Monday, October 30, 2006

Araftouna! ... Again

I once proposed a new Lebanese political party; “Araftouna” was meant as a “tongue in cheek” exercise. My idea was simple; since our political system is effectively gridlocked, humour may “unblock it”.

How Naïve.

Some approved, many did not; much of the reaction has been, at best, rabid.

Those of us who know the civil war have seen it all before. We have experienced first hand the self-imposed limitations of skewed Choices, and we have each worshipped our favourite Golden Calf.

Skewed Choices and Condorcet’s Paradox:

The most “moderate” of objection is simple; you need to make a choice.

I have two main problems with this position.

First, though I do not necessarily mind choosing an “off the rack” item while shopping, I do find it unpalatable that we should choose among the lousy offering at hand.

Second, the present offering, in the way it is presented, imposes an even lousier choice. This is partly because of Condorcet’s Paradox.

The way political choices are made deserves some attention. The limitation of such “choice” were best explained by the Marquis de Condorcet, who noted a voting paradox; Because conflicting majorities are each made up of different groups of individuals, their wishes can be in conflict with each other.

Essentially, when you limit the choices people have, they may never make the choice that is best for them. When you give too much choice, you can direct their choices, depending on how you pose the problem. Even in the best of systems, voters can be manipulated into making a choice that they do not really want.

To put it even more simply; I refuse to be limited to the current offer. We deserve better of our “leaders”. Or we deserve better leaders.

This leads me to the second problem.

The Golden Calf:

Plutarque once said: “l’ingratitude envers les grands hommes est la marque des peuples forts".

In this respect, Arabs, once a great nation, are acting like a weak people. The Lebanese, once great inspirers, are now following the trend towards the new “Jahiliyyah”.

We admire our leaders, faulty as they are, and elevate to levels of idol worship; our “Sayyed”, “General”, “Istez”, “Hakim”, “Beyk”, or “Sheikh” are not too far from their “Turkmenbashi”… Syria may be out, but their influence is still with us in this respect.


In turn, our leaders forget that any “great leader never sets himself above his followers except in carrying responsibilities”, and all too often succumb to the vanity of adulation.

Note how no election poster in the United States shows the picture of a single candidate, while emboss and beautify the pictures of our candidates, like so many Christian Orthodox Icons.

Sometime, being iconoclastic may not be such a bad thing.

Leaving the Whole World Blind:

We Lebanese have fallen, again, into the Civil War trap; we have destroyed ourselves in a series of "tit-for-tar" politics and “leader worship”. Now, this "eye-for-an-eye" has left us all blind to the consequences of our actions, our country destroyed, and our government rudderless.

If we cannot find a “custom-made” solution, we need to look at a larger offering. After all, we do have a Diaspora, and quite a few capable “mensh”.

This generation should learn from the misdeeds of the previous one, and not repeat its mistakes. In the context of the modern Middle East, however, anything non confrontational is viewed at worst as treason, at best as wishy-washy pacifism.

Follow-Up (Oct. 31st, 2006): Back to the Future?

It seems that we’re going back to square one. More precisely, we’re moving closer to April 13th, 1975.

Those who try to move the country forward are labeled as “Devils”, or accused of interfering with the country’s “special character”. No matter how misguided they have been in the past, their current actions do not deserve this honour.

This is just the sort of tit-for-tat that got us the Civil War. And true to form, supporters of “March 14” have pledged, in turn, that they are unlikely to “respond to bullets with roses”.

If it is blustering, then “si vis pacem, para bellum”; this blustering is only a sign that each is marking its territory, in preparation for a grand bargain.

Unfortunately for us, Middle East history is full of examples where many have though that, “si vis pacem, fare bellum”…