Monday, December 7, 2009

Elimination of Sectarianism Revisited


Those who persist in criticizing Speaker Berri and President Suleiman for their plan to implement the Taef accords ought to be reminded of the saying: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.”
The well orchestrated attacks on the Berri-Suleiman plan can best be described as disingenuous, close minded and even bigoted. Political confessionalism is a misguided idea that has been gnawing at the Lebanese body politic ever since the establishment of the state 66 years ago. This idea of using the personal attribute of religion as the single factor for preventing a citizen from seeking a public office and many other civil service jobs is discriminatory, inefficient, harmful and egregious. One can even blame this single idea for most of the domestic tragedies that have consumed Lebanon in 1958, the 15 year civil war in addition to all the other social ills and inequities.
Speaker Berri ought to be commended for agreeing to spearhead the call by President Suleiman to take steps in order to implement the Taef accords that have stopped the Lebanese hemorrhaging over 15 years ago by demanding the creation of a bi cameral parliament and the total abolishing of political sectarianism all across the political sphere. Mr. Berris’ call to establish a commission whose only charge is to study and recommend steps to phase out this most destructive of all practices in the Lebanese political system must be seen in its true historical context. It is simply a call to do what all the Lebanese parties have agreed to do 15 years ago but have always found an excuse to carry on business as usual.
Unfortunately it is these same procrastinators who have risen to challenge Speaker Berri for daring to remind them of their duties and their commitments. Obviously one should not expect those that have benefited from an arrangement to go ahead and cheer on its demise but it is important to remember that when such institutions, organizations and individuals act as obstructionists and obfuscators they are doing so for very selfish reasons. Sure they would try to rationalize their demagoguery as if they are driven by love of country when in effect their only intention all throughout the decades has been preserving their preferred status. The logic and irrationality used by Patriarch Sfeir in order to prevent this hugely important and crucial step from becoming realized boggles the mind. How can we explain to our children that 35-40% of the population is entitled to 50% of the parliamentary seats or that a bright young educated Shiite woman cannot become a prime minister for no fault of her own besides the fact that she was born on the wrong side of the track so to speak.
It should not be too difficult to understand that any form of discrimination, racial, ethnic or religious is just as bad as any other form of discrimination based on gender, sexual preferences or the colour of ones eyes. Patriarch Sfeir makes an excellent point when he says that it is important to eliminate sectarianism from the inner soul of individuals. That would be a tremendous accomplishment but to use the need to create a perfect state made of saints sounds as an excuse to derail badly needed reform efforts is unconscionable. Society has a duty to set laws and regulations that would enhance the common good and citizens have the right to disagree with such laws but must obey them while they are in effect. Anti discrimination laws do not mean by any stretch that we have eliminated bigotry but it means that it would be illegal to act upon it.
President Suleiman and Speaker Berri need all our support in order to proceed with this project upon whose completion the future of the state rests. (Prior to this initiative the author has been a vocal critic and an opponent of both Mr. Berri and Mr. Suleiman).

20 comments:

Secular said...

Lebanon must initiate this process before it is too late.

Nobody said...

I still can't get why you call it elimination of sectarianism. People will continue to vote for sectarian parties. You are just changing the power balance. The current system distributes power between the three major groups in a certain way. You want to replace it with one that will be based strictly on a numerical majority. Ok, the biggest group will probably take over but how this eliminates sectarianism?

In practical terms your ideas are very likely to trigger another wave of Christian flight from Lebanon. Very nice, their share is dwindling anyway and you are just making the inevitable happen sooner. So you will be left with the Sunnis and Shias. This will eliminate sectarianism? Until now the tripartite system required some kind of inter sectarian alliances. In the future you will have two groups with less need for coalition politics and the stuff. I don't see how it will make the system less sectarian. If anything, it will make it more like this.

And one does not have to be a fan of Kataeb to know that the Christian role in Lebanon far exceeds their numbers. You want to position your country on a very slippery slope. And I am still not getting what kind of benefits you are expecting to reap for doing this.

Arik said...

That's what I would suggest:

I would leave the system of executive appointments as it is - confession based. It is too scary to change it.

However I would introduce the following election reform:

about 10-20% of the seats in the Lebanese Parlament will be contested based on countrywide lists - like in Israel. By law, the lists will have to be non-sectarian. Like by law, the regional elections are sectarian. Election Commettee will make sure the lists are multi-confessional, candidates have national platformes, etc.

