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Lebanon: Several ‘Nationalisms’ under a Single National Anthem

Lebanon: Several ‘Nationalisms’ under a Single National Anthem

Sunday, 1 September, 2019 - 06:45

The peoples of many countries, such as Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, struggle to define their identity, leading to divisions. They are therefore, countries of many “nationalisms” and groups, instead of a single national identity. Of course, these nationalisms change with time. Some loyalists may abandon them, but their principles ultimately, never change.

Contrary to the claim that the loyalty to a group contradicts with the idea of a nation, the reality is actually a bit more complicated. Each group is “national” in that it boasts of the nation. But each group defines its “nationalism” according to its sentiments and own history. These are nationalisms that do not converge to form a higher nationalism, but instead clash at every turn.

Lebanon boasts at least four nationalisms. Three are based on a certain past and one claims to pave the way for the future.

The first is Maronitism that can trace back its roots to the 1920-1975 period and even the days of the Mount Lebanon Mutasarrifate. This nationalism was the source of all principles and standards and also determined what could be deemed national and what was not. This is why many Maronite leaders say “Lebanese want this” and “they don’t want” - by “Lebanese” they mean the Christians.

In contrast to this deep flaw, Maronitism has one virtue: Its reluctance to impose its views on others. The “Maronite hegemony” in Lebanon has developed an ideology that we wish would be institutionalized. It has instead been narrowed down to the history books. This ideology believes in opening up to the West and communicating with its surroundings. It also believes in Lebanon as a “safe haven for minorities” and calls for keeping it at a distance from regional conflicts. This nationalism, however, belies a severe sense of isolation.

Sunni nationalism, although late in emerging, is based on being “with” one side until the very end “against” another until the very end. It is prepared to “merge” with whoever it supports, such as Nasserism or the Palestinian resistance, or engage in a direct clash with its opponents.

Rafik Hariri introduced additional meanings to Sunni nationalism without confronting its old definitions. He brought to light its economic and financial aspects and was inspired by Maronite nationalism and its yearning to defuse regional tensions.

For various reasons, Maronite and Sunni nationalisms hated wars and conflict and they only sought peace. The regional conflicts, however, swept up Maronite nationalism and transformed it into folkloric rhetoric that grows even more folkloric day after day. The regional conflicts also destroyed Sunni nationalism, killing its founder and leaving it in an existential crisis: The past Hariri, Nasserite and Palestinian experiences are no longer applicable today.

Amid all of these developments, Shiite nationalism was founded by Moussa al-Sadr in the 1960s. It was based on leftist rhetoric and sought social accountability on the basis of “deprivation”. Later, in inheriting old Sunni nationalism, it took over so-called populism and molded it into Islamic struggle. Therefore, according to Shiite nationalism, to be a Lebanese national, one must champion greater causes, and with them, greater powers that possess weapons and infiltrate the future from beneath the rubble. Given its attraction to greater causes, powers and weapons, the nation was transformed into an arena and all other nationalisms were set aside.

As for Druze nationalism, its sole founder was Kamal Jumblatt.

This nationalism preceded Maronite nationalism in emphasizing the role of minorities and preceded Shiite nationalism in speaking of social “progression.” It built its stronghold in the mountain regions among the minorities. It found its footing and support through its social rhetoric and expanded the power of a minority group, the Druze. However, its lack of a large popular base given the small number of Druze meant that this nationalism was doomed to fail. It is easy to seize its land because it does not have a sufficient number of guards. The Christians cemented the idea of the mountains and minorities and the Shiites usurped social aspects and laid claim to everything that has the word “revolution” regardless of its context.

Other nationalisms exist in Lebanon: The Armenian and Kurdish nationalisms that consider animosity to Turkey as the foundation of Lebanese nationalism. The Lebanese Alawites believe “friendship” with the Assad regime to be the basis of their nationalism.

We must not forget the “national movement” nationalism, whose nationalism has made it overlook mentioning Lebanon and instead defines it as fighting Israel and opposing imperialism.

All of the above-mentioned nationalisms reject any substitute to “Lebanon’s unity”. They all stand up and sing along when the country’s national anthem is played and throw a fit when it is not.

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