Free Patriotic Movement, Hezbollah, Lebanon, Reform

Divided Societies

A journalist called me yesterday afternoon for a comment on the recent news that Mitt Romney had appointed Walid Phares to his foreign policy team. As is well known, Phares was a member of the Lebanese Forces’ Executive Committee during the Lebanese Civil War, and the news of his appointment provoked a few expressions of surprise and dismay among DC-based Mideast policy wonks.

After getting off the phone, I did a quick search through the news archives and turned up a 1995 article in the Jerusalem Report, describing an initiative launched by Walid Phares in the mid-90s called the Leadership Committee for a Free Middle East. The committee brought together “top officials of the Zionist Organization of America, the Jewish Action Alliance, Americans for a Safe Israel and Likud America, along with groups claiming to represent Lebanese Maronites, Egyptian Copts, Iraqi Assyrians and South Sudanese Christians.” Here’s the part to read:

The groups have natural common interests, said Manfred Lehman, a member of the ZOA’s national executive and an organizer of the coalition. Christians in the Middle East are often persecuted by Muslim governments, he said, and are threatened by Islamic fundamentalism.

The initiative for the committee came from Walid Phares, the Maronite founder of the World Lebanese Organization. “For us, the conflict in the Middle East is not Arab against Israeli, but Arab against non-Arab,” he said, arguing that the Maronites, and most other Mideast Christian groups, are not ethnic Arabs, but descendants of Christian peoples who lived in the region before the Muslim Arab conquest in the seventh century.

Phares’s own history points to further motives behind the new coalition. A former official with the Lebanese Forces, a Christian militia, he fled to the United States in 1990 after Syrian troops crushed the last Christian resistance in Beirut. His group has branches in several countries and in Israel’s security zone in South Lebanon, which he says is “for us the last free enclave for Lebanese Christians.”

The Leadership Committee for a Free Middle East seems to have had a short-lived history, but the few hits that Google turns up include this little gem from Manfred Lehmann’s website

We had a nice minyan for all Shabbat services, including a Sefer Torah from a neighborhood synagogue. I did not attend any of the Shabbat sessions, but was told that the most sensational presentations was rendered by Professor Walid Phares, head of the World Lebanese Organization, who co-chairs with me the Leadership Committee for a free Middle East. He showed how the Moslem Arabs in the Middle East are invaders, conquerors and occupiers of land that was owned by the original Christian populations — the Copts in Egypt, the Maronites and Phoenicians in Lebanon, the Assyrian/Chaldeans in Iraq, etc… They all look upon Israel — the only country that regained its historical land — as their own only hope to regain their own political and religious independence. He also explained something absolutely fundamental. The main reason the Arabs hate Israel is that they fear exactly this re-awakening of the original inhabitants of the lands they have usurped. While Israel exists, the Arabs must fear that the original populations will make a comeback and evict the Moslems from the lands conquered by them. Hence the close love by these Christians for Israel and their feeling of total interdependence. Eighteen million Christians are affected by this situation — the most important and powerful group of allies Israel has, which until now it has ignored and neglected!

What I find most interesting about the Phares story is, sadly, not the fact that Romney appointed him to his Mideast advisory committee, but rather how bizarrely out of sync Phares’s views are with mainstream Christian politics in Lebanon today.

The Lebanese Christians have a “close love” for Israel? They regard the Muslims as “invaders”? If Walid Phares ran for political office in Lebanon today, how good would his chances be, do you think? I’d put them somewhere in Antoine Lahad territory.

This is not to say that there aren’t Lebanese who share Phares’s oddball views about the ethnic origins of the Maronites and their secessionist aspirations, and some of them may even hold public office today. But these views are no longer part of the mainstream Christian discourse, just as Hassan Nasrallah’s calls for the creation of an Islamic state in the 1980s are now regarded as an embarrassment by the party (and were anyway disavowed by Nasrallah himself as early as 1995).

My point here is that while much is made of Lebanon being a divided society — as reflected in its confessional politics and civil conflicts — it is also true that over twenty years have passed since the end of the civil war, and whatever Lebanon is today, it is not what it was in the 1970s and 1980s. Certain things have changed, for better or worse.

The Maronite Patriarch’s defense of Hizbullah’s weapons is only the most recent example we could point to. Beshara al-Rai took a lot of heat from some Christians for his statements, but he also gained sympathy from many others who support the FPM’s alliance with Hizbullah. And speaking of which, who could have imagined such an alliance between the Aounists (whose views were not that different from those of other right-wing Christian parties) and Hizbullah, twenty years ago?

Yes, there is plenty of opportunism and cynicism in play. But let’s not brandish silly terms like “stagnation” and “feudalism” as a substitute for real engagement with Lebanon’s complexities. Our society remains divided, but the fact that the views of Hassan Nasrallah (circa 1985) and Walid Phares (circa 1995 and perhaps still today) are largely out of place in contemporary Lebanese political discourse is a reminder that divisiveness is not hard-wired into Lebanon’s society or its politics. To insist otherwise is, in my view, a symptom of intellectual laziness.

This post started out about Mitt Romney and has sort of morphed into a response to the friendly criticisms of my recent post about Lebanon and the Arab Revolutions. In that essay, I made the simple argument that the reason Lebanon has not witnessed massive popular protests as we’ve seen in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen has little to do with our “social divisiveness” or “political immaturity” and everything to do with the absence of authoritarian conditions and a single, hegemonic, universally reviled “regime”.

I also argued that Lebanese democracy activists have relatively fewer formidable challenges to contend with than their counterparts in countries where the remnants of a once-powerful regime are effectively dictating the course of events in the post-revolutionary period. This is not to say that Lebanese activists do not have their own cast of reactionary forces to face off with, but let’s be honest: there is a difference between Nabih Berri and Field Marshal Tantawi (who is targeting civil society groups with greater ruthlessness than Mubarak did).

The point of this argument is not to get into a pissing match about which Middle Eastern countries are more suited to democracy (especially given that different democratic models may work for different countries). Rather, my underlying point was the following:

If one is willing to make a case for cautious optimism regarding the possibilities of reform in countries like Egypt and Libya, then there’s no reason not to be similarly optimistic with a case like Lebanon.

Some of you remarked that Lebanon does not need a revolution of the streets, but rather a “revolution of thought”, a change in mindsets and orientations. I would suggest that such changes are already taking place gradually, under the surface, and we would be better served by recognizing them and trying to bolster them rather than sitting around and waiting for a “revolution of thought”.

Let me close by reiterating that this essay should not be read as a defense of the status quo. If there’s a purpose behind Qifa Nabki, it’s to think critically and aggressively about the problems of governance in Lebanon. Doing that effectively means, in part, being clear-eyed about the true nature of the challenges facing the country, the opportunities available for reform, and the resources that can be drawn upon to effect progressive change.

Okay, back to the dissertation… *sigh*
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79 thoughts on “Divided Societies

  1. Walid Phares was probably the inspiration for Dan Brown’s Professor/Hero character in “The Da Vinci code”.

    Posted by R2D2 | October 7, 2011, 11:21 am
  2. However wrong it might be, Phares’s ‘theory’ might prove a useful argument when trying to convince aounists they are wrong.

    Posted by Elie | October 7, 2011, 11:52 am
  3. QN,

    Interesting story there. I had no idea about Romney/Phares, or Phares’ history with LF and then with the WorldWhateverOrganization.
    Having said that, your main point was about the prior discussion we all had, ie, Lebanon needing a revolution, etc.

    I don’t think anyone really believes that things haven’t changed between 1975 and today. Of course they have.
    But i think there’s one big flaw in the logic you try to present here. You use Walid Phares’ ridiculous beliefs to make the point that such beliefs are no longer widely held in Lebanon. But I beg to differ.
    They may not be EXACTLY in the same mold. But the foundation is the same.
    Pray tell, how exactly is the current paranoia about Salafi/Hariri/Saudi/Sunnis held in many Christian circles all that different from what Phares was preaching in 1995? The same mentality of Christians being under siege by a Sunni majority in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt is in the news every day lately, isn’t it? And the strongly held belief in FPM type circles that the Hariri camp is after nationalizing palestinians, etc….
    The only notable different I see is that you don’t hear many people calling for allying with Israel like Phares does (then again, even in the 1970s and 80s, such an alliance was often not openly espoused).
    My point is, your using the Phares example to show that things have changed is actually having the exact opposite effect, at least on this reader.
    All this story did is remind me that the same paranoia we heard so much in the 70s and 80s are still alive and well today.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | October 7, 2011, 12:21 pm
  4. On a completely unrelated note:

    Remember my “predictions” about the Miqati government? A few months back? I’ll have to look through the comment archives for my exact wording.

    But check this out:

    Hizbullah Puts Miqati at Loggerheads with International Community

    Of note, the following passage:

    Miqati should now choose between upholding his pledges or resigning, ministerial sources told Beirut dailies published Friday.

