Worried Lebanese

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Archive for the ‘Prejudice’ Category

Zionism according to A.B. Yehoshua

Posted by worriedlebanese on 26/11/2010

This morning, A.B. Yehoshua published an article in Haaretz stating that Zionism is not an ideology.Truth to tell, his arguments are not very convincing. The article follows an interesting structure though. At first, the author rebrands Zionism, then he defines its core issue, and he ends by copyrighting it. His central point lies in the middle, sandwiched between two extremely controversial arguments.

Rebranding Zionism. From ideology to concept
Abraham “Bouli” Yehoshua chooses a very convenient definition of ideology and then claims that “zionism” doesn’t fall under this definition because of its multiple forms. In his own words, zionism “is a common platform for various and even contradictory social and political ideologies”. The same can be said about most nationalisms (a nationalist can be left wing or right wing) and and to certain degrees political ideologies (russian, french, italian and lebanese versions of communism are not exactly the same). At first sight, one can brush this whole issue as being a terminological issue by saying that A.B. Yehoshua can call Zionism whatever he wants, the point he is trying to make is elsewhere. However, let’s keep in mind that this argument is actually quite a controversial one because zionism as an ideology is a central issue in “palestinian studies” and pro-palestinian groups. By rebranding zionism the way he does, he is actually claiming that most of the research and arguments done under the heading of zionism are worthless. So most pro-palestinian militants or scholars will probably not read any further and attack him on this point. Let’s go beyond his controversial argument and see it for what it is, a simple question of terminology that actually is not really relevant to the central point: the definition of the core issue of Zionism.

Defining the common platform
In his search for a core issue, A.B. Yehoshua distinguishes between two periods:
– Before 1948, the core issue of Zionism was to “establish a state for the Jews”.
– “After the Jewish state, namely the State of Israel, was actually established […] Zionism was expressed […] through the principle of the Law of Return”.
Stated this way, the core issues of zionism seem innocuous. And if Zionists had chosen to establish this state on an uninhabited island, these points would have remained unobjectionable. The problem with these issues is that they do not take into account the fact that the Jewish state was established in an populated region, and that it was imposed on the majority of this land’s population through foreign pressure (British then international) and force. So the problem is not the “theoretical underpinning of zionism, it is with its practical application. The same can be said about the second expression of zionism, “the law of return”. Theoretically, it doesn’t seem to be problematic. It becomes objectionable when it is used as a tool for demographical engineering (safeguarding a strong jewish majority), and when it benefits over 200,000 immigrants who cannot be considered as Jewish by any definition.

Repositioning the concept of Zionism
A.B. Yehoshua ends his article with a strong property claim. He stresses that zionism as a concept belongs to Jews, and “finds its expression only in its rightful place”, in the relationship between Israeli Jews and Diaspora Jews. He resorts here to an argument he came up with a couple of years ago, and that he has repeated on many occasions: Jews in the diaspora are only “playing with Judaism”, and “full Jewish life could only be had in the Jewish state”. He restates it in this article by making a distinction between “responsible” Jews and “partial” Jews (who “practice their Jewish identity partially”). He states that the former live “their lives within a defined territory and under self government”, while the latter “live enmeshed in other nations”. Again, this is a very controversial argument that shocks many Jews across the world. Moreover, it fails to take into account the possibility of an autonomous and complete jewish life in the diaspora (that is clearly and massively visible in New York and Antwerp). And it ignores the fact that Israeli jews are equally enmeshed in a plural nation in which at least 30% of the population is non-Jewish. Another problem in his definition lies in the fact that Israel has no “defined territory”, and that “Self-government” doesn’t take into account that it is actually the direct (non-jewish Israelis and non Jewish immigrants to Israel and their descendants) and indirect government (West Bank and Gaza) of populations that if enfranchised would make up the majority of the country’s territory.

One could explain A.B. Yehoshua’s arguments by putting them under the banner of idealism… But pushed to such an extent, it actually falls under cynism.

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Posted in Discourse Analysis, Israel, Prejudice | 15 Comments »

وين الدولة, la rengaine de Sibylle R

Posted by worriedlebanese on 10/08/2010

Je suis tombé sur deux articles signés par Sibylle Rizk, journaliste à l’Orient-Le Jour en lisant une vieille édition du Figaro (celle du vendredi 6 août): Le Liban apprend à vivre sans Etat et La rengaine d’Abou Ali. Le premier article se présente comme une analyse de fond, un “éclairage” sur les raisons derrière le classement du Liban au 34e rang des Etats défaillants. Le second article s’ouvre sur un “portrait”, celui d’un chauffeur de service (taxi collectif), Abou Ali. Ce deuxième article nous offre, sans même le réaliser, une clef d’analyse extrêmement précieuse qui nous permet de mieux comprendre le premier. Sibylle Rizk nous apprend que Abou Ali répète continuellement “ما في دولة بهالبلد”, “Il n’y a pas d’État dans ce pays”, “C’est son expression favorite. Il la répète chaque fois que l’un de ses passagers lui raconte ses déboires”. L’ensemble de l’article est construit autour de cette expression favorite d’Abou Ali. La journaliste la prend comme illustration d’une sorte de sagesse populaire. Mais d’un point de vue analytique, on réalise bien que ce n’est qu’une rengaine, une expression creuse qui ne fache personne, une formule consensuelle qui fait l’unanimité. Elle désigne un bouc émissaire en quelque sorte abstrait, une personne morale (comme diraient les juristes), une institution désincarnée. Cette rengaine se veut comme la conclusion d’un raisonnement, mais en fait c’est une premisse. Cette expression fait figure d’une formule magique qui permet à celui qui la profère de faire l’économie de l’analyse d’un problème et de la recherche d’une solution. Cet article nous montre bien que l’usage de cette formule est le même à tous les niveaux: au niveau de la population (à travers l’exemple d’Abou Ali), au niveau des analystes (un économiste et un sociologue), au niveau des journalistes (Sibylle Risk), et même au niveau des ministres (représentés par Charbel Nahas).

