Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Anti-confessionalism’s side effects

Posted by worriedlebanese on 06/08/2009

listen_without_prejudiceIndoctrination: As we have seen, Anticonfessionalism is a State defused ideology. Not only is it a defining element of our constitution and our institutions, but it’s the most prominent feature of our political discourse. Even those who want to maintain the political system as it is are either uncomfortable with it or are embarrassed to defend it publicly.
All public discussions are dominated by negative views of confessionalism. These views have been diffused through the media for over half a century. They have found their way in history books and civic education books.
The consequence is obvious: an overwhelming majority of Lebanese holds negative views on confessionalism and consider it incompatible with all values they consider positive (the latter values are not necessarily shared). As we will see, these views are not based on facts, on demonstrations, but on a global prejudgment. A critical approach is surely warranted when it involves an analysis of merits and faults. But  it ceases to be interesting when it’s a simple expression of adverse or disapproving comments and judgments.

Prejudice & Ignorance: In Lebanon, people are taught to frown on confessionalism from an early age. History books (before and after the latest reform) for instance have been modeled on French history books and have accordingly a strong “national” narrative that ignores diversity, pluralism and multiple perspectives. There is no mention for instance of the communities that inhabit Lebanon (and their histories), no indication is given of the communal identity of historical figures, no allusion to intra-communal dynamics and evolutions. These questions are taboo! Our students graduate without even knowing the number of communities that are recognised in Lebanon (not to say anything about their name or date of recognition or establishment).
Let’s take an event such as the 1860 civil war in Mount Lebanon. Most official history books I have examined don’t even mention the waring communities, they don’t speak of the social and communal dynamics and consequences of the war. But they do insist on one element: communities were being manipulated by foreign powers (mainly England and France) to serve their interests. This perspective blissfully ignores the conflict’s local dimensions (cultural, social, political and economical factors) and offers a simple equation for all to remember: confessionalism is conducive to war, and its an instrument of foreign intervention. They’re taught a simple, undemonstrated, decontextualized assertion that they can repeat and apply to any event.
Moreover, what is left out by the editors of the history (or civil education) manuals is more often than not “supplied” by the teacher (or the parents). Now these teachers (or parents) were neither trained nor educated to deal with questions of communal identity, communal history, intercommunal relations… Actually, very little research has been done in these fields by Lebanese scholars, and the information that can be gathered on them is scattered, sparse and usually biased. So when someone “fills in the blanks”, you can be sure that it’s going to be poor, one-sided and based on prejudice & prejudgement.

I'll fill it up later... sorry!

I'll fill it up later... sorry!

Reductionism & Misrepresentation:  Communalism is surely a complex socio-political phenomenon. Unfortunately, the analysis developed by anti-confessionalists describes and examines it in simplistic and derogatory terms that hardly bring out this complexity. The approach usually followed is teleological and aims at either conserving or abolishing “confessionalism”.
“Confessionalism” isn’t understood as a particular approach to reconcile republicanism with communal diversity and its history of Lebanon. Its defining elements are not distinguished from its conjectural features. No attention is given to the possible dtysfunctioning of some its elements. It isn’t even seen as a dynamic construction.  I haven’t come across one study that has studied the way “confessionalism” has evolved throughout time, or the way those who combat it as an institution usually support it as a “unwritten rule”. Let’s take the example of the Mayor of Beirut. Since the “independence” (the second one that of 1943) , this position has been reserved to a Sunni. I haven’t come across one criticism about that. Similarly, during the last elections of the Representative council of the city of Tripoli, the chances of a 100% sunni council were so high that the lists agreed to reserve a seat to a Christian. This established an unwritten rule at the municipal level that is similar to the one everyone seems to want to abolish on a legislative level.
Another problem with anticonfessional literature is that it also conflates “confessionalism”  with other dynamics such as clientelism, patriarchalism, & racism. These problems exists in many societies and take a particular form in communally diverse societies. Look around the “Greater Middle East”, and you will encounter pretty much the same problems as in Lebanon although “confessionalism” doesn’t exist in these political systems. On second though, compare these societies to Lebanon’s and you might see that we are not fairing so badly (even if a lot remains to be done).
But instead of analysing the interactions between Lebanon’s particular rules for managing communal diversity (that are obviously imperfect and improvable) and the other socio-political ailes, anti-confessionalism wrongly assumes and misleads us to believe that if you remove one, you’ll get rid of the others.

Monomania: Confessionalism is brought up in every single analysis of politics in Lebanon. Is it really that prevalent? Even if it were, does that justify bringing it up systematically? Federalism (or Affirmative action) is fundamental in American politics, does this justify  discussing them in every analysis of the US? Surely not! Some issues can be unrelated to it. As for Lebanese politics, be sure that confessionalism will be brought up and discussed every time Lebanon is mentioned! There’s undeniably an exaggerated and obsessive preoccupation with confessionalism.
Instead of shedding light to political events or social dynamics, this monomania tends to obscure them because confessionalism will be invariably designated as the “incriminating” factor. Let’s take the “identity card” killings. Pundits will tell you that it’s the identity cards that killed thousands of their countrymen during the 1975-1990 civil war. What about the orders that were given by the Lebanese Forces, Amal, the PLP, the PSP, the Syrian Army? (Hush, hush, we don’t want to talk about that). Did militiamen really need identity cards to ethnic cleanse Karantina, Nab3a, Damour or the Chouf? (Obviously not, it was either a collective measure or they were helped by the local population to determine “who is what”).
Moreover, the obsession with confessionalism obscures fundamental and urgent issues that have nothing to do with it. Think of all the self-described (or so-called) Lebanese left has spent so much time and energy “combatting confessionalism” instead of concentrating its efforts on resolving questions of social and economical importance. It would have gained time and improved its results had it looked into what the Austro-Marxists had to say about social progress in diverse societies almost a century earlier.

Self-Hate: As we have seen, the Lebanese political system (institution and political class) has demonstrated an intense propensity to dislike itself. This has “trickled down” to the people who have equally shown to the world the same tendency to hate their political system even though it has up to now shown how beneficial it is to many groups. Again, much can be criticised, but one has to admit that there are some benefits! Were it not for confessionalism, for instance, what would have prevented a military dictatorship in Lebanon similar to that of Syria or Egypt? Were it not for communal quotas, would the Lebanese muslims have integrated the state in the 1920s and 1930s (at a time when their elites wanted to boycott the State institutions and refuse citizenship)? Would the Lebanese christian have remained within the state in the 1990s (at a time when their elites wanted to boycott the State’s institutions).

Incompetence: Intercommunal relations are the hot topic in all our neighbouring countries. Our neighbours are finally acknowledging their communal diversity. We have by far the longest history in the field. But do we have any expertise to share? No. But we could have, if we started looking into our political system and society as they are, with their failings and successes.


13 Responses to “Anti-confessionalism’s side effects”

  1. Patrick said

    I am starting to believe that you were right when you said there was an ideological barrier between us. And I think it stems from the fact that you seem to be an ideologue in your views or at least in the way you express them.

    You’ve written over ten posts on the subject and I fail to see an insight or an argument in these posts.

    You take the position of a victim and you rant and rant and rant, and call people names (indoctrinated, monomaniacs, prejudiced…) You are not going to convince anyone with such an attitude.

    How could you even think of comparing Lebanese confessionalism to US federalism ? Confessionalism is a form a discrimination and racism. It creates ghettos. US federalism brought people together on the basis of equal rights. Does US federalism state that some Catholic from Massachussets cannot have access to some federal public office because it should go to some Lutheran from Maine ?