    They said the prime minister instructed cabinet ministers loyal to him not to discuss the issue of the funding in the media after he promised U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and Security Council member states during his visit to New York last month that the Lebanese government will pay its $32 million share.

    The new tumult came after al-Akhbar daily reported on Thursday that Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah told his visitors that the STL will not be funded. But at the same time he called for protecting the government and maintaining its unity.

    This stance is not subject to any bargaining, the newspaper said.

    The Shiite party totally rejects the funding, which would be seen as recognition of the court if it was carried out, sources close to Hizbullah said.

    Government unity is not more important than the confrontation with the court, they added despite Nasrallah’s alleged call to safeguard the cabinet.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | October 7, 2011, 12:23 pm
  5. QN, when you put it like this you realise what political progress has occurred in Lebanon and that it is now a cosmopolitan socio-religio-political space, discursively at least. I completely agree with you on that point, you only have to look through the 2009 election material! From the 80s and 90s where ideas of ethno-homogenisation dominated to the pluralistic political rhetoric of today…. and to see how the US conservative scene has become a haven for such nut jobs of that darker era. Why is it that the conservatives in Lebanon have moved to a more pluralistic cosmo vision, but those in the US are moving increasingly to 80s Lebanon? Should we celebrate the current Lebo scene? Have political activists fighting for pluralism actually made real gains, despite what seems an increasingly sectarian political system? What is going on?!! Fascinating.

    Posted by deensharp | October 7, 2011, 1:05 pm
  6. BV

    I don’t think we get anywhere by conflating things and making sweeping generalizations. Is it the case that some Christians in Lebanon are afraid of a Salafist threat? Sure. Why? Because as we saw in Nahr al-Bared, there are Salafist groups in Lebanon. Do some Christians resent the influence of Saudi Arabia on Lebanese politics? Sure. Guess what, some Sunnis do as well, including some people who support the Future Movement.

    I’m sorry, but it is categorically NOT the case that paranoia and fear of “the Muslim threat” is as widespread among Lebanese Christians today as it was in the 70s and 80s. It just isn’t. There are members of my extended family who once upon a time believed that God was a Maronite, and that the Palestinians were worse than the Israelis. Those same people today drop everything they are doing to watch Nasrallah’s speeches, and they hate the guts of Geagea, Gemayel, etc.

    Changes in attitudes happen very slowly. They take generations. Lebanon is no different, in that respect, from the US or Europe, on questions of race, class, ethnicity, etc. That’s not to say that there aren’t reversals and periodic flare-ups of reactionary behavior, but you just can’t get away with claiming that the Lebanese are and always will be the same because they are a “degenerate populace”. That’s just not compelling in any way.


    I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we should praise the Lebanese conservatives! But there are hopeful signs, in my view, at least every now and then…

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 7, 2011, 1:52 pm
  7. No def not praise Leb. conservatives!! But praising those (like yourself but also of course – and I am sure you will agree – those on the ground) working for a more pluralistic Lebanon. My point is that what you stated made me think, hang on a sec, maybe those trying to make Leb less sectarian are losing the battle but not the war.

    Posted by deensharp | October 7, 2011, 1:59 pm
  8. QN,

    Maybe. I’m not entirely convinced. I’m not ONLY speaking of the Lebanese maronites, but of this siege mentality that minorities in the middle east still suffer from (mind you, not without some good reason).
    The labels are a bit different, but the same fears are there. Just because you have relatives who no longer subscribe to that point of view doesn’t mean it’s all that different.
    There were plenty of Christians who weren’t “afraid of the muslims” back in the 70s and 80s too, lest we forget.
    But yes, we generalize. Overall, I’d say the paranoia of the maronites (in general terms) that was directed at the Palestinians in the 70s and 80s, is alive and well today (Go take a look at the Orange forums if you don’t believe me). Now, the palestinians have been replaced by the Salafi/Saudi “threat”. And instead of flocking to the LF or Kataeb, they now flock to the FPM. But it’s the same deep seated fears.
    Just go ahead and parse the daily headlines for, oh, 90% of “Christian leaders” quotes.
    You’ll find that it doesn’t matter if it’s Geagea, Gemayel or Aoun (despite being on opposite ends of the aisle) or Rai, or Boutros Harb, or any one of these various clowns. There’s always an underlying paranoia about the fate of the Christians in the ME and Lebanon. And this fear is there in the people as well. It’s pandered to by these various leaders.
    The FORM of it may differ from the 70s and 80s, but the substance is really the same. Honest!

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | October 7, 2011, 2:52 pm
  9. This sound any different than what we heard in the 70s to you?

    Among the geopolitical gems that Patriarch Bechara al-Rai has endowed us with in recent weeks is the notion that there is a grand scheme to divide the Middle East into sectarian statelets.

    Rai raised this issue on his controversial visit to Paris some weeks ago, and repeated it on the eve of his departure to the United States, when visiting with President Michel Sleiman. The pair issued a statement in which they agreed that Lebanon was facing myriad dangers, among them that plan to fragment the region by religion.

    Rarely do clergymen provoke any wistfulness in me, but reading Rai’s remarks I was transported back to the mid-1970s, and those balmy afternoons in the sitting room hearing family elders discussing politics. And it came to me that the recurrent topic of conversation back then was the same elaborate plan to divide the Middle East into sectarian and communal statelets. Who was the mastermind? Naturally, the US secretary of state at the time, Henry Kissinger, while the principal beneficiary of the project was Israel.

    See Michael Young’s lastest:

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | October 7, 2011, 6:41 pm
  10. And in other news – albeit a few days old – our government continues to impress with its degree of professionalism:

    Exhibit A:
    Lebanon’s Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn tried to justify Syrian army violations of Lebanese territories by saying :” Those complaining about the Syrian move should be reminded about the daily Israeli land, maritime and airspace violations.”

    I take it Mr. Ghosn has never heard of “two wrongs don’t make a right”.
    And clearly, Mr. Ghosn has zero concept of what it means to be a sovereign, independent nation. I don’t flipping care if it’s the Israelis, the Syrians, or the Pope himself, marching into Lebanese territory to pick flowers. A breach of sovereignty is a breach of sovereignty. Full stop.
    How are we supposed to take such bozos seriously who don’t comprehend the meaning of their jobs?

    Exhibit B:
    “The US wants to support the Syrian opposition, but we don’t ,” Ghosn told Al-Manar TV after meeting with US Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly.

    What’s that got to do with anything? You can support whoever you damn well want as long as you follow the rules. Invading Lebanese territory is a breach of sovereignty, regardless of who you support or don’t support, idiot!

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | October 7, 2011, 6:49 pm
  11. I agree with QN that the social imaginary significations and the political myths and discourses of contemporary Lebanon have changed drastically, and that the actual processes by which these have changed is “reformist” in the sense that it allows a more pluralistic approach to national identity. I also think that it is not the institutions, laws, or political parties that have effectuated such changes but rather the experiences of the population in the last three decades, multivarious as they are, and thus QN does prove that change in Lebanon is not controlled or dominated by zaims and feudal lords, but change happens along transformations in cultural, economic, political and social forces and interactions embedded in history. So, maybe a concept of an “open society” with opposing forces can be applied to Lebanon, in ways that it cannot be applied to more totalitarian-like forms of governments in the MENA that hindered any possible changes towards more open societies or more reformist tendencies.

    I still believe that anti repressive or reformist tendencies are neither “democratic” nor “revolutionary”: participatory engagement in shaping one’s meanings, values, and ways of living and relating to each other is what can be called “democratic” (something both the Lebanese and the Americans conflate with their own versions of representative governments based on various degrees of liberal values–freedom of expression, protection of minorities, rights- based political and social frameworks, etc.); only a radical social and.cultural transformation of the.dominant forms of government and of political participation in organizing an imaginary community can be described as “revolutionary”. Lebanon (and the US) are very far from democratic or revolutionary social imaginary manifestations–even though there may be pockets of such expressions in both places.

    Lebanon has indeed reformed and may still be open for further reforms, and may become more “liberal” (in the sense of J.S. Mill), but Egyptians may, if they overthrow Tantawi and radically change the governmental formula of the military-corporate protectionism of the status quo, create revolutionary possibilities. Similarly, if the multi-party coalitions currently being negotiated within Tunisia can not only reform the system and not only eliminate the repressive forces in that country but create possibilities for radical changes in re-imagining community and ways of shaping new norms and customs related to political participation, then a revolutionary potential may arise. This is not really an idealist or a hopeful position: historical contingency opens paths away from control and domination and only discourses of historical necessity and of essentialism ( whether hobbesian or rousseauist, marxian or friedmanian, etc.) can direct practices of transformation towards weberian bureaucratic rationalities dwelling security, stability, and productivity.