Par définition, une prémisse est considérée comme évidente par elle-même. Elle ne nécessite donc aucune démonstration. Et en l’occurrence, tout dysfonctionnement (ou tous les dysfonctionnements) de l’Etat devient l’expression de son absence, et non pas le résultat de quelque défaillance structurelle ou de l’action (volontaire) de ses agents.

Sibylle Rizk se permet de titrer son article “Le Liban apprend à vivre sans Etat”, comme s’il s’agissait de l’Afghanistan. Seulement, ce titre cache une toute autre réalité. L’Etat libanais est de loin le premier acteur économique, le premier employeur, le premier assureur (avec une sécurité sociale dont une large portion de la population bénéficie), le premier éducateur (son réseau est depuis près de deux décennies le premier réseau éducatif du pays), le seule régulateur économique et bancaire, et quasiment le seul acteur public (l’Etat est structurellement extrêmement centralisé et rechigne à reconnaître toute autonomie aux institutions publiques ou à partager le pouvoir avec des autorités locales). On est bien loin d’une absence…

Faux et usage de faux

Charbel Nahas se permet de dire que “L’État comme cadre formel de gestion organisée des affaires de la population n’a cessé de reculer, que ce soit en termes de qualité des prestations ou d’emprise sur la population libanaise». Ceci est absolument faux. L’Etat n’a cessé de s’étendre depuis les années 1940 et à étendre son emprise sur des secteurs de l’économie. Les services qu’ils proposent n’ont cessé de croître. On pourrait à juste titre relever que la qualité de certains services laissent à désirer… mais on ne peut pas prétendre que son emprise sur la population a reculé! L’Etat au Liban est partout. C’est un mammouth colossal dont dépend une grande partie de la population. Et ses décisions affectent tout le monde.

Charbel Nahas surenchérit en disant «La dette publique, qui représente 150 % du PIB, est le reflet le plus éloquent de cet effritement», «Ce qui restait de l’État, à savoir sa fonction financière, a été asservi au bénéfice des groupes subétatiques que l’on appelle “communautés”». C’est également faux. La dette publique est le reflet d’une politique économique, celle des gouvernement successifs de Rafic Hariri (au temps du “mandat” syrien), et non pas «le reflet le plus éloquent de cet effritement». Et en ce qui concerne les bénéficiaires de ce soit disant “effritement”, ce ne sont pas les “communautés” qui restent au Liban des corps non organisés et non représentés (l’Etat ne leur reconnaît pas de representants politiques, mais uniquement des représentants religieux…), mais plutôt des réseaux clientélistes dont les patrons respectifs revendiquent  aujoud’hui (tout en s’en défendant) une représentation communautaire (que les institutions ne leur assure pas).

Melhem Chaoul se permet de revisiter l’histoire libanaise à partir de la prémisse “ما في دولة بهالبلد” en la déformant systématiquement. Il oublie que la France nous avait doté d’un système judiciaire aussi compétent qu’efficace, que sous le mandat de Camille Chamoun les capacités de l’Etat ont été renforcés (politique économique, politique étrangère, début de la planification et de l’expansion de l’éducatif publique), que sous Fouad Chehab il y a eu à la fois des reculs et des avancés, que sous Charles Helou l’Etat a renforcé son emprise sur plusieurs secteurs économiques (bancaire et aviation), et que même la guerre civile n’a pas empêché l’accroissement de l’Etat (surtout le secteur éducatif et l’administration publique). Dire que l’Etat Libanais est né incapable est une insulte au pays et à notre intelligence. On croirait entendre Hafez el-Assad dont le discours avait comme seul but de déligitimer le Liban.

Et puis, le pon-pon: “C’est ainsi que le pays a pu fonctionner de novembre 2006 à mai 2008 avec un Parlement bloqué qui déniait toute légitimité au gouvernement en place et que la présidence de la République est restée vacante pendant six mois”. Ceci n’est pas la preuve de l’absence de l’Etat, mais au contraire de sa solidité. Les services ont continué à fonctionner en dépit d’une crise du régime extrêmement grave… une crise du régime qui n’a pas affecté le pouvoir en dépit des blocages institutionnels (qui ont commencé avec la neutralisation du Conseil Constitutionnel et de la présidence de la République par le Quatorze Mars®, et ont été suivi par la neutralisation du Parlement et la déligitimation du gouvernement par le tandem Hezbollah-Amal). Le problème est manifestement pas celui de l’absence de l’Etat mais du comportement de ses agents (surtout les ministres, le Premier ministre et le Président de la Chambre), et de l’absence de mécanismes institutionnels correcteurs (arbitrage, dissolution, révocation…). Mais ceci pourrait fâcher quelques personnes en leur faisant assumer leur responsabilité… donc répétons en coeur: ما في دولة بهالبلد. une formule consensuelle dont l’effet est soulageant.

