Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Archive for June, 2007

How can Lebanon contain Syria?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 30/06/2007

syria-w1.gifSometimes geography can be quite unforgiving and quite a hassle. Since Syria’s independence, its successive governments have shown that they could “contain” Lebanon by closing their borders. A couple of years later (by the late 1950s) the Syrian governments discovered that they could play an active role in Lebanon by arming some of its groups: first Rachid Karame and Kamal Jumblatt’s thugs; then some groups within the PLO, starting in the late 1960s; then Mussa Sadr’s militia in the 1970s, and finally Sunni and Shiite islamists in the mid 1980s… and most of the time without having to spend a dime.
What have the successive Lebanese governments done to prevent those actions up to now? Nothing other than protesting, most of the time discretly and now very loudly, accusing the Syrian President (which is more than likely) of being behind the past political assassinations, bombings and attacks.
“We fight with our words”, said a Lebanese politician a couple of months ago… “our voice is our only weapon”, said another. Sadly enough, for once, these politicians are speaking their minds. The very corrupt and murderous political class we have is now conviced that words are weapons, and that they can actually do everything with words.
It is true that words in politics can have important consequences, but they certainly do not replace deeds and political actions.
Will the deployment of UN troups prevent Syria from intervening in Lebanon? Certainly not. Not more than the UNIFIL has prevented the launching of rockets from Lebanon to Israel. So what can? Maybe the quintuple D.
Diplomacy: The Lebanese government has joined an international axis so as to “counter” Syria. This has left little room for diplomacy. What has the Lebanese government done to try to seperate the Iranians from the Syrians? What has it done to try to convince the Turks to stick with the Lebanese, or the Jordanians, or the Iraqis?
Democracy (concensual democracy): Lebanese democracy is based on intercommunal understanding, and equality between all groups, it’s by showing that element that it can discredit other regimes that do not follow these principles. How come there is no Alawite in government?
Deliberation (public deliberation): Lebanon should strengthen public liberties and free speech, and encourage the Lebanese media to adress the Syrian population and public. Up to now, the Lebanes politicians have been attacking the Syrian government in general terms and the Syrian population has been reading this as xénophobia towards them (with some help from the Syrian government). What steps has the government taken to prevent or even to reverse that?
Discretion: If the Lebanese sees the Syrian government as a threat, does it necessarily have to voice it. Wouldn’t it be better to try to use counter-intelligence or to develop a strategy to try to pressure the Syrian government without offending the Syrian people.


Posted in Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Security, Syria, Violence | Leave a Comment »

Neoconservatism waxes in Lebanon while it wanes everywhere else

Posted by worriedlebanese on 28/06/2007

The whole approach to the International Tribunal in Lebanon fits perfectly a neoconservative mindset, but seems rather inadequate for any other one. The political forces backing the government have been presenting the tribunal as the end result of their action, while it’s part of a longer process and the beginning of a new and much more dangerous stage.
I have always defended the importance of ideas (“ideas matter”), but I see myself arguing against it lately when people start talking about sovereignty and justice. It is quite obvious that I am all for “sovereignty” and “justice”, but I do not believe one can reduce politics to words and ideals. One must first see how one can put these words into action. What is the likelihood of one’s success and what one is willing to pay for that.
The slogan one has been hearing since February 2005 is “we want the truth”. If that is the cas, do we need an international tribunal. Can’t an inquiry suffice?
I am not saying that one should sacrifice his values in the name of realpolitics. The question is not there. The Syrian government shouldn’t be given what it wants for the sake of security in Lebanon. This would mean rewarding it for the instability it has been causing the country. What the government and the political class should be asking itself is how it can prevent instability in the country; how it can immunise the country against Syrian and Israeli interventions.