    Posted by parrhesia | October 7, 2011, 6:52 pm
  12. BV

    On any given day, you’ll be able to cherry pick a quote or two that reminds us of the civil war. There are media monitoring organizations in the US dedicated to pointing out racial prejudice in the national media too, but that doesn’t mean that racism today is the same as racism in 1900.

    I would suggest to you that the Saudi/Salafist threat rhetoric that you get in the FPM forum has more to do with their hostility toward Hariri per se rather than any genuine fear of Islamization. Aoun’s major ally is Hizbullah for God’s sake. If the Aounists aren’t afraid of Islamization by a party that overtly describes itself as subscribing to the political ideology of wilayat al-faqih, then why would they be afraid of Islamization by the likes of Hariri, whose only real religion is capitalism? These are silly political games, not tokens of genuine sectarian divisiveness.

    Again, there are plenty of people who are just as stuck in their sectarian mindsets as they were in 1970, and it doesn’t take that many of those people to steer events in dangerous directions (as we’ve seen with the Tea Party). But I feel that broader attitudes have undergone a sea change.


    Very interesting comment. I will dust off my Benedict Anderson and get back to you shortly.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 7, 2011, 7:02 pm
  13. Oh I’d love to see Lebanon reform. I think we all would.
    I do think a lot has changed in Lebanon. Don’t get me wrong. But I just feel like the changes are more cosmetic than foundational.
    I’m frankly a bit surprised that I seem to be the only one here to espouse that point of view.

    I don’t know if any of you parse through the Orange Room, or other forums. But the type of discourse I hear repeated ad nauseam (and this, from a part of society that claims to be anti-sectarian, etc.) is pretty freaking ridiculous. We seem to be a bit isolated here, in our little QN world, although we’ve had our share of accusations of “Salafi blahblah and Wahhabi so and so”, if you recall.

    I just don’t really see that the mentality of Mr. Walid Phares is all that far removed – at its core – from what we’re hearing today, both on the street and from the “leaders”. It’s just colored in a different color wrapping. No more.

    Am I really the only one here seeing that?

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | October 7, 2011, 7:06 pm
  14. BV

    The Orange Room is a loony bin, there’s no question. Those guys are absolutely crazy, just like many of the commenters on Naharnet, NOW Lebanon, and Al-Akhbar’s comment section.

    Generally, though, what I’ve found is that it’s usually the die-hard partisans who go to the trouble of commenting. I know for a fact that many more moderate commenters have been driven away from the Orange Room.

    If you read comments on many non-Lebanese websites, you’ll find the same thing. Crazy, scary people.

    Somehow, that hasn’t really happened here, praise be to Baal.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 7, 2011, 7:56 pm
  15. I figure that it’s not a fair “sampling” of the Lebanese populace at large.
    But isn’t it fair to say that the craziness is, at least to some degree, an illustration of the environment of fear and paranoia that’s been the staple of Lebanese politics since I can remember?
    I mean, to go back to Walid Phares. I could also say “Well he’s just one of them die-hard types”.
    But the fact of the matter is, just like he represented the very extreme end of what was in fact, a fairly mainstream line of thinking in the 70s and 80s, the crazies in the orange room seem to represent the extreme end of today’s fears and paranoias of the Christians: Sunni Salafis.
    If that were not a prevalent sentiment, then why would the likes of Aoun or El Rai (or many others) speak to the subject and seek to ride that sentiment for their own personal reasons?
    Aoun’s got his followers (and don’t forget how many voted for him in 2008) swallowing his MOU with HA on account of the Hariri/Saudi/Wahabi conspiracy. Or have you forgotten his pronouncements a couple of years ago about being the “true representative of the Middle East Christians” and all the nonesense he spewed at the time?
    And then you have El-Rai, sounding the alarm about “minorities” at the detriment of angering the US and the West and choosing to defend an indefensible Syrian regime instead. Why? Because to his ilk, the threat of Sunni wahhabism and what it might do to the Christians of Lebanonis scarier than the devil he knows (The Assad regime).
    And not to focus only on the M8 camp…Sami Gemayel and his father have been trumpeting for months now about the Chrisitans of Lebanon being “under siege” (the only difference there is that they wont come out and point a finger at Saudis, due to their alliance with Hariri).
    And then you had that legal mind himself, Boutros Harb, proposing a law to stop the sale of Christian land to muslims…

    And believe it or not, all that stuff has an audience, and gains traction. Or else we wouldn’t be hearing about it on a daily basis.

    If the Lebanese had truly “evolved” past the Walid Phares mentality, none of the above would gain any traction. Aoun would be laughed at for fearmongering about naturalization and wahhabism in Tripoli.
    El Rai would be run out of town for bringing up antiquated conspiracy theories from the 70s.

    But no. That stuff is still able to hit a nerve among many Lebanese…The Walid Phares way of thinking is still strong in the hearts of the Lebanese, even if they’re less willing to shout it on the rooftops.

    Is all this all that different from the Walid Phares era? Different packaging, different labels, same thing inside.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | October 7, 2011, 8:17 pm
  16. i agree with QN about the crazy samples we see on comment sections in various news outlets however these do not represent the mainstream state of mind. reading the yahoo comment section about any Middle East story, one would think that concentration camps will soon be in place for all Muslims in the US.

    Posted by Vulcan | October 7, 2011, 8:46 pm
  17. Yes Lebanon is different than what it used to be, I am not sure that the change has been for the better though:-)

    The regional religious population is purer than ever.
    The cabinet has spent years being paralyzed.
    Parliament has reopened its doors relatively recently
    Political polarization is at an extreme
    Income distribution is becoming more inequitable
    Official rate of poverty has increased
    The major two political gatherings pay homage to foreign countries
    Religious leaders carry as much political weight as ever
    Corruption is the system
    Last Presidential election was unconstitutional
    Severe shortage of electric power in a self described “tourist mecca”
    the whole state could be declared an “Environmental and ecological disaster zone”
    State duality is more and more an accepted fact.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | October 7, 2011, 8:56 pm
  18. damn….nothing like Ghassan’s fact sheet to dampen any hopes of change.

    But figures aside, for those of us who are living, or have lived in Lebanon for a substantial amount of time would rightly agree with QN’s opinion.
    With todays rapidly globalizing world, individuals have a greater spatial reach, and this movement on all levels dispels or shatters previously conceived narrow perceptions of ‘the other’ and dispels the fears and insecurities borne from the experiences of war. Therefore it’s only natural that individuals, as a result, change their mentalities.
    For all its shortcomings, the mass protest in Martyrs square in 2005, call it what you will, provided a common space for the Lebaense of all colours, and you cant help but feel, that underneath those political slogans and chants, was an umnistakable and powerful collective social spirit that cried out ‘All for one’, as if the Lebanese wanted to make ammends for their past and bury the hatchet for good.
    Every generation rebels against the previous one, and what I feel, on the ground, that secularization is picking up pace, so too, civil marriage and other socially progressive notions.

    Posted by Maverick | October 8, 2011, 12:15 am
  19. Praise be to Baal.

    Posted by honestpatriot | October 8, 2011, 2:05 am
  20. Parrhesia, what is the elevator pitch version of what you wrote? Declarative, affirmative statements only, please. No “revolutionary potential may arise” cop out.

    Posted by honestpatriot | October 8, 2011, 2:18 am
  21. Phoenicianists are an easy target… but how different are they from Arabists?
    Arabists of all stripes have been coming up with wonderful theories “proving” that Middle Eastern Christians are (whether they like it or not) and have always been Arabs. The greatest thing about these arguments is that you can trace them back through centuries.
    The demonstrations vary in their tone and style (political, polemic, academic, pseudo-academic, poetic, literary), but the arguments are pretty much the same:
    – Some go scavenging in the past and when they stumble on any artefact with Arabic inscriptions produced by Middle Eastern Christians jump to the conclusion that all these different Christian populations were and have always been Arab speaking…
    – Others rather rework definitions and instead of insisting on language (which can be problematic… there were other semitic and non-semitic languages spoken in the area after all) stick to geography and a particular theory of population movements… (everything came from Arabia… except Lucy).
    – Some prefer genealogies, especially those used by the ruling elites throughout time to legitimise their share of power… Lineage is a selfless and disinterested interest, is it not?
    – And finally there are those who prefer linguistics (of the supremacist type, Arabic is after all God’s chosen language to speak to humanity), will tell you that all Semites are actually Arabs, and semitic languages are simply corrupt forms (dialects) of Arabic, the true stem of semitic languages.

    As one can see, there’s really no way of escaping this particular identity ascription (except if you are Jewish or black), so let’s hear Morrissey’s advice, stop ignoring it, stop wasting time, and simply give in and enjoy it (as long as you can).

    The easiest argument to unite a divided society is to defend its common lineage. But wait, wasn’t that the reason why the phoenicianists came up with their national theory?

