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, November 24, 2006

Staying Home

It seems that I am not the only one who feels that staying home is the only sane response to the radical polarization of political rhetoric in the country. Banks are closed, and I don't know what else, because trade associations, not political factions, called for it. It's inconvenient, to be sure, but incredibly sane in this atmosphere .

So what, one may ask, is this "atmosphere" of which I speak? Lebanon has always been an eclectic hodge-podge of political opinions. Somewhere between the mosque that honors the fourteenth imam of a sect that only recognizes thirteen, and the church that only fifty years ago joined a bigger church that for fifteen centuries called them heretics, you will find posters glorifying obscure Bolshevist leaders and announcements of lectures to discuss equally obscure nineteenth century British philosophers. We've got it all, and it has taken a lot, by design or by unfortunate turns of events, to get this place so polarized.

There were always big slogans. "The imprialists hate us". Ha ha says the silent majority. "The Syrians are bloodsucking brutes." "Maybe but consider the alternatives" say some. What an absurd false choice says the silent majority. "The Jews suffered so much in the Holocaust" you hear. "The poor Palestinians walked into our country with no shoes on because of how suddenly those Zionists drove them out". We'll send them shoes, but why do they need guns, says Lebanon. No slogan was big enough to push people back into the simple-minded dichotomies of the 1970s Civil war. But some shared experiences apparently were.

The behavior of the Syrians when they occupied Lebanon gives rise to very powerful pent-up emotions. The behavior of the militia leaders who are still in power gives rise to very powerful emotions. The persistence of all the corrupt practices that the Syrians were blamed for really grates on a lot of us. Added to this mix was what happened last summer. In fact, it just occurred to me what the main culprit in making the empty slogans of yesterday powerful enough to actually split this amazingly diverse population so neatly in two. Let us call it the "I know what you did last summer" syndrome.

In their zeal to shake off one source of Syrian influence, the current rulers of the cabinet stands accused of welcoming the war that destroyed 3% of our housing stock and 40% of our industrial capacity. At the same time, the nature of the incident that actually triggered the war is also not lost on those prepared to defend the cabinet. On the one hand, Hezballah played a bloody card to allow them to reveal three things: the extent of their hidden strength, the degree of self-control they must have to turn that force on and off only under extreme duress, and the indiscriminate nature of the foe against whom they stand. However, on the other hand, these very revelations were reinforced and became bigger drawing points for Hezballah when coupled with: the surprising obstinacy of the Bush administration against recognizing Hezballahs gambit for what it was, and the blind adherence of the ostensibly anti-Syrian coalition in Lebanon to the party line of the Bush administration's agenda.

Still, all this could have been resolved amicably. Yes, there are Syrian parties in Lebanon. These include Syrian intelligence agents, Lebanese citizens who think of themselves as Syrian first, and Lebanese citizens who want to be part of an Arab empire ruled by the ideology that now rules Syria. There are also Bush neo-conservatives in Lebanon, possibly following similar subclassifications, I do not know. The tragedy is that the rhetoric of the two major coalitions is pushing the huge majority that is neither into the opposite camp. The two tiny radical opposites I just described are happy to receive support from those who hate them just an iota less than they hate the opposite side. None of it makes sense from a rational perspective, but politics has a logic of tis own.

I, political leader X, can gain two followers by saying that my foe Y is secretly allied with extremist Z. But I lose twenty neutral citizens who now resent the lie. In Lebanon over the past few months, this logic has been operating in both directions. So much so that saying you are in the middle already pegs you as one sort of extremist or other, depending on subtle nuances in the words you choose to express your neutrality. "I resent A and I resent B" pits you against someone who says "I resent B and I resent A". Anyone out there think they know a way out?


  • At 28/11/06 11:34 PM, Blogger Solomon2 said…

    Then why don't "neutral" people simply decide to form new political parties from scratch? This is what I don't understand about Lebanon: the willingness of the populace to stick to the same failed leaders for decades.

  • At 30/11/06 10:02 AM, Blogger Walid said…

    Actually what I described is precisely why: every new leader who comes along is labeled by the old established leaders and before he knows it people actually believe that the new leader is just another face of the old failed leader's enemy - who surprise surprise is also an old failed leader.


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