Saturday, October 10, 2009

Political Takya?

Many political commentators and ordinary citizens are intrigued by the constant zigging and zagging of the mercurial Walid Jumblatt, feudal leader of a religious clan who prefers to be described as the head of the Progressive Socialist Party, PSP, a party that was part of the inheritance along with more mundane physical assets. Is that a reflection on the ideological bankruptcy of the party, on the beliefs of its “leader” or the values of its members? Well in this case it takes three to tango.

The unquestioned political leadership bestowed on Mr. Jumblatt and the allegiance of his co-religionists is an easy matter to explain. It is a reflection of the nature of the deeply tribal, deeply feudalistic and deeply troubling Lebanese political and social culture. This phenomenon is replicated across all regions and all religious sects in Lebanon. As a result, what passes for democracy is a hollow institution of national elections that shuffles the minions but keeps the traditional leadership intact. The strings for all the marionettes in this tragedy are controlled by the hands of a few “master puppeteers”. The puppets play a passive role in this tragedy and are not in a position to organize and revolt. They are awaiting the miracle that could infuse them with life.

The traditional feudal lord-serf structure explains why the ramblings of a political leader are not questioned by any of his flock but why would anyone else take these constantly changing alliances seriously. They are not and they should not.
Mr. Jumblatt appears to have borrowed from the Druze religion one of its very highly controversial concept of “Takya” and applied it to the non religious sphere. “Takya” is sort of a self defense mechanism that the Druze developed when their very existence was in jeopardy. The Moslem majority looked down with suspicion upon these Druze upstarts and was marshalling its vastly superior power and resources to squash the religious “deviants”. That is when the Druze decided to adopt the concept of “Takya” or pretense. It was decided that the Druze could avoid the wrath of the majority if they act as if they have assimilated when in reality they can go on practicing in secret their true beliefs. This flexibility was not meant to be genuine but was to be employed only in order to deceive. “Takya” has been a success, what better proof than the 1.2 million thriving Druze community but its ethics are lamentable especially if they are to be applied in the field of politics.

Tolerance, democratic principles and diversity were not seminal principles a thousand years ago and so one can in retrospect condone the policy of “Takya” which has saved a whole community from extermination. Obviously acts of genocide and religious persecution have not been totally banished but they are opposed by most in the modern world. That is why “Takya” serves no religious purpose in the present world environment and is an egregious practice in politics.

There is only one explanation for the constantly changing positions of Walid Jumblatt who cautions one day of the Iranian conspiracy only to support Iran the next day and who rails against Syria one day only to praise its steadfastness the next. He even seriously criticized some of his political allies for being too principled. The following few nuggets should demonstrate why Walid Jumblatt has earned his new moniker of “Jump-a-lot” and why ultimately he is not to be trusted since no one ever knows for sure who is the real Walid Bey. The use of “Takya” in politics is simply disastrous.

"The New Middle East is the one that Iran [wants to impose] by means of the Syrian regime.... The abduction [of the two Israeli soldiers on July 12, 2006] came at a political timing that had nothing to do with the [Lebanese] prisoners, and everything to do with the Iranian-Syrian axis and [the attempt] to bind Lebanon to this axis. Today, more than ever before, Lebanon is being held hostage by the Syrian-Iranian axis." Aug 7 2006

“Hezbollah, an extension of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards is a part of the greater Pharsi project to extend Iran through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon” Oct 13, 2007

Jumblatt called for a joint Arab-Syrian-Saudi effort to form a (Lebanese) government and he cautioned that this partnership should not act in opposition to Iran. Sept. 2, 2009


iglina said...

you are so right. Jumblatt is a pathetic flip-flopper who would sell the whole country in order to save his community. he's not a patriot and never will be; he doesn't have any principles, any guts, he is a slave to the power-holder and changes his stances when the power-holder changes. M14 should let him go, once and for all. Go and do not comeback.

Ghassan Karam said...

