Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Two journalistic portraits: Communal Bigotry and GPS Journalism

Posted by worriedlebanese on 09/07/2009

I stumbled across two very telling “portraits” of Lebanese politicians in the press today. As expected, they didn’t reveal much on the two people they were supposed to be informing us on, but they said loads about the journalists who were writing them.


Don’t let the title mislead you. The question is a rhetorical one and the article has little to do with Sami Gemayel. You can scrutinize the article as much as you want, you’ll find no information on his character, no information on his political history, no information on his line of action. At first, it seems a typical form of Lebanese journalist writings, what I call children’s sticker journalism; such writings are based on value judgement, the journalists hands out stickers to reward politicians he aproves of and withdraws stickers from journalists whose “actions” (i.e. “political positioning) he disaproves of. But this article is more than that.

Sami Gemayel is a literary device (usually at the start of a sentence or an argument) for a verbal jab against the Free Patriot Movement (Aoun and his party are after all Michael Young’s consuming phobic obsession), and Maronites in general. Yes, anti-maronitism isn’t dead. The rhetoric developed in the 1960s is still there. Alive and kicking. Walid Joumblatt expressed it two months ago “in private”, when he thought it would remain in the “group” (amongst Druze). Michael Young expresses it openly, in the column of a newspaper. “An alarming number of Maronites today appear to have lost any sense of the  collective nature of the Lebanese state”, he tells us. They are suffering from “rural Maronite insularism”. The “resentment, bitterness, isolation, hostility, communal self-absorption” they express “are qualities of a community mired in mediocrity, with no sense of the constructive long-term impact it  might have on its environment”. And to finish it all off, Michael Young  adds that Maronites are following a “strategy bound to enhance Christian isolation”. Yes, there you have it, the key reference: “Maronite isolationism”… Coming from the same person who accuses the FPM of entering “unnatural” regional alliances with Iran and Syria, and hurting Christian symbols (the presidency and the patriarchy). Is it too much to ask for a minimum of coherence, and some consistency underneath a very “westernized” approach to political analysis? Scratch off the varnish, and you’ll find a massive dose of pure Middle-Eastern communal bigotry expressed through systematic Maronite bashing.


You’ll find no “western” varnish in this article at all. Unlike the previous article, there is nothing circuitous over here. Ibrahim al-Amin’s take on Suleiman Frangieh is unabashedly laudatory, and his analysis reflects another typical trait in Lebanese political analysis: the heroic narrative. It’s all about a man standing alone against adversity, a man who’s embarked on a hazardous political journey, a man who knows for what political position he is called for, a man who will meet all the people that are needed to get to that positioning (as if politics was a social event. To understand the logic, think of yourself stranded in the middle of a crowd, incapable of reaching the buffet without tricking people by opening a conversation with them, so that they allow you space next to them, which will bring you a step closer to your champaign glass on the buffet)… Again, you’ll find no information on his character, no information on his political history, no information on his line of action. But Al-Amin will tell you all you want  on his political positioning. And his geographic positioning too. Yes, it’s GPS journalism. And not a very precise one. But then Lebanese journalism is all about lack of precision: the reader is supposed to fill in the blanks and read between the lines. Ibrahim Al-Amin informs us that Frangieh is going to settle in Beirut or its suburbs. WorriedLebanese is ready to divulge his exact future whereabouts: it’s Rabieh! Yes, two streets up from Farid Makari, one street up from Elias el Murr, one street down from Michel Aoun.

Let’s go back to GPS journalism. It gives you as much quality information as what you get on Entertainment Channel’s coverage of the Oscar night. You’ll know who talked to who, where they did it, and if they had coffee or shared a meal. Some well informed journalists will even tell you what the two politicians discussed: world affairs, burning issues or regional developments. But what editorialists will really insist on is the great significance of this positioning!


4 Responses to “Two journalistic portraits: Communal Bigotry and GPS Journalism”

  1. Jean C Z Estephen said

    Hello, which community’s bigotry is Michel Young expressing? I didn’t quite understand what you are suggesting – is he Greek Orthodox background, or Protestant or something else?

    …”: Scratch off the varnish, and you’ll find a massive dose of pure Middle-Eastern communal bigotry expressed through systematic Maronite bashing….”

    • Hey Jean, thanks for your comment. I don’t think it’s important to know (or discuss) Michael Young’s communal identity. By “communal bigotry” I meant “sectarian bigotry” and by that I was referring to an attitude that is similar to racism, only instead of being directed against a race, it is directed against a communal group.

      Why is Michael Young’s article an expression of pure Middle Eastern communal bigotry? The answer is fairly simple: because it indulges in an extraordinary number of communal generalisations that are unfounded and abusive. Michael Young not only reinforces prevalent clichés, but he does exactly what he accuses others of doing.
      What does he mean by “rural community”?! How can one qualify a Lebanese confession as being rural?! and what exactly does that mean? What is “communal suicide”?! How do communities “adopt slogans”?! I believe this is essentialism at its worst.

      Take a look again at the paragraph of quotes I extracted from this article. Don’t you think it’s tantamount to Maronite Bashing?

      My question is how come people don’t find Michael Young’s article bigoted and offensive. Could it be that we’ve grown too accustomed to this type of language, accusations and generalisations? Try replacing Maronite and Christian with Druze, for instance, and tell me if you still think the article is not offensive

  2. Jean C Z Estephan said

    Hello, yes you have explained it well. I see what you are saying – about the way that issues are framed. Very good point – that is nuanced and something it is too easy for any of us (including me, for example!) to slip into. I must admit, I knew instinctively what he meant by “Maronite rural” mentality – but I accept also what you are saying of course. As for “commual suicide” – I thought also that that was a speciality of the Gemayle, Chamoun and Edde clans – as a semi Marxist – I always thought these zaim were progressive in that way, helping history unfold (just kidding!). Thanks for responding to my question.

    • Semi-Marxist?! That sounds interesting. It reminds me of Austro-Marxism. You should maybe check it out. I think it is particularly relevant to Lebanon. Its main theoreticians (Max Adler, Otto Bauer & Karl Renner) realised that social problems are particularly complex to tackle in plural societies (such as the Austo-Hungarian Empire at the time), and this cannot be done by ignoring plurality but by recognising.
      You say that you instinctively understood what Michel Young meant by “Maronite rural” mentality. Well, I didn’t. I know it’s derogatory, I know that it is meant to oppose two distinct “mentalities”: an urban and a rural one; the first being modern and cosmopolitan and the other being archaic and insular. I also understand that it suggests the idea that some Lebanese communities have an “urban mentality” (a concept I don’t understand either). But this doesn’t explain to me how all these things are deduced. I find such notions unfounded, offensive and blatantly racist.
      Two Lebanese academics have been defending these notions for the past two decades: Nabil Beyhum and May Davie. But if you look into their articles, you notice that there are not based on any fact, any research (no statistics, no anthropological study… nothing), just pure prejudice (sectarian bigotry) wrapped up in academic language.

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