Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

The Paradoxes of AntiConfessionalism (an introduction)

Posted by worriedlebanese on 02/08/2009

anti-confessionalismAntiConfessionalism! The word seems easy to grasp. The prefix and suffix speak for themselves. Intuitively, one could assume that anticonfessionalism is antonymous & opposed to a specific system, principle, ideology: confessionalism. Up to now things might seem pretty clear. But when you look a bit closer, you discover something completely different. It’s actually quite hard to oppose anti-confessionalism to confessionalism. It’s like opposing black and white. Sure it’s a common assumption that black is the opposite of white, but it doesn’t tell you much about one or the other, and so the opposition turns out to be meaningless.

I have already dealt with the issue of anticonfessionalism two years ago (albeit hysterically) through a “hate mail” sent to Amam05 posted here. The arguments haven’t changed, but maybe I should restate them more serenely.

We might have many bad intellectual habits in Lebanon, but anti-confessionalism is unmistakably the worst. If you’re looking for insight, learning, critical engagement… keep away from anti-confessional literature. On the other hand, if you’re looking for repetitive prose, dogmatism, distilled ideology, decontextualised constructions, baseless assumptions, groundless accusations… Then you should definitely check out the many books, articles and declarations written on confessionalism.

At first, I thought it would be possible to discuss this issue in one post, but judging from the reactions I’m getting, I think it better to discuss one paradox at a time.


11 Responses to “The Paradoxes of AntiConfessionalism (an introduction)”

  1. Patrick said

    I am going to wait for your new and updated version before I pass a final judgement, but I see absolutely no argument in these two posts, except vehement opposition to some sort of scarecrow that you call anticonfessionalism (why not talk about secularism ?)

    As to what you said in the post you linked to, you talk about “trying to understand communal expressions and fears”, and you do not seem to realize that it is precisely this institutionnalized deeply entrenched sectarian system that creates the fears and paranoias, because people no longer think as human beings who need to find a deal with fellow human beings, but as members of a herd threatened by other herds.

    What’s also very annoying in these posts is that you talk as if you confessionalists were a persecuted minority in Lebanon, whereas you represent 95 % of the public.

    Where do non believers, atheists or agnostics fit in your reflection ?

    You ask three questions :

    1) What is wrong with being proud of ones communal heritage?

    Absolutely nothing, but a person is not defined exclusively by it’s belonging to a community. This is private and should not have any sort of impact on the public sphere.

    2 ) What’s wrong with wanting to be truly represented by a person from ones own community?

    Why don’t you ask : what’s wrong with being represented by someone from another community ? We’re not electing them to take care of our spiritual affairs but to work on health, education, environment… Why the hell should their community be any of your business ?

    3) What’s wrong with communal power-sharing?

    What’s wrong is that secularists are excluded from this so-called power sharing; what’s wrong is that this “power-sharing” is a system of sectarian feudal leaders sharing the spoils, and not a system of real “power-sharing” among lebanese citizens of various sects.

    The voice of Lebanese citizens is monopolized by a few corrupt warlords or feudal idiots who marginalize all their opponents within their community.

    You talk about brainwashing. But what surprises me is that a smart educated person like you fails to realize that it is the sectarian system that has been instilled in people’s mind through decades of brainwashing.

    With the exception of 5 % of genuine secularists, most Lebanese think like you do. So do not insult our intelligence by acting as if we were hegemonic and you part of a tiny persecuted minority.

    If we want this discussion to lead somewhere and be fruitful, you should try to begin by calmy offering your views and definitions : what do you mean by “confessionalism”, by “sectarianism”, by “communalism”, by “progressive confessionalism”.

    I still don’t see where’s the “progressive” side in your confessionalism.

    • Hey Patrick, thanks for your comment.
      Please forgive me for having taken so much time to answer you. Truth to tell, I’m having a bit of trouble replying to all those different arguments that spur from your comment. I think we better get out of the “you” and “us” categorisation that I foolishly brought in a couple of days ago.
      You know, I feel that I have worked and reframed this subject for so long that I’ve become unintelligible to those who haven’t followed the evolution of my thoughts on the matter (because then they can fill in the gaps of some of my arguments). I remember a time when I was a bit clearer, and tried to find the notes of a discussion I had within a pannel of sociologists, historians and constitutionalists on this subject, but it’s nowhere to be found.

      I think I will be responding to a couple of your arguments in the coming posts. But before I do so, I would like to be clear on a couple of questions:

      – I’m a true believer in comparatist approaches (of the prudent kind). You claim for instance that it’s the “sectarian system that creates the fears and paranoias”… Well, Lebanon is the only country in the region to have developed such a system, but I’m not sure the fears and paranoias are less important in countries such as Iraq, Syria, Egypte, Turkey or Israel/Palestine. But instead of engaging in a chicken or the egg causality dilemma, I’d rather look into those fears and addressing them.