    You argue like the proverbial sophists. You play on words and turn things upside down in order to bolster your rants. But there is absolutely no argument, no logic and no explanation.

    Since you are unapolegetic about the system, you are the one who should be proving that the system is not racist, not discriminatory, not an obstacle to fighting corruption, not an impediment to state building, instead of ranting against all those who do not share your views, and calling them names. As you mentionned, even the founding fathers of this sick sectarian system acknowledged that it was discriminatory, deeply flawed and needed to be abolished after a short transitory period.

    You’re like a person who bought a used car. The used car salesman was honest enough to tell you that it won’t work more than 1.000 miles, and you keep driving it for 20.000 miles, thinking you know better and wondering why you keep getting into terrible accidents or have to stop at the garage every single day.

    And we’ve been asking you for more than a month : where is the progressive part in your confessionalism, since you argue that you are a “progressive confessionalist” ?

    Your latest rants make you seem like the typical rightwing Lebanese sectarian who thinks his community is “different and superior” and thus should be protected from the other barbarians who want to eradicate it. This is the mentality that allows foreign powers to manipulate Lebanese like they did for the past 170 years.

    And please stop claiming that you are part of a misunderstood minority. 95 % of Lebanese think exactly like you do, they were breastfed sectarian ideology, they think they are gentically “different” from those who were born in other sects, and they fail to understand a basic concept like secularism.

    By the way, why don’t you tell us frankly and openly that you are opposed to secularism ? Instead of telling us that you are opposed to “anti-confessionalism” ?

    As Ghassan properly said in a previous comment, democracy cannot exist outside the realm of secularism. Democracy and secularism go hand in hand.

    You would be more effective in your arguments if you take off the mask, and admit that you are opposed to secularism and support a Confederacy of religious communities who would live apart from each others.
    We would still disagree but at least you would be coherent. Right now, you’re contradicting yourself.

    + What history books are you talking about ? I know of no Lebanese history book that promotes a unified national identity narrative. Most history books tell us exactly what you think, that we are only a patchwork of tribes who should live in a sectarian system and share the spoils.

    Your posts on sectarianism do not make any sense. They’re only rants. It’s too bad because when you talk about other issues, you seem perfectly sane and smart.

    • Hey Patrick,
      I wish I had found the time to finish my post before your reply, but I believe my slow pace in writing is more proverbial than my alleged sophistry.
      Honestly, where do I come across as
      – a “rightwing Lebanese sectarian who thinks [my] community is ‘different and superior'” to others?
      – a proponent of foreign intervention so as to “be protected from the other barbarians who want to eradicate” my community.
      – a person who was ‘breast-fed sectarian ideology” and thinks I’m “genetically ‘different’ from those who were born in other sects”

      Here’s a couple of quick remarks before I head to bed:
      + The history books I mentioned are those that are given to students in school. Go to Librairie du Liban, Bliss street, and ask for any history textbook and you’ll see what I mean.
      + I think you confuse communalism and secularism. You can accuse communist Yugoslavia of many things, but you cannot claim that it wasn’t quite deeply secularised. Nevertheless, several of the communal groups it recognised had a religious label. To understand how this is possible, I encourage you to read Frederik Barth’s 30 page essay “Ethnic Groups and Boundaries”.
      + How did you guess I was opposed to secularism? If you noticed from my discussion, I usually avoid talking about secularism, preferring the concept of secularisation to it. What you call secularism is in my view the secularisation of such or such society. The interesting fact about secularisation is that it is grossly dependent on the prevailing religion that preceded it. Laïcité in France, for instance is an ideology and a set of norms. I will not discuss the ideology here but will stick to the way it is practiced in France:
      – most national holidays are religious holidays, and all those religious holidays are catholic.
      – the Catholic Church and its institutions are the primary beneficiary of public aid (more than all religious groups put together).
      – the French Republic owns all Churches that were built before the 19th century, it renovates them and reserves most of them to the catholic church.
      – the ministry of the Interior is equally the ministry of “cults”
      – the definition of religion according to French law is modeled after the catholic church, as for the definition of a sect, it is very much similar to that given by the catholic church.
      One could say pretty much the same thing about the level of secularisation in the US (which counts as one of the most religious societies in the world, and one that has taken the separation between State and Church to the furthest level) and Lebanon (yes, Lebanon’s legal and constitutional system are quite highly secularised, but secularisation is a two way street, and I believe anti-confessionalists have in many ways contributed to a certain level of desecularisation).

  2. Patrick said

    “Honestly, where do I come across as
    – a “rightwing Lebanese sectarian who thinks [my] community is ‘different and superior’” to others?”
    – a proponent of foreign intervention so as to “be protected from the other barbarians who want to eradicate” my community.
    – a person who was ‘breast-fed sectarian ideology” and thinks I’m “genetically ‘different’ from those who were born in other sects”

    Dear WL,

    I did not accuse you of being like this. I know you’re not, otherwise I would not be reading your blog every day. What I meant is that these are the likely causes and consequences if someone adopts your views and applies them politically.

    Your views on sectarianism are similar to those of Fuad Iphrim Bustany, who ended up saying that we have to rely on Israelis to protect the Christians, because Christians are “different” and threatened by the “Muslim hordes”.

    What’s interesting in your case is that you’re not like these guys at all, you have nothing in common with them, I am sure you believe in equality, but you are, probably unconsciously, deeply imbued with the mentality of some Lebanese who think they are threatened because they are different, and not because the system is bad.

    You are well intentionned, democratic and perhaps genuinely progressive. But your arguments were used in the past and will be used again by people who are less sophisticated and have a different agenda than yours. You are providing intellectual ammunitions to these guys, and I’m sure you disapprove of what they did during the war in the name of “defending the community” and “preserving the system”.

    You implied that Christians would end up like the Lebanese Jews were it not for sectarianism. This is nonsense. Pierre Gemayel thought the same way because he was raised in Egypt, was uneducated and he thought that Lebanese Christians were like the Copts, whereas they are in a totally different situation for well known historical reasons.

    Christians would not have emigrated en masse if Lebanon had a modern viable political system beased on citizenship and equality. (By the way, why do you constantly evade the questions of secularism and citizenship ? they are prerequisites for democracy, and they are antinomic with sectarianism). Lebanese Christians did not emigrate because they were persecuted by other communities but because they did not find jobs.

    Read Kamal hamdan or Curm and you’ll se the direct correlation between sectarianism and a failed economy, between sectarianism and feudalism, sectarianim and clientelism. I am not saying they will disappear but sectarianism gives them additional fuel.

    You argue that the Lebanese spend too much time and energy combatting confessionalism instead of concentrating their efforts on resolving questions of social and economical importance. Again, I am surprised that you fail to connect the dots. History of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, showed that it was precisely sectarianism that impededed social and economic reforms, because it allowed every crook to use it as a shield. Can a Sunni minister fire an incompetent and corrupt Christian civil servant or vice versa ?

    There can be no accountability, no reform, no social justice, no economic efficiency under a sectarian system.

    But you keep evading all these questions and changing the subject.

    What you said about France is true but “hors sujet”. The bottomline is that France today does not mix the public sphere and the private sphere. All French citizens are equal before the law. France would have remained deeply backward and divided were it not for secularism. You do not build a nation by organizing the communities that you find at one point in time. National identity is not a given but a construction. There is work to do to form educated citizens and until we do it in lebanon, we’ll never be a nation.

    Jacobinism should not be an insult. They created a great nation. They had the courage and willingness to attack the vested interests. They might have gone too far, but without them, the French would have remained peasants spaeking local patois in rural underdevelopped areas.

