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From America to Lebanon, Coexistence and Acceptance of Others is a Common Problem

From America to Lebanon, Coexistence and Acceptance of Others is a Common Problem

Friday, 30 October, 2020 - 05:30

Very beautiful was the speech delivered by Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, after leading the country’s Labor Party to a sweeping General Elections victory that will ensure her a second term in office with a comfortable absolute majority. The speech was an embodiment of common sense and ethical politics; which are two qualities one would hope were globally exportable commodities these days.

During the last few years, the 40-year-old Ardern led New Zealand through two difficult experiences: The March 2019 Christchurch terrorist massacre, and the Covid-19 pandemic. Thanks to a combination of firmness and compassion she has succeeded in quelling the outrage, reassured the people, hit firmly against terror and kept security in a nation most of whose population are immigrants. She then repeated her success in dealing with the pandemic with unmatched impressive efficiency in containing the lethal virus.

In her victory speech, Ardern said: “We are living in an increasingly polarized world, a place where more and more people have lost the ability to see one another’s point of view. I hope that this election, New Zealand has shown that this is not who we are. That as a nation, we can listen and we can debate. After all, we are small to lose sight of other people’s perspectives. Elections aren’t always great at bringing people together, but they also don’t need to tear one another apart”.

The essence of this humble message of tolerance does not differ much from the quote of the great Islamic jurist Al-Shafi’i “my opinion is right, but may also be wrong, and the other’s opinion is wrong, but may also be right”. Furthermore, it was put together in simple sentences and noble positive spirit that encourages rapprochement and consensus rather than incitement to conflict, haughtiness, marginalization, and exclusion; even accusing opponents of treason.

However, such a noble spirit seems to be the exception, not the rule in today’s politics.

We do not see it anymore even in democratic countries that boast free elections and claim the respect of general freedoms; beginning with giants like the USA and India, ending with a small failed state like militia-dominated Lebanon, and in between lie regional powers fiddling with the affairs of the Middle East, such as Iran, Turkey, and Israel.

The USA has lived through a few difficult months, during which it almost lost the ability to protect the integrity of institutions, and respect conflict management against the background of Covid-19 economic and political consequences. In the run-up to the November Presidential, Congressional and State elections, it is more than likely that we are going to see more tension and agitation, along with the fast track appointment of the conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court.

In another place, far away from America’s size and calculations, but yet closely affected by its interests, the Lebanese popular uprising has marked its first full year. However, one year on, the uprising looks in disarray and Lebanon is in a worse shape due to a status quo the uprising, knowingly or unknowingly, has chosen to ignore.

The situation in the USA is open to all possibilities, not just as reflected by opinion polls, but also given the unprecedented polarized and worried public mood.

Personally, I remember no US elections as polarized and tense as the one we are in today between the Republican and Democratic Presidential candidates.

In particular, I remember well two ‘quasi ideological’ contests. The first was in 1964 between the Democratic President Lyndon Johnson and his Republican challenger Senator Barry Goldwater; and the second, in 1972 between the Republican President Richard Nixon and his Democratic challenger Senator George McGovern.

Both contests took place against the background of the Vietnam War. And both were easily won (more than % 60 of the votes) by the more ‘moderate’ candidate. In 1964 Johnson was a traditional semi-conservative Democrat confronting the hawkish and war-mongering Republican Goldwater; while in 1972, a rationalist mainstream Republican (in contrast with the extreme conservative Right-winger Ronald Reagan) confronted McGovern, a radically dovish anti-war Democrat.

Thus, in both cases, American voters went for the candidate who was closer to the center ground, shunning both the extreme Right and extreme Left challengers.

The situation looks – so far - different now, as we notice no clear advantage between the Republican President Donald Trump and his Democratic opponent former VP Joe Biden. If the 1964 and 1972 scenarios were to apply today, Biden would be riding high in all polls, being the candidate closer to the center ground.

Well, this is not the case, due to two factors:

1- The USA, as a nation, has radically changed under the influences of demography, advanced technology (specifically in industry and the media), and globalization.

2- What were long regarded as institutional givens respected by the political class, is now shaking violently under the pressures of rampant populism represented by the ‘Trump phenomenon’ and Steve Bannon’s concepts. Thus, the America that we knew until the last four years has gone, regardless of the November 3rd results.

Fragile Lebanon, too, despite the huge difference in size and stature compared to America, is now existentially threatened by structural dynamics.

Yesterday, I watched a TV interview with a retired army brigadier and a serious political analyst, in which he discussed the popular uprising. His analysis was truly impressive; in particular, when he pointed to what has badly harmed the uprising.

Among the leading causes, as he said, were the open threats and brute sectarian attacks, and infiltration and sabotage from within by, or through, certain security agencies. He also criticized its errors of judgment and some of the uprising’s actions and slogans, including, Killon Ya’ni Killon (i.e. ‘All of them, means all of them’), which he regarded as both wrong and unhelpful; adding – and rightly so – that the organizers should have differentiated between, the corrupt, the conspirator, and the inefficient.

In short, as the analyst said, the Lebanese uprising intentionally kept away from core political issues, preferring generalization instead, in a vain attempt to avoid targeting a particular political entity. However, the outcome of the past 12 months, has proven that the regionally-influenced conspiracy against Lebanon, its identity and future, was much greater than its people’s local living demands

It is now obvious that one cannot separate corruption from the current security situation; nor is it possible for this security situation to continue away from the ‘regional projects ’being negotiated by the ‘major players’ at the expense of the Lebanese

Eventually, after the completion of these negotiations, the ‘minor players’ would disarm and abide by the deals reached, but in front of a political entity being killed by hunger, and a deserted homeland that is losing its raison d’être by the day...

Thus, in both cases, American voters went for the candidate who was closer to the center ground, shunning both the extreme Right and extreme Left challengers.

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