Friday, July 03, 2009

Walid Phares at Center for Security Policy

I think we have an even split in readers who would agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Phares' assessments of the Lebanese scene and those that might disagree. What do you think?


  1. John Hajjar2:30 PM

    I do agree with Dr Phares. But his analysis won't make it to Lebanon because he indicts Hezbollah for terror in 2008 and criticizes March 14 for not doing enough to impleent UN resolutions. Which media will take his message to the Lebanese public? None. His message has been blocked in Lebanon for years by mainstream media there.

  2. Very disappointing analysis. No nuance, just "white" vs "black", "good guys" vs "bad guys".

    I loved the following sentence that resumes his political positioning splendidly:
    "The rise of democracy movements inside Lebanese society across communities. Obviously, we had the historical democracy movement among the Christians who resisted at the time the PLO and now Hezbollah, but it had expanded into the Druze community and the Sunni community, and somewhat into some sections of the Shiite community"
    اشهد بلبنان العظيم! sigh

  3. I found his Iran discourse interesting, especially the part about the Shiites in Iran witnessing successful elections in Iraq and Afghanistan while their failed system couldn't deliver anything better than massive fraud.

  4. WL,
    Besides your implied sarcasm you make no factual statements whatsoever to support your dismissal of the description by Walid Phares that one group of Lebanese is more "democratic" than another group which in turn is even more "democratic than a third group. The fact that these grtoups were described by their denominational belief might not be very "diplomatic" but the statistcs bear that fact out. I have no idea whether Mr. Phares is a sectarian bigot but I find it very difficult to conclude that he is based on his general description of the Lebanese body politic. Democratic values in general imply acceptance of the other, a belief in diversity, a strong belief in dissent and so on. These values are often associated with bougeosie standings and with relative economic success. If you agree with the general thrust of the above then it becomes clear why is it that the Christain community in general is more inclined to adhere to Western values of democracy and personal freedom. Arguably the Suni community is also well represented among the professionals and wealthy and so many of its leaders hue the same line of self help and democracy. The Shia on the other hand have traditionally been the disinherited and the least educated as a group and thus they happen to exhibit more traditional tribal allegiances than the other two groups. Yes history has conspired to favour the Christians and the Sunnis but I do not believe that was the purpose of the few remarks by Walid Phares. To attribute to his remarks motives that do not exist simply because you do not like the "facts" on the ground is not fair.

  5. Dear Ghassan Karam (part 1),
    From what you call my "implied sarcasm", you have decided that I'm attributing to Walid Phares' remarks "motives that do not exist simply because I do not like the 'facts' on the ground". Your approach doesn't seem to be a very liberal one. Let me rephrase what you are saying: from what I did NOT say, you can not only deduce what I unfairly attribute to the author, but you can equally determine my ulterior motives!

    Could you please send me those statistics you mention? I would really be interested in looking into them.
    Let me set things straight, انا طائفي! though I don't believe I'm a sectarian bigot. This being said, I don't have a problem with people who assert their communal identity. I honestly don't care if Mr Phares is a sectarian bigot. That's his problem. What I find revolting is expressed prejudice, meaningless statements and flawed arguments.

    The point you asserted here on Blacksmiths and the one Walid Phares asserted at the Center for Security Policy are not exactly identical, though I think they procede from the same kind of generalisation.

    1. Walid Phares speaks of democracy movements within the Lebanese communities. But he doesn't name these democracy movements. And the only "hint" he gives is that they were opposed to the PLO in the past, and that they are opposed to Hezbollah at the present. He doesn't say if this hint is a simple indication to help us determine their identity, or if it's a defining criteria (that qualifies them as democratic movements). Either way, he probably is designating the Lebanese Front and March XIV as democratic movements. I personally don't think either of them qualify. The first was an armed movement, and the second is an aggregate of political movements that are neither democratic in their structure nor in their behaviour. I'm sure there are democratic movements within both coalitions, but I wouldn't call them democratic by any standard (we'll get to the standards later).