Posted in Lebanon, Political behaviour, Politics, Violence | 1 Comment »

Lebanon, from “refuge” to “bridge” to “exit gate”

Posted by worriedlebanese on 27/06/2007

brokenbridge.jpgI joined for lunch today a discussion group called Chrétiens de la Méditerranée (Christians from the Mediterranean). They are planning a summer workshop for 2008 in which they will be bringing French Christians and Lebanese Christians together. Their programme seems very interesting, and I hope to partake in it. While discussing the current events pertaining to Lebanon and the Middle East, I saw myself sketching a very bleak picture of the ethno-religious minorities of the Middle East. I was quite regretfully lecturing on the current political dynamics and identity politics in Lebanon and Syria, when a sentence slipped my mind: “Lebanon will in the future most probably be remembered as the exit gate of the non-muslim communities of the Middle East”. And I gave the example of the Mizrahi Jews and the Armenians who’s communities grew during the first thirty years of the Republic and who have dramatically shrunk during the past twenty years. Armenian and Jewish immigration to Lebanon was quite regular until the 1960s. Lebanon seemed to be the best alternative to immigration to the West (or to Israel or Armenia) for those who felt threatened in their countries but who didn’t want to sever ties with the Levant. And so they came to Beirut from Syria, Iraq and Egypt. But by the end of the 1960s, the trend started to change. Lebanon became increasingly unstable and when the war irrupted the numbers of Jews and Armenians in Lebanon started to deplete.
Most Lebanese were quite unaware of the near disappearance of the Jewish community in 1980s. And today they are unaware of the rapid decrease of the Armenian community. There are no longer Jewish authorities in Lebanon, and the Armenian authorities are very discrete about their depleting communities. But a quick look at the enrolment figures in Armenian schools, and the Armenian participation in elections will give you a good idea on the demographic shrinking of the community.
Interestingly enough, the other Christian communities, especially the Maronites, are quite vocal about immigration issue. Some people try to “dedramatise” the issue by saying that people from all communities are immigrating. This is probably true, but the only difference is that Christian immigration tends to be final. One can find many “objective” explanations to it (country of destination, integration, existing diaspora and relatives…). But why not look for “subjective” explanations? Why not compare this immigration to that of the Jewish community (that started in the late 1960s) and the Armenian community (that started in the mid 1970s)? Could they be asking themselves “what are we still doing in this land”, “what future do my kids have in a land increasingly hostile or foreign to them”?
Lebanon has been depicted as the refuge of Middle Eastern communities, is it now becoming their exit gate?

Posted in Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Middle East | Leave a Comment »

Bumping accidentally into a “pro-civil marriage” entry

Posted by worriedlebanese on 25/06/2007

I stumbled upon an odd article on Future Movement’s internet site that raises the question of civil marriage in Lebanon.
It is not really a proper post; it’s a non referenced copy of article written by Zvi Bar’el that was probably originally published in Haaretz.
What I found most interesting is the number of inaccuracies and mistakes that the article contains, and not one mention of them by the person who copy/pasted the article. One can presume that he didn’t notice them, which is most likely because they follow common assumptions shared by Lebanese and non-Lebanese on the idiosyncrasies of Lebanese law.
Here are a couple of the false assumptions found in the article:
“The most salient constitutional prohibition is a ban on marriage between Christians and Muslims”. Absolutely false. There is no ban on interfaith marriage in Lebanon. Actually, Lebanese law does not put any conditions on marriage. This matter is left to the different communities. So in the same was as the religious communities can except polygamy or enforce monogamy, chose different procedures for ending a marriage, put conditions on who can marry and who cannot… they can refuse, accept or limit interfaith marriages. Only the Druze and the Jewish personal laws refuse mixed marriages in Lebanon. Muslim and Greek-Orthodox personal status laws limit them, and Catholic personal laws establish a special procedure for them.
“It was only in 1983 that these personal status laws were translated into Arabic”. Wrong again. Most of the Lebanese personal laws either predate the Mandate period (such as the Sunni personal law) or follow it (such as the Christian, the Druze, the Shiite and more recently the Alawite personal status laws)… all are in Arabic, and they were translated into French in… 1970!
“The fact that children are legally considered their father’s property”. Property?! In all of the Personal status laws I have studied, the general concept is that of Custody!
The text is full of such inaccuracies and shows a great misunderstanding of Lebanon. This is hardly surprising coming from an Israeli journalist, but what I find disturbing is to know that many Lebanese share this misunderstanding.

Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Politics, Religion, Secularism | Leave a Comment »

Anti-confessionalism at its worst (another hate mail)

Posted by worriedlebanese on 19/06/2007

amam31.JPGHere is an email I wrote yesterday and sent to AMAM:

I believe Amam is doing a terrible job. It has been launching one political campaign after the other for the past year ridiculing sectarianism, confusing sectarianims and communalism, and equating them with division, underdevelopment and war.


The ideology AMAM diffuses is not new. It can be traced to the 1920s and it has marked the Lebanese constitution since its adoption in 1926 (c.f. article 95). Oddly enough, it’s a State ideology that is propagated in our history books (try to find in a history manual any reference to communal identity), in ministerial declarations, in television programs… And what has it amounted to? A complete ignorance by most Lebanese on all issues pertaining the communities they don’t belong to, and even the knowledge of their community is flawed.

The Lebanese do not even know the exact number of communities that are established in Lebanon. Do you know? It’s 17, not 18, not 19. Seventeen: 12 Christian, 4 Muslim and 1 Jewish (the Ismael-is are not an established community in Lebanon). Do you even know that a non-religious community was recognised but never established? probably not. Brainwashed since your youth that Lebanon, State and Society, is confessionalist, and that confessionalism is bad, you’ve never gone further than that and asked yourself in what way is confessionalism bad? Is our system really confessionalist?


So what is AMAM actually doing? Is it doing anything new? In the content, absolutely not. In the format yes, it is making anti-confessionalism “sexy”, pseudo-humorous, contemporary.

AMAM’s campaign is fighting the only positive development in the past few years: communalism is no longer taboo, people are expressing their communal belonging (and fears) freely and openly. The expression is new, but the feeling old. Now that it is expressed, maybe the country can start addressing it.

What is wrong with being proud of ones communal heritage? What’s wrong with wanting to be truly represented by a person from ones own community? What’s wrong with communal power-sharing? In principle, and in practice too. But remember, when one is judging things in practice, one has to be sure that they are the result of the specific variable he is working on, and not of something else, or a mix of variables…

So now communalism isn’t taboo any longer. People talk about their communal fears and wants. Christians are expressing their fears of mass immigration. Do you think it better if they just shut up and left the country silently, like the Lebanese Jews did or the Lebanese Armenians are doing today (check the yearly figures of student enrolment in Armenian schools).

Instead of trying to understand communal expressions and fears, AMAM is fighting them, ridiculing them. You do not fight the manipulation that surrounds them, you denounce their very expression. You conflate communalism and sectarianism under the same derogatory label: “confessionalism”. You refuse to distinguish between their socio-cultural and political dimensions, their spontaneous and their manipulated expressions… To AMAM it is all very simple: “confessionalism” is a social ail. Hence, all your campaigns denigrate the Lebanese society and portrays it as bigoted and sectarian. Here you’re mocking an imaginary private company, in another campaign you are mocking social and professional interactions “parking for Maronites”, “doctor for Shiites”, “Greek-orthodox specialist”…

What you are doing is foolish, short-minded and arrogant. You think you are reacting to the failings of the Lebanese society when you are actually but their simplest expression.

Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Blogosphere, Identity, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Prejudice, Religion, Secularism, Semantics, Values | 8 Comments »

Arab cartoons: antisemitic, anti-Jewish or anti-Israeli? Does it matter!?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 19/06/2007