Posted in Culture, Discourse, Discourse Analysis, Journalism, Lebanon, Politics, Prejudice, Semantics, Version Francophone | 2 Comments »

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 »

A Placebo storm in a teacup

Posted by worriedlebanese on 10/06/2010

What I find most deplorable in the “Placebo affair” is the fact that it spawned a useless amount of opinion papers.  The concert took place yesterday without any problem, showing that there is a difference between “calling for a boycott” and “censorship”. But this did not prevented the Lebanese “French-speaking daily” to continue to publish editorials on this “affaire” (read Fifi Abou Dib’s take on it published today: Epineuses et cactées).

There is something decidedly quixotic in this fight against “the furies trying to slowly kill the Lebanese cultural scene”, and this call for “cultural resistance” (two closing lines of MHG’s article yesterday). Don’t people find something remotely ridiculous in describing an the cultural consumption (of a foreign product) an act of CULTURAL RESISTANCE?!

If only the newspaper had the sens to interview Brian Molko or reproduce his interview. As Lotus Weinstock used to say, “I used to want to change the world . Now I just want to leave the room with a little dignity”. I wish L’Orient-Le Jour  took a couple of minutes to ponder on that thought.

Posted in Civil Society, Communication, Discourse, Journalism, Lebanon, Prejudice | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

Placebo paradoxal… ça marche sans qu’on y croit.

Posted by worriedlebanese on 09/06/2010

Se plaindre est un droit fondamental! C’est au moins ce que nous enseigne L’Orient-Le Jour. Et se plaindre est rarement un plaisir solitaire. Des journalistes ont découvert qu’à deux ou à trois voix, c’est mieux! Après l’humour à répétition, le “quotidien libanais d’expression française” invente l’humeur à répétition. Comme à son habitude, l’Orient-Le Jour laisse ses éditorialistes se plaindre des même choses, de la même façon. C’est comme ça que le journal entend la liberté de presse. L’objet de la grogne de cette semaine: La campagne de boycottage du concert de Placebo. En écrivant ces lignes, je me demande si Misères Francophones m’a devancé sur le sujet. Je vérifie. Non. Pas encore. Ouf.

Retournons à l’Orient Le Jour, le quotidien où les articles se suivent et se ressemblent. Hier, nous avons eu droit à l’article de Ziyad Makhoul, “L’effet Placebo (sur l’intelligence de certains Libanais…” (3613 signes avec photo), aujourd’hui à celui de Michel Hajji Georgiou, “Placebo pour complexes existentiels” (7956, sans photo mais avec citation d’Einstein). Le premier article se veut informatif. Il nous présente les groupes qui appellent au boycott (Lebanese Campaign to Boycott Zionism, les jeunes de Harket el-Shaab, ainsi qu’un “un allumé, néanmoins avocat de son état et fils d’un ancien député”… évidemment pas nommé, pour plaire aux amateurs du journalisme par allusion), nous présente succintement leur argument (il ne faut pas interagir avec Israel). Et puis, l’éditorialiste se transforme en porte parole du groupe tout en laissant sa griffe (en traitant les boycotteurs de fascistes).

Michel Hajji Georgiou se livre à une analyse beaucoup plus profonde avec les qualités qui le distinguent (intelligence, culture et subtilité). Malheureusement, il est immédiatement rattrapé par son militantisme. Quelque chose dans la citation qu’il a utilisé m’a fait tiqué. Et m’a lancé dans une bataille de citations. Je commence par celle qu’il a utilisé et je la fais suivre par deux autres auxquelles elle m’a fait penser:

  • Einstein: Deux choses sont infinies: l’Univers et la bêtise humaine. Mais en ce qui concerne l’Univers, je n’en ai pas encore acquis la certitude absolue.
  • Descartes: L’intelligence, c’est la chose la mieux répartie chez les hommes parce que, quoiqu’il en soit pourvu, il a toujours l’impression d’en avoir assez, vu que c’est avec ça qu’il juge”.
  • Hobbes: Although almost all men think they have more intelligence than all other men, this is not really true. For it is the nature of men that even though they may acknowledge many others to be more witty, or more eloquent or more learned, yet they will not believe there be any so wise as themselves; for they see their own wit easily, and other men’s at a distance. But this proves rather that men are in that point equal, than unequal. For there is not ordinarily a greater sign of the equal distribution of anything than that every man is satisfied with his share…

Bon. Ressaisissons-nous. Passons à l’articulation centrale de l’article. Comme dans Star Wars, il s’agit d’un combat entre les forces du mal et les forces du bien. Les premières se distinguent par leur violence et leur bêtise mortifères; et les secondes par la résistance culturelle qu’elles opposent aux premières. Vous aurez reconnu là la pensée de Sélim Abou s.j. qui du temps du mandat syrien livrait un combat solitaire contre la puissance mandataire et ses satrapes (aux chemises réversibles).

(à suivre)

Posted in Discourse, Journalism, Lebanon, Prejudice, Semantics, Version Francophone | 6 Comments »

La “résistance” à petit prix

Posted by worriedlebanese on 08/06/2010

Deux petits exemples d’attitudes pseudo-résistantes: un égyptien et deux libanais.