    Posted by worriedlebanese | October 8, 2011, 2:56 am
  22. What’s with all these complicated, unclear, sophomoric narratives? Clarity please. Sheesh.
    Nom de Baal!

    Posted by honestpatriot | October 8, 2011, 5:42 am
  23. “have unshakable belief characterized by consistently inflated feelings of personal ability, privilege, or infallibility. They refuse to admit the possibility of error or failure, even in the face of complex or intractable problems or difficult or impossible tasks, or may regard personal opinions as unquestionably correct. They disregard the rules of society and require special consideration or privileges.”

    Unfortunately, This is not a diagnosable disorder, and does not appear in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)

    (copy and paste from Wikipedia “God Complex”).

    Isn’t this a fair description of Lebanese in general and Lebanese leaders in particular?

    “…then there’s no reason not to be similarly optimistic with a case like Lebanon.” is a bit optimistic!

    Posted by IHTDA | October 8, 2011, 2:46 pm
  24. Why a rate of growth of 2.5% ; projected by the BDL; is not satisfactory?

    GDP growth in 2011: Around $ 1 Billion (2.5% 0f $41.5 billion)

    Population: 4.2 million

    Wealth distribution: 80 % of wealth belongs to 20 % of population

    Therefore: 840,000 get to share $800,000,000 i.e $952 for each of the top 20%

    3,360,000 get to share $200,000,00 i.e. less than $60 for each of the lower 80%. or an additional 16 cents per day!!!!

    As the above illustrates very clearly the bottom 80% of the Lebanese do not participate in the aggregate growth of the country and they are becoming increasingly marginalized. Lebanon is in dire need of a targeted growth policy, one that spreads the wealth and benefits among a larger segment of the population.

    The growth that has characterized the last 10 years or so in Lebanon has led to a greater concentration of wealth, more poverty, greater inequality and would eventually lead to class warfare if not addressed.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | October 8, 2011, 3:16 pm
  25. The whole region may be on the brink of chaos and Lebanese think Lebano-Lebanese, Syrians think their problem is Syro-Syrian, and the Palestinians are a voice in the desert. Phares’ nomination is just another proof that extreme-rightists of every horizon are getting totally excited at the prospect of a possible full war (against Iran, of course, but the Syrian front may just as well slip wherever it is needed).
    Haaretz’s Gideon Levy is calling for an urgent wake-up:

    Promises and words are tools, but in Netanyahu’s case, the masquerade is over, even for those who are addicted to false hopes; the man is dangerous.
    By Sefi Rachlevsky

    The government’s totally irresponsible decision to reject the convenient compromise with Turkey that was proposed by the United States did bring one benefit. A dilemma has been resolved. To the question of whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is an extremist leader to an unfathomable degree, or whether he is simply an opportunist, a waffler – a liar, we now have an answer: Netanyahu is no liar
    Of Caesar, one of the protagonists of Yaakov Shabtai’s novel, Past Continuous (“Zikhron Devarim”), it was written that lies would simply trip off his tongue. But Caesar was not a pathological liar; his lies were simply dictated by his stubborn insistance on being with three women at the same time. Deception wasn’t part of his character, it was a tool to maintain an extreme situation.
    That’s the way it is for an extremist leader, too. Nobody views the extremists who brought disaster on the first half of the 20th century as opportunistic con-men. Fraud and false impressions were the tools they needed. The extremist leader must use fraud to resolve the dissonance between his extremism and his leadership position, which requires a centrist image.
    This is the adulterer’s method: “I have a weakness for women,” “She opened a button,” “I love you”; while to the others, he’ll say, “I’m going to leave her,” “When the boy is born. Grows up. Gets drafted.”
    Promises, deceit and words are tools. But in Netanyahu’s case, the masquerade is over, even for those who are addicted to false hopes.
    Among the octet leading us to disaster there was only one who opposed the American compromise. The defense, diplomatic and legal establishments supported it. The warning that if Turkey fell, our embassies in Egypt and Jordan would not survive, echoed loudly in the background. Ehud Barak, Dan Meridor and even Eli Yishai and Benny Begin supported the compromise. Avigdor Lieberman made it clear he could swallow the wording. Only Netanyahu remained ensconced in his extremism.
    Like the other octet’s farces – a deal for Gilad Shalit is imminent, the extension of the settlement freeze is imminent, along with 20 stealth aircraft – the compromises aren’t evasive. It’s not Lieberman, it’s not “that woman,” whom he has fashioned into a false demon, it’s not fear of the son who opened a Kahanist Facebook page, and it’s not the father who has the same opinions; it’s Netanyahu’s own holy spirit. Before the last elections, a warning appeared on these pages. It pretended to make known a shocking truth about one of the party leaders. But a real cautionary note must be issued regarding Netanyahu: The man is dangerous.
    Yossi Ben-Aharon, the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office under Yitzhak Shamir, said that to his right there was only a wall. But Netanyahu is beyond that wall. He’s in the place where the « with blood and fire we’ll boot out Rabin » demonstrations were organized. People like Yehuda Bauer, and Yoram Kaniuk and myself who attended a meeting last week with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas experienced the disaster. Before us, they said, was a competent leader who had brought security and prosperity to the West Bank, someone who, in Israeli political terms, is positioned between Meretz and Hadash. In his moderation, he could be a member of Brit Shalom, an early twentieth-century group that preached Jewish-Arab coexistence in Palestine, a partner to the Jewish world that was destroyed in Europe. The epidemic of destructive propaganda turning Abbas into an “extremist” is of our own making.
    Just over a week ago, half a million people protested – 10 percent of the population of protesting age. That’s equivalent to 5 million Britons or 25 million Americans, a number that in any democracy would lead to elections and a total change. But here, under the most extreme Israeli leadership, the boots come to sweep away the tents as if they were dust, the finance minister gives them the finger, and Netanyahu rolls with laughter when Rabbi Ovadia Yosef tells him that the million « have no chance against you. »
    So in order for there to be a chance, every citizen must rise up – not with ugly text messages that tried to prevent the appointment of a chief of staff who would go along with the extremism, but openly. It’s not for nothing that a right-winger like former Mossad chief Meir Dagan warned of a looming disaster. This is the responsibility of Barak, Meridor and Barack Obama. It’s also the responsibility of Labor voters to choose a leader who will draw voters from the right and from among those who don’t vote, and who will shout down the person who is leading a generations-old dream to an apocalypse.

    Posted by HW | October 8, 2011, 4:04 pm
  26. I don’t know what to think, these days.

    Posted by dontgetit | October 8, 2011, 11:16 pm
  27. dontgetit, I don’t get it, I thought you never got it before either, so what’s new?

    Posted by Honest Patriot | October 9, 2011, 9:39 am
  28. it’s strange indeed, why are you lost dontgetit? don’t you see that the valliant Resistance is better than ever?

    Or maybe you are tired of irony and you want to return back to you israeli brobagandandist role?

    “chassez le naturel il revient au galop”
    “chassez le naturiste il revient au bungalow”

    Posted by 3issa | October 9, 2011, 10:02 am
  29. What makes the judgement of “cautious optimism” ;a vacuous phrase that applies to everything at anytime; be more intellectually rigorous than describing the societal makeup as “feudalistic” ? I guess that beauty is in the eye of the beholder:-)

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | October 9, 2011, 3:50 pm
  30. Cautious optimism doesn’t apply to everything at any time. If you were to ask me whether I was cautiously optimistic about George W. Bush becoming a world famous queer theorist, I’d say: “No, Ghassan. I am not cautiously optimistic about that.”

    Using the word “feudalism” to describe modern Lebanon is not vacuous or intellectual unrigorous; it’s just wrong.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 9, 2011, 4:14 pm
  31. Why is it wrong to describe the blind allegiance to traditional political leaders whose power passes from father to son as political feudalism. You are entitled to think that such a description is not accurate but I am not sure that it is intellectual laziness.Actually it is exactly the opposite, it calls the unhealthy ;almost sacred and seldom questioned ; set of relationships between common people and their leaders by its proper name,

    As for “cautious optimism” I guess that I should have qualified my statement by saying it is often used to describe any judgement when the speaker is not in a position to make a clear judgement as in “would Merkel and Sarkozi be able to save the EZ?” I am cautiously optimistic is the regular refrain which means I really do not know?

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | October 9, 2011, 5:44 pm
  32. QN,

    I don’t know what you’ve been smoking/drinking lately 🙂
    But Lebanon today IS by all accounts and definitions of the word a “Feudal” society.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | October 9, 2011, 6:29 pm
  33. Two important yardticks that are often used as an indication of the level of modernity , knowledge and competitiveness of nation states are:
    Number of patents that their nationals claim and
    The Academic standing of their Universities.

