Worried Lebanese

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Archive for the ‘Islam’ Category

Gerrymandering parading as reform

Posted by worriedlebanese on 22/02/2013

Lebanon_Parliament_Building_180Let’s face it, reforming an electoral law a couple of months before election date is just an advanced form of gerrymandering. You can’t expect a legislature less than six months before it disbands to vote for a new electoral law based on abstract principles and conviction. The parliamentarians that are reforming the law that will influence their reelection are doing it out of sheer interest. And when they’re doing it a couple of months before elections, you can bet that their eyes are riveted on election polls. The worst part of the deal is that by leaving an uncertainty surrounding the law (and we’re not talking minor details here; they’re still discussing the shape of constituencies), the outgoing parliamentarians are blatantly discriminating against their potential rivals by preventing them from organising their campaigns. How could potential candidates start their campaign, or even prepare for it when they don’t even know under what conditions they will be running!?
The story gets even more absurd when one looks at the way Lebanese civil society and its favourite parasites, the embassies, are dealing with the whole business. Some NGOs are actually still campaigning for electoral reform. Embassies are either publicly or privately voicing their preferences. Analysts are discussing the reforms suggested by parliamentarians as if they were siting in a philosophy class: they speak of general principles while they should be looking into electoral costs for incoming and outgoing candidates.
I had vowed a couple of weeks ago not to let myself get dragged into this whole business, not to enter any debate surrounding electoral reform, not to play into their game. Any discussion surrounding electoral reform at this time of the year endorses one way or another gerrymandering. Two days ago I broke that vow. I gave in. I sanctioned on my very small level, among my virtual community (of readers) the blatant misconduct of our parliamentarians aimed at manipulating the results of this summer’s parliamentary elections. The crooks in Séħit el Nıjmé won again.

Now that I’ve conceded defeat, I might as well indulge in a bit of analysis. When the damage is done, it’s a pity not to wander through the ruins. But no worries, I won’t repeat what I’ve been saying in French. You’re in for something new, I hope.

probabilityArticle 2: A communal solution to a communal problem?
Quis, quid, quando, ubi, cur, quem ad modum, quibus adminiculis
Well, basically, we have a bunch of MPs belonging to different political factions who had at an earlier date pushed for very different electoral systems (majority system with medium size constituencies or smaller constituencies, or dual slates with proportional representation) drop their previous proposals and coalesce to push for another system that was earlier disparaged by all. At a closer look, we discover that all these MPs belong to Christian political parties, some are represented in government and the others are part of the opposition. Now what’s their problem? and how did it happen that they suddenly agreed on that point.
The communal story (انتقام المنبوز). To make a long story short, the political parties that supported the “orthodox proposal” in the mixed commissions had been excluded from the political game under the Syrian mandate for Lebanon (1990-2005). After the Syrian army’s withdrawal from Lebanon, they pushed their way back into the political game, first in Parliament then in Government. Their integration back into Lebanese politics was largely determined by their alliances with four political forces (patronage networks/communal based parties speaking in the name of the three principle muslim communities): the Shiite Amal and Hezbollah parties, the Sunni Moustaqbal movement and the Druze Progressive Socialist Party. Up to 2007 they formed the “quadripartite alliance” (الحلف الرباعي), but since this alliance split up, I’ll refer to them as the BIG FOUR.
What was true before 2005 is still true today. And the reason largely lies in the electoral system in which a great deal of Christian MPs get into Parliament through votes given to them by Muslim voters who follow their communal leaders. This dependence on Muslim communal leaders was reduced in 2009’s parliamentary election through the restoration of past constituencies with a numerically strong christian electorate. But even then, the Christian parties could only become junior partners. The first reason to that was their number (over 9 political formations: Free Patriotic Movement, Lebanese Forces, Kataeb, Marada, Tashnag, Ramgavar, National Liberal Party, Popular Bloc, National Bloc, Kornet Chehwan Gathering). They had to be co-opted by the four dominating muslim-based patronage networks in many constituencies, and into government. The Big Four could choose (the most compliant) amongst them, or they could count on rival Christian MPs who were directly dependent on them. The latter could be used to stack government seats so they could serve the interests of these patronage networks (in exchange of some spoils that these Christian MPs or ministers could distribute to their popular base). Moreover, these Christian political parties could only count on very small and fragile patronage networks, and hardly any foreign financial aid (or military aid… let’s not forget that politicians in our neck of the woods are ready to do all that it takes). So basically, electoral reform is the only way in which Christian political party can assert their autonomy and claim the right to be equal partners in parliament and government. They pushed for the 2009, but they soon discovered its limits, and now they seek to reclaim a true parity in political representation of Christian and Muslims in Parliament which only the “Orthodox proposal” (or one similar to it) can ensure.