He has been very unprincipled but not only with regard to March 14. He truly thinks that he is the embodiment of progressive socialist and leftist thinking in Lebanon. The fact of the matter is that he is a reactionary, conservative feudal lord that will always be ready to strike a bargain in order to benefit. He is like a lizard that will take on the color of his surroundings.
I have not made it a serious practice of mine to study Kamal Jumblatt but from what I have learned about him he was very different than his son. He was a true socialist who stuck to his guns.

R said...


I find Jumblatt extremely arrogant and distasteful and I do not enjoy his style or his substance. I also disagree profoundly with his latest flip-flopping.

However, he is a leader who is well suited for Lebanon. You accuse him of selling the country to save his community. On the other hand, it was very clear (especially to Jumblatt) in may of last year that he cannot count on his country or country-mates to "save his community". The security forces and the army did nothing to stop the armed invasion of towns inhabited by "his community". Moreover, "other communities" proved either unwilling (christians) or unable (sunnis) to help. In other words, he realized that his back was against the wall and that he had gone to far.
You end by saying that "M14 should let him go" as if the christian or sunni leaders of M14 were fundamentally better than he is. Unfortunately, this is a country of sheep ruled by herders who differ only in style. None of the leaders of any of the so-called communities nor even the members of these communities would give a rats ass about the well being of anyone from another sect. Let us not pretend that they do. Jumblatt is acting -albeit in a disgraceful way- on that information.

Ghassan Karam said...

I was picking on Jumblatt for constantly changing his positions and for pretending to be a progressive socialist leftist thinker when he is nothing but the opposite.
I thought that I made it clear in the second paragraph that the other traditional leaders in Lebanon were just as bad as Walid Jumblatt. I think though that he represents the old traditional feudalistic society more than any of the rest. It seems to me that he is never questioned by any of his followers on anything. Whatever he says goes.
And you are right about the events last year in the shouf. But then we go back to the point that we have discussed so often. Hezbollah is a serious contender and a government partner only because they have more illegal guns. They are a bunch of outlaws.
I am ,unfortunately, always driven to the same conclusion or at least the same question, Can such a dysfunctional society keep on muddling through? I don't think so.

R said...

I totally understand. I actually think your article was pretty balanced. Based on Iglina's comment, I just wanted to clarify that it is not "fair" to subject Jumblatt to different standards than the rest of M14 just because he "switched sides". It is obvious that his switch is due to a combination of mild to severe insanity and an overdose of realism. Moreover: Yes, his move was unprincipled and provocative, but it did not come out of thin air.

worriedlebanese said...

What I find extremely interesting in self-defined anti-confessional thinking is the way it assesses communal interests. Iglina, GK and R seem to agree that Jumblatt works for the benefit of his community.

The argument is usually subsumed in a statement more or less formulated in the following manner: "X is sectarian and doesn't work for the national interest".

This dogmatic claim is never tested, but it sure is handy. It allows the analyst to disregard social and political dynamics reducing them to little more than simple equations, all ideological based and driven.

Nowhere does anyone mention that Jumblatt's bloc has been constantly shrinking since the year 2000. No one looks into the economical interests that are at play (Jumblatt's pivotal role in Druze employment in Lebanon and the fact that he controls all the State's offices in the region that he had conquered militarily in 1983).
Everyone overlooks the fact that Jumblatt has been promised 3 ministers in a future government (one more than in the present government), withstanding his shrinking bloc and the fact he is no longer the only Druze player in parliament (Tallal Arslan is back, with the largest "bloc" he has ever had).

R said...

WorriedLebanese, in the realm of civilized discourse, you are allowed to disagree and provide alternative interpretations. You are not allowed to mis-represent tho. R does not seem to agree that Jumblatt works for the benefit of his community. The point is far more nuanced and an accurate interpretation would have to involves interplay within the sect, between various sects and between sect and ``leader", etc...

What I fail to see is your point: So J's block is shrinking and his control over the economical interests in "his community" is strong, etc... all are claims -which whether true or not - do not contradict the claims about the sectarian nature of Lebanese politics, nor do they necessarily support them.

ghassan karam said...

Have you heard the story about the proud mother watching a parade who tells the other spectators close by " Have you noticed how all the participants are out of step except my WL?" :-) Take care

worriedlebanese said...