Le Conseil d’Etat Egyptien a jugé en faveur de la déchéance de nationalité des Egyptiens mariés à des Israéliennes. Cette décision pourrait concerner jusqu’à 27 000 personnes. Elle s’appuie sur deux idées: la présomption que toute juive est sioniste (ce qui n’est pas évident dans ce cas sachant que ces Israéliennes ont tout de même épousées des Egyptiens musulmans), et que ceci pose un problème au niveau de la loyauté puisque “un sioniste ne peut être loyale à l’Égypte et au monde arabe » (et cela en dépit du fait que l’Egypte a signé la paix avec Israel en 1979).  La décision du Conseil d’État reconnaît une exception: elle ne s’applique pas aux Égyptiens mariés à des Israéliennes arabes. L’argumentaire derrière l’exception est que les “Arabes de 1948” ont subi cette nationalité, et ne peuvent pas par conséquent être considérés comme des sionistes. Etrange attitude, et perception, venant d’un pays qui a conclu la paix avec Israël, qui s’est engagé depuis trois décennies à normaliser ses relations avec son voisin, et qui coopère avec le gouvernement israélien sur plusieurs plans, notamment dans la politique d’enfermement de Gaza (pour satisfaire des intérêts égyptiens).

Plusieurs photos commencent à circuler du premier acte de l’embarquement du commando Israélien. Celui dans lequel les manifestants ont capturé quelques soldats israéliens. Dans une des images, on voit un soldat Israélien manifestement blessé, choqué et humilié pleurer. Et sur le site de tayyar.org, j’ai remarqué plusieurs commentaires sous la photos se moquant des larmes du soldat et mettant en doute son courage et sa masculinité. Pathétique non?
Cette attitude rejoint celles de nombreux manifestants qui applaudissent à Beyrouth et à Rabieh (siège de l’ambassade de Turquie) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan alors qu’ils étaient totalement absents au moment de Nahr el Bared, lorsque le conflit entre l’Armée et Fateh el-Islam a conduit à la destruction du camp, à des pillages, à des “dommages collatéraux” et au déplacement de la population civile qui d’ailleurs n’a toujours pas été autorisée à rejoindre le camp et à rebatir.

Posted in Civil Society, Culture, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Palestinians, Prejudice, Version Francophone | 6 Comments »

Mavi Marmara revisited

Posted by worriedlebanese on 05/06/2010

I’ll try to spill a couple of thoughts that have been whirling around in my mind.

Yes, sure, the Israeli commando was attacked on the Mavi Marmara. A quick look at the organisation behind the protest gives you a clear idea that you were not dealing with your ordinary “peace activists”. These people were here on a mission: Break the blockade, get through to Gaza whatever the cost!  And yeah, many seem to have an islamist background and amongst them there seems to have been several disreputable characters. But Israeli Intelligence knew all about those people and the organisation behind them since their departure from Turkey. Both sides knew that there was going to be a clash. It was expected. But that certainly doesn’t explain or justify the bloodbath.

Now let’s look at the dynamic the Mavi Marmara affaire triggered. One finds three types of media coverage, and one can fairly say that they were all biased, and their approach was teleological.

  • The pro-Israeli media was interested in whitewashing the Israeli army and justifying Israeli policy. And it used all the usual techniques: an agressive smear campaign against the victims of the raid, and a substitution of victimhood (the soldiers were presented as the victims). The only problem with this “defense” line was that it could only convince those who were ready to be convinced. Those who are not die hard supporters of the Israeli government and its policies could easily see the loopholes in that presentation and the manipulation of information. Watching some footage and comments reminded me of Alan Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel. Another interesting twist is that the pro-Israeli arguments left the Palestinians out of the picture (as they usually do). It wasn’t about Gaza (that is always cynically presented as ok as long as it is not starving). It was about Israel vs Turkey (which is a rather melodramatic approach, knowing that  the military alliance is still secure, no Ambassadors were called back or off…).

  • The anti-Israeli media was interested in celebrating the victimhood of the injured and the killed while denouncing the brutality of Israel. Everything that didn’t fit that picture was discarded… The activists on the Flotilla were shown as heroes not because of their own deeds (ex: they fought Israel), but through their victimhood and their courage in facing a brutish enemy. They didn’t speak of the militants fighting the commando. They did not insist on the psychological dimension or emotions (fear, panic…), as did the pro-Israel media. The anti-Israeli media was so focused on being anti-Israeli that it even repackaged the objectives of the flotilla: they became more anti-Israeli than pro-Palestinian. Actually, Palestinians were left out of the picture. It was more about “we” vs Israel.
  • Then we have the “neutral” media, mostly western (think BBC for instance) with its very ambiguous respons to the events. Probably because it was being (too) actively fed by both sides. The pro-Israel groups were working on the narrative : reframing the events, shedding a different light on the different actors of this drama, feeding the media “information” in an orderly way (even if the “info” was inaccurate). Pure Hasbara. The pro-Palestinian groups were also extremely active, but as usual, they focused on the emotional side. Instead of expanding the narrative, they reduced it to its most emotional content: they shot and killed us. Instead of insisting on the flaws of the Israeli argument, with its specific framing of the events, they repeated their mantra without backing it with more arguments. What the “neutral” media tried to do was denounce the outcome of the raid but it showed its discomfort with the identity of the protestors who were injured and killed, reminding the listeners/viewers that they were islamists.

