(updated June 7, 2004)
I received this critique of my "Is Syria Occupying Lebanon" post from a knowledgeable anonymous writer. I respond to it at the bottom as does Tony Badran. Anyone who is new to "Syria Comment" and is reading down from the top may want to start from the original post and work their way backward. Tony Badran has also written an overall critique of my views on his own site, Accross the Bay.
I was reading the exchange between you and Tony; it was well balanced and the argumentation was great. That was until I got to your original piece "Is Syria Occupying Lebanon?" Respectfully I take issue with some of its contents.
The major Lebanese spokesman for the bill in Congress was General Aoun, who represented the Maronite community in Lebanon before he was expelled from the country by the Syrians (with US support) in 1991 at the time of the Gulf war.
Although I like your assessment of "spokesman" (since he was only a mouthpiece during the whole process) you cannot say that he represented the Maronite community during that era (even though he recently made remarks to Assafir regarding federalism and the cultural diversity of Lebanon that should be recognized institutionally both themes are popular in Maronite circles). In fact during that period (late 80's) the Maronite community was polarized between the Lebanese Forces Militia and Aoun's ill-fated government. And since he advocated the centrist Lebanese mentality of the national pact which a lot Muslims subscribed to he can hardly be qualified as the figurehead of the Maronites in Lebanon. In fact a lot of Muslims still saw him in a positive light before he pushed for SALSA. This point is particularly problematic for your subsequent analogy. Aoun is not a symbol for Maronite supremacy in fact he was an active agent in its demise and would fit better under the Lebanese nationalist school of thought which you did not even consider. In fact you amalgamated the Christian nationalist camp with the Lebanese nationalist camp when you mentioned the "Auberge des minorities" to contrast Christian education with Hizballah's education. The refuge of minorities theory was first consolidated and articulated by Michel Chiha which was an active supporter of the constitutional bloc (Khoury, Henry Pharaon etc.) which cannot be considered as a symbol of Christian dominion. That whole school of thought was centrist (cf. with the national bloc and its staunch Christian dogma), it attracted Muslim membership and collaborated with Muslim and Arab nationalist leaders and was in opposition to the Maronite political establishment. This also ties into your comment about how Christians need to come to terms with their Muslim countrymen. Even theories and principles that were considered centrist and nationalist and moderate (such as the refuge for minorities) are deemed to be partisan, extremist, unacceptable and Christian now. You made those theories equivalent to hizballah's absolutism.
"This plan was a tragedy in 1982 and is a farce today. That is why the Lebanese, save for a few hotheads, have all spoken out against the Syrian Accountability Act."
Come on, do you really think that is why they have spoken out against it? Does it make sense for these same leaders (the ones representing the opposition) to speak out during the world Maronite congress held in the USA and keep their mouth shut in Lebanon. The resolutions of the congress stipulates full military withdrawal and a halt for political intervention in Lebanese affairs (i.e. it mirrors SALSA). Are you also not aware of the maneuvering by the Lebanese judiciary and the prosecutor general who conjure up charges as soon as opposition figures speak out against Syria or its interventions? The list is long from Geagea, to Aoun, to Chamoun to Amine Gemayel all have been publicly threatened through inquires, special investigations and allegations immediately after outbursts against Syria.
"Christians must come to terms with their Muslim countrymen, like it or not."
Christians have come to terms with their Muslim countrymen by accommodating all of their requests. All points of contention generated by the dualism of Lebanese society such as identity, foreign relations, education, etc. have been dictated by Lebanese Muslims and wholeheartedly accepted by the Christians. And as you showcased for us above even centrist ideas that are inclusive, tolerant and liberal are deemed as "Christian" and therefore negative. So basically you are either an Arab that advocates Israel's destruction, opposes the west and supports forms of terrorism or you are an "isolationist" "Christian". Is that what you are saying?
But let me put it in another way. What can the Christians do to come to terms with their Muslim countrymen?
