Monday, February 20, 2012

Another View of Orthodoxy, Sectarianism, and Secularism in Lebanon

The Arabic original, which appeared in the newspaper an-Nahar, can be read here.

Lebanon: The Orthodox not Responsible for "the Dignitaries of the Salons"
by Emile Chahine

Historically, each of the six major religious communities in Lebanon enjoyed the support (protection) of a foreign state and tsarist Russia was the protector of the Orthodox community. After the triumph of the Bolsheviek Revolution in 1917, they  no longer had any international support to speak of (Greece's support being weak). When France established the state of greater Lebanon, it made sure that the Maronite community was the largest community within it. This is why it detached the regions of Safayta and Mar Jerjes el-Hisn from the district of Tripoli and gave them to Syria and also why they considered the Armenian Orthodox to be an ethnic group that could not be counted in the census of religious communities. In the year of national independence, 1943, came the "national covenant" between the Maronites and the Sunnis in order to weaken the position of the other communities.

Thus the Orthodox had no other recourse than to be concerned with intellectual life as a means of achieving a dignified life. There was no longer a bond to tie them to the leaders of their community or to their political representatives, as all of them were powerless. The Orthodox community consitently had more intellectuals than the other communities and, historically, the Orthodox regions (el-Koura, Marjayoun, and Souq el-Gharb) have been more advanced than their surrounding regions in intellectual life and civilization.

And so it is not strange that ideologies of liberation in the Arab world arose from the ideas of sons of this community: the ideology of Syrian nationalism was led by Antoun Saadeh, the Arab Baath by Michel Aflaq, progressive Communist ideologies developed with Nicholas Chaoui, a partner with the national leader Riyad el-Solh in realizing the withdrawal of foreign armies (1946), and with George Hawi, founder of the National Resistance Front in the face of the Israeli occupation (1982).

The Orthodox community did not enter into the Lebanese Civil War in 1975. They did not form militias or sectarian political parties or even sectarian movements. Their neutrality cost them dearly. This is why it seems strange to hear "dignitaries of the salons" speak in their name and put forward sectarian concerns the like of which no member of the community of intellectualism has ever spoken before. To wit, "a modern law which preserves the rights of each religious community and returns to our community its lost rights by securing sound representation and creating leaders capable of  defending the existence of Orthodox in the institutions of the state and the administration."

Has it not been enough for Lebanese to have sectarian laws that have resulted in nothing but war after war? Then how are these leaders going to return to the community its rights? There have always been leaders from various communities who defend their violation of the rights of the weakened Orthodox community. The Orthodox are weak in the conflict among communities but they are strong in rights of "citizenship" based on looking at the individual Lebanese-- any Lebanese-- with rights and responsibilities that are equal before the law.

The "dignitaries of the salons" have spoken in the Orthodox Gathering about their conviction that "the idea of a Christian state was a suicidal plan that was unrealizable" and they have witnessed its death. But I shall add: the plan of an Islamic state in Lebanon is equally unrealizable. The only realizable plan is that of a modern, secular state. Its electoral law is based on Lebanon being a single sphere, outside the bounds of sect and relying on proportionality.

1 comment:

The Anti-Gnostic said...

The only realizable plan is that of a modern, secular state. Its electoral law is based on Lebanon being a single sphere, outside the bounds of sect and relying on proportionality.

I would add this requires a government that limits itself to protecting negative rights, rather than a positive force preoccupied with how to divvy up the loot.