imagesCommunal electoral colleges: A leap into the unknown?
The chances of  “article 2” becoming law are not very high. Hezbollah and Amal are not too keen about it and Mustaqbal (Future movement) and Ishtiraki  (PSP) are openly hostile to it and are ready to do all that it takes to bloc it (and for good reason, it could diminish their political weight in parliament by half). Could it be because the Big Four are shocked by its “sectarian” nature? I very much doubt that. The two former parties have nothing to gain from it, and the two latter have a lot to lose from it. So basically the Christian MPs have to come up with a particularly clever strategy to convince the Big Four or at least two of the Big Four to go on with this reform. Then they should cross their fingers that the Constitutional court won’t strike it down (The President or 10 MPs are very likely to refer it to the Constitutional Court if it becomes law): article 2 not only breaks away from our electoral tradition but it contradicts the interpretation give to at least two articles in our constitution (article 27 et article 95), and the “spirit” of the Preamble. So the most likely effect “article 2” can have on our next elections is extending the discussion period within parliament (which effects the fairness of the elections because it advantages outgoing MPs), which could very possibly result in the postponement of the elections (which seems to benefit all our parliamentarians). But let’s forget all that and imagine for a moment that article 2 became law and the elections proceeded according to it. So we’ll ask ourselves who this law could hurt and what it probable outcomes will be.
Who does the communal electoral colleges hurt? It certainly is very frustrating for many of my fellow countrymen and countrywomen to have their choice restricted to people belonging to their own community. But does it actually harm them? Not really. The political parties that they support could find apt candidates in all communities to run in the different electoral colleges. The “orthodox proposal” doesn’t prevent the Green party or the Democratic Renewal, the Baath, the Syrian National Social Party, the Democratic Left, the Communist Party or any other cross-communal formation from running in several or all electoral colleges. And the proportional system will increase their chances of having more candidates. On the other hand, “the orthodox proposal” will certainly hurt two members of the Big Four: The Mustaqbal and the Ishtiraki. Both parties assemble vast cross-communal parliamentary blocs (Lebanon First and Democratic Gathering) around them by gathering a large number of Christian MPs (many of which are clients in the same way their Muslim MPs are). These blocs allow them to increase their share of the cake in allocation of government portfolios, administrative positions and resources. The “orthodox proposal” will undoubtedly render their Christian allies more autonomous which could result in the break up of these blocs… and the shrinking of their share. Moreover, on a symbolic level, this law will also reduce the way their power is projected on a certain territory. This is particularly true for Mustaqbal in Beirut, and for the PSP in southern Mount Lebanon that it has relabelled “The Mountain”. But it also holds for Hezbollah and Amal. Communal electoral colleges instead of territorial constituencies reduces the symbolic hold on a territory that the PSP, Amal, Hezbollah, but also Marada and the Kataeb  had conquered militarily during the 1980s. 
What are the expected results of communal electoral colleges?
The dominant view is that this reform will increase “sectarianism”. I won’t waste too much time on this snowclone that is used disparagingly to qualify the worst qualities one finds in others, but never in oneself. In electoral terms, if by that we mean increasing the dominance of communal parties in parliament, well, I really don’t see how that would be possible for the muslim communities who have been hijacked by the Big Four. As for the Christians, their parties supported this “orthodox proposal” to start with!
What other effect could this reform have? Actually plenty. For one, no party in parliament could ever boast after that to be more representative than another in terms of communal backing. The fact that each community votes for its own certainly would show in terms of votes who is its “biggest” spokesman, but it shakes up the hold that spokesman (or spokeswoman, let’s be optimistic) has on other MPs belonging to his parliamentary group. The “orthodox proposal” actually threatens the cross-communal elite supposed to foster cross-communal harmony by changing the way cross-communal alliances are done. Instead of taking place between two members of the elite (belonging to different communities) before the election, it will take place after the elections, in Parliament. So it shifts the responsibility of inter-communal harmony from the elite to the voter. Is that such a dangerous move?
Another expected result would be the diversification of political parties within parliament. The Christians MPs would no longer be the only ones divided into different groups (that are paradoxically rather hard to distinguish from one another on ideological grounds). Others communities would see the same result due to proportional representation. Salafis would be able to enter the Parliament, displacing their grievances from the streets to the Chamber of deputies. The Muslim brotherhood will no longer need the Mustaqbal to enter government. The Mustaqbal won’t be able to crush the Ahbash in Beirut any longer… The same applies to the Druze and the Shiites. The mahdalé that Joumblatt set up in Southern Mount Lebanon and the one that Amal & Hezbollah operate in the South won’t operate anymore. Talal Arslan won’t be humiliated every time, and who knows, the Yazbakis might even choose to follow another leader. Sheikh Mohammad al Hajj Hassan will probably enter parliament, and so will Ahmad al-Assad…