"Christians teaching that Lebanon is an Auberge des minorites, created and protected by Christians (I won't even mention Phoenicians)?"
I am not sure where you are getting your information from but education in "private" "Christian" schools is stipulated by the ministry of education directly. There is no mention of Lebanese particularism, there is little mention of Phoenicia and no talk of a non Arab culture and every history book starts with the year 1517. The curriculum mirrors that of Syrian schools, only with a dash of religious diversity, the only type of diversity allowed under Arab nationalism (and this ties into your chpeal about Maronite president and Maronite members of parliament; what you are basically saying is as long as they are Christian they represent the Christian community). But are you seriously comparing Hizballah's jihadist education to the "Auberge des minorities" as advocated by some Lebanese nationalists? One is liberal, inclusive, and progressive while the other is .... Well it is Hizballah's. As you or Tony mentioned it is not only Maronites that are such minorities but we can include the Shiites, the orthodox Christians, the Druze, so that appellation is appropriate (coincidentally all these groups asked for autonomy at one point).
But here is what I really had a problem with: your contention that Syria is protecting the interests of the Christian community in Lebanon by preserving the Maronite presidency and members of parliament etc. Since you refer to Haifa's exercise routine on LBC I have to assume that you are talking about Christian's political, cultural, and civil rights versus their religious rights (since religious diversity is supposedly protected under the rubric of Arab nationalism). In other words what needs protection against the Muslim numerical supremacy is a way of life. How is the religious affiliation of the president or members of parliament relevant when the way of life they are protecting is the Muslim Arab one? Christian populist leaders have unanimously maintained that what they defend is not their religion but their culture so it would not matter if all government positions were held by Roman Catholic Saints, as long as they are installed by Syria and as long as they are implementing its projects they do not fulfill the aspirations of the Christian community. So what Syria is doing is palliating the expectation of the community by fulfilling a technicality but they get around that problem by installing people that are culturally and politically Muslim. Jubran Tueni said something very close to that in an editorial a couple of years back when he accused Emille Lahoud of not being a leader for his Maronite community.
(Posted by Anonymous to Syria Comment at 6/3/2004 11:17:25 AM)
Landis replies to Anonymous:
Thank you for elaborating on the various levels and subtlety of Lebanese politics - both Muslim and Christian. It is helpful and underlines some of the weakness of my attempt to generalize about Christian-Muslim attitudes. The old "Politics of the Notables," is still alive in Lebanon, with all of its elitist but liberalesque style of politics. Fouad Ajami has written lyrically about his nostalgia and admiration for that class of notables who could sort out the kaleidoscope of Lebanon's competing regional and confessional demands without descending into the rigid certitudes of ideology or religion. As you point out, the Asaads (who never really left it) and even Amal have reentered the notable game. Threatened by Hizballah's popularity and ability to mobilize the masses among the Shi'a, Amal leaders are making deals with Christian and Sunni leaders as they did prior to the civil war. Even Hizballah is becoming adept at accommodationist politics according to Adam Shatz's fine review article: "In Search of Hezbollah". This gives hope for Lebanon's future, and may suggest, as you argue, that Syria is the only real roadblock to a happy, democratic, and united Lebanon.
