoli that took place on the 12th of May. A baker has to throw bread from one side of the street to the other so as to avoid snipers shots. You can see loafs of bread on the other side where people are struggling to collect them.

Why weren’t L’Orient Le Jour’s offices burnt?

If there will be one thing to remember out of all this mess that came to be labeled as the Lebanese situation it is the continuously imaginative babbling of this french-language media outlet. The only problem with imagination is that it can be very destructive. I would love to always have hard laughs when I read l’Orient le jour titles, such as this last one: “baptême du feu de Sleiman dans le concert des nations”, referring to the recent visit of Lebanese president Sleiman to the UN as a “baptism of fire”, that L’OJ still calls in a stupidly and naive war “the concert of nations”. But laughs turn quickly to ulcers when I read stuff like this:

Dimanche dernier, on a vu Samir Geagea formuler de profondes, franches et totales excuses publiques pour tout le mal injustifié dont a pu se rendre coupable, durant la guerre, la milice des Forces libanaises. Ce n’était certes pas la première fois qu’un chef libanais se livrait à une courageuse autocritique. Nul cependant n’était allé aussi loin dans l’énoncé du regret : lequel, par son impressionnante clarté, traduisait aussi un renoncement on ne peut plus solennel aux cruelles pratiques des bêtes de guerre.

Now let’s ponder a minute. This was an extract taken from Issa Gorayeb’s editorial, effectively defending Samir Geagea’s mea culpa this last Sunday during the LF martyr’s mass that I talked about in a previous post. Ok I won’t elaborate much, but just think about an analogy. If Saddam Husein say was alive today (not that I think Geagea has the same stature as Saddam but let’s assume) and Saddam would have stood to say that he’s sorry for the people he gazed in Kurdish villages. And then, a columnist would have praised these “sincere, and profound apologies” depicting the act as profoundly ‘courageous’. What would you have thought of this? Well, that’s precisely what just happened. I follow the writings of Ghorayeb since I’m 15. It is a slow march towards endlessly rotting decay. It seems that there is no end to it really.

But the one who saves this piece of toilet paper that is OJ as would ingeniously call it another blogger, is Fadi Noun, who writes still in the same issue the following:

Aussi spectaculaire que soit la confession du chef des Forces libanaises, elle reste insuffisante. Son caractère public et général la prive de la profondeur voulue ; le ton utilisé pour la prononcer, ainsi que le volet proprement politique du discours qui l’a suivie, en annulent en partie l’effet ; enfin le fait qu’il ait été prononcé à l’occasion d’une messe entretient la confusion sur sa nature.
Il faut savoir gré à Samir Geagea d’avoir utilisé le mot « ignoble » pour décrire certains actes qu’il regrette, que ce soit en son nom propre ou au nom des Forces libanaises, encore qu’il y ait là deux choses distinctes. C’est courageux, purificateur. C’est le mot juste pour parler de ces jeunes abattus sans merci « pour l’exemple », ou de cet homme tiré de son lit d’hôpital malgré les supplications d’une religieuse à genoux, et jeté en mer, les pieds pris dans un bloc de béton.
C’est aussi le mot qui vient aux lèvres de cet ancien milicien qui, sur les lieux d’un couvent désaffecté pour lequel on cherche une nouvelle fonction, et qui fut utilisé comme caserne durant la guerre, affirme « entendre encore les cris des Palestiniens qu’on y a enterrés vivants ».

I personally know more morbid stories on Samir Geagea and to that matter Bashir Gemayel. Very dirty stuff believe me. Basically we need another raid on Beirut by Hizbullah that this time gets other wackos (SSNP style) to burn the offices of this endlessly rotting institution. I can lead the battalion!

Political maronitism strikes back, and other considerations

There are several media campaigns being launched by the Lebanese Forces and some Phalangist elements. It is big showdown before legislative elections. The slogans and images leaves one to ponder. Take this one for example that does not look like it is sponsored by the Lebanese Forces or else they would have made sure to have their logo on it:

“We are the Lebanese Resistance”

What the hell are they talking about? It reminds me of the type of confrontational stance we had when we were kids that goes something like this:

– I was the first to play Lego
– No I was the first!
– My dad is the strongest
– No MY dad is the strongest

The “We” is an implicit ‘answer’ to Hizbullah they think are saying: “NO it is we who are the TRUE Lebanese resistance”. Pitiful to say the least. But in a way it is true, until very recently Hizbullah never claimed to be a “Lebanese resistance”, but an “Islamic resistance in Lebanon”. I won’t digress on the ambiguities of such statements especially that today Hizbullah forcefully argues that its resistance is ‘nationalist’.

Moving on to an explicit LF one:

This billboard is about the announcement of a mass that will be given in the memory of ‘the martyrs of the Lebanese Forces”. The top liner says: “we were brothers in martyrdom, let’s be brothers in life”. So I’m still trying to figure out what they mean by “we” but if it refers to the martyrs of Hizbullah then it is truly interesting to see how this martyrdom language has picked up like fire across all parties, especially such antagonistic ones as the LF and Hizb.

It is quite interesting to see that historically when it was Hizbullah who emerged in re-action to Lebanese Forces practices all around the country (in the 80s), now the reverse: it is LF’s discourse that is overclouded by representations of Hizbullah and it seems to ‘speak’ to them.

On another note, martyrdom has become a category as important as sect to identify with a specific imaginary collective in this tiny little geography called Lebanon. If you want to be politically relevant (or named) then you better show some martyrs. In this case, the legitimating instance is the Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir (good job sanctifying the LF) who’s going to give the mass in question.

So in a way the use of the dead for the purpose of distinguishing, separating, categorizing, and naming, is ironically used to reach out to the ‘other’. That’s the sectarianism system at its best: because we are different we need to reach out to each other. And also: Even in death when we resemble ourselves, what we symbolize by being dead permits us to live separate lives.