Posted in Idiosyncrasy 961, Intercommunal affairs, Islam, Lebanon, Levantine Christians, Patronage Networks, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Reform, Speculation | Leave a Comment »

Les collèges électoraux confessionnels… au-delà du تفو (tfou) et du نيعئ (nya32)

Posted by worriedlebanese on 21/02/2013

Et si pour un petit moment on oubliait toutes les considérations normatives. Si pour un bref instant on laissait de côté les “on doit” et les “ça devrait” pour réfléchir à partir de “ce qui est”, de la réalité politique du Liban actuel. C’est seulement à partir de ce moment que l’on pourra mesurer les effets que la réforme électorale pourrait avoir. Observons notre paysage politique dans toutes ses composantes: les partis politiques, les citoyens/électeurs, le discours politique, le fonctionnement des institutions politiques… Que trouvons nous alors?

  • Des partis à étiquette communautaire qui fonctionnent comme structure clientéliste. Vous avez dit Tashnag pour les Arméniens? Parti Socialiste Progressiste pour les Druzes? Amal et Hezbollah pour les Chiites? Mustaqbal pour les Sunnites? Courant Patriotique Libre, Forces Libanaises, Kataeb, Marada, Parti National Libéral, Bloc National pour divers chrétiens? Ces partis dominent notre chambre des députés et le paysage politique libanais.
  • Un discours politique hyper-confessionnel. La question de la représentation/représentativité confessionnelle est un thème récurrent. D’abord l’apanage des partis chrétiens (exclu du jeu politique par l’occupant Syriens et ses alliés ou réduit à la portion congrue par leurs alliés de l’Alliance quadripartite), elle est aujourd’hui partagée par les partis et mouvances sunnites (Moustaqbal, “indépendants” et mouvances islamistes). Du côté Druze et Chiite, l’exercice monopolistique du pouvoir par des formations clientélistes/confessionnelles rend inutile tout discours sur la représentation/représentativité. Mais la défense des “intérêts communautaires” reste un enjeu principal et un thème récurrent.
  • Des citoyens obsédés par des considérations propres à leur groupe confessionnel. Les discussions politiques s’articulent surtout autour de la peur de l’Autre, et des dynamiques ou chamailleries intra-communautaire… Les Chrétiens sont obsédés par la rivalité entre Geagea et Aoun et ils ne parlent que du danger Iranien ou Séoudien (mot de code pour Sunnite et Chiite). Les Druzes se mobilisent derrière un seul homme pour exorciser leur peur de minoritaires dans “leurs” régions. La guerre civile syrienne traverse les Chiites et les Sunnites… Partout on brandit des figures du passé et on réchauffe leurs discours (Kamal, Bachir, Rachid, Camille, Pierre, Suleiman, Mousa, Rafik et compagnie)…
  • Des institutions politiques traversées, articulées ou paralysées par des réseaux clientélistes à étiquette communautaire…

