Adonis Diaries

Archive for December 23rd, 2008

Lebanon: An improbable Statehood in the making (Part 1, February 19, 2008)

 

Note: I had this large file; I split it in smaller specialized topics. Thus, I created another category called “Lebanon/Middle East”.  I divided the large articles into parts of less than 1500 words after re-editing and attaching notes for current events.

 

                        Lebanon has been mentioned countless times in the ancient stories of the Jewish Bible as the land of milk and honey and snow covered majestic mountains (thus its name) and of cedars, pine and oak trees. Lebanon has been described for its skilled inhabitants and sea faring mariners and commercial ingenuity by establishing trading counters around the Mediterranean Sea.  Lebanon is recognized as a formal States in the UN since its inception in 1946 at the sessions in San Francisco after the end of WWII; its delegate participated in the writing of the UN charter and the Human Rights.  Lebanon snatched its independence from the colonial mandated France in 1943 with a big help from Britain.  The last French troops vacated this land in 1946.  Still the Lebanese are lacking the definitive belief in a motherland.

                        Lebanon is surely a good place for leisure time and a vacationing location for its immigrants; many families that can afford to leave for greener pastures are not overly disturbed of not returning definitively.  Most Lebanese have not participated as a “Nation” to defend the land of aggressors and to preserving its unity.  After over 65 years of nominal independence the political system has failed miserably to convince the Lebanese that prospect for security and lasting development is feasible.

                        The main problem is that we have 19 officially recognized castes, closed sects, with autonomous personal status legal systems, associated with each respective sect.  Thus, the Lebanese citizen is practically a member of a caste from birth to death whether he likes it or not.  The political system has followed this caste structure and allocated the civil service positions, and in the highest levels, according to tacit agreements. A strict quota define what level and which function a citizen can attain and the number of deputies in the Parliament and ministers in the government according to a structured quota relative to the hierarchy of the caste after each civil war.

                        Members of a caste have realized that services could be obtained through the leadership of their caste and not from a central government or legal rights.

 

                        There are large sections among the citizens who have leftist tendencies, such as Marxists, progressives and seculars.  The main two political secular parties are comprised of members from all castes; they would like to establish reforms to the political system. Thus, the following harsh criticisms are not targeting individuals but the social structure in general.  Unfortunately, I had to adopt sectarian terminology in order to get the point through as clearly and as simply as feasible.

                        The Druze sect located mainly in the Chouf district and part of the Bekaa Valley that borders the Golan Height was originally a Shiaa sect affiliated to the Fatimid dynasty in Egypt around the 13th century.  When we mention Shiaa it is meant a sect among other sects that refused to abide by the Moslem Sunni sect that paid allegiance to a Caliphate not directly descending from the Prophet Mohammad.  After the demise of the Fatimid dynasty the Druze were harshly persecuted and they opted to close the membership in order to discourage serious infiltrations to their sect.  They admonished their members to have two positions, one that would satisfy the power to be and another of a more intimate belief system.  For example, Walid Jumblat is a typical Druze leader with two-faced messages and ready to change his political position when opportunities of allying to the strongest power materialize. In general, the Druze sect is suspicious and even hates every sect bordering their location of concentration.  They have practically allied to anyone that might weaken the political and economic status of their neighboring sects.  The Druze is the only citizen who recognizes that he belongs to a caste, a closed religious sect, where no outside believers can be accepted and none of the members scratched from the register. This is a dying sect that failed to open up and comprehend or assimilate the notion of belonging to a larger community or nation to unite with.

                        The Moslem Sunni sect is even worse than the Druze because it has been functioning as a caste since independence but not acknowledging it.  The Sunni sect has nothing in its religion to prevent it from opening up and uniting with other sects under one nation. It has enjoyed supreme privileges as the main caste during the Ottoman Sunni Empire and had the opportunities to concentrate in the main cities on the littoral and also to trade and communicate with foreigners and other sects but it opted to hide in its shell and stave off changes and reforms.  Foreign travelers and many accounts have revealed that nobody could rent in a Sunni house or has been invited inside their lodging. Only Sunni males were seen outside doing business; women were never seen outside their domiciles. Man reached the moon but the Sunni caste has yet to acknowledge this achievement.

                        The leaders of the Sunni caste agreed in the National Pact, right after independence, to share power with the Christian Maronite sect but they kept vigilant to continuously allying with the most powerful Sunny Arab State of the moment.  The civil wars of 1958 and then 1975 started in order to regain hegemony over the Maronite political privileges in the new political system.  The Sunni sect has allies with the monarchies in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Sunni State of Egypt and it frequently takes positions with Arab foreign powers at the detriment of national unity.  In general, the Sunni still hope for a return to a Caliphate reign and support all kinds of Sunni fundamentalists and salafists.  This caste is very adamant in proscribing matrimonial relationship outside its caste.

             The Maronite sect was very open for centuries and was the main religion that established roots in the Druze canton because the feudal Druze landlords needed the Maronite peasants to work their hard lands.  In 1860 a bloody civil war broke out in the Druze canton and thousands of Maronites were massacred.  When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, it encouraged the Christian Lebanese Forces to entertain military presence in the Druze canton.  As the Israeli forces vacated the Chouf region then the Druze feudal lord Walid Jumblat asked the aid of the Palestinian factions at the orders of the Syrian regime and he systematically slaughtered the Maronites and thus, drove the Christians out of the Druze canton and back to their original cantons of centuries back. 

