Maronites, Arabs, Phoenicians, Klingons…

I’ve been on the road for the past week, conducting dissertation research at the wonderful collection of Arabic manuscripts at Leiden University. A note: when in Holland, eat Indonesian food.

Nothing seems to be happening in Lebanon these days, so allow me to take this opportunity to wax ascerbic about one of my favorite subjects: political Maronitism. The foil? A humdinger of an interview with Eli Khoury (president of the Lebanon Renaissance Foundation and publisher of NOW Lebanon), conducted by Michael J. Totten.

The interview is interesting for all kinds of reasons, but see below for the bit that I’d like to discuss.


MJT: I want to ask you something about the Maronites. Before I visited Lebanon, I knew most Maronites didn’t self-identify as Arabs. I used to think that was ridiculous, that you guys were being reactionary. I apologize for that.

Eli Khoury: You get it now?

MJT: Yes. It wasn’t fair of me to impose the Arab label on you. But it didn’t occur to me how unfair it was until I went to Northern Iraq and talked to the Kurds. Those people also live in an Arab majority country and insist they aren’t Arabs. And when they say they aren’t Arabs, the world says “Okay, you aren’t Arabs.” So why is it the Kurds get to be recognized as non-Arabs, but Lebanese Maronites don’t?

Eli Khoury: There is a problem that lies in the hands of the Maronites themselves. A big portion of the Maronites would deny that Maronites are Arab. Maronites are originally Aramaic. St. Maron came here from Syria with a few monks, lived up in these mountains, and converted the people around him. The Maronites are originally from this land. In fact, National Geographic did a study on genes in Lebanon and found that the Sunnis are more Phoenician than the Maronites.

Definitely not Arabs. Especially that hairy guy on the left.

Definitely not Arabs. Especially that hairy guy on the left.

MJT: I imagine they would be since the Phoenicians lived on the coast like the Sunnis do.

Eli Khoury: Anyhow, historically there were the Aramaics. And they thought the only way to fight off the Ottoman Empire was by creating Arab nationalities. In fact if you ask a lot of Sunnis or Muslims they’ll tell you that those who created Arab Nationalism were the Maronites and those who created Syrian Nationalism were the Greek Orthodox here. At the end of the day, they fought off the Ottoman Empire by becoming Arabs.

They started translating the Bible and all the liturgy into Arabic and started teaching their kids Arabic. That was maybe 100 years ago. There are a few towns that still speak Aramaic on the borders of Syria and Lebanon. It was a Maronite decision, a clergy decision, an elite decision, to join the Arabs.

There were people who opposed that. There is a historic debate among the Maronites. One side says no, we are not Arabs, the other says yes, we are Arabs. I belong to the side that says we are not. That doesn’t mean I’m an enemy of the Arabs. But I’m not an Arab. In my opinion, it was a historic mistake. And I think the Maronites are paying the price.

MJT: How so?

Eli Khoury: We were not able to maintain neutrality during the Arab-Israeli wars because we were labeled Arabs. The Taef Agreement [that ended Lebanon’s civil war] was the first time the constitution of Lebanon actually said that we’re Arabs. We didn’t have that before.


MJT: I’ve met Shias who say they aren’t Arabs, and that surprised me.

Eli Khoury: That’s easy. That’s normal. Shias and Maronites agree on this.

MJT: How many Shias agree?

Eli Khoury: I think a good portion of the elite. It’s the same way in Iraq. You have to understand that the Levant was originally not Arab.

MJT: Of course. Of course.

Eli Khoury: Okay, so Syria and Iraq decided to become Arab, and Jordan. But Lebanon up until thirty years ago was not an Arab country.


Where does one begin? How about with the facts? Seems as good a place as any.

First of all — and I feel slightly ridiculous even making this argument — Maronites actually are Arabs. And not just today’s Tonys and Charbels and Pierres. Ok? The medieval Tonys and Charbels and Pierres were Arabs too. If we’re really going to make a big deal out of ethno-linguistic ancestry, then let’s at least get the facts straight.

Here’s what Kamal Salibi, one of the greatest living scholars of Maronite (and Lebanese) history, has to say on the subject:

“While the Maronites have traditionally used Syriac for their liturgy, they appear to have been Arab rather than Aramaeo-Arab in ethnic origin; their ecclesiastical and secular literature, as known directly or from reference from as early as the 10th century A.D., is entirely in Arabic. Their ethnic difference from other Syrian Christians, who were mainly Aramaean or Aramaeo-Arab, might explain in part why they came to be organised as a separate church. The claim of the community to be descended from the Mardaites, first advanced by the Patriarch Istifan al-Duwayhi (1668-1704), is historically incredible.”


Keefak? Ca va?

Does this resolve the issue to everyone’s satisfaction? No? Ok, let’s say that Kamal Salibi is wrong and that Eli Khoury is right. Let’s say that St. Maron himself was absolutely, positively 100% non-Arab. And let’s say that everyone that he converted was also non-Arab. Are we to believe that over the centuries, this little non-Arab community managed to remain pristine and self-propagating in its mountain enclaves, and that those medieval Tonys and Charbels and Pierres only ever made little Tonys and Charbels and Pierres with the girls next door (i.e. the medieval Georgettes and Cristals and Yvonnes)?

Give me a break, people. The claim that the Maronites only began teaching their children Arabic 100 years ago is mindboggling. When one reads non-liturgical Maronite manuscripts from the pre-modern period, they are virtually always in Arabic. The idea that a bunch of Maronite priests got together and hatched a plan to pretend to be Arabs so that they could “fight off the Ottoman Empire” is puzzling on so many levels. When did they do this fighting, exactly? I thought it was the British and the French that defeated the Sick Man of Europe. Oh wait a second… who got the Sick Man of Europe sick in the first place? The Maronites, of course…

The reason I feel ridiculous even making these arguments is because it strikes me as entirely wrong-headed to approach the question of Maronite (or Sunni or Shiite or Druze) identity from an ethnic perspective.

After all, given the historical span that is operative here (thousands of years), we are talking about so many different languages, dynasties, religions, cultures, sub-cultures, invaders, empires, importations, exportations… how can one imagine that anything essentially “Arab” or “Aramaic”  could be preserved?

What matters, surely, is not whether “the Maronites” (assuming we can even talk about such an entity today, given the circumstances) are Arabs or Phoenicians or Aramaeans or Klingons; what matters is what they think they are.

Tomorrow, back to Boston!

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81 thoughts on “Maronites, Arabs, Phoenicians, Klingons…

  1. Hillarious! Time well waisted. Thanks for the read.

    A note though. Why is someone who speaks Arabic an Arab. I’d love to see you call an Australian an Englishman. Pick an Australian with Asian background just for the fun of it.

    Posted by Jester theFool | October 15, 2009, 4:22 pm
  2. It seems that the historically challenged Eli K. fails to realize that at the time of Mar Maron Aramaic was a supra-ethnic lingua franca, used even by the Arabs at Petra. And, most certainly, nobody called themselves an “Aramaic” until the last 30 years. AND, Aramaic is the name of a language – the ethnonym would be Aramaean.

    Posted by Ahmad | October 15, 2009, 4:32 pm
  3. Ahmad!

    Pleasure to have you. Everyone else: listen to what this man says. He knows what he is talking about.

    BTW, I may not have a chance to free comments from the filter over the next 24 hrs. Just so you know.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 15, 2009, 5:00 pm
  4. Excellent arguments, but after trying something similar during my years in Beirut i decided to give and just let individuals to define themselves as they choose. Because not even the most convincing argument will change people’s “pre-recorded” beliefs.

    Just as there are maronites that believe they are arabs there are sunnis that believe they are not etc. Let each be, but no one should shove down a definition down a whole community’s or more importantly a whole sect’s throat.

    BTW, next time your in Holland (my 2nd motherland) let me know and i can tell you the best spots to visit 😉

    Posted by Innocent Criminal | October 15, 2009, 5:05 pm
  5. IC

    Where were you when I asked all my buddies on Facebook AND Twitter for tips on the best spots to visit???

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 15, 2009, 5:14 pm
  6. haha, qifa, i had to click on the link and check if there’s actually an interview, for i thought this might be an onion piece without onion label… too good to be true. elie k. is challenged in several ways, not only historically, i’m afraid. as is michael j. totten…

    how’s belgium? 😉

    Posted by bint abeeha | October 15, 2009, 5:37 pm
  7. Ahh Belgium… didn’t make it this time.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 15, 2009, 6:01 pm
  8. I’m so disappointed, I thought there was going to be more about Klingons…

    Interesting history about Lebanon nonetheless

    Posted by Adam | October 15, 2009, 6:36 pm
  9. Had it not been for patriots like Ferdowsi, we Iranians might have come to suffer some of the same identity-rejection disorders displayed by your contemporary Lebanese.