N’en déplaise aux anti-confessionalistes de base, nos institutions politiques ne sont pas responsables de cet état de fait. En réalité, tous les mécanismes légaux et politiques prévus par notre système politique ont été neutralisés par les structures clientélistes à base confessionnelle et le régime politique contra-legem qu’elles ont établi avec l’aide des armes (qui leur ont permis de territorialiser leur pouvoir d’abord en 1958 puis à partir de 1975) et le “mandat” syrien (qui a permis à certains d’entre eux de traduire institutionnellement leurs “acquis” militaires)… sans compter sur l’imagination de notre classe politique qui dans son ensemble continue à s’inspirer de la pratique baasiste du pouvoir en privilégiant les méthodes informelles aux méthodes formelles du pouvoir (basé sur des institutions spécialisées et hiérarchisées): Le Président de la Chambre choisit le recteur de l’Université Libanaise, un Premier Ministre développe un nouvel appareil sécuritaire (qui lui obéit qu’il soit au pouvoir ou pas), le Président de la République préside une “Table du dialogue national”…
Face à ce paysage politique désolant, quel effet pourrait avoir cet article 2 approuvé par les commissions parlementaires? Pour essayer de le mesurer, il est important de l’aborder dans son intégralité: établissant à la fois des collèges électoraux confessionnels et un mode de scrutin proportionnel.

Si l’article 2 devenait loi…
Pour tenter d’imaginer les effets que l’article 2 pourrait avoir sur l’opération électorale, nous ne nous intéresserons qu’à deux moments: Celui du vote et celui qui suit le décompte des voix. Nous les aborderons de manière différente. Pour le vote, nous nous intéresserons qu’à quatre électeurs, que nous essayerons d’inscrire sociologiquement, même si c’est d’une manière sommaire. Pour la période qui suit le décompte, nous nous intéresserons au paysage politique que nous imaginerons suite à l’annonce des résultats.
Prenons d’abord quatre électeurs: Joseph du Metn, Nadine de Baabda, Khaled de Tripoli et Ghinwa de Nabatieh. Les quatre résident à Beyrouth mais votent normalement dans d’autres circonscriptions (en raison de la gestion patriarcale des registres électoraux), comme c’est le cas pour près de la moitié des électeurs libanais.

