Security Guards and Valet Parking

In Lebanon, I’d say half of the population parks the cars of the other half. And when they are not parking cars, valet youngsters roam around the streets with scooter bikes reserving spots for potential customers.

You also have another sizable portion, serving as security guards for residential areas, political figures, and other “big projects”. Say, Saifi village, or very recently now the Sanayeh gardens. Imagine! Who would have thought that a garden needs a security guard? But in Lebanon all gardens (and there are maybe 3 in total with a maximum of 5 trees in them) have security guards.

But someone might ask what is the relationship between security guards and valet parking. I have to say it took me a while to find it but here it is.

Well, to start with, it makes streets a very unfriendly and unpleasant place to be. Valet parking constantly bully you as you attempt to park in a spot they decided to reserve to themselves. And security guards complain for anything they could invent on the spot in order to demonstrate that walking from here, or parking your car there, is a security hasard,  just to demonstrate that they have some form of power in the most Kafkaesque of fashions.

But most importantly, these are jobs that don’t produce anything socially useful, they don’t promote useful communitarian values. They cultivate relations of subservience of one class to another and reinforce whatever social structure are in place to define different communities (in the case of Lebanon read as the confession).

I’m not a “unionist” preacher, whatever that means, but Lebanese are divided socially and this is reinforced by the way streets are populated, the way streets are uninviting to any human individual who is circulating just to breath air or look around.

People are astonished that confessionalism is so deeply entrenched in Lebanon but confessionalism is in every social act you undertake from the moment you are born until the day you die (and afterwards). And Liberalism as an economic project goes hand in hand with this type of social structure because it makes everything security sensitive which constrains people to fall back on their communities.

Marx was not wrong to think that capitalism wrecks any traditional social system and erects new classes continuously. But liberalism which is the ideological backbone of capitalism is obsessed with security, with domestification, gentrification. It does not care about classes in a material sense but preserves a “culture” of social categories.

More on this later.

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Illusions of Terrorism and Democracy

XU*5034480The recent bombings in Beirut elevates Lebanon to the ironic status of a democratic country, in the modern Western sense of the term. Sadly, this is no privilege at all, more of a burden really. As I argued earlier, Terrorism as a particular form of carrying out political action is only possible if certain democratic structures are part of society’s general culture. Terrorism targets the feelings of civilians because the latter can, through this particular human disposition, extract concessions from political elites.

After 2005, most assassinations in Lebanon involve a mix of vendetta types of violence that target political actors and this “democratic” form of politics. Vendetta types of violence do not necessarily target the feelings or views of a specific group of people, only political actors. Terrorism though does and is peculiar to the modern age. There is no terrorism without some form of democratic politics as understood through liberal ideals of representations (such as individualism, freedom of choice, mass consumption economy, etc.) and the political setting of the Nation-State. Wherever there were terrorist attacks in the non-Western world, it is noticeable that they always involved a political message either to foreign countries (say attacking touristic sites, nightclubs), or local political regimes that are democratic in the sense that the “feelings” of their societies can have a direct bearing on the political process.

Yet even though nowhere before have we been faced with the immediacy of distant death, nowhere before have we been so distant to killings that are incurred by people who are trying to send a message to us. In effect, terrorism targeting civilians is not targeting the people who were actually killed but potentially any people that are part of a political delineated community (here the Shi’i community but also the Lebanese, and so on). Terrorism in this sense is one of these rare instances where violence is used on a person or group who is not the real target.

To come to the recent suicide explosion in Dahyeh, I’m not here analyzing the political message sent to the elite (Hizbullah’s political party, or whoever is incurring such attacks) or to the constituency of a political movement or organization. I’m more interested in what people actually do about it. Although people can be “terrorized” by what is happening they seem helpless as to what to do about it. Can they really force political actors to change their course of actions?

Then, Terrorism is doomed because on the one hand it assumes that the feelings that civilians have, fueled by media strategies, are going to influence political elites to do something about it, and on the other hand, it assumes that civilians feelings are in themselves a motive of political change. Raw emotions do not create interesting change at the political level. Only does reason. And it is reason that is the stuff from which political decisions are made.

This is why terrorism is a victim of the media effect, and democracies or ideals of democracies are experienced as a spectacle in today’s societies. In our modern political systems that are animated by the technological and media industry, “feelings” and “emotions” understood in a raw sense are the primary human traits that is meant to dictate political action. This is why terrorism exist. In the absence of such human predisposition, terrorism would not be a viable weapon.

Here lies one of the contradictions of the culture of democracies and how they are the source of  their own misery. Democracies as they function today involve a politics of emotions that traditionally was never linked to politics as such. It does not mean that traditionally, feelings where not getting in the way of correct handling of political matter, far from it. War practices always involved forms of cruelties that surely were triggered by specific types of emotions and feelings and in turn triggered these types of feelings. But never, were feelings used in a way were curtailed by higher forms of politics that ordered the way agreements were reached, successions were arranged, or war were started.

