Elections, Free Patriotic Movement, Hezbollah, Lebanon, March 14, My articles

A Review of Michael Young’s New Book

I’ve written a review of Michael Young’s new book for The Nation. An excerpt is pasted below with a link to the rest of the review.

A Forest of Fathers

One weekend during the spring of 2008, I found myself in a discussion with a friend about Lebanon’s latest political crisis. In Beirut the office of the Lebanese prime minister was being besieged by a sprawling tent city of protesters led by the country’s opposition, demanding the resignation of the premier and his cabinet. The business of government had long since ground to a halt, as had all commercial activity around Martyrs Square, not far from where the protesters were gathered; and multiple efforts to reach a compromise between the opposition and the “March 14” loyalists, a coalition of Sunni, Christian and Druse parties backed by the Bush administration and its European and Arab allies, had ended in failure. Pundits warned daily of a descent into the abyss of sectarian violence and civil war.

Like many Lebanese, I found this state of affairs to be both maddening and deeply ironic. Three years earlier, Martyrs Square had been the scene of what was heralded around the world as Lebanon’s rebirth, a popular uprising 1 million strong demanding the end of Syria’s military occupation of the country. This uprising—dubbed the Cedar Revolution—was triggered by the assassination of a billionaire former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, the architect of Lebanon’s postwar recovery. Syria was widely blamed for the assassination, and the ensuing protests—unprecedented in size and in their brazen defiance of Damascus—coupled with intense international pressure, succeeded in forcing the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon. While no one could have imagined that Lebanon’s endemic divisiveness was now a thing of the past and that a strong democratic state would emerge spontaneously from the ashes of Syrian tutelage, there was a palpable hope, naïve in retrospect, that the Lebanese could finally take their first step toward building such a state.

Nothing so optimistic had come to pass. In the three years since the withdrawal of Syrian troops, the country had been racked by a series of high-profile assassinations and a devastating war with Israel. An international tribunal established to investigate the murder of Hariri seemed to have stalled, and street violence was mounting between youths allied with opposing factions. Most significant, the country had no president. The previous one, Émile Lahoud, a pillar of the pro-Syrian regime, had resigned four months earlier, and the polarized government could not reach agreement over a successor.

All of this I related to my friend—a Syrian expatriate living in New York City—expressing my amazement at how Lebanon had turned into a farce, its political system so broken that it could not even carry out the most elemental of democratic processes: voting a person into office. Amused by my frustration, he suggested that far more remarkable than Lebanon’s paralysis was that the Lebanese state had survived without a president for more than 100 days, with no attempted coups, military takeovers or invasions. Imagine such a thing anywhere else in the Middle East: a power vacuum at the highest levels of government “lasting five minutes, let alone four months.” The laws of political gravity, he mused, do not apply in Beirut as they do in other Arab capitals. What’s more, they never have.

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65 thoughts on “A Review of Michael Young’s New Book

  1. I have had the book for over two weeks but I just cannoty get myself to read it. I feel that since I have practically read every opinion that Mr. Young has written in the Daily Star in addition to most of what he has published in Reason magazine that I have a good idea about what he is going to say.
    I will not prejudge the book but please allow me ,QN, to take a stab at the question with which you have ended your excellent review.
    I am convinced that Mr. Young will design a society similar to that of the US branch of Libertarianism whose current spokesperson in Ron Paul. It is a vision that has some intellectual appeal but it is also a vision that is at odds with the world as we know it, a world of 7 billion people, booming metropolises and a hugely inequitable income distribution.
    BTW, I am looking forward to the new issue of The Nation as I am one of these 20,000 or so loyal subscribers that they boast about 🙂

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | July 15, 2010, 11:38 am
  2. Dear Ghassan

    We may have an interview with Mr. Young on the blog in the near future, so you can ask him yourself. 🙂

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | July 15, 2010, 12:12 pm
  3. I linked to your article even before you did 🙂

    Posted by Mustapha | July 15, 2010, 12:33 pm
  4. I have no patience for Ron Paul, nor I imagine would he have any for someone like me who supported the removal of Saddam Hussein in Iraq …

    This is an age-old question for American libertarians: do you support an isolationist approach to foreign policy, on the grounds that war is one of the great enablers of state power? Or do you focus on the liberty side of the equation? There are no neat answers, of course, but I do not really consider myself an American libertarian, but one with a perspective based on my Lebanese experiences, and those in the Middle East. That makes for a contentious relationship with American libertarians.

    Posted by Michael Young | July 15, 2010, 12:52 pm
  5. Mr. Young,

    What is your view on regime change in Syria?
    In Israel it is not considered a good option because of the fear of what would replace Asad’s regime.

    What are the pros and cons from a Lebanese perspective?

    Posted by AIG | July 15, 2010, 2:44 pm
  6. Michael,
    thank you for clarifying your position vis a vis the US branch of Libertarianism.
    I am not sure that this is the proper venue for this but let me be candid with you. US libertarianism , from my perspective, is a strange combination of the majo beliefs of Anarchist regarding the role of the government without the required ideological consistency to appose hierarchical structures. Besides the foreign policy dilemma that you describe so well there is the issue of the role of government. If all what we are going to do is work for a structure whereby the government that governs best is the government that governs least but let corporations operate in an unregulated environment then I see that as a recipe for disaster because it will exacerbate the inequalities, exploitation and deepen the poverty levels. Government has a constructive role to play. The economic meltdown of two years ago is the best example of the need for government in order to protect the underprivileged. I cannot imagine a crowded world without a social contract, a contract that guarantees liberty through fair and just governance. governance

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | July 15, 2010, 2:56 pm
  7. QN, Lahoud resigned? I thought he had served his term till the last day (?).

    Posted by Honest Patriot | July 15, 2010, 4:59 pm
  8. I have no patience for Ron Paul, nor I imagine would he have any for someone like me who supported the removal of Saddam Hussein in Iraq …

    Michael Young,

    I agree with you. Ron Paul is worse than Barack Obama. He wants us to hide behind our borders and make pretend no other foreign countries will cause us harm.

    Apparently he would never help an ally if were attacked by an enemy. He blames all the wars in the 20th centery on the US. Glad he wasn’t president in 1942.


    Posted by Akbar Palace | July 15, 2010, 5:54 pm
  9. Michael J Totten interview with Michael Young:


    Posted by Amir in Tel Aviv | July 15, 2010, 6:27 pm
  10. Honest Patriot

    You’re right. I should have written “left office at the end of his term…” Saying he resigned sounds like he left office voluntarily before his term was up.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | July 15, 2010, 7:02 pm
  11. I find completely absurd people who make the argument that the existence of a Lebanese state is hampered solely by the presence of Hizballah, as if all other sectarian organizations have always worked for the building of a modern, civil state and have nothing to do with the fact that Lebanon is more a conglomeration of sects and tribes than an actual state.

    There are two reasons why those people are opposed to Hizballah. The first is internal, and it is based on sectarian calculations. Other sects frankly feel threatened by the emergence of a powerful organization representing one of the sects. In an environment of vulgar sectarian politics, this position can be understandable, and it is why I believe that the resistance, no matter how effective on the ground, will continue to lack trust and credibility if it is not based on solid national foundations.

    The second reason, which is external, is the opposition of Zionists and supporters of “Israel” to any resistance against that cancerous entity. It is my belief that Michael Young falls in the latter category despite his attempts at feigning concern over Lebanon’s interests.

    Michael Young has made it his agenda to push for the punishment of Syria and the dismantling of the resistance, while not once criticizing “Israel” for all its attacks on Lebanon. Moreover, his calls for justice over the assassination of Hariri will begin to ring hollow when more evidence will begin to arise linking “Israel” to Hariri’s assassination rather than Syria, with Mr. Young refusing to call for the punishment of the Jewish entity.