    Sadly the whole Arab world gets an extremely low standing in both cases. The US patent office awarded 4,767685 patents between 1963 and 2010. All the Arab countries combined accounted for less than 1000 of these patents,986 to be exact. This translates into .02% of total patents. Israel on the otherhand was awarded 20, 028 patents which accounts for over 0.4 % of the number of patents. This means that Israeli citizens earned more than 20 times as many patents as the Arab world combined.

    If the above is not enough, it does get to be worse. The most recent rankings of the top World Universities shows that not a single Arab university was ranked among the top 400 while 4 Israeli universities made the grade. It is also interesting to note that 4 Turkish universities and one Iranian were recognized to be among that elite group. Isn’t it time for the Arab countries to start applying their wealth into productive programs?

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | October 9, 2011, 8:02 pm
  34. How is it that I get accused of posting zionist propaganda when this blog permits such racist lies like the ones above?

    Posted by dontgetit | October 9, 2011, 9:51 pm
  35. Read the reaction of Benedict Franks on on Abukhalil’s piece

    By Benedict Franks

    Sunday, October 9, 2011 at 12:02 am

    “Abukhalil, a Hezbollah Propagandist, is stupidly helping Romney”

    Asa’d Abukhalil, the well known Hezbollah propagandist in America and the America basher in the Arab media, the operative who goes on Hezbollah’s al Manar TV and meet with Terror leader Nasrallah, despite US laws, thinks he is smart when he tries to trash Walid Phares, the well recognized scholar on Jihadism and the author of the prescient “The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East.” In his tract published by Abukhalil tries to tarnish Phares’ image by attacking his Lebanese Christian roots. But the Hezbollah propagandist, who thinks he is damaging Mitt Romney’s political credibility by attacking his newly appointed advisor on Middle East affairs, is actually rendering the frontrunner an incredible service.

    The San Francisco based militant has attacked Phares on every ground that is going to help Mitt Romney harvest support from sectors traditionally under his competitors wing. By attacking Phares as someone advocating the defense of Christian minorities in the Middle East, he is drawing the support of millions of Americans voters from Lebanese Christian, Maronite, Egyptian Copts, Assyrian and Chaldean, as well as Christian Sudanese descent to the Romney campaign from other more conservative quarters. Worse, when American Mideast Christians shift, they impact mainstream American Christians who are concerned about “persecutions of Christians in the region.” More needed Christian Americans could be affected to shift. In addition, as Phares has written extensively on the Green revolution in Iran, the Kurds, and liberal Muslims all rising against the Islamists and the Jihadists, the reckless Abukhalil and his “compadres” in the Islamist and far Marxist blogosphere are causing a shift towards Romney by people who are basically in the center. Last, but not least, when Abukhalil, known to be among the most anti Israel and anti semitic bloggers, calls Phares pro-Israeli, what does he imagine would the result be? Well more people from the Jewish community are going to shift in reaction to a pro Hezbollah propagandist ranting. What Abukhalil at, the other Hezbollah operative “Abu Muqawama” at CNAS, Ben Smith at Politico, Lobe at IPS News, Max Blumenthal, the anti War folks and others are doing, is simply to gIve Romney an edge he didn’t have before, in the midst of a Presidential primaries.

    For if the Obama camp wants Romney failing to reach Republican nomination, knowing that he is relatively the most capable in defeating Obama, the last thing you’d do is to offer Romney segments of voters from the Christian and Jewish communities, as well as people from the center by waging this idiotic campaign against a highly regarded scholar in those circles. The “apologist lobby,” as for CAIR during the Pete King hearings, has fired too early on a radio active target. For Professor Walid Phares has too much material out with books and articles for over 30 years. You can’t scratch him with little Abukhalil(s). You’d need heavy weight academics to challenge him on substance not light weight bloggers who circulate unfounded rumors and often wrong facts.

    The Obama camp better reign in on its online “militia” before the latter loses the battle of “defeating Romney at any price.” One can see clearly that Phares has read Sun Tzu as he teaches Global Strategies. He hasn’t responded to any of the attacks that started with CAIR, then the apologist reports endorsed by Wahabi funded John Esposito, To Press TV and now the Hezbollah propaganda network. There is a reason why. Simply to have all the crowd “unload” their “material” and show exactly what is their “map.” By having the “militia online” firing at will, you’d determine its entire apparatus -which is almost done- and you’d use their chaotic firing to mobilize the undecided people, which is also happening now. Silence sometimes is the mother of communications weapons, till the time comes. Abukhalil is causing his allies lots of trouble.

    Posted by John Hajjar | October 9, 2011, 10:27 pm
  36. Get lost, dontgetit. You’re not funny any more.

    Posted by Honest Patriot | October 10, 2011, 2:39 am
  37. There’s a huge fraction that you have missed about Dr.Phares’ political inclinations. The main one is the fact that he actually stood with Michel Aoun (Hezbollah’s ally) during a certain point in the late 80s until 2005, not to mention the alleged accusations of being an Israeli agent.

    Posted by A leap of faith | October 10, 2011, 4:28 am
  38. On a lighter note, I fail to see the falsehood in Dr.Phares’ definition of the Maronites. A reading to the history of the Maronites by Father Boutros Daou may give a clarification about this absurd accusation, I can post excerpts in case of doubt.

    “descendants of Christian peoples who lived in the region before the Muslim Arab conquest in the seventh century.”

    Posted by A leap of faith | October 10, 2011, 4:40 am
  39. QN,

    It seems you would like a switch from “feudal” to “mafia family”. Take your pill. It adds up to the same. I concur with Ghassan that things not only have not gotten better but under the surface have gotten worse. Today, Lebanese are more sectarian and Lebanon is more unstable then before. Now if you think that the sledgehammer that HA holds over the collective Lebanese is OK? Then you are right. There is a change lol….
    This is tantamount to a forced marriage between HA & the rest whereas it(HA) can rape the bride (all Lebanese) joyfully under the guise of marriage.

    Posted by danny | October 10, 2011, 9:25 am
  40. Ghassan said:

    “[Feudalism] calls the unhealthy, almost sacred and seldom questioned set of relationships between common people and their leaders by its proper name”

    But it doesn’t. There are plenty of ways to describe the situation that prevails in Lebanon, and feudalism is not one of them. This is an unhelpful category that misstates the actual political dynamic.

    Even if you could characterize, in a very loose way, the relationship among some people and their political patrons as “semi-feudal” (which I still think is sloppy and not very useful), surely the same could not be said of all Lebanese. Do you really believe that everyone could be accused of “blind allegiance to traditional political leaders”? If that were the case, we would have seen a 100% voter turnout in the last election, when the average was probably under 50%.

    Politics in Lebanon is a complicated thing. It is variously authoritarian, democratic, sectarian, oligarchical, clientelistic, anarchical, clerical, and more. What do we gain by homogenizing these complexities under the anachronistic and high-minded term “feudalism”?

    (If I don’t respond right away, it’s because I’m now shutting down my internet connection and entering dissertation mode).

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 10, 2011, 10:05 am
  41. QN,
    I am at the office right now and so will not be able to dig up some quotes from various authors about the Lebanese political system.
    Let me just say that when I or others speak of political feudalism, Iwe are absolutely certain that that description is not water tight and that it does not describe everyone. That is never the case as you well know. Not all US citizens are capitalists, not all Germans are hard working, not all Greeks are free riders… Yet we can say that the US is a capitalist society, Germans are hard workers and Greeks love a free ride.
    Yiour examples are not convincing at all. It is as if you are using the Clinton defence of what is IS? When one says that the Lebanese are essentially sectarian one does not mean that there are no secularists. More on that later. Knock off a chapter, will you? 🙂

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | October 10, 2011, 10:40 am
  42. QN,
    Upon further reflection I decided that this issue of whether a major segment of the Lebanese political dynamic can be described as feudalistic or not is a difference in how two people view the world and that is OK. Each person sees the world from where one is standing.In my case I think that the bane in Lebanon is the identification with religion and the traditional leadership based on these religious affiliations, you dont. This is neither the first time nor would it be the last that I will hold a different interpretation than another individual:-)
    What started this discussion was your assertion that to use such language as feudalism in describing the political make up is a reflection of intellectual laziness and uou preceeded to describe the possible future of lebanon as “cautiosly optimistic” . In the financial community that is the phrase that people use whenevr they have absolutely nothing to say and so I do not think that it is an expression of intellectual rigour 🙂 What if one was to say that the major force in history is that of class struggle would you then say that is intellectual laziness?
    Anyway, have a productive time on your dissertation. It is more important than this peripheral issue.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | October 10, 2011, 11:02 am
  43. Ghassan

    It’s not a Clinton-esque defense, and I didn’t take issue with the statement: “Lebanon is sectarian”. I took issue with the term “feudalism”, which I think is totally inaccurate.

    The situation you are describing (“identification with religion and the traditional leadership based on these religious affiliations”) is not “feudalism”. It is something else. And the purpose of these discussions is precisely to get past convenient but ultimately over-generalizing statements (like “Greeks are free riders”) in order to understand how the system actually works.

