Monday, June 25, 2007

Investigating Lebanon: Sectarianism and Fear of Other (Part I)

To focus on the Lebanese situation from all sides is very important, I already talked on the political-economical side, I also tackled the issue of Sectarianism as a way whereby politicians mobilize their masses to safeguard their interest. The first thing to adjust, there are no good guys in the current political equation within the political actors (Government = Opposition). Second, politicians receive massive support from foreign sponsors, henceforth making both reactionary camps as undefeatable. The aim is to investigate how sectarianism is mobilized via “fear of the other”. I also already tackled the issue while investigating whether Lebanon has ethnic conflict or Sectarian Conflict with ethnic pattern behavior. In any case, the political elites usually rely on “fear” (same tactic for both types of conflict) and hence mobilization occurs against each other. Lebanon historically has always witnessed two groups colliding against each other, and henceforth, I believe, the fear factor has to be analyzed and applied on Lebanon to have an idea or two on how sectarianism is promoted through 'fear of the other'.


Lake and Rothchild wrote in their article “Containing Fear” as follows: “The widely discussed explanations of ethnic conflict are, at best incomplete and, at worst, simply wrong. Ethnic Conflict is not caused directly by inter-group differences, ‘ancient hatreds’, and centuries-old feuds, or the stresses of modern life within a global economy.”

This is the same perspective on Lebanon. For starters, few people tackled Lebanon’s history, and fewer were able to tackle it objectively. When the Civil War broke out in 1975, a lot of people adopted the hypothesis that Christians and Muslims are butchering each other, due to ancient hatred and frictions which popped out loudly clearer in 1958, 1920, 1860, 1845, 1840, till the Durzi Prince Fakhridean II clashed with other clans. The reality of the situation is that this is not true, ancient hatreds do not last the way some scholars (with neo-con or Orientalist perspectives usually) assume. There has to be a leader mobilizing his/her followers with different symbols. Each clash had its own circumstances and foreign interventions, but reality of the situation is: political elites were depending partly on fear, scapegoat the other, and ambition for clanship territorial expansion on the expense of other. The elites did the mobilizing while the people suffered. The majority who suffered most were the people. A lot of situations included militants executing civilians out of sectarian/racial propaganda conducted by greed. This is not the case always. Harmony existed in a lot of occasions in Lebanon, via trade, interaction, and others.

Ras Beirut for example was considered prior to the breakout of the Civil War as a ‘Diversity Region’. Politicians rarely focused on the theme Lebanese (as the term came legitimate in 1920), and when they did, it was accompanied with the term: “Co-existence among the Lebanese” with one sect/sects-in-alliance focusing that they should be in power. Usually sects agree, when their ‘sect-defenders’ agree, and henceforth, short-run goals are focused, instead the core-problem: preserving the Sect barrier lines. This fact neither Seniora, nor Nasrallah, nor anyone else tackled, rather, focused on institutional reforms to safeguard their own interests, rather the overall collective.

Lake and Rothchild wrote: “We argue instead that intense ethnic conflict is most often caused by collective fears of the future. As groups begin to fear for their safety dangerous and difficult-to-resolve strategic dilemmas arise that contain within them the potential for tremendous violence.”

The Christians, at grassroots level, feared to be overtaken by the PLO back in 1970s. The Shiites currently fear that they would lose whatever privileges they attained socially and politically and would clutch to Hezbollah rather return to post-1970 status. The fear factor can be mobilized to become either self-defense or hating the other for current ‘ambitions’ and henceforth, violence would increase, by proper command by the political elites (Berri – Harriri Jr. – Jaajaa – Aoun – Junblatt – Nasrallah – others).

Lake and Rothchild wrote: “As information failures, problems of credible commitment, and the security dilemma take hold, groups become apprehensive, the state weakens, and conflict becomes more likely. Ethnic activists and political entrepreneurs, operating within groups, build upon those fears of insecurity and polarize society.” Political memories and emotions also magnify these anxieties, driving groups further apart. Together, these between-group and within-group strategic interactions produce a toxic brew of distrust and suspicion that can explode into murderous violence.”

For me, this is the perfect scenario for Lebanon. Party members and youth cadres spread fear among their individuals spread ‘fear of other’ among their sect fellow-ships. Recently, Lebanon even developed ethnic trait between the different Lebanese factions. The government claims that they are fighting for Lebanese sovereignty in the face of elites whose allegiance is not for Lebanon, but for Syria and Iran. The Opposition also spreads fear by accusing that the Government wants to make the Lebanese poor and promote Zionist-Washington led policies. For this, both are probably correct, and both leaders of both camps are corrupt. We have seen in January how an incident in the Arab University exploded through out Lebanon to the extent AMAL and Junblatt’s Durzi Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) placed check-points asking people for their identity cards or location origins.