      – I distinguish between communal feelings and religiosity. I also take into consideration that communal feelings change from one individual to another and from one group to another. As for religiosity, its definition and public dimension differs from one religious tradition to another. So I wont speak about them in abstract terms (which I find hegemonic because they reflect a specific cultural tradition).

      – I do not reduce our political system to one single principle, i.e. confessionalism. I believe it is a very complex and changing system made out of formal and informal rules (and exceptions). This being said, many of our informal rules are contra legem. Unfortunately, anti-confessionalism usually ignores this complexity and its evolving character.

      These are a few of the points that I will be discussing in the coming days. Please bear with me.

  2. WL,
    Why didn’t I think of this brilliant idea.? Let us celebrate our g
    “heritage” even when it is based on refusing the other, let us be proud of teaching hatred and let us glorify discrimination based on nothing elsr than the method that one chooses to pray. If what you mean by confessionalism is the freedom of religion then just say so instead of building all these fuzzy arguments about how is it that anti-confessionalism is not the opposite of confessionalism. lol . Give me a break, are you serious when you suggest that anti imperialism is not the opposite of imperialism or that anti democratic is not the opposite of democratic.
    You sure are entitled to your ideas and I will defend your right to vioce them but to denegrate those that disagree with your fuzzy logic is at best a reflection that you are not capable to even entertain another point of view. Let me submit to you very simply that I am convinced that no vibrant genuine democracy is possible except under secularism , that the bane of the Lebanese body politic is confessionalism and that Lebanon has been a pretend and a dysfunctional state that is very likely to whither away because of its silly immature confessional political system.

  3. PN said


    Thanks for the post. I guess it came as a sideline “draft” attempt to answer our repetitive inquiries about your “progressive confessionalist” self-description.

    I have to admit that I am inclined to take Patrick’s and Ghassan’s side on this argument; although I felt that P blasted you with a tough reply and G with a sarcastic one; excuse me guys 🙂

    Nonetheless, since the above is an incomplete and not so up-to-date version, I do hope to see a more comprehensive explanation from you.

    Additionally, I don’t know why, but I have a feeling that in essence P, G, QN (who left a comment on the linked post) and I have similar aspirations on this matter and are probably not that far from your own. It could be a case of “lost in translation”.

    Do you mean by “progressive confessionalist” that you support some sort of a transitional system whereby various confessional communities in Lebanon share power while genuinely and gradually developing through national awareness strategies/campaigns (in which parents, schools, colleges, media outlets …etc participate) so that one day (i.e. hopefully several generations from now) the majority of constituents of all communal groups progress to a mature state of political mind/heart such that the Lebanese would share a common national identity that would make implementing a secular system a realistic, a practical, and a viable option?

    am REALLY sorry for the lengthy question 🙂

    • Sorry guys, I’ve been on the move for the past three days. Just got back home, and ready to pursue what I have started.
      I’m an embarrassingly slow writer, so I hope to find the hour to honour my promise.

    • Hey PN,
      thanks for bearing with me. The greatest challenge in reframing an issue is finding a way to remain intelligible. And I feel that I haven’t been very successful in that up to now.

      I really appreciate your efforts in trying to make it easy on me. But I do understand and expect tough answers (that nail the points of contention down) and sarcastic replies (that incidentally miss the argument).

      You know, I won’t be able to answer your lengthy question because I disagree with many of its elements.
      – I believe Lebanese citizens have reached a mature state of mind/heart, and they have been proving it everyday by remaining relatively calm withstanding the extreme polarisation and hate speech (and accusations) they have been submitted to. What worries me is the incompetence & indigence of our intelligentsia.
      – I believe the Lebanese already share a common national identity. But they do need to be made aware of it because some leaders persistently deny that some communal groups share this national identity. I don’t see any problem in having a strong national identity and a strong communal identity. This is the case of most federal states throughout the world, and many of them are very stable.
      – I agree with you that some strategies & campaigns should be established, but not on the topic that you propose. I believe the central issue is diversity, and people should be made aware of the meaning of communal diversity, without this, there is no enrichment, but sterile juxtaposition.

      • PN said

        Hi WL,

        Thanks for your reply and for acknowledging my question. Having followed your posts for a while now, I am a bit perplexed by the comments you made here.

        So, you believe that “Lebanese citizens have reached a mature state of mind/heart” when it comes to politics?!!!