One may claim that Christians will get screwed with such a change as they are a minority. I am not convinced. There will be planty of Christian candidates on such lists as they are more secular and run business, education and media in the country.

ghassan karam said...

Nobody,
Let me start by saying that I just saw your post on Qifanabki and I guess that I owe you a response.
As you well know , there is always a danger of misunderstanding the real intent of a "poster" whenever it is in response to an issue that was raised on the periphery by somebody else :-)
I am often a critic of the Washington Consensus and a staunch advocate of the view that "Economic Development Is a Hypothesis of Impossibility" for the whole globe.
As you can see I am an advocate of Steady State Economics and thus the need for redistribution. But that is a different story. The IMF and World Bank policies have usually not worked. Unfortunately I believe that Lebanon has been following these policies. That is one reason that we are heading to the poor house.

Believe me , Nobody, when I say that I understand your concerns regarding the issue of sectarianism. In a sense i believe that your position will probably turn out to be the correct position :-) Maybe be I am a utopian. But I refuse to accept confessionalism as a rational sytem under any set of circumstances. When I use the term sectarianism I really mean non confessionalism but it appears that the press has been using the term sectarianism instead.
My position is derived from my strong belief in secularism. As a result i do not give a hoot whether the Christians or Moslems gain because under my system they always see themselves as Lebanese.

Nobody said...

Frankly I don't know why you are bothering yourself with this stuff at all. In your place I would have split the country. You have a heavily armed fundamentalist semi state in the south. Salafi groups are spawning like mushrooms in the north. Take the center of the country, take Beirut, take what you can take and get out of there. The Middle East is coming to take you over. And you are dreaming about some kind of abstract idealistic stuff. Come on, man. This is the Middle East. What does it mean under your system they always see themselves as Lebanese. Under the reality most of them see themselves first of all as Christians and Muslims.

ghassan karam said...

Arik,
I think that ultimately a system along the lines of what you are proposing will need to be adopted. That is why i am in favour of setting up a committee to make suggestions about the steps that are requiredin order to get rid of the present confessionalist system. I have one question though, can a system similar to the one in Israel accommodate regional representatives?

ghassan karam said...

Nobody,
Down deep in my heart I know that you are right:-)

Arik said...

Well, Ghassan, the Israeli parlamentary system is full of faults itself. As it is 100% relative elections system (all Israel is one election region), there are too many parties that get inside. Now they increased the minimum votes plank and it got a bit better.

By no means I suggest Lebanon will copy the Israeli system.

Now, ye, you can accomodate regional reps in a relative system. That is gonna be a mixed system then. You can have 50% getting elected in their regions (and let them remain sectarian by law in your case) and then have 50%to run on nationwide lists.

I know some europen countries have such a system (one of the few things I still remember from my Political Sc. B.A in Hebrew U. :))

Nobody said...

ghassan karam said...
Nobody,
Down deep in my heart I know that you are right:-)


:D :D

I can relate to the place you are coming from. I guess Arik too even though like many Israelis we are unabashed nationalists. But I certainly can understand what you are talking about.

However, you are not a religious person, neither I am, but they have this story about Job in the Jewish tradition. And the story goes that Job was stripped of everything that he had: wife, children, his friends were wrongly accusing him. The end of the story is known and this story has many interpretations, but ultimately it all boils down to this: obsession with material possessions is only marginally worse than obsessions with relationships, social stuff and their likes. Nothing in this world really belongs to man and the good will of fellow human beings is just as unreliable and illusive as money, houses, material possessions and the stuff. This is not something that can be accumulated, stored, secured and finally taken to the grave.

We should be idealists in personal matters because in our private lives we are almost kings, but we should be realists and pragmatists in social and political matters. These utopias come and go. Mostly they just make people live lives of frustration. But they are not worth of people getting so attached to them. What the idealists are doing these days with their Geneva conventions, human rights declarations and others papers, they are just trying to construct out of them another tower of Babel. They have already created more damage to their own cause than any fascists could do.