    Posted by Nour | July 15, 2010, 7:04 pm
  12. It’s appears that MY is neocon-of -convenience, not ideology per se. T’is a large & diverse tent filled chock full of aspirants to Aspen. American Libertarians don’t have much truck with that sector, either. I would suggest that MY is more comfortably placed among the traditional Democrats of neo”Liberal” persuasions.

    Posted by lally | July 15, 2010, 9:03 pm
  13. Nour,
    It is interesting that you never acknowledge that some individuals who value the rule of law would have very serious reservations about an illegal military group that holds itself above the law and that gives itself the right to wage war on behalf of those that are bitterly opposed to its very existence as an extra legal militia.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | July 15, 2010, 9:19 pm
  14. I agree with Ghassan Karam on the issue of “economic libertarianism.” While social libertarianism has some value, in the sense of allowing individuals and communities to flourish within a pluralistic system (What Young seems to advocate sometimes and what QN highlights in his review), the role of economic regulation by the state (and sometimes other kinds of regulations) is essential for some kind of economic equity. “Liberalism” in the sense of John Stuart Mill (who actually thought that some kind of “economic socialism” is nessessary to ensure the liberty and growth of individuals and communties) is more adequate for social libertarians–if they believe that “happiness” (enriching one’s life experiences and flourishing as a person and sometime citizen) and “freedom” (freedom of thought, but also of action that does not infringe on other people’s actions) are essentisl to the polity they advocate. In the Middle East, and elsewhere, “social justice” is not a dead concept and, hopefully, Lebanon and other nations could develop ALL three in a balanced way — HA is currently, no matter what other people may think, part of the “social jutsice” drive in Lebanon –although that may change in the future.

    As long as we talk of “liberty,” “justice” and “happiness” as the foundations of political communities, we are actually going somewhere — beyong the neoliberal paradigm (that deifies markets, encourages freedom of markets instead of that of individuals, and combats economic egalitarianism on the basis of diluted and/or empty concepts of “freedom and democracy”).

    Posted by Parrhesia | July 15, 2010, 11:47 pm
  15. To rudely piggy back on QN’s review, here’s what I thought about Michael Young’s interesting book.

    Finally, I think that ending sectarianism isn’t really addressed in the book because, as a sectarian libertarian, Young doesn’t actually have a problem with it. This, I think, is a pretty short-sighted view of things, one that handicaps the formation of state institutions and liberal change for the sake of short-term “balance,” that often isn’t very balanced in the first place and libertarianism.

    Posted by sean | July 16, 2010, 1:37 am
  16. QN, given your now proven fallibility, I absolve you of the admonition to found a religion so your dedicated admirers and devotees, including me, can follow it. (Remember I asked you if you had founded one way back when we first met on SC?). However, you are not absolved of the expectation to become a statesman who makes a definitive difference in Lebanon one day.

    Posted by Honest Patriot | July 16, 2010, 2:57 am
  17. Indeed, I was hoping the ‘friend’ in the beginning would be Abbas or, at least, Jacob Tafnis. Indeed, I was disappointed. Indeed, I still enjoyed the article. Indeed, it was well-written. Indeed, I am wondering if the difference between pessimism and wistfulness is a measure of narcissism. Indeed, indeed … 🙂

    To ‘piggy-back’ off Sean, I don’t think it is possible to be a libertarian where the state does not exist (civil liberties are not grants of individual rights, but rather restrictions on state power). Put differently, saying you won’t get caught does not mean you are free. Believing such, I see a much more likely way-station for a liberal Lebanon: the more authoritarian state that MY fears. Ultimately, I think HA and Aoun, who apparently represent this threat for MY, are way too sectarian constitutively to ever present such a ‘threat’ but history is a strange midwife. I mean, who could have guessed that rather fanatical Zionists in the US would celebrate the life and work of Samir Kassir?

    I also have a question, or two:

    1) “The western left, particularly in the anti-globalisation movement, has largely followed suit, helping sustain the Middle East’s most intolerant forces.”

    Is this a reference to when Norman Finkelstein was the head of the NSA? Even if so, I think the period where Chomsky was leading the Pentagon and Zinn Foggy Bottom was much more dangerous for Arab/Lebanese ‘liberals’. Wouldn’t you agree?

    2) In the book, reference is made to Kassir/Khoury doing work on Iraqi elections. My understanding is that this was a USG subcontract for Quantum from the DOD, averaging about $10 million US annually. Is that about accurate?

    Posted by david | July 16, 2010, 9:00 am
  18. Oh, and I must ask about the flags on the cover. Is that some kind of inside joke (or dig) or is it like the kids being sartorially ‘ironic’ these days?

    Posted by david | July 16, 2010, 9:39 am
  19. Now that I have practically finished reading the book I would like to add one observation to what has already been said, just in case Michael Young is reading and might wish to comment later on 🙂

    I find that the conclusion that rationalizes sectarianism as a system based on the interpretation that had it not been for such a confessional arrangement then the alternative would have been an authoritarian dictatorship very weak and unacceptable. Why not posit a dysfunctional, discriminatory system against an efficient, modern responsible system of governance based on institutional checks and balances, a secular system? To accept and even glorify what is , with all its warts, instead of arguing for a more just and accountable system of governance based on a vision of what ought condemns society to a vegetative state. I guess that I am surprised at the lack of ambition regarding the future.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | July 16, 2010, 12:03 pm
  20. Nour claims that there are two reasons people oppose *Hezbollah*’s takeover of “Lebanon”. It is either because they feel threatened by a “powerful organization representing one of the sects” or it is because of “the opposition of Zionists and supporters of “Israel” to any resistance against that cancerous entity.”
    This is a classic straw man argument in that ascribes to people justification for their positions that they don’t claim, in order to attack the position itself.

    I don’t know whether Nour is an idiot and believes what he says or is being cleverly dishonest and hopes others might be stupid enough to believe him and be persuaded by him, but it is obvious that everything he says is wrong.
    “Lebanese” opposition to *Hezbollah* can have many good bases – foremost among them is opposition to the breakdown of civil society because of a foreign funded and supported militia occupying half of the country, independent of an unaswerable to the government. *Hezbollah* has created a mini-state in the South, eliminating the authority of the “Lebanese” government over part of the country, not to mention the temporary takeover of @Beirut@. That is aside from running interference for “Syria” and “Iran” within the “Lebanese” government or dragging the country to war with “Israel” without the consent of the people or government.

    Nour is also foolish to attack Mr. Young for “not once criticizing “Israel” for all its attacks on Lebanon[sic].” First, it is foolish because, Mr. Young has criticized “Israel” – one need only look at the interview by Michael Totten linked a few posts above to see that. Presumably Nour knew he was lying when he said that but hoped no one would point it out leaving him free to mislead those who innocently assume he is honest. Second, it is foolish because the last invasion by “Israel” was *Hezbollah*’s doing. In fact, every invasion of “Lebanon” by “Israel” is a byproduct of “Lebanon” being used as a staging ground for resistance against “Israel”. If “Lebanese” territory were not used for resistance attacks on “Israel”, whether by *Hezbollah*, the old *PLO* or any other heroic defender of the eternal Palestinian Nation, “Lebanon” would never see an “Israeli” soldier, bullet or explosive. So to claim that it is to be against “Lebanon” to be anti *Hezbollah* because *Hezbollah* champions the resistance is simply to offer another reason why residents of “Lebanon” should be against *Hezbollah* – *Hezbollah*’s resistance makes “Lebanese” dead.

    If you want to play cancer doctor, parachute yourself into “Israel” and start shooting, but don’t endanger other “Lebanese” by shooting from “Lebanese” soil.