Aspects of Capitalism’s waste

Saifi2The disparity between the general care given to Beirut’s “Saifi village” in comparison to certain areas of Lebanon is outrageous. This picture show a man dusting the sidewalk pole of one of the main street of Saifi, downtown Beirut, otherwise known as Solidere land.

Who’s reading what and how?

Mali rebels torched library of historic manuscripts
Fleeing Islamist insurgents burnt two buildings containing priceless books as French-led troops approached, says mayor

Beyond the tragic implications of such an event, a small anecdote:

The manuscripts had survived for centuries in Timbuktu, on the remote south-west fringe of the Sahara desert. They were hidden in wooden trunks, buried in boxes under the sand and in caves. When French colonial rule ended in 1960, Timbuktu residents held preserved manuscripts in 60-80 private libraries.
The vast majority of the texts were written in Arabic. A few were in African languages, such as Songhai, Tamashek and Bambara. There was even one in Hebrew. They covered a diverse range of topics including astronomy, poetry, music, medicine and women’s rights. The oldest dated from 1204.

Women’s rights? Was this “topic” added to suit the modern mind? I did not know there was a discipline as important as astronomy or poetry, music and medicine called “women’s rights”? Is it now a science of some sort?

Nationalism, sexism, and other evils

I just learned something that is mostly fascinating, and may shock some of our beloved readers.

Everyone knows that a Lebanese woman cannot pass its nationality to her kid (if the father is not Lebanese, while the opposite is possible).

But did you know friends and relatives that a Lebanese woman married to a Palestinian man cannot even let her kid inherit her? (While if she was married to a man of any other nationality then she could actually make her child inherit).

You may ask what is fascinating about it. Well it is the fact that you can be sexist and chauvinistic at the same time and enclose it in a law. Beware that if I use the term sexist that does not at all mean I believe in “Women’s rights” in the liberal tradition. More on this later.

Clarification

This post is undergoing severe re-Clarification! It is the writers opinion, following his enlightened readers, that the terms used obscure more than clarifies the meanings he is trying to propose…

It is not “religion” that makes people more “conservative” and sexually less “liberal”, but it is the capitalistic system, and the emergence of a bourgeois society. So Religion, or religious institutions in a capitalist system, religion under the watchful eye of the State can project more “conservative” practices.

Yet “conservative” does not mean much, and the management of the body is a much more complex issue than being “free to do whatever I want”. Because “free” and thinking that one knows what he/she “wants” are conceptual illusions that blind you from seeing how enslaved one is by the power structures in place. And that’s the merit of the liberal system.

The sexuality fixation of the left reveals its liberal nature

Following Jamal’s post on leftism and its concern with “nudity” I did some thinking (never enough) and I ended up circling around this idea that the left always contained the elements needed to provoke its own demise.

The left’s stance concerning the dispositions and use/techniques of the body (sexual freedoms sometimes narrowly defined) is supposed to go hand in hand with the idea that to fight oppression, one must be able to manage his body as he/she pleases. Society imposes all kinds of rules on these practices, this status-quo is called “conservative”. When you put into question these rules you become “progressive” or “leftist”. One of the biggest problem the left has with Islamic movements is their very disciplined, gendered type of politics.

Notwithstanding the fact that this aversion betrays a bourgeois contempt of the left towards the other, I think the left completely lost focus of what fighting the domination/oppression of the body really is about (surely not the narrow minded ‘sexual freedom’). The exact lines of power between the self, the body and society are not as clear as “i can have sex with whoever I want”.

First the contradiction: if one is supposed to cultivate a ‘free’ management of the body, then one becomes self-centered and with time loses his more social concerns. I think this is why Fascism and Communism are not just two sides of the same coin (two opposite extremes), they are the mirror image of each other. Both ask for the erasing of the individual into the overarching ‘social’. The left thinks naively (in a liberalist way) that the individual actor can do this and at the same time learn to do “whatever he wants with him/herself”. But this makes one fall into a narcissistic pseudo-destructive individualistic practice of the self.

By the way, the real challenge to the Liberal political system of state-forming Europe was Fascism, and not Communism. Because it challenged the very nature of the relation between the self, the body and society, whereas the left was more concerned with preserving the liberal legacy of the all-mighty individual actor. I don’t know to what extent fascism was truly a challenge to the liberal order because Fascism was defeated (as a grand project, but fascistic tendencies still exist in Europe and the Americas today).

This is what the Islamic trend really objects to: Communism and other leftist trends are part of the liberal legacy. Both legacies (leftist and its father liberalism) through their doctrines have poor understandings of the place the relation between body and self-mastery occupies in society.