Anti-confessionalism’s side effects
Posted by worriedlebanese on 06/08/2009
Indoctrination: 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.
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.