    Despite a brutal Arab conquest, we managed a lot better than the rest to resist full-on Arabization (The Egyptians were not so fortunate.) Still, we use an Iranian rendering of arabic for about 33% of our vocabulary. And our current religion, while Arab in origin, has been adopted in Shia form to deliberately distinguish it from the Arab identity.

    Posted by Pirouz | October 15, 2009, 6:46 pm
  10. @Innocent Criminal: Thank you for being so understanding. I consider myself Klingon, and as it turns out, the Klingon ancestral homeland is… right where you’re living now! Of course you’ll understand that you have to leave so that we Klingons can reclaim our national rights. 🙂

    Posted by Benjamin Geer | October 15, 2009, 10:11 pm
  11. But why should anyone give &*#@ about what an Eli K. thinks his origins are ? Cosmopolitanism is the future and under cosmopolitanism there is no authenticity, contamination is the norm in a crowded world. So the Maronites were Arameans at one time , what does that mean?
    In a world where borders mean less and less the only thing that matters is ones moral standards and ethical behaviour. Race is the refuge of scoundrels, to borrow a phrase.

    Posted by ghassan karam | October 15, 2009, 10:19 pm
  12. You know the phrase that caught my attention the most is: “We were not able to maintain neutrality during the Arab-Israeli wars because we were labeled Arabs”. IMO that is a typical Political Maronism stand. It really translates to why should WE Maronites care about what the rest of the country thinks? Why should we even bother if the other half of the country in infuriated by this occupation? Let us just take a decision that suites us as a group. Of course I am talking about Mr. Khouri stand and not the Maronites at Large. It is this position and similar ones that led various groups in lebanon (obviously this is not a trait specific to the Maronites) to claim various ancestry simply to give themselves something to belong to. Unfortunately, we are still unable to belong to a country. As long as we ask ourselves what are we as Maronites/Orthodox/Sunnis/Shias/Druze etc.. I cannot see any solution. The real question is What are we as LEBANESE? What is the most logical common denominator that defines as a country? What is it that will make us real partners in this sorry piece of land? questions like this should really be in our heads after 30 years of killing each other. My 2 cents.

    Posted by Caustic | October 16, 2009, 2:44 am
  13. Benjamin,

    No one spoke about invading other countries 😉 But if you gather enough local support for your arguments then your more than welcome to it.

    In Lebanon’s case, if there is a majority that believes they are not arab then they can change the nations official identity. But QN is speaking about a relative minority that is attempting the same. which is obviously as wrong as it is for the majority Syrian Arabs to try to Arabitize Kurds by force.

    Posted by Innocent Criminal | October 16, 2009, 2:55 am
  14. “We are not what you think we are,
    we are GOLDEN… We are GOLDEN…”

    (Phoenician-Aramean pop singer Mika)

    — Sorry QN, couldn’t resist this.

    Posted by Wa Law | October 16, 2009, 3:20 am
  15. Innocent Criminal,

    OK, OK, you don’t have to leave the Klingon ancestral homeland. You can stay as a minority, as long as you accept that you’ll be living in a nation whose “official identity” is Klingon. Naturally this means that you’ll never be considered part of the nation. The constitution will say that the president must always be a Klingon. You’ll be second-class citizens with no political power, but you trust us to look after your interests, don’t you? 🙂

    Posted by Benjamin Geer | October 16, 2009, 5:55 am
  16. QN,

    Thank you for an extremely important post, the understandable sarcasm by which it was greeted notwithstanding. It deserves further consideration and debate. Such sectarian notions can perhaps be the one single malice that hinders the course of state-building and perpetuates ethnic fragmentation, and consequently strife in Lebanon.

    I read the interview previously and had a feeling of disgust mixed with alarm rather than amusement. My disgust is clear to fathom as Khouri’s stance borders on the racist, while my alarm is borne out of the position the interviewee in domestic media and politics.


    Posted by Question Marks | October 16, 2009, 6:48 am
  17. You know, the diversity of Lebanon is mirrored quite well in Iran.

    We have Persians, Kurds, Lor, Turkmen, Arabs, Shia, Christians, Sunnis, Jews, Zorasters, Azeris, Baluchs, Gilakis, Armenians, Assyrians, Mazandaranis, Bakhtiaris, Georgians, Talyshi and more.

    Yet our common denominator is overwhelmingly Iranian. Sure, we have our share of isolated incidents. But nothing at all like Lebanon.

    In fact, our Christians would take great offense at the mere suggestion they are not Iranian!

    In poor Lebanon’s case, I suggest this represents an ugly aftereffect of French colonialism, deliberately heightened during the past thirty or so years by neighboring Zionistic opportunism. Think how much things would have turned out differently had the Europeans not dumped their “undesirables” into the Palestinian territory. Who knows. Perhaps a kind of arab unity could have been achieved by now. Perhaps there wouldn’t be the need for US propped dictatorships. And just maybe, your Christians would insist on being identified as Arabs!

    Posted by Pirouz | October 16, 2009, 7:07 am
  18. Pirouz: If your “common denominator is overwhelmingly Iranian”, why can’t a non-Shia become Supreme Leader of Iran, or even Prime Minister?

    Posted by Benjamin Geer | October 16, 2009, 7:20 am
  19. Mary Mother of God, for a moment there I thought I was an Aramaean!

    Totten nonsense

    Posted by Jean C Z Estiphan | October 16, 2009, 7:24 am
  20. “MJT: I imagine they would be since the Phoenicians lived on the coast like the Sunnis do.”

    Please make it stop, Lord; my logic center is overwhelmed.

    QN, thank you for responding to this; somone has to explain why Kurds not being Arabs has nothing to do with Maronites not having an unbroken five thousand year history of commercial acumen and seafaring prowess that prefigures a doomed cantonization project in the 1980s.

    But are you unwittingly treading the same ground as Mr America and Mr Khoury by invoking Kamal Salibi here? No quibbles on his grasp of Maronite historiography, but do you want the baggage of his equally ridiculous toponymic argument that the Holy Land was always the peninsula?

    BTW, can I now be part of the Bantu migrations? Not an easy case, I know, but I just feel the connection.

    Posted by J of Chalcedon | October 16, 2009, 9:37 am
  21. Record!
    I am an Arab
    And my identity card is number fifty thousand
    I have eight children
    And the nineth is coming after a summer
    Will you be angry?

    I am an Arab
    Employed with fellow workers at a quarry
    I have eight children
    I get them bread
    Garments and books
    from the rocks..
    I do not supplicate charity at your doors
    Nor do I belittle myself at the footsteps of your chamber
    So will you be angry?

    I am an Arab
    I have a name without a title
    Patient in a country
    Where people are enraged
    My roots
    Were entrenched before the birth of time
    And before the opening of the eras
    Before the pines, and the olive trees
    And before the grass grew

    My father.. descends from the family of the plow
    Not from a privileged class
    And my grandfather..was a farmer
    Neither well-bred, nor well-born!
    Teaches me the pride of the sun
    Before teaching me how to read
    And my house is like a watchman’s hut
    Made of branches and cane
    Are you satisfied with my status?
    I have a name without a title!

    I am an Arab
    You have stolen the orchards of my ancestors
    And the land which I cultivated
    Along with my children
    And you left nothing for us
    Except for these rocks..
    So will the State take them
    As it has been said?!

    Record on the top of the first page:
    I do not hate poeple
    Nor do I encroach
    But if I become hungry
    The usurper’s flesh will be my food
    Of my hunger
    And my anger!

    by Mahmoud Darwish

    Posted by Jihad | October 16, 2009, 10:00 am
  22. I think I am partly Etruscan, partly Roman.
    Tomorrow I’m going to claim my property rights over Bodrum and Baalbek.

    Posted by Wa Law | October 16, 2009, 10:48 am
  23. Thanks QN. Good article. And good conversation following it. I’m just really tired of this. I’m wondering what the point of it all is… So some Maronites want to be discerned as Aramaeans – not Aramaic (thanks for that note Ahmad)- ok, fine, THEN WHAT???
    What is the whole point of the original article to begin with?
    Here’s hoping some people are looking forward, trying to figure out how to reconnect dots for Lebanon, instead of the opposite.

    Posted by Joujolie | October 16, 2009, 10:56 am
  24. Ahmad #21,

    Quite an opportune moment to remember, in the sincere style of the late Darwish, who we are; indeed what we have been facing and what we strive, or ought to strive for…thank you.


