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The Arsenal of Names and Meanings in Lebanon

The Arsenal of Names and Meanings in Lebanon

Wednesday, 10 November, 2021 - 11:00

When Lebanese people say “the Movement” (haraka in Arabic), they are referring to the Amal Movement led by Nabih Berri. For there are no other political groups that use this word to describe themselves; if they are found, they are regional, like the “Independence Movement,” which is only active in the Zgharta region. Indeed, since the demise of the “Arab Nationalist Movement” in the late 1960s the term “the movement” was no longer adopted by groups operating at the national level, at least not in Lebanon. Only in the mid-1970s did Imam Mousa al-Sadr revive it in a different context.

As for “Current” (Tayyar - which, while officially translated, in English, into “movement”, literally translates to “current”- in Arabic) it refers to the “Free Patriotic Movement” (Al Tayyar al-Watani al-Hor). The word “Future” prevails for referring to the Future Movement (Tayyar al-Mustaqbal), which is also referred to as a “current.” As for the “Marada Movement” (Tayyar al-Marada) in Zgharta and the “Dignity Movement” (Tayyar al-Karameh) in Tripoli, and others like them, they are regional parties that do not have the capacity to compete over meanings on a national scale.

With the term “party,” things change. Lebanon has seen the rise of well-established parties with a national reach founded as far back as the 1920s and 30s, such as the “Communist,” “Syrian Nationalist,” and “Phalangist” (aka Kataeb) parties. In the late 1940s and early fifties, the “Progressive Socialist Party” and the “Arab Baath Party” coming from Syria emerged. This is to say nothing about the parties that have always been there, like the “Najada Party” and the “National Liberal Party.” Even today, demand for the term “party” continues to go strong. The “Lebanese Forces” have transformed themselves into a party, and there are, of course, as in the cases of the “current” and “movement,” regional politicians and others operating at a neighborhood level who use the term “party” to label their few supporters.

Despite that, if you say “the Party” it is understood that you are referring to Hezbollah. It alone is the party, as affirmed by all, including the leaders of some of the other parties. This phenomenon seems funny and pathetic when leaders of the “Communist” and “Syrian Nationalist” parties use the term “the Party” to refer to Hezbollah rather than their own. Once we add that the latter is the only one that has the term god in its name, the exclusivity and infallibility are heightened further.

The same is true for the word “Sayyed” - a title used to refer to male descendants of Shiite religious families and is generally translated into “sir” or “master.” Many of these sayyeds turned into politicians, as was the case for Hussein al-Husseini, and more than a few of them have held ministerial positions or become deputies. However, all of them had that title followed by their first names. Even Mousa al-Sadr, the most important of them all until his disappearance in 1978, was commonly referred to as “Sayyed Mousa.” As for the Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, he has become the only one referred to when one says “the sayyed”. He alone is the sayyed whose first name doesn’t have to be mentioned. To refer to the sayyed who preceded him as that same party’s leader, that is, Abbas al-Moussawi, one had to mention his first name for others to know who is being referred to.

And, of course, the word “resistance,” with all the magical connotations bestowed upon it, refers to none other than Hezbollah. Those using the term to refer to the “Palestinian resistance” must say “Palestinian” loudly to be understood. Those referring to the Communist resistance to the Israeli invasion, which was called “the Lebanese National Resistance Front - Jammoul,” have to pinch their interlocutor to be understood. The word “Jammoul” could be understood as a name given to a nice lady.

In contrast to the claims tyrannical regimes and their parties usually make to promote the image they want to present about themselves and others, it is not the “masses” who grant the terms “party,” “sayyed” and “resistance,” if not history and God, their exclusivity. Manufacturing meanings in this manner stems only from an entrenched proclivity to impose this singularity on society so long as the imposition of the one party and the one leader who runs it is not ripe until further notice. That is how the burning desire to sum up the country and its history operates and how this summary is then imposed in the form of a regime that governs minds before governing reality, teaching us what can and cannot be said and done.

Engaging language and creating new meanings for words is not new to wars of subordinating minds and spirits. However, what makes this process more repugnant is that we in Lebanon have gotten used to the word “Raiis” (president) referring to three people simultaneously (president, speaker of parliament and prime minister), and the term encompasses more than a few of the countries’ former presidents, prime ministers and speakers, who maintain the title “Raiis” even after their death. We recall that Fouad Chehab, whose honorary titles were excessive, was given the title “Prince and Major General, President.” However, he suffered a resounding defeat in 1968 that left him isolated before eventually being forgotten. And the Lebanese had a lot of fun with the title “ruler” (amid in Arabic) which exclusively referred to Raymond Edde, turning the title into more of a joke that could be affectionate or lightly ironic. In any case, the “amid” ended up in a room in a Parisian hotel, where he took his last breaths.

That, in general, is the habit of free people when they intend to remain free, uttering what their minds dictate and their minds only uttering what freedom dictates.

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