    My problem with terms like “feudalism” is that they are a conversational dead end. They give Lebanon an other-worldly aspect, as if it were in some kind of historical time-warp, with a society somehow preserved hermetically from the 14th century. In my view, Lebanon’s problems are species of larger problems that afflict the entire region, but they are refracted through the lens of sectarianism.

    Anyway, will weigh in again tonight.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 10, 2011, 12:07 pm
  44. My problem with terms like “feudalism” is that they are a conversational dead end. They give Lebanon an other-worldly aspect, as if it were in some kind of historical time-warp, with a society somehow preserved hermetically from the 14th century.

    That’s exactly right though! Not talking about the technological or material changes since the 14th century, but mentally speaking, IMHO, Lebanon IS indeed “preserved hermetically from the 14th century”!!!
    The mentality at large (and I’ll caveat this here with Ghassan’s comment #43, we obviously don’t mean every single individual) is a backwards mentality that pretends to understand modernity, and talks the talk, but shows by its actions how backwards it is.

    You want some examples that sound very 14th century?
    Let’s skip past the corruption and patronage, since those could very well be 20th century habits.
    But what about slavery? The treatment of foreign workers/maids etc?
    What about the archaic laws that govern inheritance/marriage/etc?
    What about the archaic laws governing women’s rights and their status in society?
    How about the blatant racism (the old fashion way: “Europeans” are alright, “Blacks” are not.

    Has ANY of that evolved in the past 30 or 40 years beyond the mere cosmetic?

    And I’m barely scratching the surface.

    And you know as well as I do that this stuff is ingrained in the average Lebanese. So much so that it is not generally questioned. It’s taken for granted.
    I see the most “liberal” and “modern” sounding families, sounding off about all sorts of progressive and modern soundbytes, while still employing a Sri-Lanki maid and just taking for granted that her it’s “normal” to limit her whereabouts outside the house, or whathaveyou.

    14th century indeed…

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | October 10, 2011, 12:57 pm
  45. I got carried away and hit “Submit” too fast. So here goes another thought 🙂

    Very few of the standards, the pillars of thought, concepts, etc. that distinguish the era of “modernity” and “enlightenment” are non-existent in Lebanon. Now granted, these are western standards. And one could argue the old argument often brought forth by Islamists and their ilk “Why should we follow the West’s standards?”
    But that aside…Everything that’s usually accepted as “modern thinking”, going back to the French and American revolutions. Concepts of equality between all men (and women). Concepts of human rights. Concepts of inalienable rights. Concepts of non-discrimination. Concepts like secularism/”laicite”.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | October 10, 2011, 1:03 pm
  46. When the appointment of a Government Minister all the way down to a municipality cop depends largely on the approval of the Sect/Party Lord and his immediate lieutenants, when whole families and large segments of society in Lebanon looks to the Za3eem for a job or a business trade or a favor here and there to be able to live and work. is this not Feudalism ? Just like the old days when land lords would allow the villagers to farm the land controling their livelihood in return for political allegiance.

    Feudalism ow nos ! Only worst since it’s coupled with sectarianism, racism and all the wonderful traits so prevalent in Lebnain el Akhdar.

    Beik, Afandi, Rayees, m3alem, Seeyed Vulcan,

    Posted by Vulcan | October 10, 2011, 2:40 pm
  47. I did say in my previous post that I do not intend to revisit this topic, at least not on this thread:-) Allow me though to sort of break my promise by only asking a question: What are the qualifications , besides lineage of the following: Ahmad Karami and Faisal Karami, Suleiman Franjeiheh, Nadim Gemayel, Sami Gemayel, Tamam Salam, Teymor Jumblat/Walid Jumblatt/ Khaled Daouk, Talal Arslan, Skaf… These are individuals that are assured of inheriting wealth , political parties, political offices and the unquestioned blind allegiance of thousands. And let us not forget that the scion is Jumblatt that has told us that Timor will take inherit a Progressive Socialt Party leadership, a seat in the Parliament, a seat at all important political discussions, leadership of a religious sect and the ability to dominate the electoral proces in his region. All of this only for being born to Walid Jumblatt. One can argue that this is even more egregious than what the Mubaraks , the assads and the Qaddafis did.
    But let me immediately add, what I and others have said many times before, that these individuals are not to blame, it is us , the citizens; if that monker applies; that have acted as if we were born to serve these families and so we never assert our selves or question our allegiance to them; we are the problem. I have seen the problem and it is us as Pogo said 40 years ago.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | October 10, 2011, 5:27 pm
  48. Thanks Ghassan for reminding us of that too….

    Yeah. 14th century feudalism is alive and well in Lebanon. Let’s stop pretending it’s not.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | October 10, 2011, 6:32 pm
  49. This is exactly why I love the term “feudalism”: it’s so wonderfully capacious, and therefore meaningless.

    One of you argues that it betokens some kind of intellectual backwardness, whereby concepts like modernity and progress and human rights are absent from the Lebanese “mind”. Another one says that it amounts to a blind allegiance to religious leaders. Another says that it’s basically another word for wasta.

    BV, by your definition, the entire region (and most countries in the world) could be characterized as “feudal”. Do you think that domestic workers are treated that much better in other Middle Eastern countries? Lebanon is bad, but have you read anything about labor conditions in Dubai or Riyadh? What about women’s rights? Racism? These are not the product of a uniquely Lebanese 14th century “feudal” mindset.

    Ghassan, you are free to describe the zu`amocracy in any way you like, and political feudalism has a catchy ring to it. But I still think that the term homogenizes Lebanon’s complexities and distorts the nature of the relationship between citizen and za’im. As you point out yourself, we are certainly not bound to support these individuals; in that respect, there is a huge difference between what Lebanon is today and what a feudal society is.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 11, 2011, 6:38 am
  50. Sectarian violence in Egypt.

    Quick, someone call this feudalism.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 11, 2011, 6:47 am
  51. I suggest using the term “Mafiosi ” instead of feudal as QN is equating feudalism with the 14th century and I tend to agree that the behavior of the clans or families are more similar to Mafiosi…
    Don Nassrleone & his lieutenants of Qassem & Raad
    Don Suleiman Franjieh
    Don Murr
    Don Walid Jumblat
    Don Hariri
    Don Berri
    Don Geagea
    Don clAoun and his mermaid Gigi
    Off course they vary in size & armaments whereas Don Nassrleone holds the truce with brute power and intimidation.

    Posted by danny | October 11, 2011, 7:43 am
  52. Perhaps agreement on the definition of feudalism may settle the dispute. Wikepedia has not figured it out.

    As I understand it, feudalism bestowed legal and social rights to the feudal lord. This is not true in Lebanon. For instance, A Lebanese za’im cannot take someone else’s property by decree. They may do so by cheating the system, but this is done through the State’s legal mechanisms and therefore legal.

    If/When a citizen’s personal property is infringed on by the za’im support for said za’im quickly fades and turns to outwardly critical banter in that obnoxiously loud manner that the Lebanese citizen has mastered.

    BV and Ghassan, you point out accurate and legitimate grievances but they do not define a feudal system. Point QN.

    Posted by Johnny Seikaly | October 11, 2011, 2:08 pm
  53. I think Danny might be on to something.

    Posted by Johnny Seikaly | October 11, 2011, 2:11 pm
  54. Interesting documentary about Syria on ARTE

    Posted by Marillionlb | October 11, 2011, 3:34 pm
  55. Reading the sanctimonious tone with which you represent the phoenicianist narrative (one that, NEWSFLASH, benefits from a sizable cohort of supporters both inside and outside of Lebanon, despite your silly assertions to the contrary), you’d think that an Arabist narrative somehow has more legitimacy and a larger following. But again, negationism and rejection of the “other’s” “otherness” is hardly surprising coming from someone styling themselves after the fashion of the Mu’allaqaat; purveyor of dead ideas in a dead language, bayna ddakhuuli fa7awmali…

    Posted by LNH | October 11, 2011, 3:38 pm
  56. @52

    I have been wondering about who benefits from the recent incidents in Egypt.

    Only the Assads came to my mind.

    Posted by R2D2 | October 11, 2011, 3:43 pm
  57. Johnny ,
    I was determined not to revisit this issue but then your comment was rather “disturbing’ to say the least. Did you really expect society in 2011 to have the exact structure as it did a500 years ago? Is the Church structure different that what it used to be 1500 years ago and is the church still Christian? Is Capitalism today the same as it was 200 years ago and is it still capitalism? When one describes a certain structure as similar to what it used to be 1500 years ago one is not describing the precise details that are often superficial but one is speaking of the spirit of a set up and what makes it tick.
    Yes the institutions of capitalism have changed but not its dynamic and yes many institutional structures in Christianity have changed but not its basic beliefs and ideas and of course there are no lords and vassals but there are a set of relationships that bind traditional leaders and commoners that are feudalistic in nature. I hope that we are not suggesting that the only way that two countries can be democratic is to have an exact copy of the same institutional structure when what is most important is not a hollow structure but the efficacy with which a society guards the intrinsic rights of its citizens and protects them from abuse.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | October 11, 2011, 3:52 pm
  58. a bit off topic, but if you look at the eyes of the guys in the video, some people are really, I mean really convinced that the whole country is supporting Bashar. It maybe some regime staunch supporter or maybe a big bunch of the population. Just impossible to know.