    Posted by Question Marks | October 16, 2009, 11:32 am
  25. I think within the Maronite discourse of ‘we are not arab’, there is too much inconsitency to make it believeable. Eli K condeeds that the Sunnis are much more Ph. than the Maronites, and uses this to assert the syriac hertiage. But Walid Phares (incidently if anyone has his 1978 ‘booklet’ The Christian People of Lebanon: Thirteen Centuries of Struggle PLEASE LET ME KNOW) insists Maronites are Ph., even claims that they are his ancestors, and then layers the Syriac stuff on top of that. I cannot believe how such ‘dodgy’ scholarship is allowed in any insitution – Phares is a Prof at Florida University. Have you read his stuff ya QN?

    Posted by the Sydneysider | October 16, 2009, 7:27 pm
  26. wow, so much interest in what the Maronites (or other Lebanese groups) want to consider their heritage to be…
    why do you people care so much?
    These people are not saying they’re not Lebanese, they’re saying they choose to consider their ethnic heritage as non Arab, somewhat similar to maybe the south Korean not wanting to be identified as ethnic Chinese, or maybe the reverse of that would be Ukrainian Jews wanting to be identified as ethnic Israelis… what’s the big deal? what are you Kifa Nabki? a mountakess arab from 48?
    it’s just funny to see the reaction of every little geeked up wanabe academic that suffers this backlash after visiting Lebanon and being marginalized to the side and rendered insignificant by a society that sees through your bullshit
    lay off Lebanon’s nutts…retarded cultural orphans

    Posted by ibseventh | October 16, 2009, 7:35 pm
  27. “What matters, surely, is not whether “the Maronites” (assuming we can even talk about such an entity today, given the circumstances) are Arabs or Phoenicians or Aramaeans or Klingons; what matters is what they think they are.”

    You say it, but you don’t mean it.

    Posted by netsp | October 17, 2009, 2:43 am
  28. I’d argue that “what others think you are” matters just as much for identity as “what you think you are.”

    So while I know plenty of Maronites who call themselves French because their Mother’s father’s sister’s husband’s wet nurse was from Toulouse, when it comes down to it, in the eyes of the le Front National, there’s not much difference between Lebanese or Maghrebins.

    Posted by sean | October 17, 2009, 4:50 am
  29. so we can safely conclude that we are all BASTARDOS !!

    Posted by Beirut Bastardo | October 17, 2009, 6:06 am
  30. Benjamin,

    what your describing is pretty much every nation on earth including until very recently the most powerful nation on earth. And can it be Vulcan instead of Klingon please?

    Posted by Innocent Criminal | October 17, 2009, 8:48 am
  31. Innocent Criminal: Exactly. That’s why the whole idea of “nation” needs to be abandoned.

    Posted by Benjamin Geer | October 17, 2009, 9:01 am
  32. netsp

    I’m not sure I know what you mean. What don’t I believe?


    Good point.


    I don’t think that you understood Mr. Khoury’s point. He was not saying that he “chooses to consider [his] ethnic heritage as non Arab”… he was arguing, plain and simple, that the Maronites are non-Arab.

    As I have tried to explain, this is actually incorrect, ethnically speaking. Now, I agree with you that people are free to self-identify with labels like “Arab” or “Chinese” or whatever. But when you go to the trouble of doing so by positing a historical linkage to some ethnic or linguistic category, then you should at least get the facts right.

    If someone says: “I don’t really care much about ethnic categories; what matters to me is religion and language and cultural values, and on this basis I would argue that today’s Maronites have very little in common with what I’m calling “Arab” civilization; therefore Maronites are not Arabs…” that would be something very different.

    Khoury is not doing that. He’s making the argument from ethnicity, which, I hope you now see, is bogus.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 17, 2009, 11:48 am
  33. hello all,

    I think the main problem lies in defining what an arab is. or at least what Arab means..

    this is what where Eli Khoury gets confused. he failed to tell us which aspect of arab he rejects..

    nobody wants to be part of a retarded society like Saudi Arabia.

    Eli K. does not want to be a Muslim..
    Eli K. does not want to be labelled as hypersexed, rich because of oil and to have not provided much for humanity.

    therefore, I think it would be nice if someone can establish a clear definition of Arab…
    -Who speaks Arabic (as a native language)?
    -Who lives in a country member of the arab league?
    -Who is genetically from the Arabic peninsula?


    Posted by kappa273 | October 17, 2009, 1:55 pm
  34. Here is a discussion of the “phoenican DNA”, it is interesting read but a bit old. http://forums.familytreedna.com/showthread.php?t=1827&highlight=maronites

    Posted by viktor | October 17, 2009, 2:33 pm
  35. kappa273,

    The oldest definition of “Arab” is the one based on lineage. A 13th-century Arabic dictionary (لسان العرب) says:

    Arabs: a certain group of people, distinct from the ʿAjam [non-Arabs] (العرب: جيل من الناس معروف، خلاف العجم) … A man is “Arabised” [but still not Arab] if he is of non-Arab ancestry and speaks Arabic well (رجل معرب إذا كان فصيحا، وإن كان عجمي النسب) … A man is Arab if his Arab ancestry is well-established, even if he does not speak Arabic well (رجل عربي إذا كان نسبه في العرب ثابتا وإن لم يكن فصيحا)

    For ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Kawākibī (1849-1902), there’s a religious element: the Arabs are the true transmitters of Islam. He attributes the corruption of Islam to non-Arab converts.

    For Sāṭiʿ al-Ḥuṣrī (1879-1967), Arabs are those who belong to the Arab nation, which is a cultural unity based on the Arabic language and a shared history, within a territory that stretches from the Persian Gulf to the Atlantic. Ancestry and religion are unimportant.

    Looking at a conflict over definitions like this, a sociologist can say that it’s pointless to try to establish who is right. All we can do is try to understand the balance of power and the interests at stake in the conflict.

    Posted by Benjamin Geer | October 17, 2009, 3:19 pm
  36. An Arab is any citizen of one of the countries in the Arab League. Therefore, Khoury is an Arab as well as Michael Young. If you are Lebanese, you are an Arab by this definition. Common sense does not have at its disposal DNA sequencing machines and no one really cares about DNA. An Iraqi or Syrian Kurd is an Arab as well as any Jew living in any Arab country.

    At least, that is the way most people in the West use the term. This definition is in line with Arab nationalism. Arabs are viewed as a nation.

    Posted by AIG | October 18, 2009, 1:37 pm
  37. AIG: So according to your definition, if the Arab league is abolished tomorrow, there will be no more Arabs? Were there no Arabs before the Arab league was founded in 1945 (with only six member states)? 🙂

    Posted by Benjamin Geer | October 18, 2009, 1:47 pm
  38. Lebanon being a member of the Organization of Islamic Conference or of the Francophonie Organization does not entail that every Lebanese is Muslim or francophone. And “Israel is a Jewish state” does not entail “Every Israeli is Jewish”.

    I think there are three concepts involved here: ethnicity, nationality (or national aspirations), and identity. These are often mixed up, and mistaken for one. Ethnicity is based on a specified set of facts and features and is pretty deterministic. Identity, however, is how one perceives him/herself or how he/she is perceived, and is open to debate.

    @Ben #31: Lennon’s Imagine comes to mind! Peace

    Posted by mas | October 18, 2009, 2:32 pm
  39. AIG, Benjamin,

    When in doubt, there’s always wikipedia…


    Posted by Akbar Palace | October 18, 2009, 3:19 pm
  40. QN,

    What I mean is that while you state that justifying identity of such a group objectively is silly. It doesn’t matter if identity is ethnicity, linguistic group or anything else.

    However, you post on the topic, you challenge the validity of historical claims. Yes, people tend to think of whatever they see as their heritage or identity as some sort of objective (in some cases even metaphysical) truth. It is very rare that anyone making statements about identity say that they are really talking about something subjective and that while history comes into it, this is really about how I feel today. People say “I am a Klingon.”

    Those identifying as Arabs, Kurds or Jews or anything else are in the same boat. Sure, there are some elements of history or DNA that led us to where we are but they are not binding. A lot of the historical narrative that exists in the world is false. Aspect of history important to establishing identity or legitimacy are especially suspect.

    Posted by netsp | October 18, 2009, 7:33 pm
  41. Akbar Palace, the Wikipedia article doesn’t resolve the conflict over what “Arab” means; it just points out the existence of a conflict, by saying: that Arabs “are an ethnic group whose members identify along linguistic, cultural or genealogical grounds”. Those are incompatible grounds, as I pointed out above (comment 35). If you’d like to learn more, I recommend:

    Adeed I. Dawisha, Arab Nationalism in the Twentieth Century: From Triumph to Despair (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 2003).