    Posted by dontgetit | July 16, 2010, 12:22 pm
  21. All you presenting the opposition to Hizballah as being based on the desire to protect and defend the “rule of law” or to prevent “the breakdown of civil society” are either delusional or are trying to deceptively justify any opposition to the resistance. Does anyone seriously believe that the corrupt sectarian groups opposing Hizballah arms are doing so out of their concern for the well-being of the civil state? Have those groups ever respected the state? Haven’t those groups always worked to make sure that the sects remain more powerful than the state? And what sectarian group in Lebanon does not receive foreign funding? So what then is their problem with Hizballah’s arms? It is that they view Hizballah as an opposing and competing sectarian force with an unfair advantage, namely its weapons.

    As far as Michael Young is concerned, oh yes I forgot to mention his blistering criticism of “Israel” in his interview with Michael Totten. He was calling for holding “Israel” accountable for its crimes against Lebanon and punishing it for its destruction of Lebanese infrastructure and murder of Lebanese civilians. Oh wait, no he wasn’t. He was actually suggesting that “Israel” should respond even more brutally against Lebanon in the next war in order to truly put and end to Hizballah. Wow, I’m not sure “Israel” can possibly tolerate such heavy criticism.

    Posted by Nour | July 16, 2010, 3:28 pm
  22. Aren’t people aware that Lebanon’s weak central government is precisely why we ended up with Hizballah in the first place? A strong central government would not have allowed the PLO, the civil war, the Israeli invasions, Syrian hegemony, nor any of our many militias. It is precisely the weakness of the centre that attracts so many powers, eager to fill the vacuum.

    I’m not making a philosophical argument here, I’m pointing out the historical record.

    I completely agree that the sectarian divisions have afforded the Lebanese a certain social freedom (for the few rich enough to enjoy it). And it is probably also the key reason we have avoided a dictatorship, though many have tried.

    But as David points out, what’s the big deal about being free from a state that doesn’t exist? You are easy prey for any aggressor (internal or external). Its only when you are a member of a nation strong enough to protect that constraints are required to ensure its power is not used on you.

    So while I understand that the sectarian divisions have prevented our political system from ossifying into a tyranny, I also realise the tremendous cost it required us pay for that privilege.

    Posted by RedLeb | July 16, 2010, 4:14 pm
  23. Nour,
    As much as I don’t want the dialogue to disintegrate into a tit for tat it is incredible when you agree , implicitly at least, that Hezbollah military wing is a breach of the rule of law but you proceed to dismiss the objection since the other parties are not that much better. Why cannot you understand that one can be opposed to both but especially to the Hezbollah militia since it is the most serious violation of civil society and the rule of law. Do I need to remind you that two wrongs do not a right make?

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | July 16, 2010, 5:18 pm
  24. Ghassan.

    Don’t bother.
    It has become clear to me that the “two wrongs make a right” argument is quite dominant in political discourse (not only in Lebanon either, i see in the US quite consistently).
    People no longer have the ability to distinguish the idea that you may be opposed to something, on certain grounds, without necessarily embracing the slogans of those who oppose that thing.
    I can be against an illegal militia and a weak state, without being a fan of Hariri or March14 or sectarianism.
    I can disagree with a lot of Obama’s policies without being a republican. etc.

    But to many, these days, it’s all black and white. If you criticize HA, you must be an ardent Israeli supporter. If you criticize Obama, you must be a neo-con republican. Or whatever.
    It’s truly sad that the intellect is no longer capable of applying some of the simplest rules of cartesian logic to every day life.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | July 16, 2010, 8:04 pm
  25. Quickly,

    One cannot always effectively work for change within dominant structures — if these structures are inherently oppressive or unjust. Effective strategies for change and resistance, whether in Lebanon or in the USA, sometime entail extra-legal and/or anti-systemic approaches (the Civil Rights Movement as such was not engaged in legal activities in the South)! If HA can effectuate social and political change without the reliance on what is called an “illegal” militia, it most probably would give up its weapons. Everyone seems to accept the existing Lebanese state legal and political systems as “fair and balanced” — when it is only perceived as such by people within privileged positions in the dominant system or by people who0 cannot know better.

    I see this point as separate from the question of Syria’s hegemonic dreams and I do think that Lebanese autonomy is absolutely important–as long as we understand by “Lebanese” everyone, both the powerful and the powerless, including those who are struggling to change the power balance. Sectarianism is not the way to achieve this, and no other viable way is on the table — so if I were the HA, I would use any means possible…

    Posted by Parrhesia | July 16, 2010, 8:50 pm
  26. Parrhesia,
    I am essentially in agreement with your position except that I do not believe setting up extra-legal militia is the way to go if the organization wants to be part of the ruling class. Obviously HA is not leading a revolution but is seeking raw political power without upsetting the apple cart, so to speak.
    In my view, and I have expressed this a number of times, HA has the right to rebel against the rulers but to form an illegal militia in order to become part of the regular ruling class is the best proof that the revolutionary aspirations are nothing more than cheap rhetoric.
    If HA is truly interested in real change then they would have taken control by force if need be. But the reality is that they are not revolutionary and they know that they do not have the popular support if they were to take over by force since they are , in my estimation, best described as reactionaries and not revolutionaries.Why would the Mullahs be interested in liberating the masses? Once the masses are liberated then the Mullahs will have no one to control.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | July 16, 2010, 9:52 pm
  27. Very nice article! However, let me point out that President Lahoud did not “resign” as you say: his renewed mandate, imposed by the Syrians, simply came to an end.

    Posted by Georges Melki | July 17, 2010, 1:29 am
  28. Ghassan,
    You can’t make up arguments in a void without reference to reality.

    If you want to argue on strictly legal terms, Hizballah is actually legal because of every government has included in its founding statement a clause justifying Hizballah’s arms.

    Historically, Hizballah did not form a militia to join the ruling class. Many initial members of Hizballah came from other active parties with that aim. The main attraction of Hizballah was its focus on liberating the south, rather than narrow Lebanese power plays. Hizballah later entered politics in 2005, yes, but the military aspect was long established by then.

    And your revolutionary / reactionary argument is unintelligible. You’re saying that Hizballah does not take control because it lacks popular support, and if it doesn’t take control it means its not revolutionary? There is no logic to this line of thought.

    I find that Hizballah is one of the few Lebanese parties wise enough to avoid taking over by force, because they realise our sectarian society is practically designed to avoid rule by one sect over all others, by national suicide if necessary.

    I believe if Hizballah was multi-sectarian or if Lebanon was one sect, Hizballah (aka. the state building party that liberated half the country while the government was asleep) would have taken over a decade ago.

    Posted by RedLeb | July 17, 2010, 3:58 am
  29. #28,
    “If you want to argue on strictly legal terms, Hizballah is actually legal because of every government has included in its founding statement a clause justifying Hizballah’s arms.”

    Now you know that statement is so laughable! So it is your contention that if the militia or the mafia points a gun to the head of other parties and force them to accept its terms it becomes legal?

    Wow you really make a great point on how to attain legality! 😀

    “I find that Hizballah is one of the few Lebanese parties wise enough to avoid taking over by force, because they realise our sectarian society is practically designed to avoid rule by one sect over all others, by national suicide if necessary”

    What other party did take over anything by force? Actually HA has taken everything by force. It definitely realizes that without the cash infusion from Iran and drug smuggling operations along with the coercion at the point of the gun; they will not have many supporters!
    2007-2008 anyone? No force used eh???

    Posted by danny | July 17, 2010, 7:33 am
  30. Redleb says:
    “And your revolutionary / reactionary argument is unintelligible. You’re saying that Hizballah does not take control because it lacks popular support, and if it doesn’t take control it means its not revolutionary? There is no logic to this line of thought.”