Causes of Fear

Lake and Rothcild wrote: “Most ethnic groups, most of the time, pursue their interests peacefully through established political channels. But when ethnicity is linked with acute social uncertainty, a history of conflict, and fear of what the future might bring, it emeres as one of the major fault lines among societies fracture. Vesna Pesic, a professor at the University of Belgrade and a peace activist in the former Yugoslavia, says it well: ethnic conflict is caused by the ‘fear of the future, lived through the past’”

Usually politicians stress on previous turmoil within each sect to promote sectarianism and eventually bestow or justify themselves as the defenders of the Sect. The Lebanese Forces, on grass roots level, been scared to be eaten alive by the Muslim community. Aoun preached himself, ala Prince Bashir Shehab II way, that he represents the Christians and they require a powerful Christian leader. The Shiites do not want to lose their political privileges, while the Druze forever remained mostly unified under a single leader as a clan. Last but not least, the Sunnis do not want anything foreign to come upon them, like the PLO did back in 1970. In any case, each coalition (14th of March/Opposition) use their methods on one side of the past to justify the present. The assassinated minister, Pierre Gemayel, told Aoun on TV that the biggest mistake of his father was to bring him to Baabda Palace, during the civil war. The Shiites live in constant propaganda that nobody gives a darn about them and Hezbollah are there to secure their rights. The Christians remember the 100 days war with Syria and continue to be worried about Syrian return, while West Beirut never forgot how Ariel Sharon annihilated it while East Beirut was having its wild nightlife. The fear factor remained strong to divide the Proletariat in Lebanon, and mobilize them politically based on sectarian basis.

Lake and Rothcild wrote: Collective fears of the future arise when states lose their ability to arbitrate between groups or provide credible guarantees of protection for groups. Under this condition, which Barry Posen refers to as ‘emerging anarchy’, physical security becomes of paramount concern. When central authority declines, groups become fearful for their survival. They invest in and prepare for violence, thereby make actual violence possible. State weakness, whether it arises incrementally out of competition between groups or from extremist actively seeking to destroy ethnic peace, is a necessary precondition for violent ethnic conflict to erupt.”

The Lebanese government usually has been considered strong whenever the major sect defenders are within it, or at least approve of it. When Camille Shamoun rigged elections of the parliamentary members, he faced Durzi and Sunni opposition spearheaded by Kamal Junblatt and Saeb Salam, he had to resign. When the Lebanese split regarding the presence of militant Palestinian activists, the PLO coalition, again the Lebanese government was weak. In all situations, however, there have been foreign intervention with Lebanon, with each having their own foreign clients to push for their power struggle agenda.

During the Syrian Mandate, the Lebanese government was strong because most of the political elites were part of the game. The government had some tiny privileges; but overall it was a Syrian satellite government. The political elites mobilized their masses to satisfy the ruthless Baathi regime.

When Rafiq el Harriri was assassinated, everyone expected that the government would be weak, but eventually, the new post 2005 elections cabinet emerged strong. Most of the primary sect leaders were in it and happy. The key players, such as Nasrallah, Berri, Harriri Jr, Jaajaa, Junblatt, and others, made the government strong, despite Aoun’s objections (which are: ‘please make me a Lebanese President). Again, the government became weak when Hezbollah and AMAL refused to enter the political equation, and the government’s weaknesses appeared with Hezbollah breaking through the borders and carrying out an operation against the Israelis. With the Pro-Opposition ministers resigning, the government appeared terribly weak, however with each Sect leader balancing against the opposition, as well as their international allies supporting the government, it remained standing. Nasrallah himself complained on al-Mannar that if it weren’t for the international support, the government would have collapsed.

Now what I have said may sound political, but the core of the strength for all major parties is sectarianism. Aoun reminds his Christian supporters that Jaajaa is not really a Lebanese Christian, and only his supporters are, while Jaajaa’s concept of Lebanese Christian is to oppose Syria by all means possible (even jumping into the laps of the United States). Nasrallah’s propaganda machinery depicts Junblatt and his men as Zionist agents while Junblatt mocks Nasrallah with “what did Ayatollah Khamenei command you today?”. Al-Manar and Future TV broadcast different realities, and their reporters behave as if they are in a war zone while covering the other, and eventually despite the Shiites and the Sunnis claim they have no conflict, they both welcome struggle against each other and blame the other sect for its appearance (or even indorsing it). The propaganda is has been huge, to the extent when riots breakout, they spread quickly with the grassroots participants telling the TV defensive logos: “They attacked us first” or “We are defending Lebanon” or “These militias attacked us and we paid them back”. The fear factor is active heavily.