    Posted by Benjamin Geer | October 18, 2009, 8:32 pm
  42. Great dissection. Leads me to think that Eli Khoury is a joke. Besides, Eli Khoury was lying or highly misinformed about the National Geographic DNA study results.

    “Crusaders and Muslims

    The distribution of genetic markers at first appeared virtually indistinguishable across the Christian, Druze, and Muslim populations of Lebanon. But a closer look at the Y chromosomes of 926 Lebanese men sampled in the study revealed something intriguing.

    We noticed some interesting lineages in the dataset. Among Lebanese Christians, in particular, we found higher frequency of a genetic marker—R1b—that we see typically see only in Western Europe, said Spencer Wells, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence.

    The study matched the western European Y-chromosome lineage against thousands of people in France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Wells said the lineage was seen enriched to a higher frequency only in the Christian populations in Lebanon and was not seen in the Muslim population.

    It certainly doesn’t undermine the similarities among the various Lebanese communities, but it does agree with oral tradition—that some Lebanese Christians are descendents of Crusaders—and points to a genetic connection to the Crusaders, he added.

    We have a correspondence between what we knew about the history of the region from written documents and what we’re starting to see that in the genetic patterns as well.

    The researchers noticed a similar pattern when they looked at Y-chromosome lineages in the Muslim population.

    We found that a lineage that is very common in the Arabian Peninsula—Hg J*—is found in slightly higher frequencies preferentially in the Muslim population, said Wells, who also heads the Genographic Project. ”

    (The rest of the study is just a few scrolls down)

    Posted by Won | October 19, 2009, 6:35 am
  43. Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, “We are what we pretend to be, so we should be careful about what we pretend to be.”

    What do you need to be a Maronite, or what does it mean to be a Maronite? I think that both questions are beyond the scope of this debate. After all, I guess most people here have read or heard of Benedict Anderson and his notion of “imagined communities” and identity as a cognitive process. Or Fredrik Barth’s work on “Ethnic groups and boundaries”.

    I think that the point really is how a person is selling his opinions (respectable, but highly debatable) as facts and, on this basis (arguable opinions sold as facts), he is shaping the perception of US public and policy-makers. And, conversely, how and why US strategic policies end up being based on (controversial) opinions assumed as proven facts.

    That’s the point, I think. And then, feel free to believe that you are Kylie Minogue, even if you have a thick layer of hair on your forearms.

    Posted by Wa Law | October 20, 2009, 10:06 pm
  44. This topic takes us to the history and anthropology of lebanon and syria and neighbouring countries.

    Lebanon is a country that has very diverse and mixed cultures going back to phoenicians.

    Every country’s, and especially Lebanon, current culture is the product of its history and different civilizations that settled on its land.

    The Maronites in Lebanon were originally not arabs BUT Christianity expanded and the Maronites spread Christianity between the people who lived near them, and thats why Maronites have many Muslim Traditions in their villages like “sacrificing a lamb when building a new home” …

    we in Lebanon are the product of the phoenicians, greek, romans, egyptians, persian, arab, turkish, italian, french, english, american, and now chinese and japanese cultures.

    Posted by akram tanios sabra | October 22, 2009, 3:20 pm
  45. Pirouz writes (Oct 16) “Think how much things would have turned out differently had the Europeans not dumped their “undesirables” into the Palestinian territory.”

    But remember, Pirouz, they are YOUR undesirables too.

    Posted by Harold | October 24, 2009, 1:25 am
  46. what I don’t appreciate in this article is the ridiculing.
    As illogical as the ethno-religious-genetic arguments may sound, why is nobody asking themselves the question:
    why do some Lebanese Maronites want to dissociate themselves from being Arab?

    It may not ONLY be because the Maronites are ridiculed as a self-centered community but because many Arab nations have a bad record at protecting their minorities. What has happened to the Christians of Palestine? What are the conditions of Copts in Egypt? where are the rights of Christians in Saudi Arabia and Libya where they are treated as second class citizens?

    More so, the comment that Christians of Lebanon started the Arab ideology to fight away the Ottoman empire should be viewed in the light of the historical oppression that happened to them and the famine (of genocidal proportions) that was brought upon the inhabitants of Mount Lebanon (Druze and Christians mostly) in the world war I period.

    Sure enough, the ethnic/genetic arguments fail all logical arguments. However, the historical oppression of minorities and their dwindling numbers in the Middle East and the Arab world from 1900 up till today is a fact that no logical argument can refute.

    Posted by Imad | October 31, 2009, 10:00 am
  47. Elias,

    You hit on the crux of the matter:

    “After all, given the historical span that is operative here (thousands of years), we are talking about so many different languages, dynasties, religions, cultures, sub-cultures, invaders, empires, importations, exportations… how can one imagine that anything essentially “Arab” or “Aramaic” could be preserved?”

    The Phoenician theory is illogical historically, but entirely logical when viewed in modern European nationalist terms, in which it would have just as much ahistorical legitimacy as modern national identities in France (I’m sure you’ve read Renan’s ‘What is a Nation’), Greece, and Serbia.

    Modern post-Ottoman Christians in Lebanon disavowing centuries of history to harken back to a Phoenician identity is as legitimate in Lebanon as it is in Malta, which claims a Phoenician heritage despite being overrun far more times than Lebanon. It is almost as legitimate as post-Ottoman Christian identity harkening back to ancient Greece, although this has quite a bit more supportive evidence given the continuity of the Greek Orthodox Church.

    The concept of Arab, too, is a bit ridiculous, the anxieties of which are evident in the constant trumpeting of Arab identity by authoritarian “Arab” governments.

    To a certain degree, it appears that at least some Maronites (and others, as well) advance the Phoenician thesis primarily because of disgust with notions of pan-Arabism and definitions of what it is to be Arab. 20th Century ideas of Arabism are dramatically different from the formative discussions of 19th Century Christians fomenting against the Ottomans (where are my copies of Hourani and Sharabi when I need them?).

    In the Balkans, national identity is set according to religion, rather than ethnicity and linguistics (which would have been impossible) according to Westphalian ideals. Serbians, Croats, and Bosnians are now inventing linguistic differences, which are still far more similar than colloquial Lebanese is to colloquial Egyptian.

    Yes, the Phoenician thesis is ridiculous, and Khoury’s arguments on its behalf are entirely inaccurate. However, 20th Century pan-Arabism was and still can be extremely oppressive. Why should Lebanese feel a need to assert an Arab identity (generally an identity forged in Cairo, Damascus, or Baghdad) rather than allow the Mardam-Beys and the Kyriakoses to assert a post-Ottoman identity of their choosing?

    Posted by Charles | November 10, 2009, 4:51 pm
  48. Charles,

    I agree entirely with your point. It is perfectly legitimate for Lebanese Christians to assert whatever identity they choose. I was merely taking issue with the ethnic/racial argument, which strikes me as bogus and… well, rather unpleasant as well.

    I am not asking the question: “Why would Lebanese Christians want to assert a different identity than ‘Arab’?” I understand their motivations.

    But I think there are more productive arguments to be made.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | November 10, 2009, 5:04 pm
  49. I hadn’t read the comments before I wrote the above passage, and I see quite a bit has already been addressed.

    One corollary point: from what my friends in genetics PhD programs tell me, the National Geographic funded study on the Phoenician gene is riddled with errors.

    To riff off of Wa Law:

    One problem with US foreign policy toward Arab countries is that American policy makers often strongly agree with silly and crushing notions of Arab nationalism. They side with the allegedly secular and modern NDP authorities when bashing the “backward” Copts, rather than thinking in terms of human rights. It is a mindset that does not appreciate diversity in the Arab world, which often ends up supporting the ideological visions of oppressive dictatorships.

    Khoury is actively opposing this mindset in America, and like any spinmeister (he is an advertising exec), he’s using any devious techniques he can. Khoury has launched a campaign to combat an overwhelming mindset. This is why Khoury says, “You get it now?,” and Totten agrees, noting that he originally believed the Arab thesis without question.

    For Khoury, providing a precise, factual argument is not as important as finding a way to change a deep rooted and harmful paradigm stuck in the American mind. American notions of a unified, Muslim, Arab world effect the political reality in Lebanon, which immediately effects Khoury’s life.

    This is not to defend Khoury, but is a caveat as to why I feel it is one thing to discredit the factually incorrect Phoenician thesis, and quite another to then advance an Arab thesis, which though more factually accurate, has a much nastier history in the 20th Century, and is just one more imagined identity.