    You use a typical right wing sectarian argument when you say that we have to thank sectarianism for not having a dictatorship like in Syria and Egypt. This is the sort of arguments that one reads in L’Orient le Jour. The argument assumes that all Arab countries are destined to be dictatorships unless there is something (like civilized Christians and sectarian quotas)to stop it. It ignores the Syrian and Egyptian histories and the reasons why theses dictatorships emerged. It confuses pluralism and communal diversity with sectarianism. Diversity might be an obstacle to autocracy, but the sectarian system has nothing to do with this. There is no dictatorship because Lebanon is a buffer state with communal diversity and foreign powers use it to wage proxy wars, by sponsoring some Lebanese sect who is afraid of other Lebanese sects.

    We might not have one national dictatorship, but we have one for each sect. Do you think a Christian was able to criticize the Christian militias during the war ? Would a shia living in the southern suburbs dare express his views against the Hezb ? Is there room for independent voices within lebanese communities ?

    Isn’t this also a form of dictatorship ?

    I know you’re not racist, but to defend sectarianism is to believe that somehow we are not the same, and some should have special treatment. Diversity is a fantastic asset, but diversity without equal rights is simply indefensible if you are a democrat who believes that all men are created equal. I personnally believe that secularism is the best way to protect communal diversity. Under a secular democratic system, people no longer fear and count each others.

    In a previous post, you denounced anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe. How could you not realize that the arguments used by the European xenophobes are perfectly similar to the arguments of sectarian right wing Lebanese Parties ? You know that they are, and yet you defend the system that allows these parties to prosper.

    I think you love to provoke, to make outlandish statements, it is not a bad way to help people think outside the box, but I am sure that deep down you do not believe in what you are writing.

    Read your posts again when you are calm and unemotional, and you’ll realize that.

    How can someone sane and rational write that “anticonfessionalism is diffused through the media in Lebanon”. For the past six months, all Lebanese, adults and kids, have been submitted to an unending sectarian brainwashing and have been hearing all day long on all TVs and radios that MP X is illegitimate because he has been elected by Armenian voters and MP Y is illegitimate because 200 sunnis voted for him ? A state ideology ? You must be kidding !

    Do you live in some ivory tower ? Of course, if you forget what’s happening on the ground and read academic books written by educated progressive intellectuals, you’ll find that most of these authors are hostile to sectarianism (for good reasons !), but this does not in any way mean that anticonfessionalism is the national ideology ! This is a provocation on your part.

    Speak with your janitor, with taxi drivers, with regular lebanese folks, and you’ll see sectarianism, in its most ugly form, dripping from every pore. They’ll start talking about “Christian rights” being eaten by voracious sunnis, or about Sunni security being threatened by “riffraff shiites”, etc… Even some intellectuals and journalists speak like this in their private circles. How could you even think of seriously claiming that anticonfessionalism is a common Lebanese ideology ?

    PS. I’m really sorry if my posts seem too harsh, or if I appeared to be rude, but I simply do not understand how a smart educated civilized person like you can still defend a system that is so archaic and rotten to the core. How many civil wars is it going to take before people wake up ?

    It is an interesting subject but I am afraid we’ll never see eye to eye on this issue. You were right. There is an ideological frontier.

  3. PN said

    WL, Patrick,

    I’ve been following your back-to back posts on this subject for the past 2 weeks and have to admit that I very much enjoyed reading your thoughts on the matter. Having said that, I believe that Patrick has provided a stronger argument and I happen to agree with him on ~90% of this subject.

    “It is an interesting subject but I am afraid we’ll never see eye to eye on this issue. You were right. There is an ideological frontier.”

    I hope you go on with the dialogue since am sure am not the only one following it. Somehow, it should only be a matter of time before the gap narrows down by a few inches. And I do not mean the gap between your lines of thought, but rather in the rigid way many of us (the readers of this blog) may look at things. In itself, this would be an achievement.

    Keep it up.


    PS: WL, am still waiting for your post on “3 Steps for change: Bringing women into politics… massively!”.

    • Thanks PN for the encouragement.
      I have been wanting to tackle several themes for some time now but am suffering from a severe form of writers bloc and I have to meet several deadlines in the coming weeks. Sorry.

  4. Sorry guys for taking forever to get back to you. I’ve been overwhelmed by tasks this last week (that I still didn’t do). I’m going to attempt a quick answer.

    Patrick, I’d like to go back to a couple of your assessment of my posts, here’s a small selection:

    – you say that you’ve read over ten of my “posts on the subject and fail to see an insight or an argument in these posts”.
    – you assume that I loved “to provoke, to make outlandish statements”
    – You consider that I “argue like the proverbial sophists. You play on words and turn things upside down in order to bolster your rants. But there is absolutely no argument, no logic and no explanation”.
    – You claim that I “take the position of a victim”
    – You believe that “I rant and rant and rant, and call people names (indoctrinated, monomaniacs, prejudiced…)”

    When I read all this, I wonder if my argumentation is so murky or if you are not willing to listen to them. I think there’s truth in both suppositions.

    An admission: My argumentation was murky
    I have been burdenend by many thoughts these past weeks and none of them had a remote connection to confessionalism, so I shared what I believe to be insights without being able to build a strong case (my arguments are a bit loose I have to confess). I’m having problems spelling out the simplest of things (like explaining to the Janitor that I’d like my mail to be delivered daily, and not only on Friday), so sharing my approach of confessionalism/anticonfessionalism (two sides of the same coin) to sceptic readers is beyond my grasp for the moment. I noticed that when I finished the second post. It felt that it needed as second paragraph to join the arguments together, but I just couldn’t get myself to write it.
    The point I tried to make in my short series on confessionalism/anticonfessionalism is a complex one. Not only is it counterintuitive, but it contradicts narratives and arguments that have been rehashed for decades. I’ve been wanting to write a book on the subject, but have been postponing this project for nearly a decade. When I embarked on this short series, I asked myself what were the chances of me convincing you. I assumed that they were slight to say the least. But I thought that some arguments could trigger some questioning in some eventual reader who feels unconvinced by the political/intellectual/ideological debate on the subject, and who might find my arguments useful for a more personal and critical approach to the matter. Hopefully, this eventual reader could embark on a more thorough examination of the subject.

    A charge: You assertions preclude a rational examination of the topic
    Here’s a couple of assertions that I believe show that I missed my target, and that the points I was trying to make were simply not heard. These assertions you make are shared by a great number of our countrymen (and women), they can be traced as individual points to the 1930s and as a common argument to the 1940s.

    – Confessionalism is a form a discrimination and racism.
    – It creates ghettos
    – Democracy cannot exist outside the realm of secularism
    – Secularism and citizenship are prerequisites for democracy, and they are antinomic with sectarianism
    – Read academic books written by educated progressive intellectuals, you’ll find that most of these authors are hostile to sectarianism (for good reasons !)
    – Secularism is the best way to protect communal diversity. Under a secular democratic system, people no longer fear and count each others.
    – There is no dictatorship because Lebanon is a buffer state with communal diversity and foreign powers use it to wage proxy wars, by sponsoring some Lebanese sect who is afraid of other Lebanese sects.
    – France would have remained deeply backward and divided were it not for secularism. You do not build a nation by organizing the communities that you find at one point in time.
    – There is work to do to form educated citizens and until we do it in lebanon, we’ll never be a nation.

    The problem with these assertions is that they are simply not backed by fact. They have to do with a belief system (just like religion), and they are presented as “truths”, axioms. I think I have already discussed them in the posts that you have dismissed as rants. I will try to address you assertions more directly sometime this week.

  5. Patrick said

    Thank you WL for your mesage.

