A particularly misleading and disfiguring map
Posted by worriedlebanese on 22/12/2009
Most people interested in Lebanese affairs must have run across a map such as this one. There is actually no way of avoiding it. One of the main features of this country is its communal composition and people are interested in seing how this translates “on the ground”… And by this expression, they mean territorially. But what does that really mean? And how useful is it to understanding the country and its society?
I personally believe that such maps are extremely misleading. Not only do they distort reality, but they reinforce erroneous mental representations.
Here is a short list of the distortions:
– it reduces Lebanon’s diversity to a limited number of categories. In this map, you find six of the largest communities, but what about the Armenian communities, and the smaller communities such as the Alawites and 8 smaller christian communities) ?
– it draws middle-sized communal territories and gives the impression that they are homogenous while they are almost all mixed. Should minority communities be show?
– it mixes three elements without making them explicit : the demographic element (the demographic weight of the community), the administrative element (how the territory is divided into districts) and a spacial element (how the territory is used). To make my point more explicit, let’s take a couple of examples. ex1: The country is very mountainous and over half of the land is either uninhabited or cultivated. How come this land is attributed to such or such community?! This is particularly true for the “shiite attributed territory of the Beqaa-Mount Lebanon range. About 80% of the area covered is uninhabited… How can it be attributed to the Shiite community?! ex2: A region like the Chouf underwent ethnic cleansing in the 1980s loosing for the third time in two centuries most of its Christian population. But the land property hasn’t shifted much and Christians still own a lot of property there? How does this translate on the map? On the other hand, the Sunni population has grow a lot, and it has the same demographical weight at the Druze even if it is less spread out territorially. How does this translate on the map?!
– it doesn’t take into account the mobility and mental representations. People move around and their movements are conditioned by infrastructure. These elements have an effect on the way they represent to themselves and to others the space they live in. A friend of mine worked on a small sunni neighbourhood in Beirut. This neighbourhood is considered by its christian inhabitants and its christian neighbours as a muslim enclave within a larger “christian” neighbourhood. Its muslims inhabitants consider it as an appendice of a larger “sunni” neighbourhood.
– it has no political significance because the country is on one hand extremely centralised, and on the other split up by numerous patronage networks that cut across administrative bodies and carve up their own territories. This map certainly does not show that.