I don't believe it though. The day of the "Politics of Notables" is over and mass politics has arrived. This does not mean that one shouldn't learn from the old notable style that had liberal aspects to it; but Politics of the Notables won't work in the old style anymore. It used to be enough to have a liberal few who could manage the affairs of the uneducated many. In fact,the notables were not really liberal in a modern sense. Rather, like the Ottoman elite before them, they had learned to accept the parameters of the confessional system that was imposed on them (the National Pact) and abide by its rules, which limited their demands. However it was liberal at the top and illiberal at the bottom. The exploitation of the peasantry, the enforcers (Qabadayat), and the elitist attitudes which characterized politics of the notables is no longer tenable. What is more, the entire system depended on a Sultan to be the ultimate enforcer. The Lebanese system survived for 30 years after the French left, but that was "institutional afterglow." It almost fell apart in 1958 due to the spread of Nasserism. Many have argued that it was the Eisenhower doctrine, US troops, and money to rig elections that propped it up for another few decades, not to mention smart politicking by Shihab, who controled the army and acted like a Sultan (See Walid Khalidi's book on the coming of the Civil War). I would argue that the politics of the notables has, in a sense, been resurrected today in Lebanon by the Syrians. Bashar, the Syrian president, is the new Sultan, who acts as final arbiter of notable politics. He polices the various factions in their constant competition for an ever greater share of the spoils. Ideology has been drained out of politics on the national level by Syria because it stopped one side from winning and kept one faction from becoming too powerful. All the new ideological parties of the 1970s lost their way because they couldn't win, became "corrupt" after years of pointless fighting (pointless because they couldn't win) and had to revert to the old rules again - Ta'if with a Syrian sultan. Syria has stopped ideological politics from running its course; it is almost as if Great Britain had stopped the American civil war in mid-stream, keeping the Yankee's from pounding southern nationalism to death - as if Sherman's march through the south had never happened. The notion of Lebanon as an "auberge des minorites" would have been clobbered had no one intervened. Lebanon suffers from civil war interruptus. This is good for the Christians because it gives them a second chance to spread the word and try to convert the rest of the country to the Auberge idea. Anonymous believes that if the sultan leaves, politics-of-the-notables will find a new and happy equilibrium; and winner-take-all ideological politics will not rear its ugly head again - or if it does, the chastened politicians will contain it because most now believe in "auberge des minorites." To accept this thesis, you must convince me that Hizballah (and allies) won't do a Sherman's march on the north? Or, if Asad is thrown out by a coup or American induced regime-change, that Syria -- dominated by the Muslim Brothers or a similarly ideological driven party -- would not do a Sherman's march itself?
I take your point that Michel Chiha's "auberge" idea is liberal, doesn't exclude the Muslim communities, isn't on its face Christian, and is thus the correct basis on which a happy liberal Lebanon can be built. That doesn't mean it will be realized. Liberals have a lot of missionary work to do in the region and in Lebanon before this dream will have a real chance of success.
This brings us to Abu Uthman's comments, which no one has responded to. He writes:
There has been a country called Syria for centuries, before the Ottoman Rule, the Umayyad Rule was from Syria, Damascus. To the Arabs it is known as Ash-Sham or Ardul Sham.
Lebanon was just another example of the British and the French leaving behind them badly carved out countries in the Middle East that have caused so many problems during the 20th century.
The US fails to realise the problems it can cause with its continuous interference. Syria had a lot more of a presence in Lebanon after the civil war ended yet they pulled them back mainly into the Bekaa valley. Since the end of the war I have been to Lebanon 3 times, and the opinion of the people is not against Syria and its presence in Lebanon, the majority of the people would prefer the Syrian workers that cross the border everyday and take the wealth back with them to Syria not to enter for the jobless amongst the Lebanese are much. Yet the Arab nationalists and the supporters of Hizbullah which are not a small number would not want to see Syria leave too soon, because it will create a fear of being vulnerable and at the mercy of Israel.
And what right has the US to speak against occupation? Abu Uthman adds, it was governed by Yazid who was appointed by Umar bin Khattab then by his brother Muawiyya (who started the Ummayad Dynasty) this occurred before the Ottoman Empire.
And one more thing that seems to be ignored and that is you speak on behalf of a minority in Lebanon (maronites) and not the majority who are Muslims.
And it is mainly the Christians who have the identity as Lebanese and not Arabs whilst the Muslims carry the identity of Arab.