    I am perfectly willing to admit that my post was too harsh regarding what I said about your arguments. The reason is that I felt you were developing a theory that was not only counterintuitive, but also contrary to common sense, and that you failed to offer calm coherent arguments to bolster your claims which you’ll certainly recognize are provocative to say the least.

    I was also harsh because I felt you were falsely (and vehemently) claiming that the Lebanese State is anticonfessional while I view it as dripping with sectarianism. We seculars are marginalized in Lebanon, not you. You are not a minority voice. You can get all your rights without feeling alienated. While proponents of secularism feel alienated because they cannot get anything (education, jobs, elections, marriage, divorce…) without going to religious figures or sectarian leaders, and therefore betray their values and everything they believe in.

    So I am sorry about my “personal” attacks on your rants. Maybe I was also ranting.

    But on the fundamental issues, I am willing to stand by every sentence that you outlined and offer more explanation and arguments.

    – Confessionalism is a form a discrimination and racism.

    The discrimination part is obvious. Why would a competent and brilliant orthodox not be allowed to be elected president ? Why can’t a druze be anything but a minister ? How can you deny that it is a discrimination ?
    I agree that confessionalism is different from racism but it could easily degenerate into racism because they share the same roots : the us vs them mentality. Recent examples abound. When Amin Gemayel lost an election to a candidate from his own sect, in a 98 % Christian district, he was unable to blame the Muslims, so he resorted to openly racist attacks against Armenians. We knew he was a corrupt incompetent sectarian leader. He turned out to be a blatant racist as well. No surprise. Between sectarianism and racism, there is a difference of degree not a different of nature. Amin’s son once spoke of quality and quantity regarding the Christians and Muslims. Is this different from racism ?

    I know that you do not accept this filthy racist talk, but by defending sectarianism, you are an accomplice of such medieval talk, and you are, knowingly or unknowingly, consciously or unconsciously, defending this form of racism.

    – It creates ghettos

    When people grow up going to religious schools, get married before religious figures, can join public service or be elected to office only on the basis of their religious affiliation, when most of them do not even meet people from other sects before they go to college, it is a ghetto in my book, and the ghetto mentality remains prevalent throughout their lives because they are taught at an early age that they belong to sect X which is different from sect Y, because the ghetto mentality is institutionnalized and because sectarianism is the law of the land.

    – Democracy cannot exist outside the realm of secularism

    Well, this was amply demonstrated by people like Thomas Paine and JJ Rousseau who are much smarter than I am. If you reject their thought, if you reject the principles of the American Revolution and French Revolution, it means that you have a problem with the very principle of a modern democracy, not only a problem with secularism. Democracy cannot distinguish between two citizens on the basis of their sect. This is elementary. Equality before the law is a prerequisite for democracy.
    Until man is freed from any public interference from God or his representatives, he cannot properly exert his duties as a citizen and there is no social contract and no democracy. Pure and simple. If you prefer the Ancien Régime or systems where rulers govern in the name of the Lord and are accountable only to the Lord, it is your right, but you should say so openly.

    – Secularism and citizenship are prerequisites for democracy, and they are antinomic with sectarianism

    see above

    – Read academic books written by educated progressive intellectuals, you’ll find that most of these authors are hostile to sectarianism (for good reasons !)

    What I said is that you’ve been reading these books and this is probably what gave you the impression that secularists were a majority in Lebanon, while they are not, because these people are one in a hundred thousands. And these books have absolutely no effect on the populace, which remains ultra-sectarian in its speeches, attitudes and voting patterns.

    It’s up to you to offer a counterexample and reference a pro-sectarianism book written by a true progressive. I have not heard of such a book.

    – Secularism is the best way to protect communal diversity. Under a secular democratic system, people no longer fear and count each others.

    Well, we tried sectarianism for the past 80 years. Did it alleviate the communal fears ? Why don’t we try something else ? When people get their rights as citizens and not as members of a sect or tribe, they feel more confortable, and less likely to emigrate. Those who emigrate are very often those who do not have the backing of their sectarian leader.

    – There is no dictatorship because Lebanon is a buffer state with communal diversity and foreign powers use it to wage proxy wars, by sponsoring some Lebanese sect who is afraid of other Lebanese sects.

    This was a response to your claim that we should thank sectarianism for not having a dictatorship. Obviously, things are much more complicated.

    – France would have remained deeply backward and divided were it not for secularism. You do not build a nation by organizing the communities that you find at one point in time.

    There is a consensus today in France on this issue, and even those who were opposed to secularism in 1905 recognized later that it was a terrific accomplishment. Even the French “Conference of Bishops” praised secularism recently. On the backwardness issue, check Eugen Weber’s book “Peasants into Frenchmen” or Jean-Marie Mayeur or Goguel or Rémond. Even right wing authors praise the accomplishments of the Third Republic. Through public education and secularism, the third Republic transformed a set of peasants from local tribes, speaking dozens of different patois, into citizens of a united and great nation.

    – There is work to do to form educated citizens and until we do it in lebanon, we’ll never be a nation.

    Well again, it seems obvious to me. Lebanon today is not a nation, and until we educate people to citizenship and democratic values like equality, we’ll remain bickering tribes.

    Still looking forward to reading your arguments. You have yet to convince us that sectarianism is not an obstacle to accountability. You have yet to explain where do nonbelievers fit in your system. You have yet to tell us why you are so afraid of secularism.

    Until now, you’ve been attacking anticonfessionalism, and with murky arguments as you said. If you want to convince us, you should elaborate on the virtues, if any, of such a system. And most importantly, you should calmly rebut everything we’ve said about its incompatibility with modern democracy. Read our comments again, calmly. Comments that were made in response to your past 5 or 6 posts. You’ll realize that you have not rebutted our arguments. You kept changing the subject and attacking something called “anticonfessionalism”. I’d rather you find the courage to say openly that you are opposed to secularism and explain why, and explain how do you reconcile this with being “progressive” and democratic.

    You are smart but you keep taking the easy way out, in order not to answer the tough questions. This is what’s annoying and this is why I used harsh words, for which I apologize.


    • Time for a slight clarification
      Dear Patrick,
      I think I expressed myself badly. I don’t believe my arguments are murky (even if I had expressed that in those terms). On the other hand, I am sure that my argumentation (or demonstration) is murky because I left it half-completed. This is specially true for the post titled Confessionalism/Anti-confessionalism: Two sides of the same coin , in which I didn’t explore the way the different political programs and headlines (i.e.secularisation, modernisation, westernisation, nation-building and state building) are mixed up when they come under one heading “anti-confessionalism” and how they bring about an immense confusion and a tragic misreading.

      I honestly don’t believe I have been evading your comments, quite the contrary, every single posting on anticonfessionalism was an answer to some arguments you, PN or Ghassan Karam used. I just rephrased them in more general terms and situated them in a “tradition”.

      For some odd reason, my comments on anti-confessionalism led you to believe that I am not critical of the Lebanese political system. This is very far from the truth. But again, there are two ways for being critical. Some people choose to express their adverse or disapproving views and jugements on the system. I’d rather look into a system and analyse its merits and faults. Once this is done, I can see why these faults came about and what ways could be followed to neutralise them.
      For instance, my criticism of “anti-confessionalism” is a criticism of the Lebanese political system because anti-confessionalism is the ideology diffused by the system. As an object of study, I can delimit it, define it, dissect it and interpret it. And this is what I believe I’ve done in a couple of posts. My criticism of the system doesn’t stop there. I also analyse and criticise its various dynamics: clientelism, patriarchalism, & racism.
      I’ve also criticised consensualism (maybe not on this blog). Lastly, I’m very critical of the conduct of our political class and the way communal diversity is managed in Lebanon. Lastly, I believe I am a secularist, but this doesn’t mean I brandish “secularism” every time religion is mentioned.
      You can’t conflate everything to one element! and call a system by one of its features and then reducing everything to this feature. Yes, Lebanon recognised communities and manages this communal diversity through a certain set of rules and principles. But it also is extremely jacobine. It has inherited features from the Ottoman empire, but it has also borrowed much from France… Our political system is a complex one, stop reducing it to one of its features!