  • Joseph s’était abstenu de voter au Metn en 2009. Issu d’une famille chrétienne mixte, la circonscription dans lequel il votait (mais ne résidait pas) lui convenait bien. Sa mixité tant au niveau du collège électoral que de la distribution communautaire des sièges (4 maronites, 2 grec-orthodoxes, 1 grec-catholiques, 1 armenien-orthodoxe) reflétait en quelque sorte la propre mixité de sa famille. L’article 2 le frustre, l’enferme dans une case confessionnelle et limite son choix aux membres d’une seule communauté. Mais à malheur quelque chose est bon: il peut biffer le nom de l’ensemble des chefs de guerre et de leur descendants qui appartiennent à cette communauté. Il peut voter pour de nouvelles têtes, de nouveaux noms et des gens qui proposent un vrai programme, qu’ils soient originaires de Jezzine, de Beyrouth, de Zahlé ou du Akkar. Le choix n’est pas particulièrement alléchant, mais bon…
  • Nadine avait voté à Baabda en 2009. Bien que de parents chiites, ni elle ne se définit ni elle ne se reconnaît dans sa communauté. Elle abhorre le système politique libanais et vouent une haine féroce pour le 14 Mars et à leur base politique. Elle méprise son cousin qui est dans Amal mais n’a pas peur du Hezbollah qu’elle qualifie de mouvement de résistance (même si elle n’adhère pas à son programme religieux). L’article 2 la choque profondément. Elle refuse de voir son choix limité à sa propre communauté. La circonscription dans laquelle elle votait dans le passé lui convenait mieux. Elle était mixte aussi bien au niveau des électeurs que des élus: 3 maronites, 2 chiites, 1 druze. Elle a décidé de boycotter ces élections.
  • Khaled vote à Tripoli. De classe moyenne, il en veut aux notables de Tripoli qui ont échoué à dynamiser l’économie de sa ville. Très concerné par la situation sécuritaire dans sa région, il ne comprend pas comment le Premier ministre pourtant originaire de cette ville n’a su rien faire, et ne propose rien de concret pour répondre à ce problème. Et c’est sans parler de la crise syrienne qui secoue sa ville à partir de Jabal Mohsen. Son choix est fait. Il vote la conscience tranquille contre les notables, contre les pro-syriens, contre les salafistes… en composant sa propre liste groupant autant de personnes de la Jamaa Islamya que du Moustaqbal.
  • Ghinwa est inscrite à Nabatieh, région qu’elle ne visite qu’à l’occasion des mariages, des décès et des fêtes. Son coeur bat à gauche et il suffit de mentionner Amal et Hezbollah pour la mettre dans tout ses états. Après avoir décidé de boycotter ses élections, elle avance vers le bureau  le coeur serré mais résolue à voter pour quatre candidats qui militent au sein de divers partis vert et de gauche.

crystalball

Finalement, moins d’un million et demi de Libanais ont voté. Le taux de participation est parmi les plus faibles de l’histoire libanaise. Les personnalités qui ont appelé au boycotte se félicitent du résultat, mais des experts estiment que la mobilisation des électeurs était moindre en raison du caractère strictement intra-confessionnel des élections. Les dépenses électorales n’ont jamais été aussi faibles alors même que les collèges électoraux avaient une dimension nationale. Les conséquences les plus notables sont:

  • L’entrée au parlement de nouveaux partis. Pour la première fois de son histoire, le Liban voit se regrouper à l’intérieur du parlement des élus salafistes. Plusieurs autres partis islamistes prennent également place à la Chambre: les Ahbash et la Jamaa islamiya. Ils ne sont pas très nombreux mais leur voix se fait entendre à l’intérieur des instituions de l’État. Le Bloc National refait son entrée au parlement. Et pour la surprise générale, les Gardiens du Cèdre obtiennent deux sièges.
  • L’affaissement des “grands partis”: Le courant du Future et le PSP perdent un certaine nombre de sièges, de même que les Forces Libanaises et le Courant Patriotique Libre.
  • L’éclatement des blocs parlementaires. Les alliances entre forces appartenant aux mêmes blocs parlementaires se sont déliées durant les élections, surtout dans les blocs mixtes sur le plan communautaire mais dominés par une force politique communautaire. Ainsi Moustaqbal n’arrive qu’avec beaucoup de mal à former une coalition autour de lui, de même que le Parti Socialiste Progressiste. Leurs blocs rétrécissent et se fragilisent. Le Courant Patriotique Libre perd également des alliés, même s’il a tenté de concourir dans plusieurs collèges électoraux.
  • L’explosion du nombre d’indépendants au sein du parlement est impressionnant, surtout du côté chrétien et chiite. Ils mettent du temps pour se regrouper. La plus grande surprise est la multiplication des petites formations anti-confessionnelles en dépit de l’adoption de collèges confessionnels.
  • Les élus non-maronites s’affirment de manière plus forte au sein des formations chrétiennes. Et parmi les indépendants, ce sont ceux-là qui investissent le plus d’énergie à rapprocher les uns des autres pour former des petits blocs parlementaires, embryons de nouveaux partis politiques.
  • Des partis longtemps alliés se distancient un peu les uns des autres. La Mahdalé Hezbollah-Amal n’a pas aussi bien fonctionné que d’habitude. Des rivalités se sont faites sentir entre les deux formations. De même le Courant du Future n’arrive plus à contrôler la Jamaa Islamiya dont l’alliance le fragilise (approfondissant les divisions entre son aile conservatrice et son aile libérale). L’alliance Kataeb et Forces Libanaises est une chose du passée.

Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Intercommunal affairs, Islam, Lebanon, Levantine Christians, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Reform, Version Francophone | 2 Comments »

Season’s greetings: رمضان كريم

Posted by worriedlebanese on 11/08/2010

Posted in Islam, Personal, Religion | Leave a Comment »

Credo in form of a decalogue (changes I believe in)

Posted by worriedlebanese on 15/07/2010

Some people have very rightly said that my approach to “Laïque Pride” (among other things) is too negative and that instead of simply criticising, I should be presenting some alternatives. So I took two hours to think about it and came up with this decalogue.
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1. I believe that we should pressure the parliament into establishing the “communauté de droit commun” that was recognised in the 1930s!!!! And allow it to have its own institutions and its own laws in matters of mariage and inheritance, and also its own courts. In other words Create a democratic and liberal “op out” mechanism to communal membership.

2. I personally think the Lebanese state should stop financing the muslim clergy and the muslim courts, because it is discriminatory towards non-muslims and it contradicts the principle of separation between religion and state. In other words Enforce the principle of  separation between State and Religion.

3. I also believe that the civil inheritance law that applies to Christians should be abolished because it is patriarchal and discriminatory. I believe Christians should be allowed to have their own inheritance laws (the catholic inheritance law for instance is more liberal than the secular Lebanese inheritance law), just like Muslims do… In other words: Enforce the principle of equality between communities.

4. I believe that the “clergy” has the right to express its political opinion, like all other citizens do. And that we have the right (and the duty) to criticize it when we don’t agree with it. However, the Muslim “clergy” BY LAW doesn’t have the right to express political views because it holds the status of “state agent”. If it wants to benefit from this right, it should set itself free from the state. In other words Enforce the principles of rule of law.

5. I also believe that people who belong to a community should pay a specific tax for this community (like in Germany) in order to to finance each community’s institutions (courts and non-clerical representative institutions) and give it the means to have a properly trained personnel (most importantly judges)! And where there are taxes, there’s accountability! In other words Guarantee a greater autonomy to communities.

6. I also believe that pressure should be made on state courts to reinterpret Law 534 of our criminal law that doesn’t mention homosexuality but speaks of sexual relations that are “contradicting the laws of nature”… I believe this sentence’s interpretation should be restricted to bestiality… and not include adultery, homosexuality and what have you: In other words “upgrade” Personal Freedom to international standards.

7. I also believe that there should be NO censorship. And that the censorship board should be replaced by a rating board (like in the US). I believe freedom of opinion and information should be guaranteed. For this we need a new legislation and excerpt  a lot of pressure on our political class (that controls the media and restricts the creation of new media). In other words “upgrade” Freedom of Expression to international standards.

8. I believe that military courts should not be allowed to try civilians. And that even soliders should be given the right to oppose a military court’s ruling by bringing the case to a higher civil court (Constitutional court, Court of cassation, Council of State or preferably a common supreme court that replaces them). In other words Extend the principle of Due Process.