    Let Lebanese fight the battle about identity. Americans getting involved on either side, particularly if it is on the side of the dominant paradigm of ethnolinguistic authoritarianism, is unhelpful.

    Posted by Charles | November 10, 2009, 5:34 pm
  50. Once again, I wrote another comment before seeing your response. My apologies.

    Posted by Charles | November 10, 2009, 5:35 pm
  51. the Maronites are ethnic Arameans

    Posted by Aramean Nation | January 8, 2010, 6:28 pm
  52. Phoenicians were NOT Arabs. Frankly, none of the civilizations in the Fertile Crescent were. This region started to became Arab, right after the Islamic conquests, when the Arabs erupted from their desert homes in Arabia and overthrew the Byzantine-Roman and Sassanian Persian empires who were controlling the region.
    Before this point, Arab language or culture were non-existent in those places. Arab language and Arabian music and culture can trace its beginnings to the Bedouin tribes of Arabia. The civilization in Mesopotamia, ancient Palestine and Judea and the Nile delta predates Arab civilization for thousands of years.

    Arabs gradually settled in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt etc during different time periods.
    Even Khuzestan in Iran is an Arab-speaking region with Arab inhabitants. Pan-Arabists refer to it as a “lost” Arab province. This is a result of the Islamic Arab conquests, that many Arabs settled in Persia. This however, doesn’t mean the people who were living in this region of Iran in ancient times were Arabs! The ancient people of this region were Medes, a group of Indo-European people (from whom many Kurdish Iranian and Iraqi population descent).

    P.S. Italians are quite hairy too, they must be Arabs!

    Posted by Rastegar | April 10, 2010, 5:52 pm
  53. Who said anything about Phoenicians being Arabs? Read the post again. We were talking about Maronites, not Phoenicians.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | April 10, 2010, 8:24 pm
  54. Last two comments are both presenting false arguments. You guys need to check your historical sources more carefully. I am sure you both know how to do a better homework.

    Posted by Ijlisa Nabki | April 10, 2010, 11:45 pm
  55. I don’t know how I had missed this post (or how I stumbled on it today).

    Discussions about identity in our neck of the woods are always entertaining (and invariably leave you with an impression of déjà vu). Reading the article and the comments reminded me of a short exchange I had with Samir Kassir a decade ago when he interrupted a classroom lecture to ask me to share my definition of phoenician identity (I had decided to eavesdrop on his class that day with a friend). I told him that I never thought of it, and that he should ask a Phoenician. What I could do was pinpoint the inconsistencies of his definition of arab identity.

    It is actually quite easy to debunk most phoenicianist claims. Unlike Arabists or “Jewishists”, they cannot count on highly productive and heavily funded university departements (specialised in “arab studies” or “jewish studies”) and think-tanks to give them the arguments they need to silence their adversary. So as expected, their arguments are poor and unsubstantiated, and for most academics downright embarrassing. They have no chance in their fight against the arabist doxa.

    Genetic studies are highly debatable. The way they interpret the recurrence of a genetic marker is ridiculous (they systematically discard other markers that would lead to the opposite conclusion). It’s all a silly game really (or actually a fruitful market because it’s through these fuzzy conclusions that they can hope to get any funding for their research).

    As for Kamal Salibi’s scholarship… well he’s produced some good stuff (history of modern Lebanon and a House of many mansions), but some of his production is academically indefensible (think “the bible came from Arabia” or “Conspiracy in Jerusalem”) It’s pure speculation. This feature is prominent in works in which he ascribes identity. Just check his sources and methodology when he does it. It’s not very convincing. I personally don’t believe it makes much sens to “prove” an identity. But that’s another issue.

    So how can you ascribe an identity on “non-liturgical Maronite manuscripts from the pre-modern period, they are virtually always in Arabic”. This only proves that the people who wrote them were fluent in Arabic. Most of the writings of Europeans in the same period were in Latin… But what other linguistic skills did they have? what language did they use to trade, what did they use at home, was it the same in the neighbouring village? Was there a shift in language? when did that happen?
    Determining the language of a people is actually quite a difficult task. In the 19th century, when it became politically meaningful to do so, you should look up and see the problems they had in the Austro-Hungarian empire (esp Galicia). And you’ve got other tricky cases in the Middle East, the Armenians of Cilicia who spoke Turkish (and learnt Armenian in the camps in Lebanon), or the many Greeks of Anatolia who spoke Turkish too. Should we call them Turks and argue with them about it?
    As for the ascription of identity on linguistic lines, well, that would lead us to believe that Josephus was Greek, or maybe even Roman because he was mostly known under his latin name.

    Well, for those who are bored with this kind of discussion, there’s good news, things are changing… and with a little hope it might affect this century old debate: a majority of Maronites today does not speak Arabic (figures of the Maronite Church that has officially recognised its diasporic identity with more bishops abroad than in Lebanon), and if the immigration trend continues, their numbers will be negligible in Lebanon by the end of this century.

    Posted by worriedlebanese | June 4, 2010, 2:36 pm
  56. Just read the comment section. Delightful. The national question always ends with one biting their own tail. The “imagined community” answer is not totally satisfying either, although I use it all the time in my classes.

    I always challenge my students to tell me what the difference is between the Maronite-Phoenecians and the Oriental Jewish-Israelis — after all, they both speak Arabic, dress Arab, eat Arab, dance the Debke, and quack like an Arab. Why aren’t they both Arabs…

    Of course, the answer I am looking for is that the Jews won the war of 1948 and the Maronites lost the civil war, thus the Maronites were constitutionally obliged to become Arabs and the Jews won the right to become Israelis. What better proof of nationality and ethnicity as conscious choice can one image?

    All the same, Jews are not satisfied and have done extraordinary DNA studies that seem to prove that they actually have a large degree of shared DNA, etc.

    So, where does that leave us when one can actually prove genetic similarity? Should people have the right to self determination if they have shared genetic material and want to self determine together?

    Shared genes actually have a strong hold over us. (Think of the moving stories of long lost twin siblings, separated at birth, who find each other and fall into each others arms in infinite recognition) If we reduce the genetic identification put to the small sample of the nuclear family, the bond seems obvious and not hard to prove scientifically. As the circle gets wider, the identification and bond begins to break down and so many other factors creep in and mitigate the importance of genes. But genes create a bond, —- as do culture, geography, etc. I am not completely convinced by the “imagined” argument. I understand the importance of “imagined,” but I am not sure it eliminates the importance of shared genetic ancestry.

    I think one can approach this from many different angles.

    One that I often use is…. Why do European nations accept their governments’ engaging in transfer payments at twice the rate of Americans? In other words, why do European tax-payers accept such high tax rates? One of the most common explanations — which I find convincing – is the ethnic homogeneity argument. It is easier to give charity to someone who looks like you and you believe is your “brother”. Of course there are historical and institutional arguments for the differences as well. I don’t discount them, but I would still argue that in a multi-ethnic society, such as America’s, it is harder to convince tax payers that the poor are deserving.

    Or, Why did my two year old son begin to cry when a black man in an elevator tried to pinch his cheek and make googlie faces at him? I was mortified when this happened, but I immediately assumed – and I think the black man did too — that my son was freighted because he looked so unfamiliar and different from his mom and dad. In short, my two year old was a racist. We have done our best to teach him not to be and not to think of other ethnic groups as strange or different, but I do believe that the common, and perhaps human, default is to be racist and to make distinctions based on what people look like. The more they look different, the more one is likely to fear them and the less likely one is to identify with them. We can educate ourselves away from this, but it takes education and effort.

    This argument is not scientific, but I would submit that genetic similarity constitutes a pull factor that is more than imagined. I am not saying that Maronites are Phoenicians. I don’t know what they are or are not. I am just hesitant to throw out the genetic bath water with the essentialist baby.

    Best, Joshua

    Posted by Joshua Landis | June 13, 2010, 2:05 pm
  57. I always challenge my students to tell me what the difference is between the Maronite-Phoenecians and the Oriental Jewish-Israelis — after all, they both speak Arabic, dress Arab, eat Arab, dance the Debke, and quack like an Arab. Why aren’t they both Arabs…

    Professor Josh,

    Make sure your students know that Oriental Jewish-Israelis pray facing Jerusalem and pray in a different language called Hebrew.

