Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sectarianism Revisited.

It is one thing to set up a goal and adopt a commensurate plan that is designed to achieve the objective spelled out in the plan but it is a completely different thing when the aim of the plan can never be satisfied through the chosen policies. One cannot pretend to be in favour of public transportation and yet offer major subsidies and giveaways only to those who are willing to purchase private personal vehicles. But this is exactly the type of misguided policies that the opposition forces in Lebanon have been advocating. In a perfect world, a random sample of a population; say a bag of green, red and blue marbles; will have the same proportional composition as the population itself. That, however, is never the case in the real world and especially when one colour gets a 25% advantage in the likely hood of its selection. The Christians in Lebanon are at best 40% of the population but are guaranteed 50% of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies and by the same logic demand half of the cabinet ministries. That is a behavior that cannot be condoned in a society of law and order, a society based on equality and justice. Nonetheless if we are to begrudgingly overlook this fatal allocative mechanism then we need to ask the question of what are the attributes that create a personal identity? Why are we to choose a sample that is reflective of religious affiliation and not say gender or even economic station?
One more time, even if we are to overlook this equally fatal error, we confront a more flagrant one. The resulting political parties that compete for votes are essentially sectarian and thus, win or lose; each of them will be able to claim the right to be represented in the cabinet otherwise the sect that they belong to will be able to cry foul. Win or lose representation for each party is assured under this scheme. But if identity is defined in purely religious terms, as is unfortunately the case, then who is to decide whether a March 14 Sunni is more authentic than an Amal Sunni or what is more logical that an Orange Christian is more authentic than a Kataeb or even a Christian woman who does not belong to any of the political parties.
A good example of the strange logic that is being applied to erect barriers and prevent formation of the cabinet is best captured by Mr. Basils’ pronouncements on Sept 26, 2009 when he declared that the FPM “will not accept except ministries and portfolios that reflect the will of the Christians and their size within the state and its institutions”. This is purely discriminatory logic that claims that only the losing bloc can possibly represent a group that happens to be well represented, in this case, by the winning coalition. Get real FPM, you might be the largest “Christian” group in the parliament but this does not give you any special privileges. Stop the denial and accept that you belong to the minority. Work hard, be productive and maybe the electorate will reward you next time around. You simply cannot have it both ways. But what is even more egregious is the statement of MP Nawaf Moussawey who called for “a unified Christian representation on the basis of the parliamentary elections whereby each party is allocated portfolios and ministries proportional to the votes and seats it has won in the elections.” How is it under this logic possible to be and not be simultaneously? Mr. Moussawey wants the FPM to be represented when their coalition loses and yet to be represented when they win. Does ideology and principle count for anything, or is it anything goes as long as we participate in power? My, is that strange logic or what?
There is a way out of all of this. An independent sovereign state must work for the good of all its people, males and females, dark skinned and light skinned, old and young, rich and poor, Christians, Moslems or atheists. The only criteria that matters is that they should believe in the Lebanese project .The only way to do that is to create a secular society where everyone is free to worship whoever they want whenever they will since this is no ones business except their own.


Tony said...

The "image" accompanying this article is an excellent summation of the problems that secularists face in Lebanon. Most people think that secular means anti religion when all what it is saying is that religion is a private issue.

Anonymous said...

You really can't tell the difference between communal identity and religious identity, can you. That's quite surprising coming from a self-proclaimed secularist.

As for the illustration you chose for your posting, I find it rather dogmatic, eurocentric and extremely dated. A lot of though has been put into this matter since the late 18th century, and secularism as a state system and ideology has over two centuries of differential implementations that should shed some light on the "theory" if one bothers to look at them.
In the same way as Americans have moved from the "Melting pot" metaphor to the "Salad bowl" metaphor, and beyond... many believe it's time to replace the "wall of separation" metaphor with that of the "Public Square", so as to reflect the shift in matters pertaining to State and Religion.

I'd like to point out an extremely interesting article on the subject of secularism and religion that was published by the Cardozo Law Review (their site is unfortunately down for the moment, but I'm sure you can access it through your library's subscription).
Michel Rosenfeld, Can Constitutionalism, Secularism and Religion Be Reconciled in an Era of Globalization and Religious Revival?.
You should check it out.

ghassan karam said...

It is obvious that we will never see eye to eye on this issue.
I find it fascinating that you mention the theory of assimilation (melting pot and the shift to Unity in Diversity (mosaic/salad bowl)because there are some similarities between these two visions and those of a religiously dogmatic society vs, a secular one. Guess what ? Unity in Diversity, the Mosaic paradigm, is the one that is closer to secularism. It lets each keep their own beliefs provided they pay allegiance to the strong core values that are required to kep the mosaic from falling apart. Such values are a respect for law and order in addition to the sacredness of a constitution for example. As I have said , probably more than once, in my previous posts I do not believe that there is any room whatsoever for religion in the public square.
I promise to read the article that you mention in your post sometime during the week end.
And BTW, I refuse to have my identity be so narrowly defined as to only see a Moslem, a Christain or a Hindu whenevr I look into a mirror. As Sen has so eloquently stated more than once in his numerous lectures all over the globe and in particular after 9/11 each person has multiple identities and in some cases maybe some will choose to have a small role played by religious belief but that identity should never overwhelm the other identities. I am forexample a male, a father, a teacher, a democrat, a deep ecologist, an economist, a jazz lover, a jogger...
Take care.

The New Phoenicians said...

Very interesting subject, however I would like to stress on the fact that it is the entire system, including its political parties, that needs to be radically changed. The current “Lebanese Leaders” are the first ones to benefit from the sectarian plague that has destroyed Lebanon time and time again and therefore we can’t expect them to change a system that serves them well. I am holding the following blog that is currently discussing sectarianism and I would welcome your comments.


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