The Lebanese Civil War between 1984 – 1990 proved correct that Sect orientation is important for political power. In that era, the Christians were no longer bombing ‘Muslim Beirut’ or vice versa. Elie Hobeika and Samir Jaajaa combated each other to take control over East Beirut. AMAL and the PSP, as well as AMAL and Hezbollah butchered each other for dominion over West Beirut and Dahhieh region. Aoun and Jaajaa also bombed each other like no tomorrow. Each was trying to dominate the Sect from a political and regional perspective.

The government can’t arbitrate between the different factions, because they part of a faction, and they are barely capable of balancing against the Opposition, in the face of assassinations, war with Fatah Islam, bombings, and so on. The army so far has been successful not to be labeled as for “Pro-Government” or “Pro-Opposition”, unlike the past “Christians’ dummy actors” (prior and during the Civil War). The fear factor remains strong in mobilizing the different sects against each other for political reasons. Now someone asked me that I should be active in support of this or that faction, just please tell me what is the difference between this or that?

(14th of March Rally, another event with Sectarian line-up)

Lake and Rothcild wrote: “State weakness may not be obvious to the ethnic groups themselves or external observers. States that use force to repress groups, for instance, may appear strong, but their reliance on manifest coercion rather than legitimate authority more accurately implies weakness.” More important, groups look beyond the present political equipoise to alternative futures when calculating their political strategies. If plausible futures are sufficiently threatening, groups may begin acting today as if the state were in fact weak, setting off processes that would bring the disintegration of the state. Thus, even though the state may appear strong today, concerns that it my not remain tomorrow may be sufficient to ignite fears of physical insecurity and a cycle of ethnic violence.”

Camille Shamoun in the 1950s was called “The Iron Man”. The Christians also tagged as then as their primary sect defender. When the opposition grew strong against him because he rigged elections to crush primary feudal sect lords and renewing his mandate despite cadre opposition, he mobilized the army. When he tried to mobilize the army, he appeared weak, specially when the Lebanese Army refuted to be part of the clashes between the Christian parties (Ahhrar - Phalange) along with the SSNP, in face of Kamal Junblatt and Saeb Salam.

In 1970, the Lebanese Army was strong and united, but due to the confrontations with the PLO which triggered the 1969 Cairo Agreement, the Lebanese Army appeared. By then, the Lebanese Army was viewed as a tool to the Christian parties; however, with the arrival of thousands of PLO warriors exiled from Jordan and entered via Syria, along with the Sunni/Jumblatti opposition, the Lebanese Army was regarded weak. Actually, sectarian tensions rose just as Phalange supporters accompanied the Lebanese Army in operations against the PLO (after the assassination of MP Saad in Saida), while Camille Chamoun decided that he needed a more powerful tool to safeguard his interests (which he called the Christians’), which was creating the famous militia: the Tigers. The government itself witnessed Sectarian division lines just as the Sunnis collided with the Christians because Pierre Gemayel (Sr.) refuted to decline one percent of Christian advantage to the other sects.

Now, Hezbollah and Aoun mobilize their supporters from the perspective that the government is non-existent or weak. The government behaves that they are renegades rebelling. The army appeared to be weak due to its incompetence to control both sides from fighting each other (during what Aoun called in January the rise of the real Lebanese). 14th of March and the Opposition supporters both equally complained about the army. The army’s might appeared when they called a curfew after the Arab University encounters while riots spread throughout Lebanon. The Army wasn’t that powerful if Harriri Jr. and Nasrallah begging their supporters to respect the army’s decision (Nasrallah had to issue a fatwa about it). The government currently is so weak that the different Lebanese consider that a new civil war is already cooked and waiting to explode. The different elites still are averting from a civil war (even though they revert to escalations as a means of threat) but neither they nor their foreign clients want a civil war yet for Lebanon.

(Opposition's First open demonstration; another sectarian cook-up)

(End of Part I)


Renegade Eye said...

Does that leave doing recruiting through apolitical relief groups? Students?

Any trade union movement?

M Bashir said...

how do you manage such long posts? :-)
Oh well, I'll just print it and read it off screen, and you'll most propably lose a comment, as usual.
[another :-)]

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