    To sum things up, the “Mavi Marmara operation” highlights two important elements in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. One one side we have a country and a society that is becoming increasingly cynical and unapologetic with the violence it shows towards anyone non-Jewish. This has become quite apparent for most people except a majority of Israelis. On the other side we have a Pro-Palestinian movement that is growing more and more strikingly heterogenous, and its most vocal, recognisable and effective components are islamist (moderate as in this case, or radical as in the case of Hamas and Hezbollah). This dynamic is affecting the whole movement, making some people within it increasingly uncomfortable, and shifting the focus from “pro-Palestinian” to “anti-Israeli”, a shift that is both damaging to the movement and to the dynamics of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.

    Posted in Communication, Discourse, Israel, Journalism, Palestinian territories, Palestinians, Prejudice, Turkey, Values, Violence | 13 Comments »

    Would a flotilla by any other name…

    Posted by worriedlebanese on 03/06/2010

    Like many of you in cyberspace, I’ve been reading extensively about the “Gaz Freedom Flotilla affair/raid/attack/massacre”.

    Trying to represent "evil" and missing the point while at it

    At first, I received an avalanche of such emails. Frankly, I was irritated by the tone of these emails. They all focused on “Israel’s barbaric acts” and “its monstrosity”.  This kind of commentary is shallow (how important is labelling), easy (it’s done by people who are hostile to Israel and/or its policies to start with) and useless (it’s intended for audiences that are hostile to Israel and/or its policies), and usually boders on Tourette Syndrom. Not only it preaches to the converted, but its language confirms the pro-Israel public in its own prejudice and paranoia. It mostly forgets that the whole issue is about GAZA, and not Israel. Take a look at Carlos Latuff’s cartoon and try do imagine how a supporter of Israel would understand it.

    Then I started reading blog entries about the whole affair. Trying to look beyond the praise, the condemnation, the victimisation and the accusations, I started processing some information:

    • What are the facts? If you think identifying the relevant data or “hard facts” is an easy matter, well think again. Check out the articles written, pick out anyone of them, randomly. Ignore all the commentary (accusations, justification, condemnation) and set aside the hard facts. You’re not left with much. Here’s a little quiz: how many boats did the flotilla consist of? How many injured were there (on both sides)? What do you know about the deceased?
      • What do we actually know about what actually happened? Nothing much. It’s more about “they did it again” or “they were looking for trouble and they got it”.
      • What are we being told about it? One could excuse the cyberworld for sticking to the emotions and emotional responses. But what excuse does the Media have for doing such a lousy job. I just watched the news report on the BBC, two days after the events, and all I got was two conflicting versions, one made by Israeli officials, and another made by activists from the Flotilla. Both versions were either unspecific or blatantly inaccurate, with more smear than info.
    • What are the contentious issues? There’s a bunch of them: the Israeli blockade on Gaza (is it legal, ethical, effective, productive?); the Gaza freedom flotilla’s attempt to break the blockade (is it effective? is it lawful? is it suicidal?); the Israeli army’s enforcement of the blockade and its capture of the boats (is it brutal? proportionate? hysterical? lethal? normal?)…
    • What are the frameworks within which the data is being processed and propagated?

    When whitewashing borders on paranoïa

    Next came the “pro-Israel” blogs and outlets. I wasn’t surprised by their reactions either. I’ve heard their arguments before, and actually expected to hear them. One could sum them up in three sentences : “we are the victims”, “they are the agressors”, “they made us do it”. The cartoon pictures here illustrates this perception perfectly. The argument presents itself in the following manner: it starts with an abstract apologetical formula that is not linked to an act but to an outcome (which is odd for an apology). Then there’s a quick recasting of the events in which are presented an elastic yet always humane “we” (that alternatively or hypothetically refers to the IDF, the government, Israelis or Jews) and an accusative barbaric “them” (in which those directly concerned are presented as a small sample of a much larger and threatening group). Any act attributed to “we” becomes a mechanical reaction to an act attributed to “them”. This transforms this “act” (and any act is by definition voluntary) into something of a “coerced” or “involuntary” reaction (think knee jerk reflex) which absolves the person who committed it from any responsibility.

    Finally, I started constructing my own story (compatible with my worldview, you’d argue), trying to verify some info, and comparing it with other affairs to try to make sens of it all. If one wants to strip the whole affair to its bare elements, the story is quite simple, and let’s not start arguing about chronology.