  6. 2. You on the other hand speak of communities being more democratic than others. Now how can you judge if a community is democratic or not?
    Now, I personally think the notion of a democratic community is meaningless. An institution can be democratic. A community can neither be democratic nor non-democratic as long as it's not organised within an institution (such as is the case in Belgium). However, this community (or at least a majority of the people who constitute it) can uphold democratic values or abide by democratic values. How do we determine that? If it is by self designation, then the Democratic Republic of Congo, or the Democratic Republic of Germany should equally be considered as democratic. If we are to judge if a group upholds or abides by democratic values (in its majority), then we should judge it by a set of criteria (that we agree upon).
    Your "demonstration" joins together four different types of arguments. The first is ethical (group A holds democratic values, group B doesn't), economic (democratic values are associated with economical status), historic (Group A developed economically before group B), and cultural (group B has "traditionally" been disinherited and less educated than group A).
    Again, a communal group (ie community) cannot be more educated than another, it cannot be richer than another. You are attributing an aggregative feature to a whole group. It's like saying "Swedes are blond", or "the French are richer than the Belgians". Both these statements are badly formulated and are not valid statements. Once you reformulate each statement, your very intricate syllogism begins to show its weaknesses.
    Let's look into each argument aside.
    - The ethical argument: Democratic values imply acceptance of the other, a belief in diversity, a strong belief in dissent and so on. Most parties or political movements in Lebanon pay homage to the values that you state. But how deep do these beliefs go? First diversity and pluralism. How do the people in Ashrafieh react to the fact that the percentage of Muslims is steadily growing in their neighbourhood? How did Walid Jumblatt describe the percentage of Shiite growing in the Shuf in 2007? How did the Future Movement politicians describe the Shiites of Beirut when the governmental crisis erupted? How does Michel Aoun talk about the Palestinian issue in Lebanon? Second acceptance of dissent . How does any Lebanese political group react to dissent within "its" community? How does it experience this intra-communal rivalry? What is its behaviour?
    - The economic argument. It reminds me of the "developmental approach" of the 1950s & 1960s. Even Huntington acknowledge that it doesn't hold. And such an approach ignores the fact that each communal group is sub-divided into distinct socio-economical. It also ignores the fact that there are other dynamics that interfere: Elite choice, type of socio-economic integration... It reduces a very complex social situation to a very simple (and simplistic) equation. I'm sure you're aware that communities do not represent classes, and that there is no social stratification between them. Even Lebanon's communists have abandoned this idea. Don't you think the Shiite community is "also well represented among the professionals and wealthy"?
    - The historic and cultural arguments. This type of statements are exactly what gives culturalism a bad name. A group cannot be "traditionally" poor or less educated. Most of Lebanon was "traditionally" poor and uneducated! And education and wealth are not necessarily related. As for tribalism, how do you define it. In my definition, it is a very limited phenomenon among the Lebanese (regardless of their community). On the other hands, there are clan dynamics and family dominations. And this is true in all communities. Which leaders haven't inherited their position from their parents? Which politicians were actually chosen by the people and not imposed by a Za'im?

  7. WL,
    I did not expect to enter into a discourse regarding the exegesis of whether one could say" a community is richer than another" or whether it is more appropriate to say "one community has more rich individuals than another". One of the attractions of blogging is the relative informality in its structure. Had I wanted to compose an academic essay then I would submitted a formal well researched document to an academic journal. Mind you, the informality does not imply playing loose with the facts as we know them or think that we know them.
    I still stand by my original response. I have never read any of the books by Walid Phares but the 24 minute video clip on Blacksmiths of Lebanon did not appear to me as an argument that should be dismissed lightly. When one describes a community A to be wealthier than community B then if you do not understand that this does not mean that there are no members in B that are wealthier than some in A then it is your problem. My only point, and I believe that it was the point of the speaker, is that democratic values have made greater inroads among members of certain communities than some others. And yes it does appear that western democratic values have made greater inroads among the Christians than the Sunnis and more among the Sunnis than the Shiites. If I get a chance to dig up some of the results of the few surveys and macro statistics regarding, political attitudes, educational attainment and distribution os wealth in Lebanon then I will be glad to forward them to you. Take care and lighten up:-)

  8. Ghassan Karam,
    I'm honestly not surprised by your answer. I notice that you had about as much to say about what I didn't say (your first comment) than about what I did say (your second comment).
    And even then, you did not respond to it. You simply repeated your stand (with a slight reformulation). Then you picked out one point from my rather lengthy answer that you misconstrued, something that is actually expected from a person who makes such communal generalisations. And after misconstruing it (missing the whole point), you ventured into a dubious reductio ad absurdum that has no link to my argument.

    Truth to tell, I noticed the clock turning while I was writing my answer. And I wondered if it was worth it. I realised that as an "answer", it certainly wasn't because it simply wouldn't be heard. But I thought this could be an opportunity to share some basic analytical tools with those who were interested in deconstructing prevalent and repetitive communal generalisation that share the same dynamics as racist remarks.

  9. WL,
    Here you go again making unwarranted and unsubstantiated accusations while labouring under the assumption that we all be so grateful for you to offer us an "opportunity to share some basic analytical tools deconstructing prevalent and repetitive communal generalization that share the same dynamics as racist remarks". The above quote could pass for being on of the most offensive generalization ever made.
    BTW, the latter part of your statement is a perfect illustration of how is it that "racist" accusations have replaced patriotism as the refuge of scoundrels.

  10. Sorry Ghassan Karam for the patronizing tone and for having offended you.
    Nevertheless, I still stand by my original response


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