untitled2_w.jpguntitled3_wa.jpguntitled4_wa.jpgYediot Aharanot showed 4 cartoons that were published in the Arab media, commenting on the Hamas/Fateh struggle in Gaza and the West Bank. The article’s subtitle states “Inter-Palestinian fighting in Gaza has unleashed barrage of virulently anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic cartoons in Arab and Muslim media, Anti-Defamation League says”.
After reading this I remembered an argument I had with Ali A., a Syrian anti-baath journalist residing in Lebanon who argued that there was no anti-semitism in the Arab world, only hostility to Israel (he distinguishes between Antisemitism and anti-judaïsm). He sees Antisemitism as a totally European phenomenon.
Well, it’s true that as an ideology and a construct, antisemitism was born and raised in Europe, but since the 1940s, the Arabs have had time to import it and develop it. As these cartoons and many other cartoons cleary show, even the iconography of anti-semitism was borrowed. It is true that the Arab blend is of a particular kind. There are different levels to it. There is a hostility to the West seen as antagonistic towards Islam and the Arabs. Here Israel is seen as a mere imperialistic tool in the hand of the West. The fact that many Israelis are of European origin and that they have created a settler’s community much in the same way as the European colonisers in the Americas, Oceania and parts of Africa, reinforces that idea. Those who adopt this approach usually call themselves “anti-zionist”. And they spend much time trying to distinguish anti-zionism and anti-semitism.
While in the realms of ideas the distinction is quite easy to draw (in the same way they distinguish between Arab and Muslim), in practice, especially in the iconography, it becomes almost impossible. How can one distinguish a Jew from an Israeli in a drawing? especially when the Israeli is charactrised by jewish religious traits. How can one keep on distinguishing anti-jewish sentiment and anti-semitism when the arab cartoonist and commentators are massively borrowing from the european antisemitic tradition?!
In the end of the day, if u call it antisemiticism, anti-judaism or anti-zionism, doesn’t all that have the same effect on Jews worlwide? What is more important in the condemnation of hate speach, the intentions of the perpetrators or the effect it has on its victims?

Posted in Antisemitism, Conspiracy, Identity, Intercommunal affairs, Israel, Semantics | 14 Comments »

Moderates vs Radicals

Posted by worriedlebanese on 18/06/2007

Seen from the outside, there seems to be a clash between the “moderates” and the “radicals” throughout the Middle East. And the major fronts seem to be Palestine and Lebanon. In Palestine, Fateh is presented as a moderate force, while Hamas is denounced as a radical force. In Lebanon things are always more complicated. The moderates are an aggregate of historically opposed and confessionally varied political forces. And the radicals are Hezbollah on one side, and the Qaeda/pro-syrian sunni islamist forces on the other.
Since the 2005/2006 parliamentary elections in Lebanon and Palestine, the US and Europe have been very openly supportive of the “Moderates”, and very vocally opposed to the “Radicals”. On the other hand, Syria and Iran have been very vocally supportive of the “Radicals” and sometimes violently hostile to the “Moderates”.
The whole international and regional mood has been to pit one against the other. In Palestine it has successfully led to an open war between the two factions. In Lebanon, violence has errupted between the “Moderates” and some “Radicals”, while a “cold” war has been opposing for almost a year the “Moderates” and the “Radicals”.
This disctinction and labelling of forces was created by the Americans. The “moderates” are their allies, and the “radicals” are those who are still combatting Israel. This labelling is justifiable if one is looking at the international dimensions of the conflict, but they are totally unsatisfactory if one is interested in the local and social dimension.
What is moderate about Mubarak’s regime? What is the trait shared by Siniora’s and Abbas’ regimes?

Posted in Discourse, Lebanon, Palestinian territories, Politics, Prejudice, Reform, Semantics, Syria | Leave a Comment »

The clumsiness of a hoisted flag

Posted by worriedlebanese on 17/06/2007

Some newspapers reported yesterday that the Lebanese army hoisted a Lebanese flag over a building in Nahr el Bared camp. Even though I support the army in this battle (though I still hold it accountable for any violation of war obligations), I found the picture very shocking. I was wondering how the Palestinians of Lebanon are reacting to it. Hailing a flag is a sign of conquest. And the conquered land is no other than what these Palestinians perceive as “their” territory (a surrogate territory where roads and neighbourhoods are baptised by the name of the towns and villages the refugees left in 1948). Now even though the camps are Lebanese, they have been “settled” by Palestinians in 1948 and granted an extra-territorial status by the army and government in 1969. Even though this status was repealed in 1986, the extraterriotarility is still respected by the Lebanese government. Furthermore, in the Lebanese-Palestinian psyche, the camps hold the remains of Palestine. So by hoisting the Lebanese flag over the camp, the Lebanese soldiers are presenting themselves as conquerers, and this will be compared by the Palestinians to another conquest, that of 1948.
I think the Lebanese army and police should maitain order in the camps, as they should everywhere else in Lebanon, but this shouldn’t be done as an act of conquest but as the spreading of the rule of law.