    That is not exactly what I said but then probably I was not as clear as I should have been.
    A group that is genuinely dissatisfied with the status quo has the right to rebel , to undertake a revolution against the rulers even if it has to resort to the use of arms. If a group claims injustice and works to change the foundations of the current system through the establishment of an illegal militia ( Taef called for disarmament of all groups and so did 1559 in addition to the proclaimed goal of the state to be in control all over its territory) but then uses the militia only to join the current leaders then this group cannot be described as progressive. Besides the fact that such behaviour is not progressive, besides the fact that a fundamental religious group by definition has no interest in liberating the masses one can add in this case the lack of a popular support for the so called revolutionary aspirations of this group.

    And finally let me assert one more time my position that neither the Iranian religious leadership nor the Shia religious leadership in Lebanon has ever demonstrated any interest in changing the architecture of the capitalist system. They are interested in perpetuating the capitalist mode of production in all its forms. Their only desire is to change the names of those in control, the masses be damned.
    To even suggest that a revolution in Lebanon is underway and is being led by HA and its allies, Beri and Aoun, is a serious misreading of history.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | July 17, 2010, 8:18 am
  31. Here is an interesting (and long) article:

    Posted by Joe M. | July 17, 2010, 12:09 pm
  32. For those who liked the article in Haaretz mentioned above look up an article that was translated into English and published in Dissent the may/June issue. It is the same argument as the above written by an ex editor of Haaretz Danny Rubinstein.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | July 17, 2010, 5:14 pm
  33. Ghassan,
    You are still arguing in a void, separated from any real context.

    Hizballah did not form a militia to change the foundations of the current system. That is the serious misreading of history. Allow me to remind you that Hizballah was formed in the shadow of Israeli occupation, in order to fight the occupation, in opposition to parties (e.g. Amal) who valued changing the pecking order above that of liberating the country.

    This is a key point you ignore. Hizballah did not create the most powerful means of violence in the country only to join the current leaders. For one, if your aim is simply to join the power structure, there are far more easier routes to take than challenging the fourth most powerful army in the world. And if power is your ultimate goal, there is no way you can build a force with the discipline and prowess Hizabllah displayed in 2006. That requires subordination to a loftier ideal (i.e. liberating your land).

    This is a good example of what’s wrong with sectarianism. It won’t allow you to construct a military strong enough to repel invaders, because all the sectarian leaders worry that force will constrain their domestic influence. So you expose the country to occupation to protect local fiefdoms.

    For the other part, I am not interested in arguing whether Hizballah is revolutionary or reactionary. These are labels that are useful in analysing 18th century political dynamics in Western Europe, but are inadequate in our context. And who the heck was arguing that revolutionary necessarily meant anti-capitalist?

    Historically, Hizabllah was not the result of industrialisation, or other economic transformation. So changes in the economic relations of society are not their concern.

    The party was formed because of pressure from the international state system. And so their main concern is how Lebanon conducts itself on the international level and with respect to its neighbours.

    No they will not lead us to a communist nirvana, and its ridiculous to argue they would. But they can definitely lead us from a post-colonial mindset to a more sovereign nation. One not embarrassed to fight for its rights.

    Posted by RedLeb | July 17, 2010, 9:08 pm
  34. “One not embarrassed to fight for its rights”

    Or the rights of the Palestinians, Syrians and Iranians…

    Posted by V | July 17, 2010, 9:39 pm
  35. HA was formed as an extension of the Pasadran in order to fight for a loftier goal, that of the Faqih. How can they fight for sovereignty when they do not even recognize the state. That is similar to saying the Mafia is there to instill discipline and keep the peace.
    Reactionary and revolutionary labels are just as appropriate as they have ever been. A revolutionary is a progressive while a reactionary is a dogmatic fundamentalist bent on looking backwards.
    And please do not imply that I am for a sectarian structure which i oppose with every single fiber of my being.And again as we have stated in an earlier post on this thread being opposed to HA does not imply being for any of the other sorry excuses for political organization. It just so happens that in this case the most dangerous and unacceptable group is the illegal HA militia.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | July 17, 2010, 11:12 pm
  36. Ghassan,
    You’re a broken record. Iran, Iran, Iran…. That’s all you ever say. Get over it. even, at least, for argument’s sake. No one denies that Iran is a factor in Hizbullah’s decisions, but your obsession is not commensurate with the facts. Other than rhetorically, Hizbullah has not shown that its allegiance is primarily to Iran (as you imply). And Hizbullah itself considers itself a Lebanese organization. It just gets tiring to hear broken record.

    That said, also, Hizbullah does not have an “illegal militia.” You may not like it, but the state has ratified Hizbullah’s resistance forces more times than I can count. You might not like how those decisions were made, but they were made officially and were thus technically legal. Not every act of Hizbullah’s forces have been legal, but in totality it has acted far more legally than any force in the country. that’s just a fact.

    Also, although i disagree with your fear of Hizbullah, you are correct that they are the most powerful force in the country (even if you exclude the resistance forces). And we have had this discussion before, but their strength, as RedLeb has pointed out well, is a result of the world they were/are born into. Hizbullah is the most self-empowered political organization in Lebanon (yes, they got help from outside, but it’s not what sustains them). They built their strength because they needed to, in the face of a government that formally and informally excluded them and left them for dead.

    I am saying this not to have the same discussion about what constitutes a “legitimate” government, but because I would like to hear whether you recognize that Hizbullah deserves respect for its organization, dedication and ability to do for themselves what the state has not. I mean, Im asking you, at least, do you see that Hizbullah is a direct response to the failings of the state toward the Shia? (and please, you don’t need to repeat the same things you say in all your other posts…)

    Posted by Joe M. | July 19, 2010, 12:55 am
  37. Joe m,
    There is absolutely nothing in any field that does not happen for a reason. That is not the point. Developments are to be assessed not because they did not occur in a vaccum but whether the rationale that was used is an acceptable rationale. There is a difference between , say, having ones pistol discharge accidentally and injure a passer by and shooting at a passer by intentionally.
    No one has the right to form a militia fullstop. The circumstance into which Hezbollah was born was one of a total breakdown of state autority which was to be restored after Taef by disarming ALL groups. One group resisted and grew in power, that does not make it legitimate.
    I would hope that when the state fails that we either rebel against the state or change it legitimately. The solution is not for every group to form its own militia and effectively operate as a state within a state.
    And please do not use the fact that the state has been forced to create the so called Dialogue?Hiwar table to discuss a way of resolving the arms issue as an implicit recognition of these weapons. Why would one create a mechanism to resolve a non issue? The simple fact of the matter is that the issue is being discussed only because the vigilante is stronger than the state. Unfortunately you seem to have no problem with a civil society where might is right, well guess what I do.

    If you do not like to be reminded of the factual evidence that Hezbollah gets its weapons and is funded by Iran then that is your problem and not mine. No amount of spin will ever change that fact.
    What I find totally unacceptable is the effort to portray the arms of Hezbollah as legitimate and as Lebanese. If for any reason you want to argue that a mafia is acceptable because it is well organized then that is your choice.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | July 19, 2010, 6:23 am
  38. Sean wrote: “Finally, I think that ending sectarianism isn’t really addressed in the book because, as a sectarian libertarian, Young doesn’t actually have a problem with it. This, I think, is a pretty short-sighted view of things, one that handicaps the formation of state institutions and liberal change for the sake of short-term ‘balance,’ that often isn’t very balanced in the first place and libertarianism [sic].”

