“…thus We have placed within every city the greatest of its criminals to conspire therein. But they conspire not except against themselves, and they perceive [it] not….”
As flames engulf streets across Beirut, and many others begin preparations for protests across Lebanon, amidst the ensuing chaos, an objective and principled analysis of the situation is of utmost necessity. Short-sightedness and perpetual conflict have, for too long, debilitated our ability to recognize the root of the problem exacerbating the various crises in Lebanon.
At a fundamental level, our consciousness has neutralized and our ability to act has paralyzed through the imposition of an external worldview limiting our “world of possibilities”. More specifically, our worldview—based on the colonial nation-state—forces us to subordinate, or more yet eliminate, our attachment and identification with an Ummah to an identification with an illusionary “Lebanon” in which we are a minority. Surely, the political implications of identifying with an Ummah and subsequently with Islam as a political programme of action are drastically different and an ideal alternative from our confessional and weak identification with a frail and failed state. Indeed, when you are raised and trained to think you are a minority and that your true allegiance belongs, not to a transnational entity or to a throne which transcends the heavens and earths, but rather a group of treacherous and elitist politicians, your prospects are bleak.
It is time for change. A raging Arab Spring. The changes brought about by globalization, and the worsening situation for Muslims, and in particular Ahl as-Sunnah in Lebanon, should provide enough urgency and desire for the Muslims in the region to transcend the national paradigms and adopt—full-heartedly—Islam, and pursue the liberatory politics inherent in Islam, not within the confined and colonially drawn localities, but on a larger regional level. The following, however, are critical milestones:
1) A rejection of the nation-state as a legitimate identity marker, and the recognition that it is indeed the source of many of our troubles as an Ummah. Mechanisms underlying the nation-state perpetuate sectarian conflict as various factions compete to fill a “fictious” and “authoritative” center created by the illusion of a “Lebanese” identity.
2) Symbiotic of the Nation-State is the illegitimate Lebanese government. Aside from being the epitome of a failed, corrupt, and feeble political establishment, it has evolved into a multi-proxy state serving the interests of regional and international hegemonic political actors, all of this of course at the expense of its “citizens”. A mutli-proxy regime made up of multiple false-gods, native elites in their representation of foreign interests, and symbiotic elites in that they continue to systemically disseminate a sectarian discourse and exacerbate tension in the country. Two main political factions are at the heart of such: The [Saudi-Based] Future Party and The [Iranian] Hezbollah Militia.
“…are separate lords better or Allah…”
3) One is free to the extent to which he can choose his own trajectory. However, when we are told that we must choose between two fixed trajectories, a false-binary, we remain objects and subordinate to others. In our case, that binary being United States or a Syrian-Iranian bloc—expressed domestically under the March 14 Coalition vs. March 8 Coalitions. The illusionary reality created by this false binary however is a prime example of how we are neutralized and paralyzed from making any significant independent and objective moves as autonomous, regional, or domestic subjects (as opposed to objects). And hence we must transcend the binary and recognize that their does indeed exist a third way and that is the Islamic political programme. The Future Party should not be seen as the only alternative for Ahl as-Sunnah in Lebanon, for it is neither in their principled nor pragmatic interests to do so.
“…do not obey the order of the transgressors…”
To deem such a programme as being radical is only natural in that it does not conform to the mainstream. However, when the mainstream involves servitude and servility, then it is indeed praiseworthy to be a radical. Considering the transformation of the regional and international order, one can also deem such a proposal as being the only realistic proposal and alternative to the solutions proposed, but confined to the “Lebanon” paradigm—a transformation which is bringing about the emergence of a multi-polar world, with political actors who from the very onset are seeking to proliferate their influence into the Middle East (Russia being an example). What is the fate of “Lebanon” amidst these changes? Will it play the “neutral” card while being situated in the world’s most tumultuous hotbed? Or will it continue to be a victim of neo-colonial, elitist, and Iranian ploys? Again, one should prefer to be labeled a radical ‘realist’ in this case.
False promises, or in other words, sedative and opium-like political slogans or programs parroted by politicians or by the Prime Minister, should not inhibit our ability to realize that short-term solutions cannot solve long-term and structural problems. A shot of morphine will not solve the terminal cancer eroding our Ummah, especially when the so-called “solutions” and agreements are nothing but elitist bargaining. Paradoxically, calls for “national-unity” have only exacerbated, as mentioned earlier, a conflict-generating pursuit to fill a “authoritative” and “fictious” center which has come to represent not only “Lebanese” identity but also the ability to represent one’s own confessional and political (and that of their foreign constituencies’) interests. Calls for Democracy have been empty formalities, instrumental, and rather sedative in that proposing ‘Democracy’ as an ambiguous and amorphous solution to every crisis or problem creating a sense of passivity. However, Democracy in Lebanon is an illusion for the following reasons: A stable and real democracy presupposes that the sovereign is indeed the ‘general will’; however, Lebanon lacks external sovereignty, meaning that its political climate and decisions are determined by powers external to Lebanon and not the domestic standing population. Secondly, democracy presupposes the existence of homogeneity, or what some would call a “civil society” which would act as the ‘general will’ and ‘majority’; however, this also does not exist in Lebanon. And thirdly, the fact remains that Lebanon has in fact adopted a form of democracy which conforms to the confessional nature and dynamics of the fragmented population—known as consociational democracy—and this has also failed.
Finally, some prominent religious leaders like our respected Shaykh Ahmad al-Aseer, have reduced the crisis enveloping Lebanon as being the natural product of Hezbollah’s armed presence. Again, such a reductive and superficial understanding of the problem does not allow one to understand the underlying structural contradictions, which not only produce perpetual confessional conflict, but also allow militias like Hezbollah to attain enough autonomy and political power to be able to use its weapons internally. Al-Aseer’s proposed solution that the only legitimate authority and bearer of weapons in Lebanon should be the Lebanese government is overtly paradoxical in that it is precisely the system and structural conditions under which the Lebanese government operates that has produced the decades of civil strife.
Several long-term and realistic solutions have been put forth by Islamic movements who have not fallen prey to the sectarian political system and its distasteful discourse, meaning that they have remained principled and realistic through their political and ideological autonomy, amongst which are Hizb ut-Tahrir and al-Itihad organizations, both of whom have structural and long-term proposals for the Lebanese crisis. An appraisal and consideration of their political programmes is then of utmost necessity amidst the tumultuous events shaking Lebanon.
Ali Harfouch is a student of Political Studies at the American University of Beirut working in Islamic activism with Islam Policy.