Posted in Lebanon, Political behaviour, Security, Violence | Leave a Comment »

Talking politics with an Israeli chap

Posted by worriedlebanese on 17/06/2007

Just as I was finishing my second lesson of modern hebrew in a public library, the person next to me interrupted me and asked if I found it difficult to learn hebrew and why I was learning it. After a brief discussion, I “came out” as a Lebanese and he as an Israeli. I told him what difficulties I was encountering (mostly having problems distinguishing certain letters), but once I reestablished the proper probounciation of some letters (the ‘ain and the het) it became much easier to me to understand some words because of my knowledge of Arabic.
After finishing my lesson, and very proud of my microscopic progress, I met him at the Cafeteria as we had agreed. And there started a 3 hour lengthy discussion on Israel and Israelophobia. Truth to tell, I didn’t find the discussion very interesting. He was very defensive and kept on justifying what he saw as right. While I was trying to explain the differences in perception, failing miserably to make my points understood. Well, I had too many to start with, and as I wasn’t taking a pre-formated role, I guess it was rather unsettling for him. He very quickly noticed that I wasn’t hostile to Israel, but he then was surprised to see me critical about Israeli politics and understanding with Israelophobes. But even then he was surprised to see that I wasn’t very comfortable and apt in defending their point of view. I think that made me very suspicious in his eyes. My failings were probably interpreted as proof that the Israelophobes are wrong (politically, morally, ethically, legally), that Israelophiles were right (in every way) and that I was a crypto-Israelophobe, probaby for genetical reasons, because in his eyes I was very stereotypically an Arab.
Disappointed as I was with the discussion that centered on the wars betweens the Arabs and the Israelis (bad versus good), on the justification of violence (for survival) and the condemnation of Israelophobia as a prefiguration of the future and a declaration of genocidal intent… I asked myself, what exactly did I learn from this discussion?
– There is a very strong narrative in Israel concerning the Israeli-Arab struggle, and it’s probably even more tightly “argumented” than its Arab and Islamic equivalent(s).
– Israelis are as suspicious of Arabs as the Arabs are of Israelis. They both see hidden intentions and agendas everywhere and perceive themselves and the other as a monolythical whole.
– The Mizrahi Jews have a larger problem than other Jews to tackle with regard to the Arabs because they are not reconciled with their original identity. The guy I was talking to was a clear example of this. His father’s family is from Egypt and his mother’s from Tunesia. He refused at first to acknowledge that any of them spoke Arabic?! Later conceding that they might have spoken a few words to communicate in the market.
– My meta-narrative awakens suspicion and does not bring about a common understanding.

Posted in Hezbollah, Identity, Israel, Lebanon, Middle East, Palestinian territories, Peace, Violence | 2 Comments »

Talking-back: reacting to posts made on Haaretz on the british academic boycott of Israel

Posted by worriedlebanese on 15/06/2007

It is no coincidence and it should not come as a surprise that such a reaction [as the academic boycott of Israel] comes from England. It’s in London that the Boycott Movement (that latter became the Anti-Apartheid Movement) against South African products during the apartheid started. And the UK is in many ways responsible for what happened during and after it was given a mandate over Palestine. The regime the Jewish majority (a minority then) set up and is supporting today is a form of Apartheid of a very particular sort, but an Apartheid regime nevertheless.
Humanists, academics and human rights activists cannot condone such a regime and it is only normal they react to it. The question that I ask myself is how effective and productive is the boycott?
I personally believe it’s counterproductive, especially if it triggers hysterical reactions, justifications, accusations and not an ounce of self-criticism.
Boycott is not the solution. Argumentation, open dialogue, non-polemical debate is the only way forward.