The point is pretty simple R.
The cross-partisan agreement to expand the share in government of the the parliamentary bloc that lost the most seats in the parliamentary election is an extremely strange outcome.
"Sectarianism" is dogmatic name calling that has no explanatory value whatsoever. It blames the formal system for the result of informal arrangements in which creed, ideology and legal rules have very little influence.
I can understand the pleasure people take in name-calling and throwing words such as "traditional", "tribal" or "feudal" at people they don't agree with. But let's be serious for a minute. These labels do not hold analytically.
I can understand foreigners using such terms when looking into a society they condescendingly see as "exotic", but when I hear them in the mouth of people who were brought up in this country and know its complexity and real dynamics it drives me crazy!

Yes, i am very judgemental and disparaging towards analysts who have been parroting century old analysis that wasn't even true when they were formulated.
But I will never allow myself to call my countrymen "sheep", not out of patriotism, but of simple humanism. Rationality isn't the privilege of an elite. All people are rational, but also emotional. The fact that Lebanese vote for such or such person can be explained in the same language used for British or American elections. They vote according to their interests within the choice they are given.
A Druze who votes for Jumblatt is making the most useful choice (s)he can, not because the latter heads the "tribe", but simply because he controls services and employment in the region, and can bloc employment in state institution for those who do not support him. The same can be said about many "communal leaders". The political system does not give the such rights! Its their informal arrangements that do the job; cross-partisan arrangements that cross over the divide between "March XIV" and the "Opposition".

ghassan karam said...

We have been through this before but yet I will say it again. Of course there is a reason why people vote the way they do otherwise they wouldn't. What is important is whether the rules/social contract/system/ social structure within which they are operating is an acceptable one.
Another part of your argument to justify sectarianism commits the fallacy of composition. If X is acting to protect his community then that is good. Not when X is not being guided by the common good for all the state. The best example, as well as you know, to illustrate that what is good for a part needs not be good for the whole is that of a stampede by everyone towards the exit door in a theater on fire.

R said...

(Sigh) WL,
I still fail to see your point. What you describe as
"The cross-partisan agreement to expand the share in government of the the parliamentary bloc that lost the most seats in the parliamentary election" sounds pretty sectarian to me. It is quite well understood that Jumblatt's block shrank because he made concessions to his so-called allies in Shouf and Aley and because he paid a debt to Arsalan with a seat. Consequently he gets 3 seats because of his "true" political size (as opposed to popular or parliamentary). In particular, he is represented according to the perceived ratio of his political strength in comparison to other parties and blocks. That strength and consequently the number of seats in the government is further inflated by his near hegemony over his sect.

Does the outcome still sound strange to you now?
I do not know much about your experience with what you refuse to call tribal/sectarian/backward herd like behavior because of your humanism, but I can give you one example - that I witnessed- of a Druze ( a friend of mine's father) who explained a picture of Walid Jumblatt in his house to a foreigner with the following words:"he is our God". I do not deny that person the right to his opinion nor to every right accorded to him under the law and much more. However, I am entitled to believing that his mentality is a stupid and short-sighted one governed by a tribal mentality of loyalty.

Penultimately, I honestly think that you are nit-picking by refusing to use the sectarian label and substituting it with an almost equivalent description. Finally, I add my voice to Ghassan's previous comment about the good of the part...

worriedlebanese said...

I'm very puzzled by your remarks. extremely puzzled.
I don't see where i justify "sectarianism". And I never said that any leader protects the interests of his community! I have trouble identifying what "communal interests" represent in a state such as ours. I can observe communal mobilisation. I can also identify the interets of individuals (electors or politicians). But I cannot define "communal interests" for the simple reason that our political system (formal and informal) does not provide a space for them.

As for the outcome that u mention R. Yes, it certainly sounds very strange to me. Your first paragraph is indeed a very interesting one and indicates quite well the complexity of our system.
You say that my argument on the cross-partisan agreement is sectarian. I don't see how this is true. It certainly has no bases in our constitution or any of our laws, and the agreement is nationwide within an elite that is cross-communal.