9. I believe that the history of communities should be taught in schools because people are extremely ignorant about these things and they replace their lack of knowledge with prejudice. Our students should learn about communal persecutions, conversions, liberal and conservative religious movements… They should learn about the dhimmi laws, and that they were not always applied. They should learn about religious extremism (how Syriac and Protestant converts were persecuted by the Maronite church, how Chrisitans, and non orthodox Muslims were persecuted by the Mamlouk, how the Eastern Catholic churches were latinised by Rome and missionaries, how the Oriental Orthodox clergy were discriminated against by the Greeks (and how the Arab speaking orthodox clergy revolted in the 19th century, how the Iranian clergy and schools changed the Lebanese Shiites religious practice, what sunni religious reformers proposed in the 19th century… In other words, Replace prejudice and ignorance with knowledge.

10. I believe that the confessional system can be reformed… But this reform should keep in mind the basic principles on which this system is based: inclusiveness and diversity. That’s why all recognised communities should have a representative in Parliament! Today, the rule applies only to 11 communities out of the 17 established communities (the “communauté de droit commun” just like the Ismaeli community is recognised but not established, once it is established it will become the 18th community). Moreover, we should have a law that sets a procedure for the recognition of other religious communities (the Czech law is quite a good one). I also believe that there are competent people in all communities and that “confessionalism” shouldn’t be an excuse to choose the most corrupt or the least competent of them, or an excuse to strengthen the power of patrons over people who belong to their community (within the state and outside it). In other words, Enforce the principles of Inclusiveness and Diversity inherent in Confessionalism.

When are we going to start doing something about these issues instead of parroting an almost centennial discourse that is produced and manipulated by politicians and that leads to nowhere?

Posted in Diversity, History, Intercommunal affairs, Islam, Judaism, Levantine Christians, Memory, Patronage Networks, Personal, Prejudice, Reform, Religion, Secularism, Values | 6 Comments »

Discovering the missing cultural link: the Umayyad Mosque

Posted by worriedlebanese on 28/12/2009

View of the Umayyad Mosque

Damascus caught me off guard. I didn’t expect to be so easily seduced by a city with such a dull geomorphology and bland urban landscape.

The new neighbourhoods were completely uneventful… though I did find a couple of good books there. But it’s the old town that cast a spell on me. Its architecture surprised me. I didn’t expect to find this type of construction less than 130 km from my hometown.

Sure I was impressed  by the Souks, especially Souk al-Hamidiyeh which starts with a roman structure and ends with a 19th century ottoman one. But it’s the small streets behind it, with their wooden structures and fascinating windows that struck me the most.

What completely blew my mind  was the Umayyade Mosque. I  had seen a picture or two of this building before, and had always thought that the building had originally been a church, that of Saint John the Baptist. What I learned before getting to Damascus was that the church had been totally destroyed and the whole structure was actually islamic. So I expected to see a structure similar to that of Anjar, the summer residence of the Umayad situated in Lebanon, within a roman urban structure and a blend of arabic and roman architecture. What I saw was an extremely harmonious structure that blends roman and byzantine elements while reinterpreting them to suit the new prevailing culture and developing islamic components to them. This reminded me of some Churches in Rome where the roman elements are still visible and yet reinterpreted to suit a burgeoning christian civilisation. I think that the byzantine and roman roots of Islam are nowhere more visible than in this impressive building that wouldn’t have shocked the eye were it situated in Rome.

Posted in Culture, Identity, Islam, Personal, Religion, Syria | Leave a Comment »

Swiss voters ban building of minarets

Posted by worriedlebanese on 29/11/2009

Islamophobia - Swiss style

More than 57% of voters and 22 out of 26 cantons voted in favour of a referendum proposal banning the building of minarets in Switzerland. The result came as a surprise. All surveys preceding the vote showed a majority of Swiss opposed to the ban. So how can one explain this gross disparity between the predicted and the actually result?