    1. Who: The flotilla brought together an international group of militants who want to break the blockade on Gaza as a first step towards getting it lifted.
    2. What: The blockade is imposed by Israel (with the complicity of many other international actors, including Egypt), and its alleged objective is “defensive” (to prevent the rearmament of Hamas). The result is punitive: collective punishment that transforms Gaza into a large prison and creates an informal economy completely dominated by Hamas and that is dependent on tunnels through which many things are smuggled including material that is used for weapon construction.
    3. How: The strategy is to force Israel into changing its policy towards Gaza, more specifically, to get it to lift the blockade. The key word here is obviously “force”. And it’s a tricky word and a complicated objective. Basically, you have a group of people who want to change a military strategy through non-military means… The Media is a central component of this strategy because it’s about “image”, symbolic steps and building pressure within and outside Israel to get its security complex to modify its strategy.
    4. Where’s the problem? Israel can no longer count on domestic pressure because its Jewish population is today totally unconcerned by Palestinians and insensible to their plight. Its only concern is to remain unconcerned, untroubled by them. As for international pressure, it is not strong enough to influence the Israeli government. So the Flotilla’s strategy didn’t have a chance to succeed. All it could do was encourage more flottilas to head toward Gaza and hope that this would lead to a snowball effect… and in the meantime keep the blockade on the global agenda (the international community has a very short memory span). It also could hope to get as much humanitarian aid through as it can. But that’s about it.
    5. What next? With its customary brutality and the death toll it leaves behind (that is obvious to all who simply look at the figures), the IDF might have changed things. The “Mavi Marmara” deaths have already started a new dynamic, just like the Cana massacres did in 1996 and in 2006 or the Sabra and Chatilla massacre in 1982. Sure, the story will be revisited over and over again, whitewashed as much as possible. But in the meantime it would have created an insufferable image for Israel that would force it to revise its strategy or at least refrain from doing the same mistake (while at the same time denying it was a mistake) in an immediate future. And in this immediate future the Rachel Corrie will be arriving, and probably other flotillas.

    Posted in Antisemitism, Blogosphere, Communication, Conspiracy, Discourse, Israel, Palestinian territories, Prejudice, Semantics | 2 Comments »

    Amalgames: variations sur le discours anti-confessionnel

    Posted by worriedlebanese on 12/02/2010

    Voici quelques arguments que j’ai exposé sur un autre blog: chroniques Beyrouthines qui traitait de la question de la Laïcité au Liban:

    Premier commentaire: un appel pour plus de nuance!

    Comment voir clair dans un débat d’idée lorsqu’on met sous un simple mot (laïcité) une bonne dizaine de questions: la représentation des communautés, la pluralité du statut personnel, la séparation entre l’Etat et les institutions religieuses, la neutralité religieuse de l’espace public, la sécularisation de la culture, l’égalité devant la loi, les libertés religieuses et la liberté de conscience, le traitement égal des institutions religieuses…

    Que des Libanais ne connaissent pas très bien l’histoire de France ou les paradoxes de la laïcité française, passe encore, mais un petit effort du côté français tout de même.

    En France l’écrasante majorité des fêtes officielles sont religieuses (catholique évidemment), le jour de repos officiel correspond au jour de repos catholique, le ministre de l’intérieur est également ministre des cultes (et approuve la nomination des évêques… catholiques). Toutes ces belles cathédrales sont propriété de l’Etat, leur restauration et leur maintient sont donc financés par le budget public… et pourtant elles sont affectées pour l’écrasante majorité au culte catholique! La France a une longe tradition de soutien de missionnaires à l’étranger… soutien qui perdure: Regardez du côté de l’ambassade de france, et vous verrez un soutien de la mission laïque… mais aussi du collège protestant, de l’Université Saint Joseph (et jusqu’à sa fermeture de l’Ecole de l’Alliance Universelle Israélite)… Et ceci est également vrai pour la France d’Outre mer et une partie de la France métropolitaine. La France laïque subventionne des facultés de théologie!!!
    Et qui est en France le premiere bénéficiaire en matière éducative de subventions publiques: les écoles catholiques…
    Faut-il aussi rappeler que la France connaissait sur son territoire national jusqu’à l’indépendance algérienne et le pluralisme personnel et le système de représentation communautaire…

    Du côté libanais, nous avons une stricte séparation sur le plan éducatif. L’Etat est le premier éducateur (au niveau scolaire et universitaire) et ne subventionne aucune institution éducative religieuse (sauf si elle est gratuite… et dans ce cas il le fait au même titre que pour les écoles gratuites non religieuses). L’Etat libanais n’intervient pas dans l’éducation religieuse. La tentative de Rafic Hariri de le faire à jusqu’ici échoué (alors qu’en Syrie, par exemple, l’Etat subventionne les facultés de droit religieux… et le droit islamique et une des sources de la législation…).
    Le Liban est le seul Etat au Proche-Orient (hormis la Turquie, mais la laïcité de cette dernière n’exclut pas la reconnaissance de l’Islam sunnite comme religion nationale) dont le droit ne se réfère à aucune tradition religieuse (même Israël s’y réfère).
    Au Liban, la question de la foi est indépendante de la question de l’appartenance communautaire (elles font l’objet de deux articles distincts de la constitution, n’en déplaise à Ziyad Baroud). Aucune autorité n’a le droit d’examiner la foi d’un citoyen libanais, c’est pour cela qu’une autorité religieuse ne peut radier l’appartenance communautaire de ses ouailles mécréantes (alors que ceci est possible en Egypte), et que les tribunaux étatiques peuvent examiner toute fraude à la loi excepté la fraude à la loi religieuse puisque ceci reviendrait à examiner la foi du citoyen (donc bonjour la fraude… le citoyen n’est pas prisonnier de la loi religieuse mais peut la manipuler à volonté…). Et enfin, le pon pon: l’Etat Libanais reconnaît depuis les années 1930 l’existence d’une communauté de droit commun que les autorités française ont rapidement vidée de sa substance et qui attend toujours d’être organisée. Il suffit qu’une simple loi soit votée… à l’instar de ce qui a été fait durant les années 1990s avec les Aléouites (et les Coptes)… pas très dur la procédure… mais bon, il faut quand même que quelqu’un réclame son établissement.

    Deuxième commentaire: Aller au-delà des slogans et des amalgames

    L’Etat libanais existe bien, il est même énorme! c’est le premier employeur, le premier banquier (le système bancaire privé a été intégré au public à travers le système de la dette), le premier éducateur (premier réseau d’écoles, plus grande université…), le régulateur de toutes les activités économiques rentables. Donc oublions les slogans de nos politiciens. L’Etat libanais existe, et n’a pas besoin d’être bâti, en fait, il aurait besoin d’un peu de dégraissage… Notre problème n’est pas dans son existence mais dans son fonctionnement et les problèmes de fonctionnement ne sont pas dus aux déficiences de la loi mais à sa violation continue (par ces même politiciens qui clament haut et fort qu’il n’y a pas d’Etat).

    – Les quotas communautaires n’expliquent pas l’incompétence des fonctionnaires et politiques
    La question de la compétence et d’appartenance communautaire ne sont plus contradictoires. Je suis sûr qu’on peut trouver des gens compétents pour toutes les fonctions de l’Etat dans toutes les communautés. En revanche, il y a un souvent un conflit entre la compétence et la fidélité à un politicien… Du temps de l’occupation syrienne, Berri, Joumblatt et Hariri choisissaient aussi des ministres chrétiens… ces ministres n’étaient pas toujours très compétents… D’ailleurs Hariri continue à le faire, mais bon.

    – La majorité des partis ont une base ethno-communautaire est un fait vérifiable. Mais ce n’est pas en soi un problème. C’est à la rigueur leur problème et dénote d’un certain souci au sein de la société auquel if faudrait peut-être écouter et répondre au lieu de condamner. Personnellement, je m’en fous s’il y a un parti des blondes, un parti des femmes, un parti des mecs qui souffrent d’une calvitie ou de problèmes érectiles… Le fait que ces partis libanais aient une base clientéliste est le véritable problème.

    La lutte contre les préjugés, rien avoir avec la laïcité
    L’exemple du couple mixte (qui a du mal à se faire accepter) et de la fille pas-si-bien-élevée (qui n’aime pas trop les gens d’une autre confession) n’ont rien avoir avec la laïcité. C’est un problème de préjugés, et ni les institutions étatiques ni le système scolaire publics sont responsables de ce préjugé. Au contraire, les deux luttes activement contre ces préjugés. Crois-moi, on trouve autant de préjugés sur certaines religions dans les pays laïques (comme la France ou la Turquie) qu’au Liban. Et ces préjugés sont très importants au Liban et il faudrait lutter contre. Et les plus graves aujourd’hui sont entre Chiites et Sunnites. C’est vraiment effrayant. Et ce n’est pas en prônant la laïcité qu’on le fera. Ces deux questions sont étrangères l’une à l’autre.

    – Distinction ne signifie pas discrimination
    Quant au fait de distinguer entre les différents groupes de la société, personnellement, je n’y vois pas de problème tant que l’appartenance au groupe est volontaire (c’est pour ça que je milite pour la reconnaissance de la communauté de droit commun qui existe dans les textes depuis 1930!!!!) et tant qu’il n’y a pas de discrimination… et le tout en luttant activement contre les préjugés. Mais je n’ai pas non plus de problème (de principe) pour abolir les quotas… mais à condition qu’ils résolvent des problèmes au lieu qu’il n’en créent. Sans quotas, la municipalité de Beyrouth serait aujourd’hui exclusivement sunnite et d’obédience haririenne. c’est pour cela qu’il y a des quotas informels (sans base juridique) pour Beyrouth. Encore une fois, je n’aurai pas de problème avec cela, mais cela aura des conséquences désastreuses sur le plan social et politique. Les non-sunnites se sentiront exclus, il aura des discriminations entre quartiers (ce qui existe déjà au demeurant)… et ce sont surtout les quartiers chiites et arméniens qui en souffriront… la ville sera complètement détachée de sa pluralité et de plus de la moitié de ses habitants… Est-ce que c’est cela qu’on veut? Personnellement, je suis pour la réintroduction d’un siège reservé aux étrangers et à la parité homme-femme au sein du conseil municipal… donc à plus de quotas.

    Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Civil Society, Culture, Discourse, Lebanon, Prejudice, Religion, Secularism, Version Francophone | 3 Comments »

    Mu3arada + Mualêt = Mu3amalêt

    Posted by worriedlebanese on 25/12/2009

    I was astounded to see how many people still referring to the country’s two coalitions allied within the same government as mu3arada (“Opposition®”) and mualêt (“Loyalist®”). I’ve already stated how absurd and nonsensical these two trademarks or “controlled term of origin” are. But with our present “national union”/”national partnership” government, and the increasingly consensualist discourse it has generated, sticking to these labels seems particularly anachronistic.

    So I thought that something should be done about it and a new term should be invented… an amalgam of both terms. So I came up with Mu3amalêt, a word that means “red tape” or public procedures, but that everyone understands as a burdensome administrative formality that can be much facilitated and hastened through corruption and an efficient patron. Doesn’t this word fit perfectly for our service oriented government?

    Posted in Lebanon, Personal, Political behaviour, Politics, Prejudice, Propositions, Semantics | 3 Comments »

    A particularly misleading and disfiguring map

    Posted by worriedlebanese on 22/12/2009

    Lebanon through a sectarian lens

    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?!

    through another sectarian lens... notice the differences between the two maps that work with the same data?