    I hope to address this subject with Elias in the future, but I have to wonder, if that is Sean’s reading of my views, whether he bothered to read my book that he reviewed for The National. I don’t want to dwell on that lazy review, though Sean had the unique attribute of missing all the major points I made, while even getting the central argument wrong by suggesting that I believe sectarianism is “what clearly works best” for Lebanon. The very last paragraph in the book states precisely the opposite, and the 253 pages before explain why. And what in heaven’s name is a “sectarian libertarian”?

    Thankfully in several reviews, including Elias’, but also that of Max Rodenbeck in The Economist, and that of Rayyan al-Shawaf in The Toronto Globe and Mail, the authors took the trouble to read, and more accurately described my approach to confessionalism.

    As for why I didn’t address political reform in the book, it was not because I am a “sectarian libertarian”; it was simply because I did not set out to write a political science text, and many readers would have been turned off by abstruse ruminations about Lebanon’s political system. I have often addressed reform in my articles, though, which Sean evidently never read, and in all cases I have sought to examine ways to transcend sectarianism by working from within the sectarian system, since that is the only realistic way change can come–gradually, by slowly eroding sectarian reflexes. In this context Taif plays a valuable role, and I hope to come back to this with Elias.

    The sectarian system is what it is, and my views of it are not normative but sociological. In the book I describe what is, not what I would like there to be, but yes, I also do try to explain how sectarianism has indeed created liberal spaces, albeit spaces emerging paradoxically from often illiberal institutions. With all due respect to Sean, and he’s as free to try his hand at understanding Lebanon as any relative newcomer to the country, but it is the mechanics of change he must address, after he’s taken the politically correct, self-righteous, rather obvious view that sectarianism is problematic. Yes, yes it’s problematic, thanks for telling us what we already knew; but how do you actually transform it?

    Posted by Michael Young | July 19, 2010, 7:08 am
  39. Let me see if I’m understanding you right: you’ve written a 254-page book about the recent politics of Lebanon that is a defense of sectarianism, and I’ve written a 2,000-word review of that book, but you’re criticizing me for not writing how to reform the system in my review of your book. (I’ve actually got some ideas about that but don’t think a review of your book is necessarily the best place to be writing about them.)

    Are you serious? Is solving Lebanon’s sectarian puzzle what it takes for a review to not be lazy? (I’d hate to hear what you think of Adam LeBor’s review in the Times.)

    In the end, though, you seem to be disputing the fact that your book is an apology for sectarianism. I think it’s telling that you spend 253 pages talking about what’s good about sectarianism and how it opens all these liberal spaces and then add only a throwaway paragraph on the last page saying that maybe it should be gradually changed. How? One would never know from reading your book.

    In that final paragraph, you state: “I’ve repeatedly tried to defend aspects of sectarianism in this book, an ungrateful task when the politically correct position is to argue how odious sectarianism is.”

    You seem really upset that I’ve painted your position as being that sectarianism is what works best for Lebanon. Elias’s review, which you seem pretty happy with, speaks of how your “defense of sectarianism will strike many as odd, but Young is something of a misfit among Lebanese liberals.” And he’s right, it is a defense of sectarianism. You defend it, criticize revolutionary ways of changing the system, and offer exactly no actual alternatives. So what exactly is the reader expected to think?

    If you want to defend sectarianism, that’s certainly your prerogative, but have the courage to own up to it instead of ending hundreds of pages of its defense with a weak caveat that all this is sociological, not normative. And for the record, while you’re not explicitly normative, an explicit defense is clearly not just a description or an explanation.

    To sum up, you spend the bulk of your book doing your best not to be “politically correct” by defending sectarianism and backing up your sectarian viewpoints of Hezbollah by relying on such luminaries as Paul Berman as an “expert” on Islamism, but when I point that out, you accuse me of having not read your book at all and writing a lazy review, implying that it’s up to me to come up with a solution to Lebanese sectarianism.

    I tell you what: when I write a breezy 254-page book on Lebanese politics, then you can take me to task for not having successfully solved sectarianism. Until then, I’d say the onus is on you.

    Posted by sean | July 19, 2010, 12:16 pm
  40. “With all due respect to Sean, and he’s as free to try his hand at understanding Lebanon as any relative newcomer to the country”

    Did M. Young just go there? Unwise.


    If you are going to interview this fellow, you better bring the heat (I still have not forgiven you for letting a former AIPAC staffer post anonymously in this space). Naturally, I am not telling what you should do, but read the above, and ask yourself: for serious?

    Posted by david | July 19, 2010, 1:17 pm
  41. David,

    It is obvious that what Young is saying is true. Even the Lebanese themselves have a very hard time understanding their country. Otherwise, would they have let themselves be maneuvered into a civil war?
    Israel thought it understood Lebanon and of course we were wrong. At least now we don’t assume that we can predict anything there. Even the Syrians got it wrong by assassinating Hariri.

    Humans must build simple theories of complex systems to understand them and predict their behavior. Lebanon defies such simplifications. If you think you understand it, you have simplified too much and are missing important details.

    Posted by AIG | July 19, 2010, 2:21 pm
  42. Good new for Lebanon:

    This will bring more stability to the region.

    Posted by AIG | July 19, 2010, 2:22 pm
  43. Sean,

    Why don’t you just admit that your failure to get ‘on board’ stems from your desire to bugger SHN and then slit your own throat?

    We are truly known by our ‘friends’ …

    I especially loved this line:

    “and in all cases I have sought to examine ways to transcend sectarianism by working from within the sectarian system,”

    Transcendence, indeed. This is as funny as when the Hakim talks about discovering the eastern mystics in prison. Geagea, Khoury, Young: the dharma bums, how could you not know?

    Anyway, I like your response but you are wasting your time. How does one argue with a copy writer for an advertising firm?

    March 14: tastes great, less filling!!!

    Sectarianism and Zionism: two great tastes that taste great together!!!*

    Oh, to be ‘serious’ … 🙂

    *This advert would have to include some fine print: the following makes no factual claims and does not necessarily represent the views of …

    Posted by david | July 19, 2010, 3:53 pm
  44. Gotta laugh at Joe M and RedLeb’s arguments above, re: HA.
    Typical head in the sand approach.

    Sometimes, I think it’s useless continuing to argue and that maybe what would serve Lebanon best is to let these guys win. Let HA have their way, across the board. Stop arguing with them. Then we’ll see how they feel about things in 5-10 years, with the country in ruins, and HA in charge (I’d like to see the faces of those who think HA will make some kind of egalitarian society, devoid of sectarianism, after a few years under an HA regime).
    If I were March14, or whoever other incompetent state and non-state actors we have in Lebanon, I’d say “Congratulations. You wanted Lebanon, here you go. All yours.” and all move to Paris.
    I wonder what excuse the HA supporters will have then…
    Oh right…There’s still that pesky neighbor to the South they’ll continue to blame (much like the sisterly state to East) for 30-40 years of iron-fisted “emergency rules” (We can call it “Resistance Emergency” for our case.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | July 19, 2010, 4:01 pm
  45. BV:
    Hasn’t what you “wish for” already happened? HA appears to have already won and is unchecked in Lebanon. The occupation of Beirut already proved that. HA stared and the rest of you blinked.
    The 2006 war (really, the post-war disarmament the UN was supposed to help you with). At this point, the only thing likely to weaken HA is the next war with Israel, and I don’t think either HA or the Israelis will permit that devastation to be limited to the South. HA wants the rest of Lebanon on its side, so it will make sure the entire country is an Israeli target.

    Posted by dontgetit | July 19, 2010, 4:54 pm
  46. Added fragment missing from sentence above.

