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The Parody of Transforming Lebanon Into Nationalist State

The Parody of Transforming Lebanon Into Nationalist State

Tuesday, 24 September, 2019 - 11:45

Christian advocates of Lebanese nationalism were not known to be nationalists. The call for a “Lebanese nationalism” remained weak, confined to a number of intellectuals, some of whom had cultural or intellectual reasons, but who were not popular.

Among the political forces, the Lebanese nationalism was limited to the Guardians of the Cedars, who later became a party. Their transformation, however, did not increase their importance or fame.

Between the 1940s and the 1970s, the Lebanese Phalange Party constituted the broadest representation of the advocates of Lebanese nationalism.

The party was not nationalist. Amin Naji, one of its theorists, wrote in his book, The Philosophical Doctrine of the Phalangist: “Nationalism has nothing in its nature that contradicts human outlook and value. But the national sentiment, once out of its human context, dragged nationalists into the shadows of intolerance, slipping into misconceptions (…) The national sentiment becomes more and more humanized with the general progress of mankind (...) and the desired harmony does not result only from belonging to a single national society. There may be other motives that have the strongest impact on people and go beyond the national sentiment.”

Rashad Salameh, back when he was a Phalangist, wrote: “The talk of Lebanese nationalism (...) no longer holds enough faith, because we consider that the era has surpassed this primitive view of the nation.”

The political leaders of that era, like Camille Chamoun, Fouad Chehab and Raymond Edde, did not differ much from what the Phalanges were.

The truth is that in the Christian environment, “nationalism” was associated with Syrian nationalists. When someone is described as “nationalist”, it is only meant that he is a Syrian nationalist.

Even the Arab nationalist needed the word “Arab” to specify what was meant to say. The “nationalist” is a Syrian nationalist without the need for another adjective.

The Syrian nationalists were indeed so. They combined the qualities of nationalism as it was defined in the two world wars in Europe, and even in our 1960s. They had the specifications that made them the closest representation of fascism in our region.

A parallel and iron-based military organization, a racist ideology that revolves around skulls and “decadent and elegant” dynasties, and an absolute and infallible leadership dedicated to the founder Antoun Saadeh, as well as anti-Semitism without limits and an offensive language that searches for a “vital expansion” even on the island of Cyprus; this is in addition to nationalism itself as an association that fuses groups and parts and claims to have a long history while stagnating under the earth’s crust.

The pioneers of Lebanese patriotism, in contrast, did not want to fuse anyone into anyone, or something into something else.

The Lebanese have sects that permanently negotiate for good coexistence. Their social and political unity is their sect, not the nation. The nation is not the result of the fusion of its sects, but their gathering and agreement.

This perception managed to persist, with some degree of tension, during the First Republic (1943-1975). The coexistence has manifested itself in the parliamentary system and in a capitalist economy with services essentially open to Arabs and the West, as in the economic boycott of Israel and the military truce with it.

Today, scattered Christian voices speak of a “Lebanese nationalism” with a Christian identity. These voices may not be effective, but actions may give them some effectiveness.

One of these actions is a rising tone in the economy: “Hire just Lebanese. Buy goods produced by Lebanese. Spend in Lebanon.”

In parallel, racist attitudes and actions continue to emerge at a daily pace, under an economic pretext, especially against Syrians, Palestinians and non-Lebanese in general. Recently, the grave of a Syrian child has been exhumed because our land can only accommodate our dead.

On the other hand, the Lebanese are no longer emigrating. They are in the diaspora. This phenomenon transforms the need for immigration [which we are struggling with foreigners] into a message we practice, a message that somehow holds the meaning of the “white man's burden”.

The others are emigrants and refugees, but we are ... the diaspora.

There is also a growing tendency to host myths in our history. The last talk about "Ottoman terrorism" falls into this box.

The folklore and ‘zajal’ exchange makes a net profit. Respect for the army is sanctified, and many "beloved leaders" give way to a "strong president", who is said to have another "strong president" in his pocket.

All this does not constitute a system of nationalist thinking, but it does indicate its probability.

The rise of nationalist populism in the world is undoubtedly an encouragement: Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil proudly cited the wall to be built between the United States and Mexico.

But all this constitute a parody. At least three reasons give the observer this feeling: Having to ask Hezbollah for permission at every “gigantic” decision the Lebanese nationalism intends to “grip”; the fact that the basis that might hold such a decision is small, narrow and disjointed; and that groups, which nationalism is supposed to lift, are disputing and awaiting a tiny sparkle in the event of a civil war.

Here, the paradox seems stark: nationalists are more likely to cause the fall of the national value, due to their sectarian militancy that is not at all compatible with nationalism. This, in general, is closer to abortion than to birth. But abortion can be costly and painful.

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