U talk about the concessions that Jumblatt made to his allies (and one could add the loss of Baabda). But then he was offered five seats by Mustaqbal (one in Beirut and two in the Chouf, and two in the western Beqaa-Rashaya). You make this swap of deputies seem as the most normal of things while it isn't. It shows a very complex informal arrangement that isn't exactly communal (but cross-denominational) because two of the offered seats are Sunni in a region that has been conquered politically by Hariri and that can threaten the election of Jumblatt himself (one has to add that more than half of Jumblatt's bloc is non-Druze). This just shows how intricate the informal system is (and one can add that it has no legal base, it's the fruit of political agreements between two men, agreements that has to be negotiated in every election).

Then you introduce the notion of "true political size", opposing it to popular and parliamentary size. This notion is extremely mind boggling because one wonders how one can measure this "true political size". It reminds me of an argument Aoun used in 2005. You speak of "perceived ratio of his political strength in comparison to other parties and blocs". well, this is also a strange concept.
All these elements indicate an intricate informal system that abides by rules (actually temporary arrangements because they do not apply to everyone) of its own without any link to our legal and political institutions. This in itself is interesting.
All these elements do not point to "sectarianism" (unless it is defined as "anything the analysts condemns and that contains a communal element"), but to a specific elite structure, patronage networks and a certain type of political arrangements.
All this is very far from all the ideological preaching, or the geopolitical talk we keep on hearing or all the pseudo psychological explanations of the conduct of politicians based on perceived pathologies.

Now if you choose to condemn rather than try to understand the mechanics, that certainly is your prerogative. But can you still call it an analysis?

R said...


It seems like you have more of an issue with what you refer to as "analysts" and that is getting in the way of a constructive conversation. I would appreciate it if you do not lump me with any one group that I do not voluntarily subscribe to.

"Now if you choose to condemn rather than try to understand the mechanics, that certainly is your prerogative. But can you still call it an analysis?"

That is uncalled for WL; moreover, I do not think that if my analysis and yours lead us to different conclusions that entitles you to question mine. In any case, my analysis does lead me to the conclusion that the Lebanese populace is mainly parochial, content with the patronage relationship that exists between itself and its leadership. Furthermore, most people subscribe to leaders and parties that are of the same sect as they are. They also distrust other sects and their leaders and they trust the judgement of their leaders and parties. To add a layer of complexity, they may switch allegiances within their own sect but they rarely cross sectarian lines to vote for leaders from other sects, etc... I am not sure what you call this, I call it sectarian - seems like a convenient word to use and as good as any in this context. Now, if you examine the interactions at the top, i.e., at the leadership level, then you are correct in describing a complex dynamic that has no basis in law or constitution. What makes this possible is the lack of accountability from the population - they have a carte blanche as long as they protect the interests of the sect. You see, Jumblatt is not very accountable to Christians or Sunnis much as Jeajea or Hizbulla are accountable to Sunnis, etc... This near-absolute legitimacy stemming from one sect enables them to behave the way they do. Again, if you wish to not call that sectarianism, pick another word and I will be willing to use it.
In other words, WL, I do choose to understand the mechanics, and I also choose to condemn the choices that the Lebanese make under those dynamics. I see no contradiction.

On the other hand, if you disagree with the above description (admittedly reductionist but mainly accurate) then I honestly do not see how we can constructively continue this conversation.

ghassan karam said...

I hope that you will not be offended or hurt by what I am just about to say.
I know that many people , including myself, cannot stand reading what they write before posting their thoughts. And that is fine because this is an informal exchange of ideas and not a peer reviewed contribution. Yet it might do you good to read what you write twice before you press the send button. I am sure that this is not your intention but it seems that whatever you write ends up being a reprimand from a master instead of an exchange between equals. The more you scold and the more you harangue the less effective you become.
Say your piece and move on. Stop the arrogance and the pretense. Some people will have a different take than yours and believe it or not they are not idiots, at least not all of them:-) Continue expressing yourself but stop alienating people.
BTW, what is your major? Is it Political Science or is it Philosophy?

worriedlebanese said...

Thanks R for your engagement in this conversation despite my issues, language and our differing approaches and premisses (I believe our disagreement is in our premisses, not in our conclusions).
Let's cut to the chase.

