Walid's Wanderings

Reflections on life, good-and-evil, family, humanity, and anything else that occurs to me, usually when I travel. Right now I am on a 6-year trip through Lebanon, the homeland I had never really lived in before.

Friday, March 04, 2005

In my classes, I teach budding managers the importance of asking the "WITI" test: "Why Is This Important?" And, regarding Harir's assasination, I think a lot of the media in the West still don't get it. Not that the media in the Arab world has anything to say on the matter either, since they are too close to the road kill to see the fender that fell off.

Cute methaphor, you say, but what does it mean? Let me answer this with another metaphor. The late Hafez Asad was a hacker genius. What's a hacker? Before computers, the hacking denoted a different form of artisanship. Artisans produce fine work using blunt tools, and hacking was a case n point: the production of furniture from logs of wood using nothing more of an ax. In shaping Syrian nad Lebanese politics to his liking, Hafez balanced the force of his blows with the sharpness of his ideological edge. Yes, people obey out of fear, but the acquiese in the maintenance of fear only if they believe that, somehow, a greater good is being served. In our case, we have a greater good defined by many names and interpreted in various directions, but it boils down to one thing: the noble mission of the nation.

What we have is many variants of the same ideology that corporatizes (as in "corporation") the idea of the nation into an entity that is bigger than the mere collective will of the citizens of the nation (just like a corporation can be sued independently of the criminal or civil liability of the shareholders) . In Germany, this ideology was called "National Socialism." And if you think that hearing the very words "National Socialism" cinch the argument, then supress that impulse of you want to understand the Arab reaction to Hariri's death. In Arabic, the words live on, translated variously as "Arab-resurrection Socialist" and "syrian-nationalist Social" and "Nasser-Nationalist" (reference to Gemal Abdul Naser of Egypt.) In all cases, the need fo more words betrays the distinction that the idea of who the nation was is not obvious as in Germany ot Italy ot Japan, but had to be defined. Under Saddam, the nation ws Arabic-speaking Sunni Muslims; under Asad, it was all Arabic speakers equally; under Naser I think it was working-class Arabic speakers ( as far as I can tell). Then there was the "Syrian Nation", an idea that draws the most fervent true believers because the nation that was corporatized actually shares ethnic roots and speaks a mutually intellgible dialect of Arabic.

So here is what really happened in my view when Rafic Hariri was assasinated. Yes, it goes without saying that people were digusted, that the fear over one's own life was much diminished when viewed in perspective next to the fear of the complete economic and social collapse emblemized by Hariri's death, and that subsequently many who had followed the Syrian line
out of mere fear stepped out of line as their fear diminished. But the change is bigger than that. The inexperienced would-be heirs of Hfez Asad not only hit the wood so hard and at such an amateur angle that the wood under them hardened as it compressed. I believe they actually miscalculated the angle of the blow so badly that the edge was irrevocably dulled. The very edge of ideology that allowed the application of violence to be tolerated without shattering the subject, and that shaped the result in a way pre-calculated by the craftsman, did not survive the horribly aimed blow. One might argue that it was not even an intentional blow, but a slip of the axe from the hand of the nominal wielder. We don't know yet, but it hardly matters why the blow was blown. What matters is how the edge was dulled.

And here is what everyone seems to miss: the "greater good" can be invoked in such general and malleable terms by a would-be fuhrer only when the audience has never actually seen a real "greater good". This is what Rafic Hariri in his death provided. Suddenly, all who knew him realized that he had actually lived the ideal that ideologues had transplanted into their utopian future. He was truly a public servant, who gave for the good of giving, who gave of his time, his security, his money, his political capital, all to the huge and obvious benefit of every single human being in Lebanon. Yes, he was envied, second-guessed, and politically smeared, but when he died we all realized that we never truly believe the smears even as we gave our votes to someone else. Those who thought he paid below market for their real-estate realized that without him buying next door, the market value would have been non-existent. And, most of all, we realized that we wanted nothing to do with any future utopias that had been sold to us as part of a package that made it even remotely possible to lable someone like Hariri an opponent of the public good.

Yes, there is such a thing as public good, there is such a thing as pride and nobility and honor. Nationalism not a vice. National Socialism is. The good of the nation as exemplified by helping your fellow man, by sacrificing what you have too much of, and by listening with honesty and openness to the opinions of everyone willing to share an opinion. There is no such thing as the good of a nation when the citizens are not consulted about what they actually consider good. The National Socialists in their days of glory cried "No voice shall rise above the voice of the battle." Today, the Lebanese all realize the "No voice" means "No voice", as in "not my voice, not your voice, not the neighbor's voice, nobody's voice." In fact, not even the voice of someone who knew how to wage a battle, a voice like Rafic Hariri's. Sorry, Bashar, we want our voice back.

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