        – Why then, 1/2 the national army needs to be deployed to maintain order in just about every occasion? I believe that the awareness level in the communities at large is better compared to that in previous decades, but as one people and one nation, I think we still have a long way to go before reaching maturity.

        “What worries me is the incompetence & indigence of our intelligentsia.”

        – I guess this depends on whom you classify in this category. My sister happens to agree with you. Im my opinion, having high level of education and a fancy profession (which is common among the Lebanese) is not sufficient for someone to be counted among the intellectual elite; competence is a must.

        “I believe the Lebanese already share a common national identity. But they do need to be made aware of it because some leaders persistently deny that some communal groups share this national identity.”

        – At some deep level, this is likely true, but these leaders retain their leadership positions because their communities keep voting for them which is another indication that we’re still lagging when it comes to national maturity.

        “I don’t see any problem in having a strong national identity and a strong communal identity.”

        – Neither do I, but the latter one should not be more potent and prevail over the former one which is the case for most Lebanese communities today.

      • Sorry PN for having taken over a month to reply.
        I’m extremely uncomfortable with the notion of “political immaturity” for two reasons:
        – I don’t understand it!How can you judge if a person/group/country is politically mature? What is your criteria? What do we actually mean when we say that a person/group/country lacks political maturity?
        I believe there’s a great deal of paternalism envolved in such an approach. I remember Theodor Hanf in a conference a couple of years ago lashing out at a Lebanese student who was using this argument asking him if he knew of any other country that remained so peaceful while the population suffered so much from war, was armed, was the victim of extreme regional pressure (through financial and military incentives) and was constantly doused with communal hate by politicians who dominate the political scene. And then he reminded the audience that he doesn’t know of many countries in which over a million people demonstrate in a public place without fights, damage to property and casualties.
        There is so much self-hate in our country, that we have to be reminded by a foreigner of the amount of civility and tolerance that exists here. It’s incredible!

        – I cannot stand the way this argument has been used in the past century.
        France and Great Britain were given a mandate of some Ottoman and German colonial territories because these countries were said to lack the political institutions or the political maturity to be independent. Syrian governments and Arab nationalists have repeated for a long time that Lebanon was a young country that lacked maturity and that’s why it needed the rearing of an older and more responsible neighbour. Authoritarian regimes everywhere (especially military and progressive ones) in the 1960s and 1970s claimed that their authoritarianism was necessary because their people lacked political maturity…

        When I accused our intelligentia of being responsible of many of our ills, it’s because it is dogmatic, and has proven to be incapable of detaching itself from the political debate that are framed by politicians to suit their interests.
        This obsession with confessionalism is quite revealing. People never go beyond a century old ideological debate that is extremely poor and frankly outdated. Instead of looking at the way politics is managed, they start with a moral stand that confessionalism is bad and that everything that is bad is the result of confessionalism. It’s depressing.
        The way intellectuals oppose patriotism to confessionalism is beyond my understanding. Withstanding their self-hate, Lebanese are extremely patriotic. I don’t think I’ve seen many people so attached to a country that has offered them very little. Sure, they have communal feelings. But what’s wrong with that? Why oppose them? Why want one to prevail over the other? it’s like asking a person to choose between his/her lifestyle, sexuality, gender or linguistic group and his/her attachement to
        his/her country! It doesn’t have much sens. Most of the time, issues pertaining to these different facets of one’s identity do not even overlap, and when they do, a political solution should be found. Why make such a big issue about it.

        As for the Lebanese choosing their politicians, I don’t think that’s completely true. It is partially true. Actually, it is hardly true.
        First of all the freedom to choose is limited by the choice that is offered. And this choice is limited by the electoral system, the party system, the media’s political dependence and the alliance system between political parties. These are four severe limitations.
        With the little choice that is left, the Lebanese elector usually makes the most rational one. (S)he chooses the person most likely to guarantee her/his livelihood. I’ve had an argument with Ghassan Karam about it where I try to present the choice given to a voter living in the Chouf.

  4. Patrick said

    Just saw the “headlines” of your coming articles.

    So that there are no further misunderstandings :

    1) why do you oppose confessionalism to anti-confessionalism and not to secularism ?

    Our anticonfessionalism is only a means to an end, the end being a secular state in which religion and state are separated

    2) “Anticonfessionalism : a state ideology” ?????

    Is this a joke or do you really intend to support this stance ?

    Please don’t take us for a ride. The whole country is based on this sick sectarian ideology, so do not try to play on words or use sophistic arguments to pretend that the state ideology is not confessionalism but its opposite. No one will buy that !

    And please give definitions of what you mean when you use a term before launching into diatribes, so that nothing is lost in translation.

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