    Also remind them that when Oriental Jews were harassed in their home country after the creation of Israel, they knew there was one place that would accept them immdiately.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | June 13, 2010, 4:10 pm
  58. Joshua,
    Since I am not sure that you or anyone else are going to revisit this thread that is 8 months old I will be consice.
    Hamilton expressed the probability of acting altruistically by the expression rB>C
    wher r is the relatedness coefficient which goes to zero very quickly, B benefit to recepient and C cost to donor.
    If you believe in the above and many believe that it is one of the most important contribution to science then it says that a certain DNA commonality that goes back thousands of years does not predict any altruistic behaviour whatsoever. So whether one is talking about Phoenicians or Jews ten this idea of common ancestry thousands of tears ago is nothing but bunk. In a sense we all share the Lucy genes, but what does that mean?

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | June 13, 2010, 8:02 pm
  59. “when Oriental Jews were harassed in their home country after the creation of Israel, they knew there was one place that would accept them immediately.”

    For those believing this colonial fable, please check the link below, Ella Shohat’s article Sephardim in Israel : Zionism from the Standpoint of Its Jewish Victims

    Source: Social Text, No. 19/20 (Autumn, 1988), pp. 1-35
    Published by: Duke University Press


    Excerpt :

    “Filtered out by a Euro-centric grid, Zionist discourse presents culture as the monopoly of the West, denuding the peoples of Asia and Africa, including Jewish peoples, of all cultural expression. The rich culture of Jews from Arab and Moslem countries is scarcely studied in Israeli schools and academic institutions. While Yiddish is prized and officially subsidized, Ladino and other Sephardi dialects are neglected-“Those who do not speak Yiddish,” Golda Meir once said, “are not Jews”-Yiddish, through an ironic turn of history, became for Sephardim the language of the oppressor, a coded speech linked to privilege.”

    Posted by quelqu'une | June 14, 2010, 11:07 am
  60. To “quelqu’une”:
    “when Oriental Jews were harassed in their home country after the creation of Israel, they knew there was one place that would accept them immediately.”

    This is not a fable, colonial or otherwise. 1. Jews in Arab-majority lands WERE harassed, both before AND after the creation of Israel. “Quelqu’une” would prefer to whitewash this despicable behavior on the part of Arab regimes towards non-Arab non-Muslim minorities. 2. There was one country that accepted them immediately. True also. It was Israel.

    Posted by Harold | June 14, 2010, 12:00 pm
  61. I do not know about the DNA factor , but i am Ara-mean , Syrian Orthodox , tested my DNA and found that i have more relative in England than in Syria ,

    All people who live in Lebanon , Syria , Israel PalesStine are Arabs ,Christians , Muslims and Jews , and that is because they are all semitics who came from ARABIA at different times ,
    Try to live together and think of way to make each other happy or you all are going to be miserable ,

    Posted by Norman | July 10, 2010, 8:04 pm
  62. I was making some researches on Arab tribes and before that I was 100% sure that Lebanese (especially maronites are not Arabs) then I realized that many maronite and other Lebanese families are descendants of Arabic tribes (Ghassanids and Azdi, they also descend from Persian, Anatolian tribes and from old kingdoms’ populations. It is indubitably correct to say that many Lebanese descend also from semitic roots and some from European and other Caucasian roots.

    My conclusion is that Lebanese people are multi-ethnical and therefore may only be defined as Lebanese, however, they use one major language which is the arabic (Lebanese Arabic along with other minor languages like Armenian in every day speech).

    Maronites consitute a Christian community, and from the beginning it included many ethnics (Mardaites, Canaaneans, Arabs, Romans) from the Armenian kingdom to Jerusalem. Maronites are not a race, and whoever pretends the opposite is wrong.

    Posted by Fouad | July 13, 2010, 4:45 am
  63. It is unbelievable that this thread has carried interest since last year..it goes well to show that the assertion (that Maronites are ACUTALLY Phoenicians) maybe trivial, but the sensitivities it evokes are real and important.

    I believe that the basis of this adolescent posturing by the ridiculous Elie K., and a further politically active and aggressive Maronite minority in Lebanon, is the general disdain for and racism against Arabs. In a nation (if we may call Lebanon such) which self-identifies itself as Arab, and one that is embroiled in internal as well as regional and international politics, not to mention being part and parcel of the biggest ARAB cause of our generation, the Palestine issue, this comes to bear grave culturo- political ramifications. Consequently, Elie K.’s regret at the inability of his “Maronite-Phoenician” community to claim neutrality on the Palestinian issue, does certainly hope to curry favor with those on the Israeli-colonialist side who have worked tirelessly to break down the cultural and political support system of the Palestinians in order to render them barren and defenseless (though I am loathe to believe, were it to be politically and otherwise safe to state so, that he would rather come out favoring Israel over the Palestinians).

    It is true that every person is entitled to his/her opinion, and he (Elie K.) may conceive of his ancestry as he wishes (facts or not; and who amongst us is not guilty of a little historical embellishment to our otherwise plain Jiddou and Sitto to make our petty lives seem more attractive and interesting to others), but the real consequences of such a position and the insistence on it, beyond its inherent bigotry, do not bode well for the future and well-being of a broken and embattled place and people like Lebanon and the Lebanese at this historical moment.

    Posted by ali | August 4, 2010, 12:39 am
  64. Norman, the jews who immigrated to Palestine during british colonialization are not Arabs, they are Russians, polish, Ukranian and other Europeans, as for the oriental jews who mostly immigrated after israel was established in Palestine, they belong to their various Arab, Turkish, Kurdish, Iran people, just like the latino jews belong to the latino people and the ethiopian jews belong to the ethiopian people etc.

    The invention of the modern day israeli people based on the ancient israelites is pathetic to say the least. Modern day is like a virus planted on the Middle east and nort part of it. Its alien.

    Regarding Arabs, I see it as 4 diffirent types of Arabs, The maghrebis, The Egyptians, The Levantines and the Khaleejis.

    The levantines (Syrians, Lebanese and Palestinians) all have the same habits, cultures and similar accents and this is all based on their common ancestors who were Caananites, Phoenicians, Arameans, Greeks, Turks, Arabs etc. This blend melted in to become the Levantine Arabs, just like the Maghrebi Arabs have influence of other people such as the berbs and spaniards.

    I think its silly to deny your an Arab when your native language is Arabic. Its not like a Kurd denying he is an arab (even if he speaks arabic) because Kurds are a seperate ethnic group, a maronite on the other hand is not one seperate ethnic group, but rather many ethnic groups just like the other sects and the final adopted language of both the Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians (regardless of religion and sect) is Arabic, even if it used to be aramean or whatever in the past. Arab doesnt mean saudi arabian. The term arab has evolved and its silly to claim to be a phoenician when you speak arabic, have arab customs, eat arab foods etc, all of it as your native culture.

    Posted by Leb-Arab | October 22, 2010, 11:54 am
  65. The Maronites are French? Paaaalease stop right there. Or go ahead, arrange your own humiliation.
    You bitch-ass people ought to go and join your Diasporas in the Western Hemisphere if you hate Arabs. Go ‘head, be a Phoenician on the Brazilian coast until your heart’s content.

    Posted by Uaintfenchbaby | October 31, 2010, 11:33 am
  66. The irony is that Arabs today blame America and the Europeans of imperialism and globalization when Arabs need to look at their own history of imperialism. It is time that Arabs admit, en masse, that during the Islamic expansion out of the Arabian peninsula, the Arabs robbed indigenous people of their land, marginalized and at times obliterated the linguistic and cultural heritage of numerous non-Arab ethnic groups, from the Amazigh in North Africa to the Copts in Egypt, the Kurds in the Fertile Crescent and the Syriacs of the Levant, including the Maronites.

    While the modern Maronites who for the most part identify themselves today as nothing but Arab and have contributed tremendously to Arab culture, especially in the arts and literature, they should not deny their own Syriac and Aramaic heritage and history.

    As for the rest of the Lebanese, by only identifying as Arab is actually eradicating their rich history prior to 610 AD. Arabization of the Levant only took place 1400 years ago, and in a region with a history of over 5 millenniums, it is only a small part of the long story. Because the Ottomans were not Arab, the fact is that Arab rule in the Levant only lasted as long as Arab rule in Spain.

    While no one argues with an Armenian or a Kurd, both victims of genocides, the negative attitude towards any Maronite who identifies as non-Arab stems from the fact that the Maronites for a long time had power and such a minority in the Sunni Middle East should never have any power, they should only be victims. The same backlash is currently being bestowed on another minority with power, the Shia of Lebanon, with accusation of Iranisation.

