Sunday, 4 November 2012

The heart and mind of Lebanon

The heart and mind of Lebanon


Freddie Oufi



There is a strange but affectionate regards towards Lebanon amongst some Iraqi circles that can at times, even rival the culturally acquired love of our immediate community.  What follows is a broad view and with a certain degree of impartiality, I shall try to examine the present state of Lebanon and where and in what state it might eventually rest in the distant horizon of Middle East socio-political agenda.  It is inevitable, however, that I examine its role within a religious as well as its political delineation within the larger orbit of international relevance.  Its socio-economic dependence on tourism vis-à-vis the Arab Muslim world and question the importance of the inextricable role of Christian political parties have within the Lebanese parliamentary government structure in a sea of Islamic religious fervour.

Legend has it that the Ancient Greeks when landing on the shores of Sidon, Lebanon, weren’t exactly enamoured by its sandy beaches.  There was, however, one exception they did like; Europa!  A Phoenician princess, she was abducted for her sheer breath-taking beauty and given the honour of a Moon Goddess.  Paris, her brother, was soon in pursuit looking for his beloved sister.  Instead his search was side-tracked by his attempt to teach the illiterate Grecians the Alphabet.  These funny letters were to eventually take hold and universalise, giving rise to yet another myth that correlate Lebanon with the Iliad.  Lebanon never looked back since; well perhaps once or twice ok maybe more!
 How can you go from                                                                 to this
and back to this!

Over the last 3000 years, Lebanese history has proved to be less legendary.  The Phoenicians have long gone replaced instead with a hotchpotch of culture and communities that are not too dissimilar to the rest of the neighbouring Semitic race.  The one exception being almost one half of the population Hellenised Christian Maronite majority, others belong to the Greek orthodox faith and some sprinkling of other Christian minorities. The other half of the population is made up of almost 80 per cent Muslim Shia and Sunni sects, 60 and 40 per cent respectively, and the remaining minority, but powerful voices, are the Druze.  These proportions maybe disputed but the important point to make here is there are many different ideologies and minds to please.

With this in the background I will attempt to navigate this web of socio-political terrain in an attempt to decipher the intricacies, custom and overall patriarchal approach of loyalty to the state.  First and foremost we must remember that Lebanon has a Parliament where voices are heard but lacks the ultimate power to make effective legislation.  It makes enough loud noises but the power of Lebanese politics belongs within the dogma of patriarchal directives irrespective of religious affiliations.  For some thinkers, this belies the West’s suspicion that Islam’s ethos is paradoxically opposed to individualism and democracy. A teleological view of parliament’s principles tells us nothing of the internal ideological but at times spilling out into personal animosities. Parliament may nevertheless rule over a cohesive territorial unity but that is the limit of that cohesion and does not extend to the minds and consciousness or nationalistic intrinsic natures. This has double effect of obfuscating the real policies but instead it lends its hand to political theatre.  Issues of current events that are central to Lebanese society itself, encouraging conscious change is obliterated by bickering and jostling for positions along personal and subjective mores.

Real power belongs to the family through the cultural mind set of patriarchal authority.  The family is the primary agent for ideological transmission. Arab political culture identifies primarily with extended family loyalty on tribal basis than with a nation.  The family as reflected into the political arena hinges on custom, tradition and honour rather than creativity or innovation.  Each tribe develops its own sense of affiliations and loyalty.  Along in the rest of the Arab world this marginalises individual freedom, liberty and true democratic values.  Instead it provides the basis for segmentary communities to take hold and for its elites to take charge.  Their separate ideologies to save family “honour” does not allow for tolerance or compromise which invariably lead to stalemate and therefore weakness of government.   The pull by religious and tribal leaders has been the mainstay for indecision and political incompatibility.  Hence the power behind the “throne” is the neighbouring countries such as Syria, Saudi Arabia and, by coercion, Israel.  An unfortunate venal administration weakened further by their avaricious tendencies for personal gain.    The end result is a “composite” state made up from separate communities with separate ideologies.  Without overcoming the heavy weight of ideological beliefs that have colonized the Lebanese people, they cannot hope for true freedom.


As agents of what at times severe political disharmony the Christian patriarchs become the expendable political pawns serving other purposes but theirs.  The naivety of Christian power is their weakness.  The belligerence of Islamic radicalism is at times further ignited by this show of force.  In my opinion Christian leadership should be the catalyst for reform striving for real and reasoned attempts to win hearts and minds irrespective of religious affiliations.

Lebanon is pivoted at the sharp end of ideological reform by whatever guise that ideology is dressed up in.  In contrast to Istanbul being the traditional gateway of East and West Beirut is the traditional cosmopolitan hub of eclectic ideological traditions.   There has to be a clear sense of state and nationhood building to replace the old and some assume, hitherto useful cape of patriarchal authority.  The Lebanese sit on both sides of societies.  Rejuvenation of the inner proletariat is long overdue but still time in hand to choose from a thriving Hellenic western society or primitive and increasingly alien and failing Arab society.  The former, where innovation and ideas set its agenda and the latter suffers from lack of evolution and worse currently spearheaded by its confrontation with imperialist western powers.  With increasing strength of neighbouring influences adding to Lebanon’s future uncertainties Lebanon needs to revitalise and shed its subversive pockets of radicalism.  It must regain the courage of its conviction to edge away from the precipice of oblivion, to borrow from the discipline of history in building and honouring a Nation; as Athens was, virtuous in its beliefs and faithful to its persuasions.



No comments: