Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Was The Lebanese Civil War A Total Waste?

Civil conflicts are not exactly uncommon in this world. There is hardly a nation state that has not had to overcome a major civil conflict as it was becoming established. In a sense, it appears that civil strife is a right of passage of some sort. Although there is no need to elaborate on this point as it is rather obvious and the historical facts speak eloquently for themselves let me remind the skeptics of the British civil war, the French Revolution, The American Revolution, the Russian Revolution and the Chinese revolution just to name a few.

In most cases, and certainly in each of the above mentioned ones, the bloody, destructive and painful civil wars dealt a decisive blow to the ancient regime and thus replaced the tension that dominated civil discord with a new synthesis that went on to serve these societies rather well. The deep scars have healed, relationships are harmonious, and a new identity was forged for all members of society. This laid the ground work needed for peaceful development of the human potential and for tremendous economic progress as well.

Unfortunately in Lebanon, this has not been the case, at least not yet. Besides the large number of Lebanese, most innocent civilians, who had lost their lives in this conflict, many more were maimed both physically and emotionally. The wretched war forced a large number to become displaced and an equally large number to immigrate to other more peaceful environments in all sorts of countries all over the world. But where is the meaningful change that we have the right to expect for all the misery and squalor that has been inflicted on us? Where is the grand synthesis of what separated us? Is it to be found in essentially the same political leaders that caused the catastrophe in the first place? How can the ones who created the problem be responsible for its resolution? Had they had the wisdom and know how to avoid the conflict then it would not have arisen in the first place.

Political feudalism, sectarian politics, corrupt representatives and not much concern for the common good were essential ingredients for the troubles that devastated the Lebanese social, economic and political structure. Regrettably, if we glance around the current landscape we will sadly discover that not much has changed. In a sense things have gotten worse. Corruption has become part and parcel of the system, traditional political leaders and families are still there yielding personal power guided by selfish motives, sectarianism is even stronger than ever, poverty and income inequality are on the rise and sovereignty is still a concept that is alien to most of our political representatives.

It is clear that we have paid a huge price during the civil war but our only reward thus far has been a forceful hijacking of democracy, personal rights, rule of law and economic prosperity. Yes we have paid a heavy price but so far we have been denied to collect any rate of returns on that investment. To make things even worse, the Lebanese are one of the very few people in the world who are economically worse off currently compared to where they were over 35 years ago. The most recent estimates for the 2009 GDP per capita in PPP terms is under $12,000.00 when a WHO study suggests that the Lebanese GDP per capita in PPP terms amounted to over $13,000.00 during 1973.

It is a shame isn’t it when all the pain, suffering and hurt fails to result in any kind of a payback in any field whatsoever, not even the economic one.


Anonymous said...

Civil wars become totally baseless when they fail to make any achivements. It might be too early to pass judgment on the lack of accomplishments on the Lebanese civil war but I must admit that the signs over the past decade and a half have not been very promising.

I love the apt artistic composition at the end of your column. It has all gone down the drain!!!

Bad Vilbel said...

I don't think it is too early to pass judgement. I think it is pretty clear that the Lebanese civil war has accomplished nothing positive whatsoever. We are exactly where we were in 1976, or in 1943 for that matter. Some actors may have changed (although not most), but the populace remains entrenched in its old notions of feudalism and tribalism and sectarianism.

As the author rightly points out, most civil wars result in a doing away of the old mentalities, and a sort of rebirth. Not so in Lebanon.

ghassan karam said...

I always enjoy reading your comments. Take care.

R said...

Hmmm, not to nitpick but :)... I am not so sure about the "most civil wars..." claim. I agree that most of the examples in Ghassan's post are cases where bloody civil wars led to some kind of regime change that set the stage for a new dynamic in the country. On the other hand, history abounds with examples of civil wars that end in stalemates or lead to a regeneration of the old dynamic albeit with new actors. Take for example the many civil wars in sub-Saharan Africa (e.g., Rwanda), the Algerian civil war, the one(s) in Lebanon, Columbia, etc... these hardly qualify as rights of passage. These types of wars simply impede progress through the destuction of humans, resources, and quite simply the passage of time...

I guess what I am trying to say is that we are not unique in our miserable state.

ghassan karam said...

To be honest, the idea that you speak of and even some of the same names that you mentioned did cross my mind. But then I decided that since a qualification would not distract from the thrust of the argument then it was not needed under the current circumstances. I would have definitely qualified it had the presentation been a part of a lengthier and a more substantive "academic" one. In retrospect I think that I made a mistake by not making the qualification.

Anonymous said...

You can add Spain to the list of bad civil wars giving worse results. A military coup against a republic, 40 something years of dictatorship of fascist colors, that ended with a toothless transition, made possible, in its bigger part thanks to an iron vigilance and guiding from the NATO powers. At the cost of becoming again a monarchy, and summarily erasing the past without asking any responsibilities. Spain is still the only country in Europe with untouched mass graves from the last war and its aftermath.

ghassan karam said...

Anon April 15,
I plead guilty as charged:-) but my initial point still stands true. To pay a very dear price in blood and treasure and yet see no tangible results or accomplishments from such a civil quagmire is a doubled calamity. The fact that others went through a similar experience does not make it any more acceptable.


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