August 10, 2006
Of, by and for the Lebanese
Michael Young has an article in the upcoming New York Times Sunday magazine discussing Lebanon's politics, the rise of Hizbullah, and the nature of the conflicting visions for the country. It's a good piece, and very different from much of Young's output over the past couple years. There's a sense of humility to it, and a willingness to look at the warts on "his" side of the equation as much as on the other side.
The main thing that sets it apart from so much of the commentary on the war is a willingness to look at Hizbullah as a Lebanese phenomenon, run by Lebanese with a vision of what Lebanon ought to be, and responding to Lebanese circumstances. This is something I was getting at back at the war's start, and which raf picked up on in his analysis. And it's the kind of thinking that is the only way that Lebanon is going to be able to get itself out of the mess it will be in, even after the bombs stop falling.
There's a tendency by both local and foreign analysts of Lebanon to see its problems in terms of foreign interference. For foreigners, it's partly a matter of keeping things simple - Lebanese politics are hideously complex. Much simpler to go back to Syria-versus-Israel or Iran-versus-America or hawks-versus-hippiefascists framework that you've been working under anyway.
For the Lebanese, it's a combination of blame-shifting and denial of legitimacy to one's domestic opponents. You can see this in Asad Abu Khalil's depiction of the Lebanese government as servants of the Saudis and the Americans. It's not possible that the Hariri people legitimately see Lebanon's interests as tied to integration into the world economy or market-based growth. It must be because they're beholden to the Saudis.
Others see Hizbullah as an Iranian cat's paw in Lebanon, or the pro-Western parties' strings pulled by a Zionist puppetmaster. It all ties into a heroic narrative of patriots versus traitors that animates all sides of the Lebanese equation.
Of course there's some truth to these pictures. The Hariri fortune is tied to Saudi Arabia. The March 14 movement is friendly to the United States, and has received diplomatic support from the US and France. Their economic program was developed by an American-trained economist who cut his policy teeth working at the Saudi Arabia desk of the IMF, and some friendly commentators have openly expressed their wish to be the first to welcome their new IMF overlords. And of course Hizullah has strong ties to both Iran and Syria.
But regardless of how the war turns out, the Lebanese are going to have to come to terms with each other. And to do that, they'll have to accept that all the principal actors on the domestic scene are Lebanese and are acting, more or less sincerely, on a vision of what Lebanon ought to be.
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Posted by: matthew hogan at August 10, 2006 12:01 PM
Membership prevents immediate access but Young's visible second line sounds like the same old Michael Young.
"But the radical Shiites are well on their way to destroying the creation of a new Lebanon, which may have been the point all along."
Posted by: matthew hogan at August 10, 2006 12:02 PM
I'm thinking of the part starting with the paragraph:
"With Hariri’s killing, two Lebanons entered into confrontation. They were distinguished, in large part, by their different visions of the past. One recalled the glories of a cosmopolitan, multiconfessional prewar Lebanon and admired Hariri for seeking to revive those glories. The other one, mainly Shiite, had little such nostalgia: it recalled a prewar, sophisticated, free-market Lebanon that had left them with little worth remembering."
"Or did it? While the March 14 rally was interpreted by many as the defining moment of a new, multisectarian Lebanon, while it was an unforgettable experience for those who attended — and I was there — it also emerged from the viscera of Lebanese sectarianism. Anger against Syria, sorrow over Hariri’s murder and the hope for a free Lebanon all contributed to March 14, but so, too, did revulsion at the image of hundreds of thousands of poor Shiites descending on Beirut’s pot of gold, its downtown area, that receptacle of mainly urban Sunni and Christian achievement. The hinterland had laid claim to the wealth of the capital, and it had done so in the name of a Syrian regime that was also a product of the hinterland. The reflex of Lebanon’s elites and middle class — those who prided themselves on their openness — was to close the door."
Plus, maybe I'm grading on a curve.
Posted by: Tom Scudder at August 10, 2006 12:52 PM
Weird. That sentence is nowhere on the logged-in page. It might very well not have been written by Young at all. (I don't know how the NYT does teaser text and the like - in the small amount of subediting I've done, it's been my job to make up the teasers.)
Posted by: Tom Scudder at August 10, 2006 12:58 PM
Possibly it's the teaser here, apologies to thee and M Young if so.
Posted by: matthew hogan at August 10, 2006 01:03 PM
I have a very hard time giving credit to Young.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at August 10, 2006 04:29 PM
As usual, my comment got eaten by the three letter word depicted in the image. Anyway, it may be that the opening statements on the non-member page are teaser ones.
Posted by: matthew hogan at August 10, 2006 05:59 PM
cat cat bloody cat!
Posted by: eerie at August 10, 2006 08:17 PM
"cat cat bloody cat!"
I know, it's a great clue, but what's the word, dammit?
Posted by: matthew hogan at August 10, 2006 09:33 PM
The simplicity of news broadcasts. I have heard nothing of the palestinians in Lebanon, anybody know how the palestinians are positioning themselves in this bout? Are they keeping out altogether? Does PLO(Abbas) still hold sway in the camps?
Posted by: Anders at August 11, 2006 06:45 AM
Anders, from what I've been able to tell, the Israelis have attacked several Palestinian camps thus far, killing some. In an ironic twist, Palestinians have actually been taking in Lebanese refugee families from the south. It seems the Palestinians are being more gracious hosts than the Lebanese have been(or at least more gracious that the Lebanese rightwing powers that be or have been). Obviously the Palestinians view Israel as the main enemy, and many of them have retained their arms because of S&S despite calls from certain Lebanese sectors for them to disarm(before this crisis began), but I don't see the Palestinians taking an active role in things unless Israeli troops show up outside the camps themselves. There's not much organization amongst them compared to before the PLO was evicted in 82, but this crisis might ahem, give birth to more organization and outward focus in the Palestinians of Lebanon. We'll see.
Posted by: Djuha at August 11, 2006 10:26 AM
It seems the Palestinians are being more gracious hosts than the Lebanese have been
i'm not sure exactly what you mean by that ...
Posted by: lazarus at August 11, 2006 04:18 PM