    Hasn’t what you “wish for” already happened? HA appears to have already won and is unchecked in Lebanon. The occupation of Beirut already proved that. HA stared and the rest of you blinked.
    The 2006 war (really, the post-war disarmament the UN was supposed to help you with) was your last chance, but it came and went. At this point, the only thing likely to weaken HA is the next war with Israel, and I don’t think either HA or the Israelis will permit that devastation to be limited to the South. HA wants the rest of Lebanon on its side, so it will make sure the entire country is an Israeli target. HA will be weakened, maybe even mortally wounded, but so will the rest of the country.

    Posted by dontgetit | July 19, 2010, 4:55 pm
  47. That’s my point, dontgetit.

    I’m almost tempted (as callous as it may sound) to say let HA run rampant and have their way and let the Lebanese people really feel the consequences. Notice my use of “in ruins” in the previous post.

    All those idiots who sat around in the comfort of their homes in Broumana or wherever (yes, I’m talking about the Aounists here), while the South and Dahieh were obliterated in 2006 are the ones here arguing about “Zionist projects” and “Resistance” and all that.

    You wanna prove your way is the best way for Lebanon, by all means, knock yourselves out. Come back and see me in 10 years and let me know how well that’s worked out for you. I’m tired of arguing with people who are so freaking brainwashed their arguments only make sense to their likes, and fail to convince anyone with a brain.

    And by “best for Lebanon”, i mean FOR LEBANON. Not for Iran, or for the glory of the Faqih. Or for Syria. Or for a Palestinian cause that you only pay lip service to or use an excuse (and then refuse to afford the refugees any dignity).

    Oh yeah, btw. The “democratically elected” Hamas in the Gaza strip has just forbidden women from smoking Arguileh today… Viva La Resistance! Bringer of true freedom to oppressed people all around.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | July 19, 2010, 5:22 pm
  48. I think you’re the one who is upset Sean, but I really don’t want to engage in an exchange of blows over your disappointing review.

    However, a few very general, and simple, points to seal this from my end: the first is that it is possible to defend certain consequences of sectarianism without glorifying sectarianism per se. It is a fact that Lebanon is a country relatively free in a region largely unfree. Why is that? Because the state has not managed to impose itself on its people in the same way it has in places like Syria, Iraq under Saddam, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan, to name only them. And why hasn’t it done so? Because of the social structure of the country, whereby sectarianism has naturally imposed balance on all sides, which has made it very difficult for any one party or coalition of parties to impose an authoritarian order. It’s a reality, and you should live with it.

    But I can also fully agree that sectarianism is a fundamental problem in Lebanon. “Balance” can be the flipside of deadlock and sectarianism has without question been a source of deadly conflict for generations, despite creating the paradoxically liberal spaces I mentioned in the book—as I said, “paradoxical” for often being built on illiberal institutions.

    You write: “I think it’s telling that you spend 253 pages talking about what’s good about sectarianism and how it opens all these liberal spaces and then add only a throwaway paragraph on the last page saying that maybe it should be gradually changed.”

    Actually, as early as page six I made the latter point, writing: “It would be foolish to defend Lebanon as an ideal liberal example. Its system is in profound need of renovation. The country offers two roads: one of renewal through a new social contract; and one of failure to present itself as a sustainable model because of its unstable identities.”

    As for the ending of my book, perhaps you throw your paragraphs away; I never do. A last paragraph generally expresses a strong theme a writer wants to leave readers with. And when I spent 254 pages showing how sectarianism gave momentum to the Independence Intifada but was also a source for the divisions ultimately leading to its demise; when I wrote how sectarianism allowed Hezbollah to flourish, to Lebanon’s detriment; when I argued in successive chapters how sectarianism reinforced the debilitating political stalemate after 2005 (playing for and against the March 14 coalition and Hezbollah at separate times); and when I noted that this stalemate facilitated the Syrian return and Hezbollah’s relative success, I find it peculiar—and that is the nicest word I can find—that my book can be described as arguing that sectarianism is “what clearly works best” for Lebanon.

    But at this stage, I can see from the out-of-context mentions of Adam LeBor and Paul Berman that the exchange has become scattershot, therefore appears to have run its course. So I’ll stop here.

    Posted by Michael Young | July 19, 2010, 5:43 pm
  49. Michael Young says:

    ” It is a fact that Lebanon is a country relatively free in a region largely unfree. Why is that? Because the state has not managed to impose itself on its people in the same way it has in places like Syria, Iraq under Saddam, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan, to name only them. ”

    I am in agreement with many of the specifics in the MY book but as I have said before I do not understand why is it that Mr. Young assumes that if it weren’t for sectarianism then the only alternative would have been an authoritarian state. That is simply a conjecture. One can argue convincingly that the alternative to sectarianism would be e responsive democracy.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | July 19, 2010, 6:24 pm
  50. I honestly don’t see why anyone would call Lebanon “relatively free”.
    I mean, sure, I get that it’s not a country ruled by a single party / dictator.
    But “freedom” means a lot more than that.
    I would argue that we haven’t had freedom since about 1969 (Cairo Accords). Perhaps even sooner.

    “Relatively free” if you happen to be an armed gang, sure. Not so much if you were an innocent civilian who had to fear for your safety and that of your family while various armed factions roamed the land, kidnapped folks at will, killed, maimed or caused retaliatory killing and maiming. Be it the PLO, HA, the LF or Kataeb, or the Syrians and Israelis.
    Anyone who spent the 70s and 80s in Lebanon would be far pressed to use the words “relatively free”.

    One could argue (I don’t. But one COULD) that the oppressive regimes in the region actually managed to keep their people safer and “freer” (at least to live their lives) than our sectarian system did.

    (Caveat emptor: I have not read Mr. Young’s book. Nor do I presume to comment on the overall points in the book. This is merely a response to the above argument).

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | July 19, 2010, 6:48 pm
  51. AIG….”good news for Lebanon”


    Nope, good news for Rafael and Singapore …….. bad news for Sderot and the US taxpayer.


    Posted by lally | July 19, 2010, 8:35 pm
  52. Lally,

    The Iron Dome system is very good for Sderot also. It will be deployed in a few hours if missiles start flying. Sure, it is an expensive system, these systems always are, that is why exporting them is important so as to reduce the R&D costs per system.

    But this is the beauty of these systems, they make war less likely since it would be much harder to hit strategic targets with missiles thus making war much less of a profitable exercise for our enemies.

    Posted by AIG | July 19, 2010, 8:53 pm
  53. Silly AIG. The Arutz Sheva article clearly states that the Iron Dome is techically incapable of protecting Sderot and other communities too close to the firing source(s).

    This is hardly the first time that this information has been made public; along with the info that a similar American product works better and is much cheaper. Why was there a reversal of the Israeli decision to purchase it, instead?

    As for R&D…that was the reason for Singapore’s investment in the system as American investment triggers American veto over marketing to troublesome end users. It’s my understanding that we Israel luvin patriots are actually purchasing the Iron Dome batteries although I can’t believe, as some stupid GOP Congressman told A7, that our $205million only buys 2 of them.

    Wouldn’t it be droll if an Iron Dome battery is positioned in Sderot for the sole purpose of becoming a popular exhibit/tourist attraction for the innumerable tours of American politicians, “journalists” and “opinion elites”?

    Note to projecting zionist types: the Iron Dome is not going to prevent retaliation for Israeli bloodletting. Israeli citizens should be shocked by the horribly inadequate measures taken to protect them from the consequences of their warmongering ways.

    Hubris gonna get yah…

    Posted by lally | July 19, 2010, 10:03 pm
  54. I suggest you read some reliable Israeli news sites:

    You have no idea what you are talking about and your hypocrisy is monumental. You would not believe anything that Arutz Sheva, a settler mouth piece, would say unless it supports your propaganda. So why do you believe an outlet that was against the withdrawal from Gaza and consistently try showing that it was a mistake? You should answer that question for yourself.