You speak of "Lebanese populace", judge it "parochial", and "content with the patronage relationship". I obviously find your judgement harsh and unjustified.
When you introduce the notion of accountability (and then speak of "carte blanche"), not only you distort the power structure in Lebanon but you blame the weaker party of the faults of the stronger party.
I'm sure that you would have avoided or even condemned such an analysing in any other context. What allows you to do that (and makes you feel justified in doing it) is your commitment to combat "sectarianism".

Such a behaviour is actually quite common in Lebanon, and I believe it has two negative effects. It distorts reality, and displaces the focus from a tangible reality (that can be dealt with immediately) to an ideological battle (that doesn't seem to be gaining the upper hand).

The Zu'ama are not accountable to their constituencies. Why? Because they control the public administration, the judiciary, the armed forces (private, public and communal), the banking system... And that's not because of "ta2ifyya" (whatever that means). It's because they have been imposing themselves on the population by force since 1958 (people tend to forget that Kamal Jumblatt, Rachid Karame, Saeb Salam, Pierre Gemayel and Assad al-Ashkar were responsible for the death of some 2000 citizens, and it's through their bloody conquest of territories and the political rewards that Chehab granted them that they imposed themselves and their parties on the population.

Our political class is ruthless, its power is almost boundless and it punishes (through various means) those who do not obey its orders.
You believe that Jumblatt is not accountable to Christians and Sunnis. Well, is he accountable to Druze?
I don't think so. By the way, his constituency is made up of about 1/3 christian, 1/3 sunni, 1/3 druze voters. The power structure is the same whatever community you belong to and independently of the community you belong to.
If one insists on speaking of accountability, one has to search for it elsewhere. Zu'ama are somewhat accountable to their sponsors, they are accountable to each other... In these past elections, do you think it's a coincidence that Aoun didn't support independent Shiite candidates? Do you think it's a coincidence that Mustaqbal didn't support them either? or that Amal-Hezbollah didn't support independent Sunni candidates? I don't

You condemn the "populace", I pity my fellow citizens because we have no choice; because our livelihood are maintained/threatened/controlled by a cross-communal group of wealthy, shrewd, cultured, articulate thugs. For some odd reason, it's this second group that I'd rather condemn.

R said...

I think I agree with you that we disagree on what you call "premises", but I would call them observations and conclusions in their own right - not premises. In any case, before we get to that, it is important to me that you understand that our agreement or disagreement - to me- has nothing to do with ideology. I assume that you are honestly interested in understanding a certain phenomenon, the interpretation of which we disagree on. I make no assumptions about your Ideology. Which brings me to this:

"I'm sure that you would have avoided or even condemned such an analysing in any other context. What allows you to do that (and makes you feel justified in doing it) is your commitment to combat "sectarianism". "

You are wrong on both counts. I am an advocate of calling a spade a spade when the evidence is there. I do not believe in avoiding or suppressing the inevitable conclusions because they are inconvenient. Furthermore, I am not committed to combatting sectarianism - not in any sense that you have in mind at least. I can only live my life by my principles which I arrive at through a long and ongoing process of observation, thought, education and never-ending refining. At least that is the ideal that I strive for. A process I dare say not many Lebanese engage in - hence I am what you call "harsh" toward them. I would prefer "honest with them". :)

Having said that, I stand by my previous posts for the multiple reasons detailed within. I do not think that the Lebanese are a victim population as you do, and I find your pity towards them much worse than my stands. At least I do not disempower them - I just leave matters in their hands, which I think at the moment are incompetent by their own choice. I think that the Lebanese are an active participant in the making of their own misery. They are by no means the only ones, they share the blame with the leadership class and what you call its foreign sponsors. However, this does not absolve the people of responsibility. In my opinion, there is ample evidence of their indoctrination into the sect group-mind in everyday conversations and activities they conduct, in patterns of political participation, in voting, in their discrimination against others, etc...

If the Lebanese are victims as you claim, then they are by all means victims of their own choices not helpless ones.

In any case, we can continue to disagree on any or all of that :)


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