    – 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.

    Posted in Blogosphere, Lebanon, Pluralism, Prejudice, Semantics | 2 Comments »

    Après la Suisse du P-O, le Liban des Alpes

    Posted by worriedlebanese on 08/12/2009

    Pas exactement politiquement correct, ni particulièrement fin, mais j’adore. C’est lorsqu’on se permet de rire de la différence sans que ça ne dégénère en guerre civile que l’on sait que le système fonctionne bien et que tout le monde est plutôt satisfait et n’éprouve pas de rancoeurs.

    Posted in Communication, Culture, Discourse, Diversity, Entertainment, Intercommunal affairs, Prejudice, Version Francophone | Leave a Comment »

    Confused, Dazzling and Misleading: anti-confessionalism advertised

    Posted by worriedlebanese on 08/12/2009

    I stumbled on this advert yesterday while checking out what was new on Laïque Pride, and I think a short comment on it would sums up my position on this issue perfectly. I’m sure most of you are familiar with it. And you’ve probably heard me on this topic too. Two years ago, I reacted quite violently to a campaign by Amam05. A couple of months ago, I discussed the paradoxes of anti-confessionalism, its ambiguities, the consensus and state support it enjoys as an ideology and its side effects. So I’m sorry to repeat myself. But I think it will enable me to sum up my rants and clarify the point I’m trying to make.

    The ad you’ve just watched is clearly intended to shame the Lebanese for identifying with a specific community. Everyone in this clip identifies himself/herself according to his/her nationality, except for the Lebanese, who bow their heads in shame after declining their communal identity (with firearms shots to add to the dramatic effect).

    This scenario is quite unlikely. When asked about their identity, most Lebanese refuse to tell you what community they belong to. This is a taboo subject, and in all statistics, it’s the most troublesome data to collect. So why shame people for something that is taboo?!

    The underlying idea is that our political system because of its recognition of communities, quota system and multiple personal laws, prevents people from identifying as Lebanese. If this is the case, the choice of countries in the sample we just saw is mind-boggling.

    • Oman: Not only the State is clearly divided according to religious lines (Ibadi, Sunni, Shiite), but islam is the official religion and the law is based on the Coran.
    • Serbia: The Serbian identity revolves around Christian Orthodoxy, just as the Croatian identity revolves around Catholicism (withstanding the extensive secularisation of both societies). Moreover, the country had recognises a special status to two ethnic minorities: Albanians (who are now independent) and Hungarians.
    • South Africa: The country still maintains quota systems (in the private sector!!!) and considers itself as a rainbow country, respecting people’s choice to identify as Afrikaans, Zulu, Indians (etc) and seeing no contradiction with being South African.
    • Palestine: Interestingly enough, Palestine isn’t a sate yet, but it shares two elements with us. It has a quota system for christians and also multiple legislations in matters of personal status, and religious tribunals.
    • India: Now this country is probably the most diverse country in the world. And believe it or not, they have a system of personal laws quite similar to our own. An Indian would identify herself as Indian to a foreigner. But in India she is likely to put forward her communal or state identity (Punjabi, Bengali, Kashmiri, Tamul, Sikh, Hindu…). What language is this Indian going to use to identify herself to start with? This in itself is the marker of a distinct identity. The only way out is to use English, and not Hindu (which by the way is the sister language of Urdu, the original difference is purely religious).
    • America: It is quite common for Americans to refer to themselves as African-American, Jewish-American, Italian-American, Cuban-American, Scandinavian-American… Few people find a problem with that. Just pick any American TV serie and see how the characters in it identify themselves or are portrayed.

    Lebanon isn’t as “unique” as we would like to admit. We have multiple identities, and the State recognises this diversity. This isn’t very rare around the world, and certainly not in the sample chosen in this advert! Some of us are attached to their communal identity while others are not… This trait is equally shared by many societies. So to make its point clear, this ad not only misrepresents the social reality in Lebanon, but social reality in other countries as well. So how do you explain all the praise it received?

    Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Blogosphere, Civil Society, Culture, Discourse, Diversity, Identity, Idiosyncrasy 961, Pluralism, Prejudice, Religion, Secularism | 2 Comments »

    Sex, Values & Globalisation or Mazen Abdel Jawad’s free fall

    Posted by worriedlebanese on 09/08/2009

    Last week, LBC & its young anchorman Malek Maktabi were reminded that “red lines” still exist in the Arab world and that crossing them can have an economical and a political cost. This simple fact was brought to their mind when the Saudi authorities closed down their offices in Jeddah following the airing of the weekly programme “A7mar bil khat al 3arid”, “Bold Red Line”.

    Here’s the extract that started the whole commotion.

    As you might have noticed, the reporting isn’t really interesting. The anchorman’s sensationalism comes across as cheap and uninteresting. We are shown a young man in his “crib” bragging about his sexual exploits, expressing how important sex is to him and how he stimulates his partner’s desire. Some people have described his crowing as lewd, while others have stressed how immature and teen-like his approach to sexuality is. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Society, Culture, Discourse, Identity, Journalism, Prejudice, Values | 3 Comments »

    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. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Civil Society, Culture, Discourse, Diversity, History, Identity, Idiosyncrasy 961, Intercommunal affairs, Journalism, Lebanon, Pluralism, Prejudice, Religion, Secularism, Values | 13 Comments »