    Posted by 3issa | October 11, 2011, 4:39 pm
  59. Ghassan,

    Yes there are many parallels – and you state them eloquently, but IMHO feudalism’s defining characteristic is the absolute ownership of the feudal lord over his subjects. A Lebanese – no matter his status – will not stand for infringement of personal property. Again, IMO this is what defines feudalism. This is obviously not the defining characteristic for you so we can agree to disagree and move on (although it has been a very interesting debate – so much so that I felt the need to weigh in :).

    Posted by Johnny Seikaly | October 11, 2011, 9:45 pm
  60. The above is an interesting 15 minutes by Zizek. Take a listen especially if you have an interest in hashtag and Tahrir Square West.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | October 12, 2011, 12:08 am
  61. LNH

    Where did I deny that the Phoenicianist narrative has purchase in Lebanon? I only said that most Christians in Lebanon today do not have a fond love for Israel or regard Muslims as invaders (as Walid Phares suggests). Please read the post carefully, before accusing people of making “silly assertions”.

    As for the legitimacy of Arabist vs. Phoenician narratives, I refer you to a post on this subject here, with the following relevant excerpt:

    …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.

    On my views on matters linguistic, you may find this enlightening.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 12, 2011, 8:22 am
  62. Ok QN, so maybe you’re not a crypto-Arabist negationist, and maybe I owe you an apology for suggesting you were, but still you strike me as a bit disingenuous folding your affected acceptance of the Phoenicianist narrative in a post on “Klingons” (this is to say nothing of a number of silly lowblows with which you’ve peppered a patently partisan post feigning “academic” impartiality.  To wit, your silly (yes, I said silly again) caption “Definitely not Arabs.  Especially that hairy guy on the left.”  So Arabs are hairy now?  Next you’re going to tell me what, that Arabs are a race too?  Can’t have your cake and eat it too, bud!)  Also, if Salibi, (the doyen of Lebanese history who actually intellectualized the Phoenicianist narrative pre-1976), is the best proof you can brandish about your silly claim that “Maronites actually are Arabs,” then your problems are bigger than you think.   You seem to have as big a chip on your shoulder, and as big an axe to grind as post-1976 Salibi.  So, mabrouk, and good luck with that.

    For the rest, I disagree with the premise of your Emirati article that “in vernacular form, on television and the internet [Arabic] has never looked healthier.”  I think you’re misreading your own Ibn Manzur example and sapping the essence of your own argument.  Although partly accurate that, at least SOMETHING, “has never looked healthier etc…”, that “something” is certainly not Arabic.  Calling vernacular languages “Arabic” is as accurate (and as ideologically innocent) as calling French and English “dialects of Latin.”  Language purist and advocates of MSA, your Ibn Manzur exemplar included, would hardly agree with you and consider the vernacular languages of the Middle East—upon which you conveniently tack “Arab”—to be Arabic at all.  Indeed, from their perspective, “healthy” vernacular languages are not necessarily signs of a lively and flourishing “Arabic”; quite the contrary: “healthy” vernacular languages “on television and the internet” (and written in Roman alphabets to boot), point to the fragmentation and waning of Arabic; the exact opposite of what you’re unsuccessfully trying to prove.  Another “ibn”, Ibn-Khaldun this time, was unforgiving in his contempt for vernacular languages (which he never, NEVER, called Arabic); he spoke of “linguistic corruption,” “crude provincialisms,” and “linguistic degeneration” when writing of the anomalies of dialects and the dangers they presented to “Arabic.”  The assertions of modern linguists that “only what they write do Arabs refer to as ‘true Arabic’,” remains as much a truism today as it had been in the days of Ibn Khaldun and Ibn Qaynuqa and Ibn Qurayza and Ibn Farkashto (and whatever other “Ibn” you want to bring to the mix.)  And so, contrary to your romantic appraisal, Arabic does not seem to be fairing all that well.  In fact, and based on your own statistics and the testimonies of experts you’ve adduced in your Emirati rag, vernacular languages seem to be eclipsing Arabic on the street, in the media, and in classrooms across the Middle East.  Most importantly, Arabic, which Edward Said (one of its most passionate modern defenders) described as “an equivalent of Latin, i.e., a dead and forbidding language,” no longer has pride of place in people’s intimate, private lives outside of its role as a cultic ceremonial tool. .  The problem that remains is trying to convince purists and hopeless romantics like yourself of the falsity of their fairytales.  

    Posted by LNH | October 12, 2011, 3:28 pm
  63. QN,

    After subscribing to the comments on this post, I think by naming this blog Qifa Nabki you either predicted the moaning or down right encouraged it! Yes its bad, but come on people its not THAT bad!! You would think Lebanon is Dante’s inferno if you saw the country through these comments. Apart from you of course QN, you soppy avatar!

    Posted by deensharp | October 12, 2011, 3:39 pm
  64. Hi LNH

    Thank you for your comment. I’ll respond to each of your points below:

    “Ok QN, so maybe you’re not a crypto-Arabist negationist, and maybe I owe you an apology for suggesting you were, but still you strike me as a bit disingenuous folding your affected acceptance of the Phoenicianist narrative in a post on “Klingons” (this is to say nothing of a number of silly lowblows with which you’ve peppered a patently partisan post feigning “academic” impartiality. To wit, your silly (yes, I said silly again) caption “Definitely not Arabs. Especially that hairy guy on the left.”

    If you stick around, you’ll find that we are not opposed to the odd dose of frivolity around here. But I recognize that it can get me into trouble every now and then. You are right: not all Arabs are hairy, and I suppose that it’s perfectly possible that Phoenicians were hairy too. You win. And yet… you somehow missed the point again.

    “Also, if Salibi, (the doyen of Lebanese history who actually intellectualized the Phoenicianist narrative pre-1976), is the best proof you can brandish about your silly claim that “Maronites actually are Arabs,” then your problems are bigger than you think. You seem to have as big a chip on your shoulder, and as big an axe to grind as post-1976 Salibi. So, mabrouk, and good luck with that.”

    Salibi was not the best proof, just the most convenient one. Did you miss the part where I mentioned that most pre-modern non-liturgical manuscripts written by Maronites happened to be written in Arabic? If you have some proof that Maronites didn’t speak Arabic before 1900, why don’t you furnish it instead of criticizing me and Kamal Salibi?

    What’s interesting is that I actually have no ideological axe to grind. The larger point of the post was to say that making a big deal out of ethno-linguistic ancestry is a very odd exercise. Who cares if the Maronites are 0.3% (or 3% or 30% or 100%) “Phoenician” or “Arab”? Why does it matter? Clearly, it matters to someone like Eli Khoury, and evidently also to you. Why don’t you explain why?

    “For the rest, I disagree with the premise of your Emirati article that “in vernacular form, on television and the internet [Arabic] has never looked healthier.” I think you’re misreading your own Ibn Manzur example and sapping the essence of your own argument. Although partly accurate that, at least SOMETHING, “has never looked healthier etc…”, that “something” is certainly not Arabic. Calling vernacular languages “Arabic” is as accurate (and as ideologically innocent) as calling French and English “dialects of Latin.” Language purist and advocates of MSA, your Ibn Manzur exemplar included, would hardly agree with you and consider the vernacular languages of the Middle East—upon which you conveniently tack “Arab”—to be Arabic at all.

    First of all, English is not a Romance language, so no one would call it a dialect of Latin. Nor would someone call modern French a dialect of Latin, but rather a genetic descendant. In the case of MSA and the vernaculars, linguists have yet to demonstrate what the actual relationship is. Some impose a kind of Romance model on Arabic, arguing that the vernaculars descended from the fus7a during the conquests much like the Romance languages developed from Vulgar Latin. I don’t find this very convincing. I tend to subscribe to the “poetic koine” model, whereby classical Arabic was a language used for ritual purposes in pre-Islamic times and it existed alongside many different vernaculars that are the true ancestors of the current vernaculars.

    Secondly, I think you missed the point of the Ibn Manzur quote, which was PRECISELY to exemplify the position of the language purists, so it hardly escapes me that he would not agree that vernaculars are Arabic. That’s the reason I included him at all.