    Posted by Lina | January 10, 2011, 7:56 am
  67. What everyone seems to completely ignore here is how strongly EUROPEAN Maronites look. Besides the Crusades which have already been mentioned you had European slavery during the Middle Ages who were sold to all the places where you find European features in the Middle East and North Africa. White slaves during the Ottoman Empire were sold to Iran, Afghanistan and Turkistan. The Moors and Corsair Pirates brought white slaves to North Africa. Some of you have mentioned Maghrebis, Syrians, Egyptian Cotps and Palestineans etc. Every single one of these groups has European admixture and it’s intellectual fraud to pass these groups as ancient civilizations from thousands of years ago.

    The only thing tying these peoples to their current location is their name or nationality. But people move around. Non-black people of North Africa who claim to be berber (which isn’t a race) are NOT the original inhabitants of that region (North Africa was “black” in ancient times surprise, surprise). Syrians aren’t one race, but a mixed multitude of peoples: Turks, Kurds, “Arabs,” Circassians, Armenians, and other Eastern Europeans. Ditto for Leonese Christians, Egyptian Copts and Palestineans. Egypt’s populace is a hodg podge of peoples as well. They are NOT the Ancient Egyptians (who were African descent) no matter how strong they want to believe that.
    Lebonese are NOT the Phonecians.
    Iranians claiming Persian descent may not be quite accurate either.

    Alot of these people are mixed with the same stuff. You can’t talk about one country without talking abou the rest of the Mediterranean at large because they experienced (almost) the same invasions and eras. Middle Easterners have a lot of false and simplistic beliefs about who their ancestors are. Many of which are utterly false or only partly true. I see this glossing over of European admixture as an attempt ot 1). racial white-washing of Ancient Civilzations physiology and 2). approprate European features as indigenous.

    Won posted

    We noticed some interesting lineages in the dataset. Among Lebanese Christians, in particular, we found higher frequency of a genetic marker—R1b—that we see typically see only in Western Europe, said Spencer Wells, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence.

    The study matched the western European Y-chromosome lineage against thousands of people in France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Wells said the lineage was seen enriched to a higher frequency only in the Christian populations in Lebanon and was not seen in the Muslim population.

    It certainly doesn’t undermine the similarities among the various Lebanese communities, but it does agree with oral tradition—that some Lebanese Christians are descendents of Crusaders—and points to a genetic connection to the Crusaders, he added.

    Well duh. Look at ’em.

    Posted by lisa | September 26, 2011, 7:16 pm
  68. The problem with a debate like this one, is that some feel inclined to define the identity of others, with such simple statements as “look at the facts” or “Maronites actually are Arabs.” Any such discussion ignores completely the notion of identity itself, identity is not a scientific formula.
    And then, what do historians say? Ask Salibi, and then even Moses was an Arab!
    My question is the following: Arabs are proud of their identity, culture and cultural heritage. Rightly so. Why not then respect the pride of others in their identity, culture and cultural heritage?

    Posted by Elie | December 17, 2012, 4:14 am
  69. Elie,

    As I said: “What matters, surely, is not whether “the Maronites” … are Arabs or Phoenicians or Aramaeans or Klingons; what matters is what they think they are.”

    I have no problem indulging whatever strange stories people like to tell about their identity and cultural heritage. But there’s a difference between saying: “I’m proud of my identity and culture, and I don’t self-identity as an Arab,” and saying something like this:

    They started translating the Bible and all the liturgy into Arabic and started teaching their kids Arabic. That was maybe 100 years ago. There are a few towns that still speak Aramaic on the borders of Syria and Lebanon. It was a Maronite decision, a clergy decision, an elite decision, to join the Arabs.

    One statement is an expression of personal sentiment. The other one is a piece of politically-motivated historical fantasy.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | December 17, 2012, 10:50 am
  70. Qifa Nabki,

    Wuquf ‘ala al-atlal, is the pride of the Arabic poetry.

    What is historical fantasy? Claiming a millenial notion of Arab identity, when the notion of national identity itself was created well a 100-200 years ago?

    I do not want to discuss the details and the qualifications of historical claims. But discuss this: why is it that claiming Arab identity positively is Ok, and claiming non- Arab identity negatively is OK, but claimning any another identity positively is bad?

    I disagree that language is one of the most important markers of identity (check out Bosnia and neighbours, Hindi and Urdu, etc.), but for the sake of the argument, let us suppose it is, then would it not be interesting to know which langauges people in what is today Lebanon have spoken through the ages? How these languages developed, which marks they have kept and how they have been replaced?

    And then tell me why it would be strange identifying with this history and recollecting these vestiges, rather than, well: Qifa Nabki!?


    Posted by Elie | December 17, 2012, 3:29 pm
  71. Who is claiming a millennial notion of Arab identity??? As I said:

    “What matters, surely, is not whether “the Maronites” … are Arabs or Phoenicians or Aramaeans or Klingons; what matters is what they think they are.”

    People can think anything they like. But claiming that we are more “Phoenician” than “Arab” is a very strange claim, especially when it is supported by spurious genetics, spurious linguistics, and spurious historiography.

    If anyone makes millennialist statements, it’s the neo-Phoenician crusaders, who would like us to believe that some core element of phoenicianness was preserved after millennia (and who knows what that means) even after the countless migrations and invasions and conquests transformed the region many times over.

    There’s no doubt that Lebanese culture, language, customs, religious experience, etc are all quite different than Yemeni or Saudi or Omani culture, etc (which are different than each other). Why not recognize this and celebrate it without trying to explain it on the basis of dubious statements (not yours) about ethno-linguistic ancestry?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | December 17, 2012, 3:48 pm
  72. Your statements, by the way, are eminently sensible to my mind and would not have elicited the original response. I am allergic both to arguments about Arabism and Phoenicianism.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | December 17, 2012, 3:52 pm
  73. Very well, now we are on the same page 🙂

    Since there is today a country called Lebanon, and we are citizens in this country, let us celebrate the history of this country just as much at least, as we can enjoy and celebrate the history of any place on the earth, Yemen, Saudi and Oman included. Now, someone identifies more with this part more than this other part of this land’s vestiges, well good for them!!!

    Pseudo-history, as a scholar myself, is never good. My experience though is that very often, our knowledge of and interest in history, even for many intellectuals and scholars (Salibi, Allah yerhamak, also included), is often directed by ideology.

    So why is it so interesting to know that Arabic was introduced to Lebanon in the 6th-8th cnt AD, and not also learn that Aramaic remained a living language in Lebanon to the 16th-17th century and that a remant of this same type of Aramaic is still used in Maaloula, Jib Adin and Bakhaa (the last two Muslim villages by the way), just across the border?


    Posted by Elie | December 17, 2012, 4:02 pm
  74. Exactly, on the same page


    Posted by Elie | December 17, 2012, 4:05 pm
  75. Btw, a very good article on the term “Arabs” is the entry in Encyclopedia of Islam, second edition. Most university faculty and students have access to it online. Others, yalla to your nearest university library!

    Posted by Elie | December 17, 2012, 4:09 pm
  76. The basic commonality among all Semitic peoples ( Arab, Hebrew,Assyro-Babylonians and Arameans) is the trait of fruitless, futile arguments.Especially on theological matters, not much less to say on other matters such as the one posted here.
    As to whether the Maronites exist or not, as a separate group of people, who share some common traits, yes they do!
    As to whether the Maronites are all Arabs, no they are not, some are but most were culturally Arameans (using the Hebrew designation of the people who lived in the high lands north of Israel) or Syriac ( using the Roman designation, brought about by the Roman invasion in 64 BC-to label the same
    People). Moreover, some Maronites are Assyrians and some were Hebrews too, others were Romans and yes, some were Greek too.
    Linguistically, the Maronites spoke Aramaic, up until the beginnings of the seventeenth century when a Patrirchal decision was made to switch to arabic ( the proof being the first printing press brought to the ME in 1604 to the convent of kozhaya in Odisha) where the Karshouni language was born, (as one written in Arabic using Aramaic script). Nowadays, Maronites speak all languages that you want, from Nigerian Yoruba to French Canadian.
    Nonetheless, what is peculiar and unique about the Maronite Church is its Eastern and Western Character at the same time.
    Another character of that same Church is its unbending unwavering determination to preserve Christianity in the Holy Land , at the expense of martyrdom, against all odds, domestic and foreign.
    Another trait of the Maronite Church is its organic bonding with the Papacy on one hand and the west on the other,
    As the Catholic Church had spearheaded (and the Protestant Churches followed) the process of mass education in the ME.
    From that perspective, many Maronites subscribe to that western political heritage, the one that created the first democracy in the ME, called Lebanon. That same heritage that believes in freedom, of religion and speech,
    Education and progress, with equal opportunity and justice for all.
    It is unfortunate that many Maronites continue to survive in a turbulent region. For to their East and to their South, the area abounds by ignorant theocracies, Jewish and Islamic alike.