      I’m not an adept of donquichottism. When I want to “attack” something, I make sure that this thing exists. The problem with anti-confessional literature is that it has been attacking windmills and calling them monsters. We’ve had over 60 years of such literature and during that time our political system has evolved and has grown increasingly dysfunctional. None of this literature has predicted or even taken into account this evolution. It’s dogmatic and prefers to go on witch hunts and brandish its values or justify meekly and halfheartedly the “system”. I put the word system in quotes because it doesn’t analyse the system as it is, it views it through a very particular lens that completely misrepresents it.

      Freedom of choice. Conflate what you like, I’d rather distinguish

      If you want to continue to brandish your belief system, and ideological system. You are free to do it. But don’t expect me to confuse what you jumble! And here are the different elements.

      – communal prejudice (the one you attribute to janitors, taxi drivers, and regular lebanese folk).
      – ignorance of other communities
      – communal sentiments
      – communal membership
      – the conduct of Lebanese politicians (or at least what you consider to be “confessional” about it)
      – the institutional rules & principles that have to do with communal diversity.
      – the institutional rules & principles that have to do with religious diversity.
      – the way these rules and principles are practiced, interpreted, reinterpreted or violated.
      You think it useful to mix them up. I’m not convinced about that. I found it analytically counterproductive, and find the distinction useful in explaining the different dynamics. Moreover, I don’t find your use of the word “sectarianism” or even confessionalism to be of any interest analytically, it’s just name calling and a red herring.

      Let’s just take one example of how counterproductive a “value system” based approach such as yours is to our analysis. You talk about “the us vs them mentality”. Rousseau and Robespierre would certainly agree with you. They clearly hated this distinction (as much as they hated pluralism). This is why the revolutionaries abolished all forms of distinction (except gender because they considered that women had no conscience). They even abolished syndicats because they followed an “us” vs. them mentality. Even nationality was considered as something to be abolished (ask Kant about it). But let’s put these noble ideas on the side and look at things the way they are practiced.
      Is nationality discriminatory? not necessarily. In some countries, foreigners can even vote in elections! Is nationality discriminatory in Lebanon? It certainly is!!! Some foreigners are denied social protection, most are denied basic civil rights and all are denied political rights. As for nationals, only men can transmit the nationality. Should we abolish the Lebanese nationality or reform it and fight these discriminations?!!
      Why can’t we do the same thing with communalism?! (and I don’t mean simply changing quotas like Ahmed Beydoun threatens or modifying the seat reservations as Nawaf Salam ingeniously suggested).
      Distinguishing “us” from “them” is a prerequisite to pluralism. Without it, there is no identity. Recognising one identity doesn’t mean abolishing others. People are free to identify with what they want and you certainly cannot limit the possibilities of their identification or the way they do it. In Lebanon you can choose the community you want, unfortunately the choice is limited to 19 {two of which are not even established, which brings the figure down to 17} but you are ascribed an Arab identity and membership (whatever that means). Regardless of the choice and ascription, you can do whatever you want with those identities, and in your daily life as a citizen it has no legal consequence!
      These considerations on identity and pluralism did not exist in the 18th century, but a lot of thought has been put into these themes in the past century. William James, Charles Taylor (you should check his “Secular Age”), Emmanuel Mounier are interesting thinkers to read.
      If recognition is accompanied by prejudice and discrimination, I agree with you, they should be fought. But that doesn’t mean that identities should be abolished or ignored. To fight prejudice, you have to educate people about difference and equality. To fight discrimination, you should reform rules and create temporary rules to counter historical disadvantages.

      Pushed to the limit, WorriedLebanese becomes AngryLebanese

      Oddly enough, you don’t seem much interest in an analytical discussion. You’ve been asking me repeatedly to discuss my “core values” or “belief system”. I’m not very comfortable with that, but here we go.
      I am a secularist. I believe in the separation of religion and state and a delimitation of each sphere. I do not like to talk about secularism or bringing up 18 century ideologues. When I want to talk about the relation between Religion and State, I look at the way they are defined in various countries. I don’t brandish slogans and abstract principles, I look into the way they are understood and practiced (which are two distinct things). I do not confuse that with the relation between state and communities which is another topic (even if these communities use a religious label to define themselves, remember the example of Communist Yugoslavia I gave, or even Communist Russia regarding its jewish community).

      Here are a couple of facts on Lebanon that most people choose to ignore:
      The Lebanese constitution clearly defines two distinct spheres: the State’s sphere and the religious sphere.
      Personal status is recognised as being part of the religious sphere, and so is faith. In the 1930s, the Higher Commissioner decided that matters of Personal Status are a “shared” sphere (between the State and the religious hierarchies: “Ordinance n°60 L.R. of 1936). He also decided that Lebanese could disengage from their communities and join the civil law community (“Communauté de droit commun”). This community still awaits its enactment. No Lebanese parliamentarian has worked towards this, even the supposed “progressive” ones.
      Since the 1959, a big chunk of the Christian and Jewish communities’ personal status laws was moved from the jurisdiction of “religious hierarchies'” to that of the State.
      As for matters of faith, they are personal, and the Constitution distinguishes between religious practice and communal belonging (the State doesn’t recognise any authority of religious hierarchies over the religious practice of those who belong to the communal group: they cannot legally exclude a personal or stop him/her from practicing another faith or their own faith according to their understanding).

      – The State has no official religion. It recognises 17 religious communities (by ordinary law) that have been established according to their own rules.

      – There is a clear separation between state law and religious law. We are the ONLY arabic speaking country that doesn’t consider religious law to be part of the State law. All recognised religious laws are equal. No religious law is above another.

      – The State refuses to look into belief systems or even participate in religious education. Rafic Hariri had tried to introduce a course on religious education (in the 1990s), but even that was addressed as something foreign to the State (the State isn’t supposed to interfere in the establishment of religious education programs because matters of religious conviction are recognised as belonging to the “religious sphere”, it only interferes to insure equality between religious groups). Lastly, this “reform” has not yet been implemented.

      – The State doesn’t grant religious hierarchies any political power… Well, this was true until Taef. Now they can seize the Constitutional Court (on limited matters), a right that has been denied to citizens. The request made by part of the Lebanese political class (and the prime minister, Fuad Siniora) asking the Maronite Patriarch to establish a list of candidates for the Presidential election holds no legal grounds (and effects).

      All these elements show that Lebanon is quite secularised! Much more secularised that we are led to think. Can this secularisation be improved or strengthened? Certainly.
      – The Civil law Community should finally be established (principle of choice of belonging to a religiously defined communal group) with its own institutions.
      – The State should stop financing Muslim courts and representative institutions (principle of separation and equality)
      – The State should require certain conditions for the establishment of communities instead of recognising them in a discretionary manner (principle of equality between people of all faith).
      – The State should reformulate some of the basic principles it has been following more explicitly: the principle of separation, the principle of equality, the principle of freedom of faith).
      – The State should set up a system for financing communities so as to make this issue more transparent (the US system and the German system are quite interesting on this behalf).

  6. Patrick said

    OK, your thoughts are getting a bit clearer.