Abu Uthman gives us his perspective as a (Syrian Muslim, I presume). He doesn't begin his history in 1517 with the Ottoman conquest of the Syrian lands or with the Mutasarifiyya of Lebanon (established by the Ottomans due to French pressure following the bloody civil war in Lebanon - 1840-1860 - which gave the Maronites and Christians a consitutional role in a special administration over much of what is today Lebanon. It is viewed by many as the precurser to modern Lebanon at its distinct Lebanese administration and character) or with the Canaanites and Byzantine Empire (Which Antoun Saade and his Syrian Nationalist Party harkened back to). Abu Uthman begins with the Muslim futuhat and Mu'awiyya as most Muslims do and reminds us of the still important identity differences between "Lebanese" and "Arab," which he argues runs along confessional lines. (See the last section of my "Islamic Education in Syria" paper, entitled, "Alawis, Druze, and Ismailis," to see how this identity difference takes place among Christians and Muslims in Syria).
Abu Uthman's views are common among Lebanese Muslims as well. A Sunni Lebanese friend of mine, who now teaches Islamic history at a prestigious American university, explained to me a few years back that he identifies with Sham and the Umayyad past and feels more a part of that then the mutasarafiyya, etc. He recounted to me how the administrator of the Hariri Foundation, which gives grants to Lebanese graduate students to study abroad, had told the (Sunni) students that Hariri wanted to promote a new generation of Lebanese historians because every time there was a conference on Lebanese history or some occasion of state that required a speech by a Lebanese historian, they had to call up Kamal Salibi or some other Christian historian. They didn't have Sunni historians of Lebanese history. When I asked my friend how a Sunni would teach Lebanese history - glorifying its distinct past - if he refused to extol the virtues of the Christians in building its identity, fighting for the mutasarifiyyaa, etc. He looked at me blankly and didn't have an answer. The lesson I draw from this anecdote is that Muslim Lebanese have still not constructed a special Lebanese history that they identify with. They still, like Abu Uthman, view the construction of Lebanon as a nefarious foreign act. They don't accept the traditional Christian, or, as Abu Uthman states, "Lebanese" version of this history. Abu Uthman suggests that Lebanon should be part of Syria. I don't think most Muslim Lebanese believe this. They have a distinct national identity (negatively defined) in that they know they don't belong to any of their neighbors (Abu Uthman seems to imply this by saying that they don't want Syria to leave "yet"), but I am not sure they have yet constructed a "positive" Lebanese identity that Christians can buy into.
I stick to my Salibi "House of Many Mansions" argument made in my previous post. Perhaps it is too soon to get rid of the Sultan or za'im al-zu'ama'?
Tony Badran replies: June 4, 2004
You're right about the dichotomy between Lebanese and non-lebanese Muslims. Lebanese Muslims don't want to be Syrian or Saudi or what have you. They have this Arabism which is Sunni through and through, which also has elements of this history, but it's differently phrased usually. I did like your note on how the Lebanese Muslims cannot describe their singularity except through the Maronite narrative. I thought that was very interesting and important. But I aslo believe that this might be the basis for the future narrative, should it ever come to be. It just HAS to be based on the communities, not on an amorphous Sunni ideology. For instance, since you like bringing up US analogies, think of the May Flower and the pilgrims. These were sure as hell not black or Latinos or Chinese or Koreans! Yet, this is the narrative of the United States, historically. The same applies with the Maronites. Historically, they are crucial. Some muslims have indeed touched on that here and there in editorials and stuff, that the idea of Lebanon is inextricably linked to the Maronites.
Unfortunately this segment lops all Lebanese Muslims together. I'm sure the Shiites don't associate themselves with the
Umayyad narrative. It would be interesting to hear what it is now, after their self-awareness and politicization, but also, in their bid to be, like the Alawites, "Arabized." There has been a new reaction among some Shiites, especially the Hizbullah people, who rarely display Lebanese flags because they say cedars are from Maronite country. That is the most radical response since the Sunni call for union with Syria.
The Druze also are left out, although their narrative is even more interesting in its closeness to the Maronites.