    “Indeed, from their perspective, “healthy” vernacular languages are not necessarily signs of a lively and flourishing “Arabic”; quite the contrary: “healthy” vernacular languages “on television and the internet” (and written in Roman alphabets to boot), point to the fragmentation and waning of Arabic; the exact opposite of what you’re unsuccessfully trying to prove.”

    Might I suggest that you go back and re-read the article without any presuppositions, paying attention to what I actually say rather than what the person whom you imagine me to be would probably say? You have somehow managed to distill the exact opposite point from my article that I was actually making.

    My argument is precisely NOT that pure MSA is on the rise, but the opposite: that pure MSA is being supplanted (or as the purists would say “threatened”) in the contexts where it once held sway, by a mixture of other dialects — whether they are colloquials that are being transcribed in Arabic or Roman script, or MSA-vernacular hybrids like you hear on many satellite channels. In situations where, only a couple decades ago, only MSA would have been used, we are now seeing other dialects used. This is a big deal, from a linguist’s point of view, and it raises very interesting questions about where the standard language is heading. Will it be supplanted entirely by a new standard, or several standards, or what?

    I think the main source of our disagreement is a confusion over what the term “Arabic” refers to. You use it exclusively to refer to MSA, and you think that the vernaculars should not be called Arabic. I am using it in a broader sense to refer to the collective group of dialects that include the vernaculars and MSA (which is itself nothing more than a prestige dialect). That is why I say that “Arabic” has never been healthier. What I mean is that the speech community of this language has never been larger and that the use of the language in new settings by new types of speakers is fundamentally changing MSA into something very different. This, I consider, a healthy development.

    On a side note, I’m curious why you insist on not calling the vernaculars Arabic. What is the basis for your argument? What structural features of these vernaculars suggest that they are not related to MSA? Where would you place them in the Semitic family? Or are they not even Semitic languages in your view? What are they related to? Where did they come from? Are Egyptian and Lebanese two different languages?

    Or is it just the word “Arabic” that you have a problem with? Care to explain this ideological hang-up?

    Finally, just to prove that I am not a vernacular hater (and that I am, once again, probably precisely the opposite of what you think I am) have a look here:


    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 12, 2011, 4:49 pm
  65. QN, Thanks for bringing the “Lebanese-Childrens-Books” post.

    By any chance, do you have any link to relevant web content (suitable for 3-10yrs)?

    Posted by IHTDA | October 13, 2011, 2:24 am
  66. For Lebanese Arabic? No. You can surf YouTube and find the odd cartoon in 3ammiyyeh but they are pretty crappy.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 13, 2011, 7:42 am
  67. Thanks for your detailed and thoughtful response.  I’m still unconvinced, on many levels 😉

    With regards to Salibi, I’ll leave you with his “The Bible Came from Arabia” and other similar gems from the same period in his intellectual mire, brimming with shoddy history and shoddier philology.  With regards to your mentioned “pre-modern non-liturgical manuscripts written by Maronites… in Arabic,” that is hardly surprising given the Maronites’ (and other conquered peoples’) status as, well, conquered peoples; but again, this hardly proves their Arabness, does it?  You sound ominously like Husri when you say “I feel slightly ridiculous even making this argument—Maronites actually are Arabs.”  Well you were spot on; you did sound ridiculous.  The Maronites are Arabs if they say so, not if you and Husri say so, and certainly not because they’ve made use of Arabic.  Charles Corm and Georges Shehadé among others are Maronites who have used French in “…modern non-liturgical manuscripts,” yet the French don’t claim them to a French ethnos, and nor do they claim to be anything but Lebanese.  Mais pour en revenir à tes Arabes, conquered peoples from the Indus to Andalusia have internalized and made use of their conquerors’ language.  What does that prove?  That their conquerors succeeded in imposing upon them their own linguistic habits?  Is there anything more banal than this in the history of conquest and colonialism? In the Brill Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistic, your namesake Elie Kallas wrote recently that even among the conquered (and “Arabized”) of Asia, Africa, and Europe there remained pockets of peoples “convinced that their ancestors belonged to a people different from the Arabs,” who remembered languages different from Arabic, and who partook of cultural, religious, and linguistic traditions separate from those of the Arabs.  Another problem with your claim that there exist “pre-modern non-liturgical manuscripts written by Maronites… in Arabic,” is that you are conflating “Arabic” and “Karshuni.”  Not cool!

    The answer to your question about why it matters to someone like me to not be subsumed into an Arab dishdéésshé (however you wish to define an “Arab”) is simple, and it’s for the same reason I reject being referred to as a Turk, or a Greek; I am Lebanese period, and I have a 6000-year-old history of which I am infinitely proud; reducing me to a single Arab essence is like reducing me to a single Turkish essence; my grandfather was a Yazigi, he spoke Turkish, but never thought of himself as anything but Lebanese.  Your (and my) hero Sibawayh was Persian, not Arab. 

    Finally, I insist on not calling the vernaculars “Arabic” because they simply are not.  No ideological hang-ups, just a statement of fact.  Ideology is in the fact that you (and other purists) insist on calling them Arabic.  They simply are not!  If we use a narrow definition of language as one based on mutual intelligibility, then you will perhaps agree with me that many of the so-called “Arabic dialects” are languages in their own right.  Of course, things are more complicated than this, and in the end consenting to what is “language” and what is “dialect” becomes a purely political ideological exercise (one in which Arabists are heavily invested.)  This is incidentally the very same reason why Europe has a Hochdeutsch and Plattdeutsh continuum, even though most of the speech forms within that “continuum” are indeed separate languages (not only in terms of mutual intelligibility, but languages in that they benefit from their own literatures, historicity, vitality, and autonomy etc…) The same ideologically tainted impulse that drives some in Europe to call these wide varieties of language “German”, is, I suspect, the one driving you to say something like “Egyptian-Arabic” or what have you. This being the norm doesn’t mean it’s right; in fact it is false and misleading, albeit comforting for Arabists and advocates of pan-identities.

    I never said that the so-called dialects (they are bona fide languages in my book) aren’t related to MSA; only that they are not descendants of Arabic.  Great distinction, greater difference.  Cognate words and lexical similarities do not evidence a genetic link—much less a common descent; that is why I juxtaposed French with English in my initial comment.  If lexical similarities were evidence of genetic descent then who’s to stop a French irredentist from claiming English to be a dialect of French?  After all some 70% of the English lexicon—from “knife” to “naïf”—comes from French.  Why is it then that the Lebanese “Ktééb” or “Kaff”, or Kénuun” are suddenly the progeny of the Arabic “Kitaab,” “Kaff,” or “Kaanuun l-Awwal wath thaani” when they have been extant in Lebanon’s language pantheon (from Canaanite to Aramaic) for some two millennia before the coming of the Arabs??  Why is it that Kfar-Shima, Betrumin, Libnéén (and some 90% of Lebanon’s place names) have no known meaning in Arabic even as their phonology has been Arabized?  In terms of structure and syntax, there’s no denying the Canaanite and Aramaic substrates of spoken Lebanese (see Bar-Yachoua, Ephrem-Boustany, Blau, Saleh, Abdelnour, and Freyha among others.)

    Your claim that MSA/Quranic Arabic vs. Dialects dichotomy had always been the case in pre-Islamic Arabia etc.., and that this situation somehow migrated (intact) into the MENA with the 7th century conquest is pure conjecture.   This presumes the Arabs conquered a cultural and linguistic vacuum, and the whole issue of substrates (which most linguists agree DEFINES what we call dialects today) is conveniently swept under the rug.  Basta!  I too have a dissertation to get back to 😉  

    Posted by LNH | October 13, 2011, 3:52 pm
  68. LNH

    If you send me an email through the contact page, maybe we can continue this exchange privately. I fear we are scaring away the other children.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 13, 2011, 4:03 pm
  69. By the way, I think I know who you are, and if I’m right, then:

    (a) we have met in person before

    (b) we should meet again in person, because we live in the same metropolitan area. Khalleena ndayfak finjen ahweh.

    Then again, I could be wrong.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 13, 2011, 4:21 pm
  70. “Income distribution is becoming more inequitable
    Official rate of poverty has increased
    The major two political gatherings pay homage to foreign countries”

    Sounds like Canada…

    n.b. there is widespread mistreatment of migrant workers and housekeepers here in Canada, too, although thankfully not as many have been driven to suicide.

    Posted by Roland | October 13, 2011, 4:42 pm
  71. @ QN, w minbassir?? 😉

    Posted by LNH | October 13, 2011, 5:50 pm
  72. walla manneh shaatir bit-tabsiir 😉

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 13, 2011, 5:55 pm
  73. QN & LNH,

    I’m sure I’m not the only one interested in those linguistics subtetles. I (and prorably others) would be grateful if you can continue your discussion here.

    Shukran Jazilan!

    Posted by 3issa | October 14, 2011, 8:37 am
  74. 3issa

    Ok, when I have a chance, I’ll try to make LNH see the light.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 14, 2011, 11:31 am


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