    I agree with many things, actually with most things that you wrote in this response, particularly the ending, but I still have a big problem with the major premise of your reasoning, which is that “anti-confessionalism is the ideology diffused by the system”.

    The arguments you gave to support this provocative view did not convince me. You said that the inceptors admitted the flaws of the system, that many people criticize it, that article 95 was supposed to be temporary, that confessionalism was not a preexisting ideology… All this is true but does not make anticonfessionalism a state ideology. As long as the infamous article 95 is present, confessionalism will still determine everything and will remain on everybody’s mind.

    You consider sectarianism to be one feature of the Lebanese system among many others. I consider it to be the prevalent one, because it is debilitating. It hinders the development of citizenship and national integration, which are not dirty words as some Lebanese would have us believe.

    I might be utopic, but I want a united country based on equal rights among its integrated citizens, not a mosaic of “spiritual families” who live side by side ignoring each others and paying lip service to “coexistence”. The Chiha vision might have been fine in the 1930s, it has become obsolete. I do not feel part of any “spiritual family”. Should I remain a second class citizen ?

    You write : “In Lebanon you can choose the community you want”.

    Am I supposed to cheer and be happy about that ? The problem is that you cannot chose NOT be a member of any community. You are forced to adhere to a community and you do not seem to realize that to many lebanese, this is intellectual terrorism. Atheists, agnostics, even religious believers who are secular have to lie to everybody all day long. You never addressed their problems. Confessionalism creates an essentialist view of human beings. People’s lives, identities, aspirations, political inclinations should not be determined by what sect they were born in.

    Every newborn Lebanese is put in a cage, a sectarian prison, and cannot escape. How can you reconcile this with democracy ?

    You write : “Regardless of the choice and ascription, you can do whatever you want with those identities, and in your daily life as a citizen it has no legal consequence!”

    First, I do not want to be ascribed an “identity” when I am born before I even know how to talk. How dare they to ascribe fixed “identities” to people ? How can you call this a choice ?

    How can you say it has no legal consequences in my daily life when I’m not even allowed to get married except religiously, and that’s if I marry someone from my own sect ?

    What I describe as sectarianism is the whole public and non-public Lebanese sphere. I believe that political leaders have to lead the crowds not follow them. Secularism should be imposed. We cannot afford to wait for social secularization and for all people to be ready. They’ll never be ready with the sectarian media and the power all the clerics have. Do you think Turkey would have become a major regional power had they waited for people to be ready for secularism ?

    Lebanese public opinion (those who are not contaminated with the virus that is sectarianism) has to lobby for :
    – A legislation allowing civil marriage
    – A legislation unifying the personal status laws.
    – The abolition of article 95 which is illegitimate because it contradicts the UN declaration of Human Rights.

    If the religious kooks want the first two legislations to be optional, that’s fine, but they do not have the right to maintain their dictatorship over people’s private lives. I hope we agree on that. Do you accept the fact that you will not be able to divorce unless you bribe some corrupt cleric or pretend that you changed your religion? Have you talked with anyone who went through this hell ? This is all part of what I call confessionalism and when you attack anticonfessionalism, you are indirectly supporting the corrupt clerics and their medieval system.

    When I talk about confessionalism, I am not only talking about the religious quotas in parliament. Religious courts are maybe a bigger problem. My anticonfessionalism aims at marginalizing them until we can reach global secularism.

    You might make as many distinctions as you like, but all the aspects you mention (communal prejudice, ignorance, sectarian politicians, institutionnal rules…) are part of the same totalitarian system that is based on institutionnalized sectarianism, political and social. Sectarianism is the head of the snake. It feeds all the other beasts that you mentionned.

    The distinction between secularization and secularism might be important academically, but as far as politics is concerned, secularism is not something we can wait for. It takes political courage and willingness to attack the vested interests of those who are profiting from the sectarian system, be they corrupt fanatical clerics, feudal lords or foreign regional powers.

    There was absolutely no consensus in France in 1905. Half the population was opposed to the separation of church and state. A few courageous visionaries imposed secularism and twenty years later, everybody agreed that it was an extraordinary emancipatory move.

    If the founding fathers of the US did not have the common sense to separate church and state, today, America might have been in the middle of a new civil war. Do you know what Hagee and Robertson & Co have in mind ? Do you think sane secular americans would have accepted to live under the rule of these bigots ?

    You read Taylor who offered clear definitions, but you still seem to believe that secularism is an ideology or a “religion”. It is exactly the opposite. Secularism is simply the neutrality of the public sphere.

    I do not see anything wrong with having a “value system”. Why are you reluctant to talk about your value system ? What you call “ideology” and “value system” are, in my mind, merely a way of finding out if the prerequisites for dialogue are met. I am open to all ideologies and all political thoughts as long as the person holding these views believes in equality, nonviolence and democracy. Once it is established that all men are created equal, you can have all ideologies you want and pluralism as much as you want. Rousseau (who has little in common with Robespierre and would certainly not have approved Robespierre’s actions) and Tom Paine are not just outdated “18th century philosophers”. They are those who emancipated hundreds of millions of persons and put down tyranny and religious absolutism.

    To give you an example of what I mean by prerequisites, you can be a communist or a die-hard conservative, I do not care, but if, for example, you admit that a citizen born in Koura is not allowed to run for parliament because he belongs to the wrong sect, I can see no point in further discussing the issue because you deny this citizen a basic right for reasons that are unacceptable by modern democratic standards. I am not a big fan of Taylor, but even Taylor admits that legislation to protect pluralism is discriminatory. He opposed Quebec’s 101 bill, a legislation that tried to protect the French language by adopting a silly Lebanese style mentality and legislation.

    Conservatives like the maronite patriarch keep saying that we have to root sectarianism out of the spirits and minds before we take it out of the law. The problem is that it will remain in everybody’s mind as long as it is part of the Constitution. We have to work on the minds but this should accompany and not preceed the abolition of sectarianism.

    Amin Maalouf once compared the lebanese obsession with “droit à la différence” with the apartheid slogans. He justly said that pluralism without equality means apartheid. Apartheid would never have been abolished if they waited for racism to go out of the minds of Afrikaners.

    What I want as a Lebanese is not my “droit à la différence”, but my “droit à l’indifférence.” I do not want anyone to care about what sect I might belong to. It’s not the government’s business.

    Until government (meaning the whole lebanese system, public and private) stops interfering in private lives, there can be no democracy in this country.

    PS. We might be progressing, and I think we agree on the religious courts and on the necessity to enact the Civil Law Community, but I am getting tired of this discussion and I guess you are also tired. But what’s intriguing is that people who share your views are usually supporters of consociationalism. You said that you were not. Can you post or link to what you wrote about that ? Thanks.

    If I understand correctly, you are
    – opposed to the Lebanese system,
    – opposed to consociationalism
    – opposed to federalism as well if I inferred correctly
    – and also opposed to the abolition of sectarianism.

    You are truly one of a kind 🙂

    + I do not think blog posts will help clarify things on such a controversial issue. You should write a 50 page academic article explaining all your rationale.

    Sorry for the long rants.


    • Dear Patrick,
      I’m pretty sure now that we do not speak the same language. We honestly don’t seem to be understanding one another. Unless we find a common language or a translator, I think we better leave things where they are. But I wouldn’t want to leave your comments unanswered. So I’m giving it a last try.

      For you, being critical is opposing and name calling: “totalitarian system”, “dictatorship”, “intellectual terrorism”, “apartheid”, “Sectarianism is the head of the snake”, “medieval system”.

