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.

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Are you a leftist or a Shi’a?

We often hear people deplore the state of ‘Shi’a affairs’. According to this line of reasoning, although “the Shi’a” filled the majority ranks of Leftist parties in the 60s and 70s, they were the most ‘secular’ of all ‘confessions’ in the country, but that a guy like Musa Al Sadr had to screw things up and make them more ‘sectarian’ with the formation of the political and social movement known as Amal. That’s a classical “Lebanese leftist” argument. Where is this ‘secular’, ‘progressivist’ spirit that “the Shi’a” had and somehow lost with religious preaching, we can almost hear them say.

Where is the fallacy here? It is already in the very content of the argument: Shi’a were identified as Shi’a whether in Leftist or other form of organization before the advent of a significant Shi’a political organization. The confessional nature of our political system is so pervasive that leftist critics forget to see how confessional they are when they make such arguments. Confessionalism is the naming of a group of people under one brand, here for example, “The Shi’a”. In reality, when someone identifies as “a Shi’a” it does not mean he is referring to a generic use of the term that everybody refers to. Although political organization and discourse try to do just that – and people believe in this strongly – “being a Shi’a”, a “Maronite”, or a “Druze” can mean so many different things to different people.

But this generic pull (the abstract reference to a specific signifier) is so pervasive that political formation could only succeed durably in the case where you mobilize using that category. Warning, here I am not referring to the other causes of the effectiveness of confessional mobilization that include institutional presence (ritualistic, educative, etc.), financial help (outside or inside mobilization of resource), etc. I am referring to something that stands before all that, that prompts people to identify in the first place to one set of discourse instead of another.

The discourse and labeling that counts is the one that becomes politically authoritative. So that I am not accused of plagiarism (and not because I want to sound pedantic) I can say that Bourdieu said that.

Another thing to note is that Leftist organizations were mostly controlled by Greek Orthodox leaders, Shi’a forming the majority at the lower level echelons of the organizations. When the communist parties had strong institutions in the South they were organizing seminars, activities, social help etc, but they were still coming from somewhere else, interacting with rituals, popular dispositions, ways of life, and what have you that sometimes did not match the “communist” discourse, unlike the different “shi’a” rhetoric that came later on. The other one could be considered more like ‘homegrown’ or something (I like this term, since somebody used it in the comment section, someone called HT, I’d like to know who that stands for).

The politics of naming

One of the first political phenomenon I am concerned with is the time (and resources etc.) dominant actors spend on finding suitable categories to define (or give meaning to) their various political actions. In addition to the fact that naming gives significance or the illusion of substance in perceiving the enemy, the symbolic act of naming Hizbullah a “terrorist” organization opens the door for so many different legal as well as diplomatic dispositions that has concrete material effect (in the same way the beefing up of an army has material significance):

United States lawmakers are stepping up pressure on the European Union to declare the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

A House of Representatives’ panel is to highlight Wednesday the importance of Europe as a fundraising base for the group, long held responsible by the United States for anti-U.S. and anti-Israel attacks.

Some European countries have resisted an EU designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, arguing that it is better to engage the group given its large role in Lebanese politics.

What is important here is to notice how, generally, legal appellations and social norms are all based on this categorization principle. In this case, the creation of significance is a political process embedded in institutions in place (governments, parliaments, courts, etc.) that serves to create disciplined subjects and the ‘other’.

Ask a "Shiite"?

I don’t know if I should laugh or cry, but this blog or whatever you want to call it, has thought it would be useful for an alleged ‘dialogue of civilization’ to “Ask a Shiite” in such an ingenious fashion:

Our resident expert will be fielding questions of a philosophical, physical, and political nature in regards to Shiite Islamic belief and Middle East perception from his own eyes.

Notice the ‘rank’ of the ‘resident’. And notice that a lot of weight is put on “perception from his own eyes”. Did they mean to talk about his eyes encapsulated in a reified conceptualization of a uniformed and monolithic bunch of Shiites?

The loveliest part of it all, is that these forum of discussion are genuinely believed to engage ‘dialogue’ when in fact they serve to crystallize at a much deeper level a rigid perception of “the other”. “Lodge” it in your head: Nobody thinks according to a cohesive system of thought that a dilettante ‘thinker’ has written in a paper or book or what have you. There is not such a thing as a Shiite. Only you, me, political dominant players whether Shiite-named or not, are those who conceptualize an alleged “Shiite Islamic belief”.