There are three explanations for this disparity:

              • The surveyors did a bad job. They relied on bad sampling… This could very possibly be the case. But how come all surveys gave similar results up to today? Could they all be wrong? And how come they were so wrong. We’re not talking about a 1 to 5 % error range, but more than 10%. That’s huge.
              • People who had declared  that they would vote against the ban didn’t turn up to the polling station at the same rate than those who voted in favour of the ban. If this is true, one still wonders why they were not motivated? Were they too comforted in their belief that the ban wouldn’t be approved? Did the parties that had declared their opposition to the ban (all except one it seems) fail to mobilise their constituencies? etc.
              • People who wanted to vote for the ban declared that they would vote against it. But why would they do such a thing? Could it be because they understood that their vote would be considered as islamophobic, and that such feelings are morally condemned because of their xenophobic character?

What next?

Instead of trying to understand why the Swiss voters decided to support the ban, I would like to quickly look into its significance. Most of the analysis I’ve encountered were geopolitical. Some analysts were worried about the possible international  outcomes of the ban: disinvestments, riots, targeting of Swiss embassies. It is quite obvious that the Danish Cartoon affair is still present in many minds. Some of the analysis I’ve come across were more interested in the social consequences it could have in Switzerland. How would this ban effect the relations between muslim and non-muslim individuals and groups in Helvetia?

Could this cow find the poster offensive?

My thoughts on this question have been drifting another way. The Swiss law doesn’t ban the building of Mosques. It bans the building of Minarets. In other words, it is targeting one essential element in Muslim religious architecture. Let’s not get all freudian about it, but it’s obviously a form of castration. They are banning the most defining feature of this religious building, what makes it recognizable as a Mosque. Interestingly enough, modern technology has removed much of a Minaret’s functional importance. Loudspeakers are more efficient and less costly a solution to call to prayer. And there is no legal provision banning these loudspeakers (except for the general nuisance provision that could be used by mayors). So basically, the Swiss banned a defining architectural element, what makes the building recognizable in the urban setting. So it has more to do with identity and visibility in the public space than anything else.

Did we say Freudian?

Such a ban is new to Europe (I wonder how the Council of Europe and its court will react to it). But similar provisions existed in the Middle East. The Ottomans for centuries had banned bell towers. They were only allowed during the second part the 19th century. In cities, there were even provisions stating that no Synagogue or Church must be prominent; And no distinctif part should be seen from the street (menorah, tables of the law, cross)…  The general idea behind the islamic provision and the swiss provision are the same. National religious minorities should remain invisible.

Posted in Diversity, Identity, Intercommunal affairs, Islam, Judaism, Religion | 18 Comments »

De l’islamophobie ordinaire*

Posted by worriedlebanese on 18/07/2009

*Réaction à l’article d’opinion d’Ivan Rioufol “Voila comment s’installe la barbarie ordinaire…”, paru dans le Figaro du vendredi 17 juillet.

Ivan RioufolVous avez remarqué les points de suspension qui terminent le titre de l’article, ou plutôt le laisse ouvert pour indiquer que beaucoup de choses restent à dire. En fait, il aurait été plus juste de le ponctuer avec un deux-points car cet editorial est un véritable réquisitoire où l’auteur exprime méthodiquement tout son dégout sur les Musulmans, un dégout ordinaire puisqu’il est partagé par beaucoup et peut passer inaperçu: une virulente islamophobie de salon dirons nous en détournant l’une de ses expressions. Pour bien saisir les idées fondamentales autour desquels l’article s’articule, il est conseillé de se poser ces trois questions suivantes en le lisant:

  • De quel danger s’agit-il?
  • Quels en sont les symptômes?
  • Qui en est responsable?

Pour mes commentaires, lisez la suite: Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Antisemitism, Blogosphere, Civil Society, Discourse, Diversity, Identity, Intercommunal affairs, Islam, Israel, Judaism, Palestinians, Pluralism, Prejudice, Religion, Secularism, Semantics, Version Francophone | 5 Comments »