    Posted by Tony Naim | December 24, 2012, 1:31 am
  77. The only true Arabs are those from Southern Arabia (Yemen). Mohammed himself and many central and Northern Arabians were Adnani Arabs meaning they we’re Arabized.

    Of course a small amount of Arabs set out from Arabia and spread small amounts of their genes into the conquered populations but most Levantines and North Africans are genetically distinct from Arabs from Arabia.

    Of course a person or community are free to identify however they like but if we are talking from a genetic point of view there is no argument that Lebanese, Iraqis, Syrians, Palestinians are Arabs. Most Levantine males are carriers of the Y Dna line J2 while Arabs are mainly J1.

    To assume North Africans and Levantines are Arabs is to assume that the invading Arabs wiped out every indigenous inhabitant of these regions and started the populations from scratch or that the inhabitants of these regions were Arabs before the spread of Islam which is simply not true. In fact the Y Dna line of Arabs is believed yo have originated in Turkey or Mesopotamia.

    To call these populations Arab is to deny the rich heritage of the indigenous populations of the Levant such as The Phoenicians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Sumerians, Hebrews, Sea Peoples, Armenians etc

    The rise of the Arab identity is related to arab nationalism and dates back only to the late 19th century by Lebanese Christians as they saw it as an opportunity for better equality than under the Ottoman Islamic religious system where they were tolerated but
    inferior minorities.

    Posted by Shane | March 8, 2014, 7:55 pm
  78. I find this quite fascinating. First thing is first,who are the Arameans? Simple, a mixture of arabs, assyrians (chaldeans), and canaanites (phoenicians). So to say that you are Aramean is like saying “Im either an arab, or assyrian, or a canaanite” which is quite honestly, laughable. Not only does it sound dumb, the term itself is used to describe ANCIENT people of Palmyra.

    Second. We need to take a moment and process. What is an arab? Who are the arabs? Well, the only answer we can get is from religious scripts, which some people take for granted. If you go on and say that they are the indigenous people of the arabian peninsula, you are completely wrong. The people of the gulf come very multiple ethnic groups. The people of oman for example are the Azds and the magans who spoke mahri. The people of yemen and called the sabaaeans or the yemenites, who spoke sabaeaan and mahri, and to this day, there are almost 100.000 native mahri speaker in yemen only. If we go to the kuwait, qatar, bahrain, and some part of KSA. You will realize there are people called “hasawi” or “bahrani”. These are the indigenous people of the great bahrain “late dilmin” who spoke an extinct semetic language. The bediouds of the sahara identified as assyrians for the longest time and spoke an aramic form of arabic.
    The conclusion is, grouping these ethnic groups as arabs is no less wrong than grouping them which the maronites and any other semetic ethnic group.

    People also seem to forget the eaely presence of the bedioud arabs in the levant. The ancient city of petra,the kingdom of hatra in iraq, the ghassanids, tnukh, lukhum, and the palmyrians next to the assyrians and the canaanites.

    Posted by Mina | May 27, 2015, 8:18 am
  79. Mina, what you have said is laughable.

    If we shouldn’t identify ourselves with names that ancient people used to identify themselves, why are you resorting to religious texts? By your own admission, doesn’t that make one look dumb?

    This is not to say that I identify as an “Aramaean”, I just think your statement is fallacious, and religious texts aren’t the only way people identify themselves.

    Posted by lol | August 24, 2015, 2:39 pm
  80. Ridiculously absurd, your arguments that is.
    Let’s begin, shall we?

    1) Citing Kamal Salibi on Lebanese identity is like citing David Icke on space exploration. The caveat: blind conspiracy. Kamal Salibi violates the scientific method by starting off with an Arab-Nationalist conclusion and searching evidence for this to prove it. He also believes Jesus was born in modern-day Iran, enjoy the delusions! You unfortunately take-on the same conclusion-oriented approach. Also, doubtful of just how ethno-different the Maronites identified? Read the 1946 Maronite-Zionist Treaty. They officially sympathized with the Jews as a non-Arab persecuted people.

    2) Was Saint Maron “100% non-Arab”? Of course, it’s not even debatable on any level. Does it matter? No, clergymen and hermits did not marry and so left no genetic mark. The ignorance and hostility of your statements towards those “Tonys, Charbels, and Pierres”, highlights your anti-Maronite point of view. A point of view evidently and painfully shared by the muslim invaders and settlers of the Arab conquest. Evidently, “Maronite” is not a pure race. There was of course a level of interbreeding with non-local christian peoples such as the Ghassanids both before and after Islamic invasion, and of course, post-invasion, many Christian tribes fleeing Islamic persecution came to join the Mountain stronghold of Mount Lebanon to join the Maronites. But apart from these few peoples, there is overwhelming reason to believe that Maronites never mixed with the non-local forces that invaded them. This is simply because Islamic conversion was unilateral and if anyone were to marry out of the faith, he/she would no longer be part of it and would convert to Islam instead. A better argument for your side would probably be that, rather unpeacefully, Arab and Islamic troops were known to commit rape against women during raids, yet still unsatisfactorily, the areas they raided as such they ended up either killing off entirely or converting to Islam.

    3) It was not merely “the French and British”, who defeated Turkey. There is internal cause to any internal collapse. And to cooperate with the larger forces of Arab opposition and secure independence, it was politically advantageous to ally with the Arab forces as “one of them”. It would have been stupid to bring up the issue of ethnic cleavages between the Christians of Lebanon and other populations since that would meet them with persecution and an ill-fate in acquiring territories populated largely by Muslim peoples that were nevertheless crucial for Lebanese economy. Afterall, when they did receive their independence, Lebanese maronites were the ones to insist on a constitution that did not identify Lebanon as Arab but “with an Arab face”, rather an Arab mask to shield them from persecution.

    So here’s my two-cents! This post made me deeply mourning of what is afterall a persecuted identity. If you would like to accept the Maronites as partners in the region, it is crucial to accept their full untainted identity rather than trying to impose the identity of their persecutors upon them.

    Posted by Elio | July 27, 2016, 5:41 am
  81. This has been infuriating me throughout my life, and killing me to some extent, so, I’m glad to see some quasi-balanced discussion here.
    As a Lebanese-American Maronite/Syriac/”Phoenician”/, I will be the first to tell you that I am an Arab!
    This is a response to White Supremecist racism. The Arab identity as it is used in Pan-Arab narratives is simply to distinguish ourselves as unique from WHITE AND BLACK. The ARAB identity is a necessary tool for all us to combat the globalized White Supremecist racism we see today. Arabs (and namely Arab-Christians aforementioned, but not limited to) today suffer the most in regard to their racial identity because of a two-way mirror view of race, or what I call the Arab’s candle burning at both ends: Arabs are neither White or Black, yet we still exhibit anti-blackness and racism towards black people WHILE we experience racism in the form of Orientalism, Anti-Arabism, and Islamophobia from White people. True, this fracturing of identities in my homeland, Lebanon, is indeed the lasting resulting of Western (white) colonialism and occupation. One must be willing to look at their own position in the scope of racism.
    I see and know… Arabs are using skin bleach, Arabs are shaving their bodies everyday to please a White standard of beauty and normality to no avail, Arabs are abandoning thousands of years of culture, history which ties us to our anscestoral lands OUT OF FEAR. And out of this fear is born a self-hatred, a sickening self hatred which makes hate people who resemble ourselves. It manifests itself through our lineage in the diaspora because it goes unaddressed. Arabs abroad of young generations do not speak to each other, thus do love each other, do not wish marry each other, do not wish to make Arab children anymore and thus, we grow up confused, endangered by our environments determined to kill us, full of emptiness and self-hatred.
    But one cannot see this without studying and self-reflecting on their own position through the scope of racism. You will find many of these Arabs psyches falling correctly in line with Frantz Fanon’s analyses of the occupied and the occupier, as detailed in his books, “Black Skin, White Masks” and “The Wretched of the Earth”, too, will you find insight on this matter in Edward Said’s “Orientalism”.
    But this is not enough, one must be willing to see ourselves in eachother, as we are faced by another who seeks to destroy us, as Arabs, whether we like it or not, that is what we are to them.
    As a Lebanese-American Maronite, I am proud to be an Arab. So proud am I that I study and recite verses from both the Syriac Peshitta as well as I do the Quran! I pray and pay alms in both the church and the masjid! For these are my people, and I love my people, and I love the land my people. These are both my culture, and my history, and this is what I mean when I say “I am an Arab.”


    Posted by db | May 10, 2017, 4:12 am

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