    The Iron Dome will be effective in protecting Sderot and will be deployed there if missiles begin falling again. As for cheaper alternatives, they would only have been a stop gap and a waste of money. What Israel needs is an integrated and comprehensive missile defense system that covers short and long range threats. This means all the systems need to talk to each other and be compatible with the IDF’s command and control systems.

    Posted by AIG | July 19, 2010, 11:49 pm
  55. The article below is a nutshell of your book, Michael. And I think fair readers can see for themselves that despite a wishy-washy non-specific caveat at the end, you’re explicitly arguing for “the praise of Lebanese sectarianism.” Like I said before, I can see your point, and I think it may even be right to a limited extent, but I think it’s woefully short-sighted, and unproductive, and I think that your curious (to put it politely) view of the civil war that would have the non-respect of sectarianism be the root cause is pretty myopic. But perhaps I’m just being “politically correct.”

    Finally, I stand by my review, which was only disappointing to you, it seems. And as long as we’re being snarky about things, you might not throw any of your paragraphs away, but having read many of yours, I can safely say that you probably should.

    In praise of Lebanese sectarianism
    By Michael Young
    December 28, 2006

    Praising Lebanon’s sectarian system may seem odd this end of year, as sectarianism seems closer than ever before to devouring the society. But that’s precisely what we should do, because political developments in recent weeks have shown that sectarianism, for all its demonstrable shortcomings, is the only system reflecting the true nature of social relations, imposing humility on all the parties, and offering the Lebanese a pluralism so abysmally lacking elsewhere in the Middle East.

    Over the decades, eliminating sectarianism has come to be associated with the brisk air of modernism. There is some justice in the claim. A society cannot truly flourish if every aspect of life is reduced to one’s religious affiliation. Promotion by sect usually means a state bureaucracy where merit is lacking. Confined to confessional boundaries, politics or public service means that the most ambitious must either tie their fate to sectarian political leaders to get somewhere, or emigrate. And the rigidities of sectarianism are such that Lebanon seems forever stranded in a never-never land of deal-making, profit-sharing and pie-slicing.

    Perhaps. But sectarianism is also the one thing that has made Lebanon more or less democratic in a region stifled by despotism. Because the religious communities are more dominant than the state, power is diffused, so that no single political actor or alliance has ever been able to impose its writ on all of society. In the absence of absolute victory, the system has, of necessity, embraced perpetual compromise – or, when one of the sides, or both, has ignored the rules, collapsed into crisis. The dissatisfied have often looked for salvation in a strong state, leading to a longstanding rivalry between supporters of muscular state institutions and supporters of traditional sectarian leaders. Not surprisingly, the latter have usually won out because they better reflect the country’s social disposition, which cannot long abide exclusive central authority.

    If independent Lebanon were a morgue, it would be filled with aficionados of robust statehood. President Fouad Chehab was the first to use the army and intelligence services against the traditional leaders, and he got nowhere; nor did his successor, Charles Helou. Bashir Gemayel, president-elect for three weeks, had a similar antipathy for sectarianism, and hoped to use the state to tame and transcend it. He was murdered before he could do much, but his brother Amin applied a likeminded rationale, and within two years he had crashed. Emile Lahoud was elected in 1998 to break the sectarian leaders on behalf of the Syrian regime, but in 2000 he suffered a withering defeat at their hands in parliamentary elections. Now Lebanon must deal with two more dogged “statists,” Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and Michel Aoun, and both are being reminded daily that they cannot wantonly bend Lebanon to their own advantage.

    A few years ago, Nasrallah, in an Ashura speech, decried the Lebanese arrangement, saying it was characterized by “leaders of alleyways, of confessional groups, of districts.” Instead of this, Hizbullah’s leader declared, Lebanon needed “great men and great leaders.” Unfortunately, he got it exactly wrong: The bane of Lebanon is not leaders of alleyways, but great men – or more precisely mediocre men who believe themselves to be great. Michel Aoun has, similarly, juggled contradictory sentiments: a contempt for sectarianism deployed alongside claims to be a paramount sectarian representative, all wrapped up in an audacious fancy that he is a man of destiny who, as the self-anointed embodiment of national salvation, can overcome Lebanon’s untidy divisions.

    In both Nasrallah’s and Aoun’s dislike of the system is a sometimes defensible loathing for wheeling and dealing – even though the two men are not lacking in that talent. However, they regard themselves as above the political fray, better than the riffraff maneuvering down below. Both consider an enhanced state, one they control, as the way around sectarian bargaining, even though they are fundamentally sectarian in their outlook and Nasrallah’s ideal state looks very different than Aoun’s. There is something deeply disturbing in their attitude: an intolerance for diversity, for making concessions to earn concessions, for the disorderliness of a system they would prefer to replace with something regimented.

    Aoun and Nasrallah may be on a collision course when it comes to their totalistic visions for Lebanon, but in December it was as one that they hit a brick wall in trying to bring down the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. In the face of a unified and fuming Sunni backlash, both men were suddenly forced to acknowledge the red lines of sectarian conduct. The message they heard was a clear one: Either Hizbullah would have to limit its demands or Lebanon would enter a new civil war. When Nasrallah spoke two weeks ago to assembled opposition protestors, the virulence of his speech partly covered for the fact that he had seen the writing on the wall. He was sending word, probably to his Syrian allies, that fighting Sunnis was out of the question – before retreating under a compensatory hail of indictments directed against the majority.

    Today, Hizbullah is in a quandary.

    Siniora is here to stay and Nasrallah is absorbing the unforgiving dictates of sectarianism. Though the Hizbullah leader may have been dragged kicking and screaming into the alleyways of confessional politics, he now knows that he cannot ignore this. He is displaying modesty, in contrast to Aoun, who is beginning to sense that his plan to take over the state is slipping away. It is no coincidence that the Aounists have started a parliamentary petition condemning Siniora’s alleged abuse of the Constitution. For weeks it has become double or nothing for the general’s nervous followers, but by dismissing sectarian sensitivities they will almost certainly end up with nothing.

    Every few years the Lebanese must cope with an individual, party or community that ignores, disastrously, sectarian conventions. When the Maronites, the Sunnis and the Druze couldn’t get it right during the 1970s, the country descended into a 15-year war. Today, it is Hizbullah, as prime spokesman for the Shiite community, that is making a similar miscalculation. If conflict can be averted, then the party’s learning a lesson will have been worthwhile: better a weak Lebanese state where communal alignments can counterbalance the hegemonic tendencies of one side to a strong, purportedly non-sectarian state that will consistently drift toward a disputed, therefore unstable, authoritarianism.

    That said, permanent, rigid sectarianism is not ideal. For any truly democratic order to emerge, the Lebanese must ultimately think as citizens, not as members of religious tribes. But wishing that away will not work. The only solution is to modify sectarianism from within, to provisionally accept its institutions while making it more flexible and opening up space for non-sectarian practices. The Taif agreement outlines the means to reach this end, and just as soon as Lebanon can break free of Syrian and Iranian manipulation, just as soon as Hizbullah agrees to a process leading to its disarmament, no matter how lengthy, sectarian negotiations will become possible and the road to reform can be taken.

    Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR.

    Posted by sean | July 20, 2010, 12:56 am
  56. Dear Michael and Sean:

    Each of you feels like your arguments have not been taken seriously by the other. As such, I propose that we adjourn this discussion until we return to the topic of the book in a few days (when this blog hosts an interview with Michael). At that point, we can take up the discussion again, and perhaps it will be a bit more productive.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | July 20, 2010, 7:33 am
  57. Hubris gonna get yah…


    I’ve been hearing this for the past several decades. The “hubris” of self-defense isn’t hubris.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | July 20, 2010, 11:29 am
  58. AIG.

