Confessionalism/Anti-confessionalism: Two sides of the same coin
Posted by worriedlebanese on 03/08/2009
Anti-confessionalism probably lacks historical perspective because it is utterly uninterested in context. It is obsessed with values and rules: it seeks to impose what it claims to be positive, modern (western), secular values (and rules), while claiming to combat what it defines as archaic, religious, oppressive values (and rules). By doing so, it defines itself (anti-confessionalism) and what it combats (confessionalism).
Before going into this dual definition (and its implication), let’s have a glimpse at these very values and value-laden political programmes anti-confessionalism vows to defend and implement.
A glimpse at the muddle
As Maria sang to the children, “let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start”. The whole debate over confessionalism started in the 1940s. Sure, one could trace articles and writing about its many elements to the 1930, and even to the 1920s. But they were still scattered then, and dealt with points that were quite rightly seen as unrelated: secularisation, modernisation, westernisation, nation-building and state building. From the 1940s onwards, all these views converged under the label of “anticonfessionalism” as their proponents defined a common enemy, confessionalism.
This conversion obscures the fact that we are dealing with distinct processes, political programmes and values. This is why we will look into each of them one at a time.
- Secularisation: A process in which the various aspects of society (economic, political, legal, and moral) become increasingly specialised and distinct from religion (and religious authority). It is usually accompanied by a societal decline in levels of religiosity. Its proponents usually link the decline of religiosity to the increase of freedoms. In Lebanon, secularisation usually means three things:
- Abolishing the personal status laws and courts (up to now, each recognised and established community has its own laws and courts), and replacing them by one civil legislation in matters of family law.
- Supporting “secular” education, i.e. state schools and universities (vs schools and universities within religious networks).
- Combatting religious authority and interference in public affairs.
- Modernisation: The concept is grounded in social evolution theories. It describes a process of adaptation to modern technology & values and acquisition of modern techniques & behaviour. Its proponents usually consider it a positive evolution meant to assure more wealth and well-being both individually and collectively. In Lebanon, “confessionalism” is presented as an impediment to modernisation because of supposed conflict in values.
- Westernisation: The process of adopting or being influenced by the cultural, economic and political systems of Europe and North America. Its critics see it as a loss of identity. Its proponents see it as a necessary step towards modernisation, and a tool of cultural transformation meant to break from a previous cultural domination (i.e. Islam for Turkish Kemalist, Lebanese “phoenecianists” or Egyptian “pharaonists”) and allow the expression of the nation’s true identity. We could make two remarks on the way westernisation is viewed in Lebanon:
- The distinction between modernisation and westernisation isn’t of much use because modernists usually see the values and ideals upheld by western states as the only model to modernisation. Likewise, most anti-western propagandists tend to confuse modernisation with westernisation, considering signs of modernisation as elements of westernisation (in their view, submission to the West).
- Western values and ideals are approached in an abstract manner, completely decontextualised, through a highly ideological lens reminiscent of 18th century enlightenment philosophers or French revolution thinkers (& executioners). Not only they misrepresent the way these values are translated socially (behaviour) and institutionally (rules) in Europe, but they also misrepresent the way values are translated in Lebanon.
- Nation-building: The process of constructing/structuring a national identity using the power of the state. Its proponents would like to mold different groups into one nation to “reverse” what they consider to be colonial “divide and rule” tactics (meant to assure colonial domination). In Lebanon, the first expression of this ideology/programme of nation-building is to be found in article 95 of the 1926 constitution. Here, the rule of multiconfessional participation (misleadingly named the rule of “confessional representation”) was introduced by the Mandate power as a temporary measure, clearly indicating that it was an anomaly, a temporary exception that should be quickly dealt with and overruled. In 1943, as the rule of multiconfessional participation was extended to the executive power, the Prime minister clearly stated that this rule should be abolished from the texts and the minds! Riad Solh was reaffirming that “confessionalism” was an obstacle to nation-building while actually developing it.
- State-building: It describes the construction of a functioning state. These usually entails the establishment or rehabilitation of public institutions so as to provide citizens with civil services up to modern standards. In Lebanon, confessionalism is presented as an impediment to state-building. Interestingly enough, the undeservedly acclaimed “father” of State reform in Lebanon, President Fuad Chehab, is the one who introduced communal quotas to the public administration. He also extended the parity rule for cross-communal participation.