Posted in Israel, Middle East, Palestinian territories, Peace, Political behaviour | Leave a Comment »

Security in the foreground… reframing an issue in Lebanon (1)

Posted by worriedlebanese on 13/06/2007

Since 2005, and in the midst of car explosions, political assassinations and terrorist attacks, security wasn’t seen as a seperate concern, an issue in itself. It was linked to another political issue: the ongoing fight against the Syrian regime (or for “Justice” as some people put it) and its remanants in Lebanon (what the pro-government forces called the “shared syro-lebanese security apparatus”).

The explosions and attacks were either seen as messages meant to convince the Lebanese that their sole protector was Syria, or as a punitive measure towards the political class for its pro-independence drive. The only way the pro-government politicians responded was by attacking the Syrian regime even more and accusing it of being responsible for all the terrorist acts that had taken place in Lebanon since February 2005. No serious inquiry followed these attacks. Neither the Minister of the interior nor the Minister of Justice made it a top priority concern. No regular accounts were given to the citizens about any progress in this issue. The finger was pointed at Syria, and the politicians thought that this was enough, and that everything will go back in order after the establishment of an Special International Court to prosecute Hariri’s muderers. So security was equated with the tribunal.
But now that the UN has decided to establish such a tribunal, and is in the process of doing so, it is quite clear that the establishment of the tribunal is no solution to the security threat. But then what is?

Posted in Justice, Lebanon, Middle East, Political behaviour, Security, Violence | Leave a Comment »

Reconciling armed intervention and peacemaking

Posted by worriedlebanese on 12/06/2007

During a relaxed summer brunch in Vincennes, a heated arguments started between a Lebanese-Palestinian friend and myself over the combats that were raging in the Nahr el Bared camp next to Tripoli.
She was suprised to see that I was supporting the Lebanese army. And I told her that I felt the same about her condemnation of the Lebanese Army. In fact, I’m sure that we were both rather uncomfortable with our stands. Neither of us is really supportive of military interventions of any kind. But in the current situation, is there any other choice than the military one?
The question is tricky and it hides many others. What is the current situation? What are the problems that should be solved? How can they be solved? Are there other ways than the military intervention to solve them? Is the military intervention solving them? Is any side initiating another solution or advancing another means to solve them? What are the objectives of the military intervention?
These are questions that hardly anyone is asking these days. They are all subsumed by a global one “Are you with or against the military intervention?”.

Posted in Lebanon, Peace, Security, Violence | 1 Comment »

Working on Peace education

Posted by worriedlebanese on 11/06/2007

logo1.jpgI have been working for several weeks now on two programmes for peace education in Lebanon: One for trainers and one for a summer workshop. It’s a whole new field I’m discovering and I this has resulted in my total neglect of this blog. One of the main fuels for my post writing was the daily news. I chose to ignore it a couple of months ago because I noticed that it was sterile and reported nothing really new. But today, it is very difficult to ignore the news because it’s here, it’s violent, it’s real, and it is bloody.
For over two weeks now, there has been ongoing fighting between the lebanese army and a militant islamic group in and around the camp. And I see myself quite supportive of the Lebanese army. How can I reconcile this position with my pro-peace work? how can I be supporting a military intervention while working on an anti-violence pro-peace programme?

Posted in Blogosphere, Education, Lebanon, Middle East, Peace, Prejudice, Reconciliation, Religion | 3 Comments »

Resolution 1757 or International law perceived as “fact on the ground”

Posted by worriedlebanese on 03/06/2007

One of the most surprising outcomes of resolution 1757 was that it was immediately perceived and present by the Lebanese political class as a fact on the ground. The government’s supporters hailed it as a victory, while most of the opposition forces described it as an imposed fact with negative consequences.

The Future Movement’s leader and Sunni Zaïm, Saad Hariri, started a series of symbolic acts, a prayer at his father’s tomb (while the government ordered the opening of the seaside road where his father was assassinated), fire works and a political declaration in which he said that a page was turned and a new one could be started, inviting the opposition to join the government again.  

He made it seem as if the hardships were over, and now that the international community had decided for the Lebanese on a matter they did not agree on, the differing parties could come together and govern hand in hand again.

Posted in Justice, Lebanon, Political behaviour, Syria, Violence | Leave a Comment »