    The ….um…shortfalls of the Iron Dome have been freely discussed in other Israeli venues. The A7 article is a compendium of earlier reporting and the discerning reader can readily see that the thrust of the piece is a hit on settlerilk enemy, Ehud Barak.

    (When assessing the credibility of any security/military information published via the Israeli media, I always take the ubiquitous military censor into account. Up until the recent (and pathetically futile) Obama pandering re the Iron Dome became news, the Israeli discussions of the true nature of the Iron Dome capabilities etc were far more honest and open.)

    It’s your own denial of reality that is interesting as one would think that,at minimum, your concern for the citizens of Sderot et al would be paramount. The fact that the Iron Dome is ineffective at short range is not, or wasn’t in the past, a State Secret.

    I would note that if you wish to have some credibility in discussions of this nature, use appropriate nomenclature. While the term “missiles” is better than “rockets” and “mortars” for scaring American congresscritters, presidents and teh Diaspora, it’s rhetorical overkill when discussing the security threats to the communities closely bordering Gaza. You see, AIG, it’s the very primitive nature (no electronic “signature” provided by guidance systems) of the rockets that has confounded anti-missile technology. The American systems were developed in order to counter mortar/rocket attacks on American bases in Iraq and the juicy target known as the Green Zone.

    Again, the very short “air” time of rockets and mortars in flight is still proving to be the Achille’s heel of the utility of the Iron Dome for Sderot and other communities too close to Gaza.

    All of your wailing and flailing about doesn’t change that reality. While ignorance among teh wannabe Diaspora is to be expected, it’s rather shameful that a real Israeli would be inclined to insist that down is up when it comes to the facts of Israeli security.

    As for integrated missile defense, Israel is greatly dependent on US to counter most of the ground-to-ground threats and interoperability with American systems is key. That’s what last fall’s joint Israel/US massive Juniper Cobra 10 exercise was ALL about.

    Go look it up and pay particular attention to the X-band radar system installed at the first and only American military base on the soil of the Israeli Homeland in the Negev. It’s the lynchpin.

    BTW, there was some grumbling within certain Israeli circles that the super-dooper X-Band technology also affords US an instantaneous picture of every single thing ya’ll are up to in terms of activities involving airspace.

    Which is why I chuckle at the very notion that we in the Land of the Free could be “surprised” by any Israeli actions that involve attacks by anything that Israel launches into the air.

    There is no longer any such thing as plausible deniability in such situations. Period.

    @ A.Palace. Your blissful “ignorance” about the current situation is unsurprising, entirely expected and boring. You and the other existential threats in teh Diaspora are capable of little more than zionist mythologizing after decades of rote repetition.

    Posted by lally | July 20, 2010, 3:01 pm
  59. Lally,

    If you knew anything first hand about the IDF like I do, you would know that it has a policy not to be reliant on the US for any aspect of our defense. The US and Israel using different command and control systems altogether and they are certainly not integrated.

    I guess you will just believe whatever fits your world view and dismiss any facts you don’t like. Yes, the people against Iron Dome said it will not be effective, but the tests prove it is. Of course, when it works well around Sderot you will say it is a lie.

    Posted by AIG | July 20, 2010, 3:28 pm
  60. Your blissful “ignorance” about the current situation is unsurprising


    What “Ignorance” are you talking about?

    One thing you can learn from Israelis is that self-defense is not “hubris”, it is the right of all nations.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | July 20, 2010, 5:24 pm
  61. AIG.

    “If you knew anything first hand about the IDF like I do, you would know that it has a policy not to be reliant on the US for any aspect of our defense.”

    This is insane and so completely counterfactual that I’m
    beginning to question if you really are Another ISRAELI Guy after all.

    Hiding your head in the sand will still leave the rest of you vulnerable to incoming fire.

    Why can’t you admit that Israelis have been screwed by the greedy and focus your ire on the perpetuators? THAT’S what citizens of democracies are supposed do when presented with definitive evidence of the crimes against them. It’s our duty.

    Instead, you defend the crooks out of some warped sense of “loyalty”.

    You must have been a Republican in a former life.

    Posted by lally | July 21, 2010, 3:34 pm
  62. Lally,

    Your understanding is really minimal.
    Let me give you an example with the F-16. That plane has been sold to many countries including potential Israeli enemies. The way Israel maintains is qualitative edge is by developing all of the flight systems for its F-16’s by itself. It does not rely only US systems.

    The Israeli policy is not to be reliant on the US for any important aspect of its security. That would be a huge mistake. That is why we have our own satellites for example and our own weapon’s industry. And if need be, we have the technology to develop our own fighter planes as the fact that we are the world leaders in UAVs attests.

    In line with this very smart policy, we cannot be dependent on a US missile system. We deeply appreciate all the help the US gives us, but one cannot build the long term security of Israel on the goodwill of others. Israel has to be as independent as possible.

    Posted by AIG | July 22, 2010, 11:23 am
  63. better than AIG’s Zionist Voice For Colonial War, those facts compiled by the Jewish Voice of Peace
    http://www.jewishvoiceforpeace.org :

    “More U.S. aid goes to Israel than any other country, even though Israel’s per capita income is as high as many European countries. In fiscal year 2003 Israel received a foreign military financing grant of $3.1 billion and a $600 million grant for economic security in addition to $11 billion in commercial loan guarantees. This total aid package of nearly $15 billion makes Israel by far the largest single recipient of U.S. aid. U.S. aid is a function of politics. According to a Time/CNN poll, released April 12, 2002, 60% of Americans favor cutting aid to Israel if Israel does not immediately withdraw its troops from Palestinian areas. Further, U.S. aid to other countries is often tied to various conditions, depending on what the U.S. wants the aid recipient to do. We are asking that aid to Israel be treated in the same manner.

    Pouring arms into an area of the world already plagued by violence can only increase death and destruction and render the U.S. a questionable broker for peace at best. In these hard economic days, that money can be put to use in the U.S. or it could be used to build a stable Palestinian society, out of the devastation that exists there now. The Israeli economy has been in a downward spiral for years, and foreign investment has long been directly related to the level of violence in the region. Using military aid as a lever to end the occupation will be a boon to the security and hopes for the future for both Israelis and Palestinians.

    Key Facts :

    Total direct aid to Israel, 1948-2003
    $89.9 billion (uncorrected for inflation)
    Since 1976 Israel has been the largest annual recipient of US aid. It is the largest cumulative recipient since World War II.
    Direct U.S. aid for each Israeli citizen in 2001 (per capita annual income of Israel = $16,710) — over $500
    Direct U.S. Aid for each Ethiopian citizen in 2001 (per capita annual income of Ethiopia = $100) — about $.45
    $2.76 billion military aid grant
    $2.1 billion economic support funds
    $600 million refugee resettlement grant
    $2 billion
    Military aid grant $1 billion
    Commercial loan guarantees $9 billion
    Arrow missile development $60 million
    TOTAL AID FOR FY 2003 $14.82 billion
    Percentage of U.S. foreign aid that goes to Israel — 30%
    Israel’s population as a percentage of world population — .01%

    Posted by quelqu'une | July 22, 2010, 12:43 pm
  64. Israel gets singled out again


    Can you also show us the same foreign aid numbers for Egypt?

    And after you present the Egyptian numbers (which you won’t), then we can talk about the relative benefit Israel and Egypt provides the US in terms of technology and intelligence.



    Posted by Akbar Palace | July 22, 2010, 11:23 pm
  65. AP,
    The comparison is pointless. Egypt existed long before a bunch of European colonists decided to make a (so-called) desert bloom in Palestine.

    Posted by quelqu'une | July 23, 2010, 5:34 am

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