Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Aounomania vs Aounophobia

Posted by worriedlebanese on 22/06/2009

The idea of comparing the two afflictions came to me when I came across an opinion paper published by NOW Lebanon: “The Madness of King Michael“. I couldn’t help myself from writing a comment thanking them for bringing so much Aounomania and Aounophobia together.

First the Aounomania:

Picture 3A 50 min spot in which pictures of Gibran, JFK, Lincoln, Gandhi, Dalai Lama, Lenin, Marie Curie, Mother Theresa, Mandela, Fidel Castro, Coluche, Che Guevara, Einstein, Alexander Fleming, Mohamad Ali Clay, Napoleon, Roosevelt, de Gaule, John Paul II, Martin Luther King, Lech Walesa, Michel Aoun, scroll across the screen and a voice-over reflects: “Statesmen, Peacemakers, Visionaries… many have followed, some have ignored them, many have love them, some have denied them… Rebels, revolutionaries, geniuses! How many times were they called lunatics. They persisted in their combat until their struggle became a right, and victory a truth“.

When I saw the clip I said to myself “wow, these people are taking the cult of personality to a new high!!”.

Now the cult of personality is not new to Lebanon. Most Lebanese televisions air hero-worship spots. Al-Manar, for instance, broadcasts clips of Hezbollah combatants. Future Television has been airing spots on Rafic Hariri since his assassination. For over a month, Hariri was the only subject the television discussed. LBC followed suit and aired spots of the politicians that have been assassinated since 2005. This is equally true for the Press. Rafik Hariri’s picture adorns the Mustaqbal’s header and  Gibran Tueni’s picture adorns the Nahar header… And all those people are worshiped as heros whose actions cannot be criticised because they were savagely murdered.

Political parties follow yearly rituals to honour their heros: the anonymous combatants that died in combat and the heroic figure that founded them or lead them for a couple of years: Kamal Joumblatt for the Ishtiraki, Bechir Gemayel for the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb, Rafik Hariri for the Mustaqbal, Pierre Gemayel for the Kataeb…

During their lifetimes, the founders enjoyed hero worship. This is particularly true for Mussa Sadr, Pierre Gemayel (Sr), Kamal Jumblat, Rafik Hariri. So did Samir Geagea, Amin Gemayel… to a lesser extent.

So what’s new with OTV’s political worship? The answer is simple: Michel Aoun is still alive! And his cult isn’t indirect. It’s not mediated by a cult to a relative (father, brother, husband). It is direct! blatant, barefaced, unashamed. It’s the Zaïm’s cult at its crudest. No critical distance, no direct reference to actions, no evaluation. Just flattery and adulation.

Then the Aounophobia:

Picture 2Now let’s look at the article’s arguments. It sums up the clip quite correctly and very quickly shares with us a very convincing (and obvious) conclusion : “we are served up a sycophantic and brainless piece of drivel, dressed up as a serious message“.

The anonymous opinion writer isn’t interested in simply mocking a “clip [that] would have been terrific spoof material“. He’s real target is Michel Aoun. “The depressing truth is that Aoun has done nothing except to create conflict and division, while exploiting the aspirations of an electorate that, amazingly, still believes he offers a genuine, alternative voice in the Lebanese political arena. He believes that by shouting he is a misunderstood intellectual, that by being a hypocrite he is a visionary and that by supporting murderous non-state actions, he has the whiff of a revolutionary about him“. Notice that there is not a trace of argument in this paragraph. The opinion writer assumes that these are self-evident truths. And then we get to the last conclusion: “But the fact that OTV, the FPM’s official television station, has seen fit to run it at prime time viewing, is surely the final nugget of proof – as if one were needed – that Aoun has lost the plot.” Now this final argument is quite interesting because it presents itself as a demonstration (albeit a superfluous one). But the logic behind the argument is actually nowhere to be found. The fact that OTV sees fit to run it at prime-time exhibits the television’s partisanship, it proves that this television is actively participating in a cult of personality! If Michel Aoun approved it, it shows that his inflated ego and megalomania (attributes shared by most Lebanese politicians) don’t shy from such crude display (other politicians would rather flirt with false modesty by publicly asking their partisans to stop such a display while privately encouraging it or even funding it).

Nothing in Aoun’s political conduct shows that he has lost his ability to understand or cope with what is happening. He still commands one of the largest parliamentary blocs, and by far the largest christian parliamentary group. And like all political actors he is bidding for the largest possible share in government. If the opinion writer things otherwise, he should try to explain to his reader how he got to that conclusion.

This being said, I believe we should thank  NOW for bringing Aounomania and Aounophobia together. It just shows how similar both afflictions are, and how blind the afflicted are to their suffering.  We shoud equally applaude all Aounomaniacs and all Aounophobics for expelling all reason (and reasonableness) from political analysis & lowering the political disussion to such a dismal pit.

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