      For me, being critical is assessing. I am not opposed to the Lebanese system. Being critical and opposing are for me two different things. I do not work with simple categories and oppose “the right” to the “wrong”. I am critical of the Lebanese system, and I want to understand how it works so as to be able to correct its dysfunctions.
      I believe most experiences in federalism have proven to be good institutional framework that foster accountability and preserve diversity within unity. I have nothing against its application in Lebanon. It all depends on how it is applied.
      As for Consociationalism, again, I have nothing against it by principle. I think it has proven extremely important in plural societies. As for the way it is practiced and understood in Lebanon, I believe much can be said, and much can be criticized, and much can be reformed, improved or replaced.
      شبعت من ثقافة المواقف
      And this is exactly what you are doing. Holding positions. How can you say something like “when you attack anticonfessionalism, you are indirectly supporting the corrupt clerics and their medieval system”. It’s not about being with or against. For me it’s about systematic analysis, trying to see what exactly is wrong and then figuring out how to tackle the problem and find solutions. As I said, I think there are more important things to do than attacking windmills.

      It’s like a Civil legislation on mariage. I’m not against it or with it by principle. It all depends on its modalities. I’m personally against a civil mariage legislation that is enacted by parliament and not a forthcoming “Civil Law community”, because it will certainly be more conservative than foreign civil mariage laws (have a look at the proposal penned in the 1990s), and this will restrict the freedom of those who got married abroad.
      Wanting a “civil legislation” isn’t necessarily “progressive”. Look at the example of Syria and Egypt. Or look closer to home, look at what happened to the 6 Catholic communities in Lebanon. I’m sure that you are aware that members of Christian communities follow civil law in matters of inheritance (since 1959). At that time, the law wasn’t different from the position held by the Catholic church in matters of succession (so i wouldn’t call it necessarily a progress). But since then, Canon Law has progressed, and for instance, an adulterous child, or a child born out of wedlock is not discriminated against for inheritance. Check the Lebanese civil law on this issue and tell me what is more “progressive” in your book.

      I’d like to tackle your examples to set the record straight (in case someone is reading our discussion):

      Example 1: A Citizen born in Koura
      You claim that “a citizen born in Koura is not allowed to run for parliament because he belongs to the wrong sect”.
      This is not true. First of all, the Lebanese electoral system doesn’t take into consideration where you are born or where you reside. Let’s first distinguish between the voter and the candidate. To determine who votes where, the lebanese electoral system follows a “custom” (I still haven’t found its legal grounds in any text) that binds the voter to the town in which his family is registered in. This has nothing to do with where the voter is born or where the voter resides. According to liberal principles, there are two things wrong with this system. Firstly, citizens are supposed to be treated as individuals, but our electoral system considers the voter as a member of a family. Secondly, citizens are supposed to vote where they reside and not where their family (seen through a patrilineal lens… ). Now these are two major that nobody is addressing because all that people are obsessed with is “confessionalism” (i.e. the misrepresentation of the lebanese political system).
      Now let’s look into the candidates. According to our electoral law, a citizen can run for candidate in whatever region he/she chooses as long as a seat is reserved for his/her community. This is why Elias Atallah could run in Tripoli in 2005 or Nadim Gemayel and Ghazi Aridi could run in Beirut. The real problem is elsewhere, some Christians and all Jews cannot run for parliamentary elections because no seat is reserved for their community. Now that’s a real legal problem that should be tackled. Moreover, in municipal elections, people from these very communities (ex: Copts, Syriacs, Chaldaneans, Jews… ) have not been running. This shows that they have internalised a sort of “rule of non-participation”. This is another problem that should be tackled. But of course, no one has been paying attention to these two problems because people are too busy “fighting confessionalism”. Give me a break.

      Example 2: Turkey’s secularism
      “Do you think Turkey would have become a major regional power had they waited for people to be ready for secularism”. Iran is outrightly religious, and Israel has inherited the ottoman system with regards to Personal Status (which is similar to that of Lebanon), and they are both regional powers.
      Turkish secularism is quite interesting to look into. On one hand, it is deeply “anti-clerical”, but on the other hand it hasn’t completely integrated the principle of separation between State and Church. Several religious minorities are not recognised (the largest being the Alevi). Sunni institutions are State funded (while all other religious institutions are not). And the state educational program does not shy from discussing religion. Interestingly enough, the official discourse on religion not only show a clear preference for Islam, but also uses a largely Islamic approach to religion (ex: Judaism and Christianity are interpreted in islamic terms).
      Many of these elements are actually shared by France that gives the Catholic Church a preferencial treatment (while being extremely anti-clerical) and approaches other religions in a distinctly catholic fashion (defining them through their faith, discarding religious laws, calling religious minorities sects and being hostile to them…). And in both countries, secularisation followed a period of persecution and ethnic cleansing of religious minorities (Jews and Protestants in France, Christians and Alevis in Turkey).

      Example 3: Alleged prohibition of civil mariage
      You say “I’m not even allowed to get married except religiously, and that’s if I marry someone from my own sect ?” That’s simply not true. The Lebanese are allowed to have a civil mariage, and the State applies the foreign rules of civil mariage in these cases (with one notable exception). Go get married in Cyprus or in Turkey. Believe me, it will be less costly than getting married in Lebanon. My parents for example refused to get married religiously.
      They never suffered from any consequence! As for what you hint at, “prohibition of mixed mariage”. This is also untrue. Most “religious” legislation recognise mixed mariages. And if people do not care about faith, they have a choice between 15 different laws pertaining to mariage.

      Example 4: Perverse disenfranchisement
      You say that “every newborn Lebanese is put in a cage, a sectarian prison, and cannot escape” and you claim that people’s lives, identities, aspirations, political inclinations are determined by what sect they were born in. And you finish your comment with the following line “Until government (meaning the whole lebanese system, public and private) stops interfering in private lives, there can be no democracy in this country.”
      I find this approach typical of pseudo-progressive intellectuals, and I believe it is tantamount to disenfranchisement.
      Lebanon is a democracy, a very dysfunctional one, one that abuses many rights, on that leaves a LOT of room for improvements, but it is still a democracy. Change is possible if you work for it instead of attacking windmills.
      Lebanese national are full citizens that have the same basic rights (look at the situation of non-nationals to appreciate the difference). You cannot deny these rights by pointing out a couple of exceptions! It’s like saying that France was not democratic before 1946 and citizenship did not exist there because women were not allowed to vote.
      Through a systematic misrepresenting of the political system, people were led to believe that they were in a cage, in a sectarian prison which is extremely far from the truth! You are free to worship whatever God(s) you want, regardless of you communal belonging. You are free not to worship. No one can do anything about it. You are free to change religion. Religious hierarchies have no control over your life (except if you are divorcing and you are fighting for custody over your children which are two subjects that should be tackled and not meshed up in a “fight against confessionalism”). Ask Najah Wakim, being Greek-Orthodox never prevented him from being a Nasserite. All the campaigns waged against him by the G-O church and many notables never prevented him from doing what he wanted to do.
      By LAW, the State is mostly indifferent to what community you belong to. So stop generalising. People are citizens and should act like citizens. They have many rights that they are not using. Instead of denying that they have rights, I think it more useful to inform them on their rights, and work with them on expanding them. You say that you don’t agree with what the patriarch does. Have you written to him as a citizen or published an open letter? You have the right to do it. Why wait for a politician to do it or accept that they all shut up when he is abusing his position?
      I know that I have often reacted publicly because I chose to live my life freely. You prefer to look through bars and shout that you are in a prison. That’s your problem.