            Since 1990, the government allocated over two billion dollars to repatriate the Christians to the Chouf and only 15% returned; there is no accountability in which black hole all that money was siphoned in. The Maronite adopted the closed sect system when agreeing to the National Pact and it is extremely difficult for non-Christians to join this sect.

           

            The Shia Moslem sect is currently the most numerous but it was not so when Lebanon got its independence and it was not centralized to effect any political changes. The feud between the Shiaa and the Sunny is historically and fundamentally a clan warfare between the Muslims who demand the Caliphate to be a direct descended to the Prophet and those who don’t mind as long as the Caliphate is from the Kureich family, mainly Hashem or Ummaya or whatever.

Life at the boarding school, (continue 10)

 

We lived, my brother Ghassan and I, six years as interns (boarding school) and I don’t remember much how I spent these years; maybe we internalized the reality that we are in a prison and we had to make do and accommodate with this fact.  Other intrepid souls understood that they are just in a detention center and they felt they could leave or bust for a few days. Only once, a new French priest used to take us out into nature for his class to initiate us with botanic and we never saw him again or experienced outdoor classes, not in this intern school or other schools. I did enjoy greatly this outdoor class. I cannot recall that we ever listened to radio or TV; as if these machines didn’t reach Lebanon at the time.

Three years later, my little sister Raymonde joined another intern school in Beit-Chabab, managed by Maronite sisters and she suffered a lot because she was very attached to mother and she felt a total stranger. Raymonde didn’t eat and she was constantly sick and crying.  I didn’t know that I had a sister at a school 400 meters away until my cousin Aida introduced me to her, years later, when I had to go there and receive my pocket-money every two weeks.

 

I liked to play and run and jump ten stairs with “echasses” or wooden long stick legs.  Obviously, Ursula was not working at the school at the time; she might have been transferred to a convent.  We used to have real battles with the echasses trying to knock down off the opposing team.  We played balls, volley balls, basketball and catching balls.  My favorite game was played in the nearby forest called “numero”; two teams would be wearing 3-number plaque over their forehead attached with a string and we were to hide the numbers against trees and peeking out the enemy’s number; again Ursula was not working there at the time.

I must have a lot of pent-up anger within me which materialized when I blew off my top on few occasions and could not hear anything then and kept shouting like a madman. Jihad was my sole supporter when I ran into fights.  I recall once that students forced a fight on me with my Muslim friend (the only one in school), a red-headed boy of the same age and whom I had defended against everybody; this sole Muslim student was aggressed by older boys, a scout leader among them, and was treated as an enemy because he belonged to another religion; I defended him and his religion though I had no idea what Islam was; I just felt that it was unjust and unfair to isolate a little boy and harass him so blatantly and harshly without any support or help. In the fight I was on top of the red-headed boy but the students kept hollering that he is stronger than me and that I was defeated!

 

Life in family

 

When my parents finally decided to stay in Lebanon to care for us personally, mother cried her eyes out when she saw me in shabby attire and baggy pants and skinny and not well-developed.  Mother said that I was a very stubborn child.  Each time I overheard that my parents were going someplace and felt that they decided not take me with them then I would cry for hours until they relent.  Most of my stubborn crying were about going to movies with the adults; I recall once in intern school that the adult students were to watch a movie at a nearby local eating place and I stayed awake till they started off and I insisted and cried till I was allowed to join the group.

I recall that one day I shouted against my aunt Therese and dad ordered me to apologize; I would not apologize and he removed his belt and started hitting me until his hand felt tired but I refused to apologize or even cry; mother and Therese were crying asking dad to stop it but I was too stubborn to admit any wrong doing. I think that was the first time that dad belted me and he never hit me again realizing that I am too hard-headed for these strong-arm methods of intimidation. Even now, when I see a movie where the actors constantly utter “I am sorry. Please forgive me. Give me another chance” I feel like vomiting to constant apologizing verses. 

Once, in my class of “septieme” (seventh grade in French schools, going in ascending order from grade one…), the teacher Anselm hit me on the palm with a ruler and it turned blue; he never attempted to hit me again.  In the USA, a group of four Lebanese Phalanges ganged up on me and I faced them and fought them hard and never cared to run away; they wanted to stop the beatings but I would resume the fight once I recovered my breath; they had to give up and leave me alone all bruised up but they never dared to beat me again or even come close to me.

Note: I heard recently a story by Aunt Montaha.  The oldest of the sisters, late Josephine, was teaching Arab grammar (Kawa3ed, E3rab) at school, the second year after she passed her Brevet. Montaha happened to be a student in Josephine class; once and as was the custom, Josephine stroke Montaha’s open palms with a ruler; when Montaha complained Josephine turned her face and smiled.  Montaha claimed that Josephine wanted to send a message to class that she is not about to show biases; more likely, Josephine smiled at the funny face that Montaha must have hanged at the moment.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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