Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Carol Saba on Particularism and Citizenship

ِArabic original here.

From the Eye of the Middle Eastern Storm:
The Final Round of Confrontation between Particularism and Citizenship

It is not possible to strategically separate what is happening in Gaza, Syria and Iraq from the growth in recent decades of a discourse of religious and sectarian particularism in the Middle East, whether Christian, Muslim or Jewish. Today the repercussions of this are sweeping everyone into the ugliest sort of descent into the inferno. Politically, there is no horizon and no staying power to this implosion. The dark night must have a dawn. In light of the wrangling to bring about a new order in the Middle East, this requires of us great discrimination and total preparedness for a radical course correction.

We must not err in our strategic goals and we must agree on the tactics for attaining them. The focus on particularism today is a focus on the impasse, while what is needed amidst raging sectarianism is to focus on the methods for arriving at the only desirable solution: citizenship. The pluralistic Middle East, first and foremost in Lebanon after the fall of Palestine, has been the most democratically advanced model in the region and the number one rival to unilateralist projects, whether Arab or Zionist.

Our responsibility here as Lebanese Christians is no less important than the daggers pointed at the Lebanese model. During the 70th anniversary of Lebanese independence, I lamented in the pages of an-Nahar the lack of any critical examination of the Christian experience of seizing power in Lebanon and of the path that led to its loss. Despite the spreading flames, we are still without a national vision that presents progressive solutions to the impasse and crisis of Arab political governance. Christians in Lebanon erred by not reinforcing the society of citizenship when they held power and were capable of establishing genuine partnership with Muslims. Instead of developing partnership in life and reinforcing it in law and in practice through the partnership of citizenship, rivalry between the Eddeh and Khoury families and the Christian leaders and their political parties established extremely confrontational approaches between them that are still in effect today. Christian and sectarian particularism grew at the expense of citizenship.

Deadly internal and external alliances arose against them, deepening these particularist approaches. Internally, first there was the Chehabist experience. General Chehab's project, a project of building  the regime within a state of citizenship and of parallel development, was cast aside. Then came the escalation toward the inferno. For all its seriousness, the Lebanese explosion of 1975 did not topple the Model.

The need for a society of coexistence has remained stronger than societies of discrimination. The Taif Accords established the finality of Lebanon and affirmed equal sharing of power in practice, combining consensual democracy that protects the sects and majority rule, which permits electorally the composition of mixed majorities that transcend the sects. The toppling of Taif in practice was the toppling of the possibility of the civil state. After the fall of political Maronism came the rise and fall of political Sunnism, then political Shiism on the scale of its predecessors. Then came the Arab eruption, caused by the increasing decadence of the Arab regimes and their deadly unilateralisms, and this was called the "Arab Spring".

However, its righteous demands were soon tossed aside on account of deadly local, regional, and international policies that desired to install an alternative Arab political system based on religious particularism. Exclusivist particularism erupted and removed some from power. Destructive strife threatens to bring down everyone, including our moderate Muslim partners if they do not speak out boldly today. As for Israel, the same suicidal approach is in effect. The weakening of the Left after the assassination of Rabin and the rise of the Extreme Right has led to the growth of a discourse of religious particularism and the emergence of the idea of the "Jewishness" of the state, a far cry from historical Zionism, which was quasi-secularist.

Today Israel is falling for the temptation of political "Masadism". After the destruction of the Temple, extremist Jews and their families retreated to the historic fortress of Masada. In the year 73 the Romans entered after a three-year seige and they found that everyone-- men, women, elderly, children-- had killed themselves beause they preferred dying in particularism to living in coexistence with others. Gaza today is the name for a pair of crises two similar extremes with no horizons. Each of them looks to their persistent, unilateral particularity as the criterion for dominance over the other. Today there is no horizon for the resistance and enormous sacrifices of the heroic Palestinian people except through translating victory politically through consolidating Palestinian national reconciliation and a state of coexistence, citizenship, and fair and righteous peace. On the other hand, there is no horizon for political Masadism other than suicide.

There is a great difference between security and safety [الامن والامان ]. The latter cannot be imposed by blind weapons of war. Regionally, however, there is no horizon in sight to the hell of deadly particularities. Perhaps at the center of the agenda for the negotiations between America and the West and Iran (and the accompanying tug-of-war with the BRICS countries, especially Russia) is urging  a way to escape the great impasse through a new Arab order that produces stability and does not eliminate competition. There should be no change to the political geography of countries, so as not to open the gates of hell for us all. Another constant is that there is no permanence to any order without recognition of pluralism and diversity and without democratic approaches that create harmony between particularisms rather than eliminating some of them. The idea of the nation-state still abides, despite globalization. It is still suitable for the Middle East as an institutional framework for coexistence and the development of citizenship, since it is the legal dress for a non-assimiliationist incorporation of personal identities in a common life in which the particularisms of one group do not threaten the particularisms of others. Citizenship canonizes distinctiveness while expelling the specter of discrimination because it is the passage from the "I" to the "we", without eliminating the "I", exactly as in the theology of unity and diversity. At that point, we might escape the deadly cleavages of the Middle East and live together in partnership, dignity, freedom, prosperity, stability, and confidence in a promising future for all. Let's dream, since dreaming and wakefulness are neighbors and the Arab world is in such  need of wakefulness today!

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