Looked at the Europeans. They could have celebrated their multiculturalism and differences for eternity, have these diversity fanaticists not packed the place with their unintegratable immigrations. Now you have weird parties all over Europe, people want to ban the Koran, people banning minarets. It's plainly worse than it was 30 years ago. Have they had normal immigration policies, this would have never happened. It's the idealism that got them there!! Look at them and get the lesson.

Nobody said...

Arik

The problem with Lebanon's political system goes beyond its sectarian structure. Because ultimately you have here two camps with irreconcilable agendas and any system can be good only as long as it prevents a decisive outcome. As long as everything is suspended in the air, they can live. From the moment you create a clear and obvious majority, you should start planning for a civil war or separatism or something. If you have a sectarian country, it makes sense to have this reflected in the political system. In Iraq, they now have a fairly representative system and Shias got their 60% and the Sunnis will get their 20%. Everything is fair and non confessional. Now go and explain this to the Sunni truck bombers.

Black Ubuntu said...

I think that the orthodox interpretation of Job is that one should not worship god as a means to an end but rather the worshiping is an end in itself .
This is probably the main difference between Judaism and Christianity , the later focuses on the salvation of man rather than the worshiping of god.

Nobody said...

BU

Yes. They have several interpretations actually. It's a multi layer story. And of course every two Jews have have in addition three personal interpretations. But to put it on the more appealing to you Buddhist rails, it's just another form of attachment.

Arik said...

Bad things happen to good people. When these bad things do happen, good people are not supposed to accuse G-d.

As to the question why bad things happen to good people: we will never understand and anyway it is non-of-our-business.

That is what G-d told Job in his response in The Book of Job.

Kind of a tough idea to live with.

Arik said...

Nobody

it looks like there are 2 different countries inside Lebanon indeed.

But it is impossible to split Lebanon in two. They live all mixed up. How do you want to split Beirut?

Nobody said...

It's not 2 different countries, it's at least 3. The North is also a very special place. I mean different to the point of having dangerous consequences. They have areas over there that in terms of Sunni conservatism and Salafi extremism can put to shame Saudi Arabia herself

Nobody said...

Arik said...
Bad things happen to good people. When these bad things do happen, good people are not supposed to accuse G-d.

As to the question why bad things happen to good people: we will never understand and anyway it is non-of-our-business.


What I am saying is more like a ramification of the same thing. In this world, as far as bad or even good things are concerned, you have no refuge in this world.

In Buddhism they will talk about impermanence and the stuff. In Judaism they will say God is your only refuge. But I think that many reasonable religious people and many secular people like me will agree that this wide eyed idealism that's now taken over the West and other parts of the world, this obsession with social political reformism, is deeply anti spiritual in its essence. It's the anti thesis of the real thing.

Idealism, spirituality is a private matter. It should be reserved for private lives. You want to reform the world, start with yourself. You can'd do it? Then leave the world in peace.

ghassan karam said...

Nobody,
I like the Jos story and your interpretation of it. Our attachment to ideology could be as damaging as that to organized religion. It does become a religion and often as you said it is painful.
Yet I would rathet live in "A world of wounds" as Aldo Leopold stated rather than just drift and compromise on everything. We have to guide our lives by something meaningful.

Arik,
I believe that your understanding of the Lebanese problem is very accurate. I have often described it as being two separate parties pushing in opposite directions. In most countries the various parties differ as to the means but agree to the end. In Lbanon the end is not common and so the major parties are the exact entithesis of each other.

Nobody said...

ghassan karam has left a new comment on the post "Elimination of Sectarianism Revisited":

Nobody,
I like the Jos story and your interpretation of it. Our attachment to ideology could be as damaging as that to organized religion. It does become a religion and often as you said it is painful.
Yet I would rathet live in "A world of wounds" as Aldo Leopold stated rather than just drift and compromise on everything. We have to guide our lives by something meaningful.


Living meaningfully does not require chasing utopias. To get the things done is as meaningful as it can get. In the Middle East to turn a country into a flourishing silicon valley is the most meaningful thing possible. Well, maybe for this you will need to split the place into three silicon valleys and separate them by fences, but if it works to prevent civil wars and let people live normal lives, what can be more meaningful. Better to risk wrecking the whole place out of commitment to some abstract ideals of equality and universal brotherhood?

Abu Sa'ar said...

Or, to sum up Machiavelli's main point: emotion and statesmanship mix ill.

Nobody said...

I would say - don't confuse ends with means

 

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