  7. Patrick said

    OK, thanks but we’re never going to agree on this. You were right from the very beginning when you said that there is an “ideological frontier”. There is a problem with conflicting definitions of what a democracy is. You think “Lebanon is a democracy”, maybe imperfect. I think it is not even close to being democratic and cannot become democratic unless it amends its Constitution and passes a series of radical new legislation. You say that the Lebanese are “citizens”. I think not. For the plain and simple reason that a “citizen” should not have to reveal his religious affiliation and have the “appropriate” religious affiliation in order to run for public office. Is that too much to ask two hundred years after the fall of absolutism in the US & Europe ?

    You think the system needs minor changes but is basically fine. I think it should undergo a complete overhaul because it is based on a principle that is incompatible with modern democracy. Three of the foremost Constitutional Law Professors in the world told me that the Lebanese constitution (article 95) is highly problematic, can be challenged and called illegitimate because it clearly contradicts the UN Declaration of Human Rights and other previous declarations.

    You still evade the real questions, minimize their importance or change subjects. A maronite from Koura, who is working in public service and whose family has been living in Koura for generations cannot run for parliament in the region in which he was born and in which he lives. If this is democratic to you, we do not have the same value system indeed, and I am not going to apologize for my value system. There is nothing wrong in “holding positions” when these positions are based on justice and common sense ! There is nothing reprehensible in distinguishing right and wrong when the “wrong” means blatant discrimination.

    You chose to consider this a minor problem and tell me that he can go run elsewhere, where he has no roots, no friends, no supporters, just because some stupid law decided that only the greek-orthodox can run in Koura.

    Not to mention the fact that this stupid law was passed more than eighty years ago under the influence of colonial rulers who would have none of that in their own secular country, but found it useful to play identity politics in the Levant!

    If he wants to run elsewhere, the poor fellow still has to get the support of some sectarian leader. Do you think Elias Atallah would have been elected in Tripoli were he not aligned with the Future Movement ?

    On civil marriage, you again evade it and think it’s not so big a problem. You write : “Go get married in Cyprus or Turkey !” You cannot be serious. Is this your definition of a democratic country ?

    I ask you about atheists and you tell me that I’m “free to change religions” or not to practice ! So I have to live in a lie and be a lifelong hypocrite. What if an out of the closet atheist wants to run for parliament ? I guess then you’ll blame the guy for being “disenfranchised” !

    You remind me of OJ Simpson’s lawyers (who were outstanding lawyers but used the same dubious techniques to let him get away with murder)

    You evade or minimize all the tragic concrete issues affecting people’s daily lives and then you claim that sectarianism is a windmill. One man’s stumbling block is another man’s windmill !

    You recognize that there is a problem with divorce but you think it’s not related to confessionalism and can be solved with cosmetic changes ! Ask anyone who has divorced in this kafkaesque system and he’ll tell you that sectarianism is the root cause of the problem. My best friend was a sectarian right winger until she got to really know the system and paid a fortune to bribe corrupt kooky clerics in order to get a divorce and see her child.

    But I want to thank you because you were honest enough to recognize that you are more or less in favor of a federal system. This is an interesting coming out.

    I think that deep down, you are one of those very numerous conservative Lebanese (the majority of the Lebanese people) who still believe in “faith-based identity politics”, think that confessionalism is a good way of protecting their sect, and might lean toward a federal system that would further consacrate this “us and them” religious based identity politics. There is nothing wrong with that, but you claimed that you were a “progressive”. I did not see any evidence of that.

    You can call me a “pseudo-progressive” as much as you like, but I believe being progressive means precisely holding positions, believing in the Social Contract, believing that people were born equal, should live together and not apart, abide by the same civil laws, and making sure every citizen is treated equally before the law, whatever his religious beliefs are.

    I do not deny feeling marginalized and disenfranchised. All secular Lebanese who believe in a genuine democracy are also disenfranchised, and this is Lebanon’s predicament.

    But that’s OK, you write very well and despite our ideological differences, I’ll keep reading your blog when you’ll post about other issues. I am sure on many other issues, we’ll see to eye.

    Very best,

    PS. It might not have been a fruitful discussion, neither a constructive one, but I hope it helped a few readers have both sides of the story.

    • You really insist on misrepresenting what I say! It’s unbelievable. I say we have many problems that should be dealt with urgently. And I believe they can be solved one by one because they are not interconnected (in strategical thinking, it’s called “delinking”). You say all these problems will be solved by abolishing the system. I tell you look around, other States have abolished this system in the Middle East, and that didn’t stop the problems that we encounter in Lebanon, it just displaced them… But you are not willing to listen. Everything must fit in simple binary categories for you. It’s either white or black, it just can’t be grey. Fair enough.عملتني انعزالي، عنصري، انفصالي يميني متطرف، محافظ، تقسيمي I give up on trying to explain my position. Label me as you choose, but that won’t make it right. Is it just with me or do you have a very strong tendency to pigeonhole people (sure it can be useful providing it’s accurate).

      Here are two additional informations that you can choose to ignore (because they do not fit in your categories).

      1. The Lebanese political system does not encourage people to live apart. Quite the contrary, it has an active policy of “mixing” and refusing or countering ethnic cleansing. The courts (civil and administrative) have upheld two principles to encourage mixing by using precisely confessional data (both principles are considered exceptions to a rule):
      – The sale of land to members of a demographically dominant community by a person belonging to a demographically depleting community can be rescinded by the courts if it threatens diversity in the region.
      – The request of a person to move his civil registration from a region where diversity is diminishing to a region in which his communal group is dominant, can be denied.

      2. You claim that the “stupid law was passed more than eighty years ago under the influence of colonial rulers who would have none of that in their own secular country, but found it useful to play identity politics in the Levant!”. This is historically wrong! Like many of your arguments, they are grounded in what you regard as absolute truths. The “stupid law” is actually an application of international law, an interpretation of Wilson’s points and an obligation spelled out by the international community (the League of Nations) through the Mandate’s Charter. The French were not happy about it and tried to annul it. Every time they did it, they were met with vast opposition (locally and internationally). As for personal status laws, and communal representation, they were actually recognised in parts of France (until 1962), and the question of separation of State and Church STILL doesn’t apply everywhere in France, and the principle simply doesn’t exist in the United Kingdom.

  8. PN said

    “It might not have been a fruitful discussion, neither a constructive one, but I hope it helped a few readers have both sides of the story.”


    I am one of those readers who not only enjoyed, but also benefited from this discussion. I have to admit that I was quite surprised while coming across several facts mentioned in this discussion; on which I was either clueless or mis-informed. As such, I fully agree with WL regarding the need for better public awareness and education around such matters.


    I think I can better comprehend your point of view now. Your recent posts on this subject have become more clear (perhaps, it is the “angry” vs. “worried” factor!). Anyhow, congrats on having passed the writer’s block. I highly encourage you to write a book on this subject. Should you decide to do so, it would really help to include examples such as the ones you listed above since they make it easier for people like me (whose specialty is as far as it can get from sociology and politics) understand your argument more easily.

    Having said that, I believe that you & Patrick have different views on, and are proposing different approaches/platforms to tackle somewhat the same problem (the dysfunction in our system), in hope to achieve the same overall outcome (a more fair, just, democratic, and fucntional Lebanon). Patrick supports an acute and potent approach characterized by high gains, but also high risks if applied abruptly. My understanding is that you’re in favor of a more comprehensive analysis of the various factors (besides confessionalism or anti-confessionalism) that plague our dysfunctional system; “de-linking” and reforming them while aiming at progressing the whole system.

    In other terms, Patrick thinks more like a cardiac surgeon whereas you think more like a cardiologist. In many instances, it is in the best interest of the patient that both approaches intersect and both conductors work together.

    Anyhow, thanks for the interesting discussion.

    Have a nice week ahead.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: