Saturday, June 09, 2007

True Believers

With apologies to all, I have reworked this piece a little, to correct my earlier display of bad English. I will start with my main thesis:

There is no hope in for Lebanon outside secularism.

Otherwise, rather than leading the Arab thought, as we have done in modern times, we will lag behind them, and get dragged into the modern dark ages. The side effect of this darkness is the proliferation of bottom feeders. In addition to the 11th hour nationalists, the Janissaries, the “true nationalists”, and the presidential candidates, we have to contend with an important category; the True Believers.

Before you jump and add me to the Anti-Hezb club, please do it for the right reasons; I may not necessarily opposed to them, I am, as a matter of principle, opposed to any anti-secular party. And this means any sectarian, totalitarian group. My position has to do with consistency in belief.

Note the irony here; what had started as an anti-political slogan, "Hezb fagat Hezb'allah" or "no party but the party of God", has now become an eminently political party... An "institutional revolution" of sorts.

Mixing Faith and Politics

Since I cannot impose my beliefs on others, and since I consider myself a “believer”, how can I agree with those who claim an exclusive right to divine revelation?

Those who consider themselves secular and open minded cannot help but become, at the very least, uneasy with those who mix faith and politics. Or with the hypocrisy of “interfaith” dialogue. In an ideal world, and without going to extremes, one would like to have the concept of faith-based laws banned.

OK, Australia’s not an ideal world…

There is something about the fuzziness of the faith concept, a subjective one at best.

There is also something about giving “unto Caesar” his share, no more, no less (unless you can get away with it). We Lebanese produce a few of them, and I have cautioned against a few particularly nasty varieties in the past.

Not that anyone listens, but heck…

But Hezb Adds a Unique Dimension

How could those who follow Hezb place more importance on their relation with Iran than on their role within a pluralist Lebanon?

To a secular mind, the question is puzzling. One side effect is the proclivity of those true believers who praise Syria to forget the Khairallah Barracks, back in the day when Syrian troops massacred their Hezb prisoners.

Yet the question hints to its answer, and it is now becoming apparent in Hezb’s latest moves. In analyzing Hezb’s latest moves, Abu Kais rightly states that this “is an existential battle for” them. However, while I agree that their tactical needs are merely “an attempt to adapt an entire country to fit their needs, in the most selfish and destructive way possible”, their strategic aims may well be far less “rational”.

1/2 - A Millenarian/Cargo Cult?

Over its evolution, Hezb has moved from an Islamic-revolutionary group, evolving into a mix of Millenarian cult and a Cargo cult.

First, take a look at Al-Qaeda for a minute; while Bin-Laden’s followers are interested in heavenly rewards on a personal level, the group’s ultimate motivation is very much down-to-earth, in that they want to re-establish the Caliphate. This is still rather “worldly”; even dhimmis have some hope of life. It’s not much of a life, but still…

Now, take a look at the new Iranian/Mullah trend; in its constitution, it is clearly stated that all “worldly” governments are temporary, since “during the occultation of the Wali al-3asr (may God hasten his reappearance), the leadership of the Ummah devolve upon the just and pious person(Article 5).

From there, one only needs a simple logical step; to believe that the return of the “Wali al-3asr”, or “Mahdi”, is on hand. All we need is a few more battles, kill a few more infidels and the Golden Age can be upon us. Ahmadinejad appears to have made that logical move. To the dismay of the Mullahs who would rather use this tale as a lever of their power, “a new word has entered the political vocabulary: mahdaviat”…

He is not alone, and many more believers are making the same logical step; now that the concept is “official” government belief, many of the troops have espoused it with passion, and went beyond their (already crazy) leaders. And it now appears that Hezb has done just this.

They may have given up the dream of setting up an Islamic Republic in Lebanon, but they seem to have replaced it with another; preparing for the return of the Mahdi. As their margin of manoeuvre narrows ever more in Lebanon, their supporters are sounding increasingly shrill and mystical. And as the cash dries up, the talk of “pure money” is increasingly common.

2/2- The Anathema of Pluralism

This goes to the basic premise behind all missionary religions; to convert others to your faith. Even the most pacific of religious followers have to basically consider that your beliefs are beneath their own.

One option is to spend valuable time and resources converting infidels, doing good deeds and creating much sophistry in the process. However, the risk remains that those recent converts can "turn around" in the most inconvenient of times.

For this reason, a more cost-effective option is to subjugate or eliminate the competition. The methods followed by armed religious/nationalistic groups are less “risky”, and more “practical”; they prefer to reinforce their customers’ indoctrination and root out the competition. Those types abound around here; we have religious groups such as Hezb, Ahbash, Hamas, or nationalistic nasties such as “Kahane Hai”, “Grey Wolves”… but they are not limited to the Middle East; the United States has a scary proclivity to produce many of the nastiest groupings, such as the followers of the late Jerry Falwell, famous for is many pronouncements. His actions remained within the system, but he was a step removed from bombers and cargo cults

In that sense, politically active religious groups are anathema to pluralism. Sure, they do a few good deeds and do a valuable social service, but those are merely means to a higher end. And when the cash dries up because of mismanagement, they go on a “begging spree”; their sense of entitlement is such tat they have no qualms to address grievances to the same people whose investments their actions have destroyed.

The Cost to Lebanon

So, in general, when a secular democracy abdicates and leaves the social field for “faith-based” groups, it is making a Faustian bargain. The true costs of such a bargain are soon revealed, as those groups become politically active; after all, if you want to mend the souls, why not the entire society?

In Lebanon, the government’s continued incompetence and abandonment of society has created the vacuum in which those groups proliferate.

In Lebanon, the most organized of those groups is Hezb, and they have innovated in becoming a “vertically integrated” organization, with all the resources of the state but the printing press. With all they have "achieved", I fail to see how sectarian groups like Hezb can give it up and tolerate pluralism or secularism.

After all, if you're the "Party of God", it stands to reason that all others are his opponents, and hence "Partisans of the Devil"...


ghassan karam said...

Jeha, you are surely kidding when you even suggest that HA or anybody else in Lebanon is secular!!! That will not be the case for decades to come if ever.

I must admit though, that I was heartened to see that a few are using often the word "Mowatiniah" in their discourse. Arabic does not have a word for "citizenship" , the idea that is seminal for democracy, and the "mowatiniah" is being used as a substitute for it. Now if only that idea would spread and improve on the quality of what passes for political discourse in the country. ( I might have more to say on this topic once I recover from the jet lag).

moz said...

Are you assuming that there is a majority in Lebanon that actually wants a secular democracy?

Jeha said...

Ghassan, Moz,

Excuse my display of bad English. I have reworked the piece to make my main argument clearer.

ghassan karam said...

Three observations:

(1) There is no room whatsoever in an ideal democracy for anything but full secularism. Individuals are free to worship whomever and whatever they want as long as they keep their personal beliefs out of the public square. This is in a nutshell why there can be no room for an HA like organisation in a thriving democracy. HA is anti democratic by its very nature.

(2) OBL and HA/Iranian mullahs share basically the same goal and are driven by the same zeal for establishing an Islamic Ummah. The Caliphate is nothing else but a representation of the concept and so is the idea behind the "Wilayat Al-Faqeeh". The danger of both groups is not only that they plan to spread Islam all over the world but that they intend to do so by force and they cannot tolerate the rights of non-believers. To them the "other" does not exist.

(3) HA has not changed its goal in Lebanon. They have merely decided to bide their time until the conditions are more favourable. HA has only one goal, establish an Islamic Republic in Lebanon and then help spread that into other countries. HA has never renounced its initial goal, they just cannot do that and yet remain faithful to who they are.

Amos said...


Fascinating post as usual. However, I think you sometimes go too far in equating secularism and pluralism. The two do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. Maybe in some societies, a militant secularism must defeat religious or sectarian competitors and then impose a secular politics that will eventually allow for a pluralist society. But I wonder if secularism does not then become another form of sectarian politics. As we saw in the French and Russian Revolutions, secularists can be just as opposed to pluralism as religious fanatics. So, I think the answer is not "secularism" but an unconditional commitment to pluralism.

Eamonn said...

Do you have any particular examples in mind of non-secular
pluralist states?

Amos said...

I obviously favor secular states. But I object to secularist, anti-pluralist policies practiced by some secular states.

Again, I am a big fan of the secular; I am not as enamored, however, of secularism, which to me can be as dogmatic and anti-liberal as a religious state. The US is a secular state; it is not a secularist state or society.

Of course, when looking at contemporary cases, I would still prefer living in a secularist state (e.g., France) over living in most of the "religious" states in the world.

Jeha said...

I think Amos and Ghassan are closer to one another than they think. I would illustrate this by adding the following 3 points to Ghassan's comments, when defining Secularism;

1- The basic tenet we can all agree the "Golden Rule". This is not necessarily a Christian principle, since Jesus may have intended a far more impractical set of tenets. But I think the "Golden Rule" has also been implied in other religions; even the "eye for an eye" may have been meant to illustrate "reciprocity" of retribution and a certain equilibrium. Recall this was quoted to warrior, nomadic tribes. Amos had an illustration of this on his blog.

2- There is also the thing about "Universal Ethics"; Science has been showing that there is a set of universal right and wrong, and ingrained fairness.

3- There remains a paradox of individual rights. How do you give rights to people who are willing to take them away from themselves? the veil issue comes to mind; there is nothing to prevent a woman from subjecting herself to this male-imposed "control" device. But once she does, does she have the right to claim "rights"? Are rights divisible?

BTW, note that the French example is a bit more complex; those schoolgirls are often forced to wear the veil in some "cites"...

ghassan karam said...

I think that your position suffers of a common logical fallacy :-) Secularism by itself does not make a society democratic, no one has suggested that. What is clear is that a democracy cannot exist unless it is a secularist state, i.e unless it offers its citizens the freedom to be worship whatever they want to worship as long as their practice does not impinge on the rights of others.

moz said...

But is this not what is so unique and complex about Lebanon?

It cannot be secular for the simple reason that from whichever religion you choose, the people are too "religious" to even want secular leadership. However it cannot be a theocracy because there are so many competing and powerful theologies. Any one sect trying to impose its "values" on the others will destroy the equilibrium.

Therefore, in Lebanon in my opinion, a purely secular system does not have the support of a good enough majority but a pluralist sytem (that works) will. What this will lead to, by simple process of elimination, is a type of secular government. As there will be different parties with different "values" this will result in minimal "faith based" legislation as no party will allow the other to pass legislation counter to its own beliefs.

I have to profoundly disagree that you cannot progress in a non-secular system. The scientific advances made during the times of the Caliphates is the obvious example and since we are talking about Hizballah, another example is their ability and innovation on the battle field.

In regards to your points on Hezballah:
Again, by default they are anti-secular but that does not equate to anti-pluralist and there is no evidence that they are anti-pluralist.

i think you are over-generalising Hizballahs support when you say they place their relations with Iran above Lebanon. Their support is diverse and eclectic.

To state that the current state of affairs is "an existential battle" is over-stating it. Of course we all know that the US,Israel, March 14th and the Arab world's dictators would all like to see them disappear (each for their own reasons) but I don't think a true grass roots operation can ever really suffer an existential threat; Not unless you equate that threat to the entire Shia population of the country.

In regards to the Mahdi cultism, what evidence have you seen that "a few more battles, kill a few more infidels" will hasten the Mahdi's coming? I have never read anything like that. And the logic is all worng here. If "the return of the “Wali al-3asr”, or “Mahdi”, is on hand" then why are they going to so much trouble in opposing the government?

Another point of logic I find difficult to get around is that "a more cost-effective option is to subjugate or eliminate the competition". With the military and financial strength behind them, and the previously stated extremism you say they subscribe to, why, instead of calling for a unity govt. or elections did they not just start doing just this? Why, even in the pre-Nasrallah days when they wanted to create an Islamic republic in Lebanon, did they never use these weapons against what you term the "infidels"? Why, in 2000, did they not use the opportunity to eliminate the Christian population of Southern Lebanon?

Now saying all that, with all they have "achieved", I think Hezballah are more than than intelligent enough to know that in Lebanon, you cannot go any further without embracing pluralism if not secularism. The alternative to that is, like you say, destroying the "others" but since they have not done that, nor shown any evidence they will do so, one has to accept them at their word (which, lets face it, has a pretty good record for a region so steeped in dishonesty).

I think you make a leap of logic and language saying that all those who oppose the "Party of God" are automatically believed to be "Partisans of the Devil". The name does not imply any "official blessing" from God or some kind of unique sole agency :), but that those that join the party do so in the name of God and God alone.

Jeha said...


You make quite a few good points, and I think the disagreements I have with you are not too deep. I will make the following points;

1- As long as science did not address its main tenets, religion was fine with science. The cracks appear as soon as secular scientists start challenging religion’s primacy; as soon as Gallileo started challenging the Church’s interpretation, he was in trouble. I have no doubt that an Arab Galileo would have been equally in trouble, had he challenged the Caliph’s claim that he was “more equal” than other mortals, on the basis of genetic science…

2- We Lebanese have reached the limits of the current system; a secular system is the only way. How else are we to address marriage issues? Inheritance? … The sound level of muezzins and church bells? There are universal values that we can find in “commong sense”, and substantiate them with science. Otherwise, this “equilibrium” that we have today, is nothing but a balancing act among different levels of rights/oppression depending on one’s sect. The fact that it is in our DNA to revert back to Faith based systems is no excuse; we can find a system that allows our sectarian tendencies to live on, all the while preserving common sense.

3- As to the points I make about Hezb, you and I differ on a simple manner; you appear to take their assurances at face value, while I do not. I do not trust barbudos of any kind as a matter of “default setting”. You cite as an example the fact that no massacres took place in 2000, and that could be it, or it could be a reflection of the fact that most of the South Lebanese Army was Shiite. Today, they persist in NOT calling the Army dead “martyrs”, as all others do…

Either way, you have a point, the way they acted in 2000 is one (more) proof of their superior political intelligence and organization. You are indeed right that they are far smarter than the average Arab party.

4- I read the name “Party of God” to mean just that; in a monotheist system of though, anyone who’s not aligned with God is the enemy. Hence my use of the word “Hezb” to denote them; as a believer, I cannot accept someone mixes the name of God for mere politics. In a similar manner, “FL” implies that other “Forces” are not “Lebanese”, and you note that I tend to resort to the initials rather than the full name of the party...

moz said...

I think outside the political realm, where there are ulterior motives, and were it not for these politicians urging their supporters to more extreme opposities to each other, then the disagreements amongst most of the people would not be too deep.

Regarding your points:
1- Considering the time span we are talking about and the amount of science on all levels that was being discovered during those times, don't you think its odd that there is no Arab Galileo. And I would add, and I think its important to note this, that many of the scietific advances were being made not just by Muslims but by Christian and Jewish Arabs and even their work was not considered heretical.
Islam as a religion and the Quran in particular, contains a lot of and encourages the advancement of science. It is modern day backward theologians and leaders who stop this advancement not religion itself.

2- Yes, I absolutely agree that we need a legislitave framework that exists outside of the religious sphere. But you cannot discount the wishes of the people and I suspect that is not what the people of the country want. What is required is a sytem that takes common sense into the current set up.
However, when the current, supposedly more secular govt., disbands the constitutional council there isn't exactly any more hope with them.

3- Believe me when I say, I do not take what they say at face value. I am a (relatively) intelligent person. I am able to take words and deeds and compare the two in order to decide whether to trust a politician or political leader. I believe what they say for the simple reason that they have never given me reason not to.
Don't you think its odd that today, there are more Israelis who believe Hassan Nasrallah to be an honest leader (even though they despise him) than Lebanese?

I note what you say about 2000 but if they were as fanatical as you suggest they may be in the post, they surely would have commited the massacres anyway.

In regards to the army, Im not sure what you mean, but in his last speech, and this may be my ageing memory, but I remember Nasrallah specifically reffered to the martyrs of the Army. Furthermore, I think the relationship between the Army and Hizballah is far more amicable currently than the the Armys relationship with the goverment.

4- Obviously I have no idea what your religion is and I would prefer not to offend you by condescending to tell you how you should think. The only thing I would say is that because is Islam is an overarcing way of life, all things are linked with God, politics or otherwise. The name is simply suggesting that the manifesto of this party is in its belief.

However, if it were true that "anyone who’s not aligned with God is the enemy" isn't the Communist party a member of the opposition and allied with Hizballah?

Finally, even though I don't put it as eloquently as Sam, ;), a mainstay of the alliance with Aoun is the dissolution of the confessional system.

Amos said...


#3 of your definition is exactly the kind of thing that worries me about militantly secularist (and thereby anti-pluralist) states:

There remains a paradox of individual rights. How do you give rights to people who are willing to take them away from themselves? the veil issue comes to mind; there is nothing to prevent a woman from subjecting herself to this male-imposed "control" device. But once she does, does she have the right to claim "rights"? Are rights divisible?

Can you force people to be "free"? What kind of freedom would that be? This is why I prefer the Canadian and American models over some of the Continental ones, such as France. In the U.S., it would be inconceivable for the government to ban the veil.

Ghassan - I think we are quibbling over semantics. What you call "secularist" I prefer to call "secular." As I've tried to suggest before, the suffix "ism" to me implies a full-blown ideology that is based on the removal, rather than the tolerance, of religious values and practices from the public and private spheres.

Secularist states such as France or Turkey often aim to establish religious monopolies or cartels, in bids to tightly regulate the market of religious ideas. There is a long line of political theory going back at least to Hobbes and Rousseau, which advocates this kind of regulation. Hence, in France as well as in Germany and most other European countries, official religious associations are privileged above non-official ones, which are called "sects."

In America, on the other hand, we have a relatively free religious market. There is no regulation of religion per se. Of course, individuals or corporations who violate the law are prosecuted like any other individual who does so.

Jeha, you're certainly right that the golden rule is not a Christian principle. The Talmud attributes it to Hillel. What follows is a a mix of Hebrew and Aramaic; Hillel's response is mostly in the latter:

שוב מעשה בנכרי אחד שבא לפני שמאי אמר לו גיירני ע"מ שתלמדני כל התורה כולה כשאני עומד על רגל אחת דחפו באמת הבנין שבידו בא לפני הלל גייריה אמר לו דעלך סני לחברך לא תעביד זו היא כל התורה כולה ואידך פירושה הוא זיל גמור
-Talmud Bavli, (Tractate) Shabbat (Folio) 31a

"Another story about a non-Jew who came before Shammai. He said to him: 'convert me, on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah with me standing on one leg. Shammai pushed him with the cubit measuring tool used for building that he had in his hand. The non-Jew came to Hillel, [and said] 'convert me.' Hillel told him: 'what to you is hateful don't do to your fellow man, that is the whole Torah in her entirety, and the other part is commentary. Go study.'" [my literal and somewhat clumsy translation]

ghassan karam said...

No amount of spin can ever demonstrate that democracy is compatible with a non secular state. Democracy cannot thrive if religion is allowed into the public square. It is as simple as that. BTW , that is also the reason that up until know no Moslem country ever has been a democracy. An Islam that teaches that Islam is "Deen wa Dawlat" (a state and a religion) can never be democratic simply because it will not recognize or tolerate the other. Furthermore your attempt to distinguish between a secular state and secularism is similar to the position that Marx is different than Marxism. The fact of the matter is that one is a noun and the other is an adjective. A secular state believes in secularism i.e the principle of separation between the state and religion. No statutes can be enacted based on religious beliefs. One cannot be secular unless one is a secularistwho believes in the merits of secularism.

Amos said...


I'm not spinning anything.

"Secularistic" not "secular" is the adjective that corresponds to the noun "secularism."

I hate to dictionary-thump, but the OED defines "secularism" as:

1. The doctrine that morality should be based solely on regard to the well-being of mankind in the present life, to the exclusion of all considerations drawn from belief in God or in a future state.

and, "secularistic" as "of, pertaining to, or characterized by secularism."

I would hazard a guess that a very large number of people in any given country are not secularists. Are you going to force them to convert to secularism? Doesn't seem very democratic.

Religion plays a very big role in the public sphere in America. It's big news when U.S. Congressmen or Senators announce that they are agnostics or atheists. Most American politicians, when queried publicly, will claim allegiance to one religious tradition or another and many would say that religious values are behind some of their political commitments. Is the U.S. not a democratic state?

In the West states emerged early on as competing centers of power with the Church. This tendency was strengthened during the Reformation, with splits inside the Church. This sundered the alliance between religious and secular powers, making "din wa-dawlat" an impossibility. I realize that the situation is very different in Lebanon.

Theocracy will always be anti-democratic, and theocratic parties will always attempt to restrict the liberty of people who do not share their religion. Hence, they must be defeated.

But this does not mean that religion must be defeated. It is possible to believe in the kind of SECULAR political structure and separation between church and state laid out in the American constitution without subscribing to SECULARISM. That is all that I have been trying to say

Anyway, I really don't know why you're so insistent on these semantic issues, when we are obviously very close on substantive matters.

My concern was not with the Lebanese situation or with Hizb when I made my comments. I was trying to point out that secularism can sometimes be as oppressive and anti-pluralist as a theocratic state. This is clear to all who have studied the totalitarian regimes of the last century.

Jeha said...


Let me start by apologizing; I did not mean to make any implications about your intelligence. What I meant by taking Nasrallah at "face value" is just this; many people consider him to be honest in the sense that he means what he says, when he says it. I do not tolerate those who insult other readers/commenters, and would not tolerate myself doing it...

OK, the politicians out there are fair game. But to them, this is just "rain" ;)

In any case, you and I do not appear that far apart. I agree that Aoun's partisans may have intended it as a dissolution of the confessional system, but I see no evidence on the side of the partisans of Hezb. It is true that there may be a bias here my part, and I may be seeing only what I want to see though I regularly watch Manar, read other aligned medias, and listen to my pro-this-and-that friend's points of views... It is also true that I appear to have a visceral distrust of religious leaders, and religious institutions. But my attitude is actually based on my reading of history, which far too often proves that, since they claim to answer to a higher authority than us, religious leaders cannot be bothered with little things such as the opinions of mere mortals. They can always "spin" things and disregard evidence...

Amos, Ghassan,

Just my 2 cents; by secularism I mean the exclusion of religion from the public "decision making" sphere. Proclaiming "In God we trust" is one thing, claiming to invoke Him in politics and finance is another. There is a difference, between the private and the public sphere. In private, I do not think that religion needs to be defeated; I myself believe in a monotheistic God. This is a belief that cannot be substantiated, since it cannot be "tested".

The public sphere, however, should be Karl Popper's domain, especially in this day and age. There, the guide, as Ibn-Rushd so eloquently wrote, should be logic and evidence-based thinking (OK, I may be extrapolating a little). And there has been far more that scientific research has dug up today, demonstrating how ingrained our moral sense actually is. I feel that we need, at the very least, a new reading of texts that are more than 2,000 years old. We are stagnant in many respects, since there is so much the Ancients can still teach us; Aristotle is still a reference today, and many "modern" thinkers are poor plagiarists of his work.

Amos said...

Yes, Jeha, I agree that policy should be guided by the kind of thinking that meets Karl Popper's test. I don't want people invading countries because God told them to do so. However, policies are means to certain ends; these ends are surely informed by our values, which may often be derived from our religious traditions (which are, of course, themselves always subject to re-interpretation).

One quick comment - I've noticed that you've made a number of references lately to scientific research that "demonstrat[es] how ingrained our moral sense actually is." Are you referring to some of the studies being done by neuroscientists at Princeton (I believe)? The ones where they confront people with a scenario that involves pushing a large man off a bridge to save 10 other people?

Those studies do seem very interesting. However, I don't really see what difference it makes how "natural" or "ingrained" our moral sense is. Even if it weren't natural, we should still do the moral thing.

moz said...


Apologies, I did not mean to infer that you had offended me. I was merely being self-derogatory so as not seem like I was saying I was that I was smarter than anyone else :)

Yes I understood what you meant by face value. And like I say, we can only judge anyone, politician or not, by comparing their words and their deeds to see if, liek you say, there is a consistency to the two. In my opinion, Nasrallah has as far as I can remember nearly always acted on his words. He, unlike our usual Arab leader template, does not boast or bombast; He has not, to my knowlegde tried to ingratiate himself among his own sect by stirring up agitation against other sects. And most importantly, picture this if you will: Take the military, social and secterian strength he has and apply it to any politician in the Lebanese domain and then consider what they would have done with that.

I think you are absiolutely right; A leadership that only answers to a higher authority is very dangerous and such a system is poor in my opinion, for even if the leader you trust and support today is a good and honest man, there is no guarantee that tomorrows leader will be equally so. However, for today, who else amongst our so called leaders has addressed the nation consistently and argued his point in a rational, "mortal" way, using evidence rather than spin?

I know Nasrallah scares many people in Lebanon because he is of a sect that is large and poor and he is powerful. But I say again. In Lebanon we have no one dominant religion. There can be no theocracy if there is no one dominant theology. Therefore, we can never have an Iranian style govt. I don't even believe that the majority of Shia would support such a cause.

Therefore, in fact we are forced into being a democracy by default. The only question that remains is this secularist versus pluralist.

I would be shocked if any referendum on the matter in Lebanon did not result in the people rejecting a purely secular system. People in Lebanon are too religious, or wedded to their religion, to want a secular system. Like you say, the challenge is to introduce common sense into that system and turn it into a pluralist system that reflects but does not represent the secterian nature of the country.

Now, as for Hizballah and the dissolution of the secterian system. You say there is no evidence of them wanting this. My reply would be two-fold.
Firstly, while I am sure there are elements within the party that do not like the idea, I do not believe the leadership would sign Taef or the agreemnt with Aoun if they did not agree with it. The Hizballah-Aoun alliance has in my opinion been the most important factor that has kept Lebanon away from civil war. The consequences of Hizballah using this alliance to gain power and then reneging on it are, well i think pretty obvious, and I think Hizballah are smart enough to know that.
Secondly, the current secterian system (along with the electoral law and disbanding of the constitutional council) harms Hizballah more than it benefits it, especially politically. Just think, if the PM or President didn't have to be a certain religion, what do you think the odds are of Nasrallah winning the vote for one of those positions?

You are right, we are not that far apart at all. In fact I think our only differences lie in our perceptions of Hizballah and their goals and aims.

My way of thinking is this. Currently we have 2 choices. The government or the opposition. If we leave aside the claims of both sides about who is backed by whom, which of the two has traditionaly helped the people and defended the nation (Amal aside) and which of the two has traditionaly stolen from the people and harmed the nation? If we were to bring the opposition into power and they do turn out to confirm your fears, or if we allow those in power to remain and they increase their grip on the country and allow the US to start building bases on Lebanese soil, which of the two would be harder to get rid of?

In regard to the other issue being discussed in this post, guys you are still both ignoring the wishes of the people. You cannot like Amos says, force freedom on people, nor can you impose a Western style democracy on a people, esp. when even in those Western countries, the styles of democracy and the evolution of those democracies are individual to each country.

Apologies for yet another long post :)

ghassan karam said...

I am afraid that the above dialogue is not getting anywhere. If you read many of the above posts you will notice that the same position is repeated over and over again without responding or even acknowledging the "counter points" that have been made.
(1)You may choose to create your own definitions but the fact of the matter is that whenever the term democracy, actually liberal democracy to be more precise, it is always used to imply a secular state.
(2) You seem to oppose secular ism because you maintain that in history some secular states were not democratic. That might be so althought I do not know exactly what states you have in mind. The above point , however, is not material for this discussion. No one has suggested that being secular is sufficient to the creation of a democracy. Afterall, the Ba'ath is secular but democratic it is not. The point that was made in an earlier post is that democracy cannot thrive except in a secular environment. Secularism is necessary but not sufficient for a democracy.
(3)Pluralism, the concept that you seem to advocate , is also essential for democracy. Democracy is built on the right to dissent and on respecting different visions of reality. There is no contradiction in being secular and pluralist; actually that is what democracy is all about. Unfortunately a pluralist non secular state cannot be democratic because it will either have to force some beliefs on others or it will have to adopt different laws for different folks.
(4) There has always been a problem in creating a secular state in a Moslem environment because the popular perception of Islam is that it is more than personal faith. As long as Islam is both a "Deen wa Dawlat" then I would not expect Moslems to vote for secularism. But if that is the case then such a Moslem country can never become a democracy.
(5) I have spoken earlier about an unscientific experiment that was conducted by a group of University students in Lebanon. They did find out , just as you predicted, that very few Lebanese accepted "Al Ilmaniah"/ secularism but not for the reasons that give. Their rejection was simply based on the fact that practically all equated secularism with aetheism!!! When it was explained to them that a secular state simply asks for a separation betweenpersonal faith and public statutes then many welcomed the idea.

BTW, secular IS an adjective and secularism IS a noun :-)

moz said...


If democracy implies a secular state then why are Israel and India reffered to as democracies when they are both clearly non-secular? Furthermore, a country cannot be secular by simple design. The US claims to be secular but was founded on Judeo-Christina principles and the influence the Churches and not to mention AIPAC, have on government is only challenged by industry therefore simply replacing competion between sects with competition between religion and industry. The UK is secular because the influence of the Church has weakend because the population is not religious. However, only heads of Christian churches are allocated seats in the House of Lords. Lets not forget also that the Queen is Head of the Church of England and Defender of the Faith. Japan on the other hand had to lose a world war and have secularism imposed upon it.

I disagree that secularism is necessary for a democracy. Only plurasim is. The Soviet Union, Chian, Syria, Saddams Iraq are but a few examples of secular regimes with no democracy. However if you have pluraity but not secularism you can still have a democracy, such as in India without imposing specific laws on people or having different laws for different folks as long as there is no clear majority of one group. IF there is a clear majority then that is democracy anyway and as long as that govt. protects the rights of the minority thats how things go.

You cannot create a secular Muslim state not because of some perceptions but because the majority of Muslims don't want that. But that only stops a Muslim state from becoming a democracy if one accepts your argument that if its non-secular its non-democratic. If however one accepts that simple pluralism is enough for democracy then not only is that how Islam states that countries should be governed it was the Prophet revolutionary idea to create state that was protective of all its incumbent people.

ghassan karam said...

I am bewildered by your response. Did you read my previous post? I am not sure that you did. Your point about China, ex Soviet Union, Syria ... is the point that I raised in my previous post. Let me repeat: SECULARISM IS NECESSARY BUT NOT SUFFICIENT FOR DEMOCRACY !!! This simply means that a state might be secular without being demoicratic but that you cannot be democratic unless you are secular. And of course democracy implies by definition acceptance of the other i.e pluralism.

And what is all this nonsense about people being too religious to be secular. Being secular does not interfere with your personal beliefs. We have stated this already in five different ways. In a secular world one is free to have any personal vision, any set of personal beliefs but one is not allowed to rule on the basis of a myth no matter how sacred it is for the individual.

No one has posited either the US or France or England as being the ideal form of democracy. Each of them has its warts. And for your information Israel is not considered to be a democracy by most political scientists. It is more democratic than Saudi Arabiabut yet it cannot be a democracy as long as it is a Jewish state. India on the other hand is very far away from being considered a democracy that is worthy of being emulated. It does have some democratic trappings .

I hope that you do not share the very mistaken belief of Sam that Taef creats a secular society in Lebanon. All what Taef does is eliminate sectarian allocation of parliamentary seats. That is a welcome step if it can be achieved but that my friend just ain't what secularism is about.

moz said...


First can I just point out that you are confusing me and Amos. We are not the same person.

Second, just because I did not agree with you does not mean I did not read your post. Let me summarise my point of view. Pluralism not secularism is what is necessary for a democracy. Secularism is not.

And if all these beacons of democracy are not ideal, and yet do not have the secterian, political and religious fervour of Lebanon, what country are you positing as a nation we should be emulating?

ghassan karam said...

My appologies, I might have confused you with Amos :-)
One of the most difficult part of starting the study of a new field is to become familiar with its jargon. These accepted definitions serve a purpose, they make it infinitely easier to communicate without misunderstanding. The above is relevant to our discussion. Democracy has some major accepted characteristics, chief among them besides the one person one vote, is the idea of a free press, freedom to congreggate and assemble, freedom to worship whatever and whoever you choose, equality before the law and the right to disagree and dissent. Of course the above demand a pluralistic society, but it also has to be secular. If society is not secular then by definition it is creating preferences and is actually discriminating.I must not be made to pray to a God that I do not believe in and subjected to laws based on sayings in religious texts that I reject. Religion IS a PRIVASTE matter. It has no room in public discourse. Personally, I do not buy into any of the populer myths, I think that it is irrational to be a believer. Yet I will do whatever I have to protect the rights of others to believe in any kind of a myth.

Absolute freedom and absolute democracy are just goals. No one has attained them and chances are difficult that any society will attain them soon. Yes the US system has its warts, Financial obstacles limit the field of candidates and lobbying affects the type of legislation passed. Most other societies have their problems also. But this does not imply that some are "better" than others. If you are interested in rankings then most of the studies that I have seen place Switzerlandand the Scandinavian countries ahead of the US, GB, France, Germany ... What is also clear from these rankings is that no ME country, no African country , no Asian country besides Japan and no Latin American country besides Uruguay and Costa Rica have the right to even pretend that they are democratic.

Amos said...


With all due respect, I think that you are the one who from the beginning accused me of saying things that I didn't say, and who has consistently ignored the points that I did make.

I think your confusing me with "Moz" might have been partly responsible for this. "Amoz," by the way, also appears in the Bible, he is the father of a prophet, but Amos is a different character.

1) I obviously did not create my own definitions - I quoted the Oxford Dictionary of English to you.

What you don't seem to realize is that I am not against secularism as you define it - as I have said countless times above, I believe that a strong separation between church and state is necessary for democracy!

2) Whether or not this is germane to the discussion: you know very well that there were secular states in history, such as the USSR, which were not democratic.

3) You're right, there's no contradiction between being secular and pluralist. But the two are not synonyms. And that was the point I originally made in response to Jeha's post.

4) Agreed.

5) This pretty much proves the point I made at 00:46 about the need to distinguish between the term "secularism" and secular state forms - i.e., the separation between church and state. Had you used the English word "secularism" in an American context, I believe that many people would also think that you meant "secular humanism" or some form of agnosticism or atheism.

Again, this is obviously about semantics - but you keep accusing me of trying to argue that against the necessity of separation between church and state for democracy.

Your last (facetious?) quip that "secular IS an adjective and secularism IS a noun" really frustrated me, because it seemed symptomatic of your treatment of my comments as a whole.

I said that "Secularistic" not "secular" is the adjective that corresponds to the noun "secularism.".

I was not denying that "secular" is an adjective or that "secularism" is a noun. Throughout this exchange, you have ascribed views to me that I do not hold.

I am not going to respond to the reply to "Amoz," since I think it was responding to things that Moz said.

Anyway, since you seem to be determined to continue using the word "secularism" to mean a "separation between church and state," I am simply going to read it as such in all your posts from now on. Hence, there is no substantive disagreement between us. Therefore, I consider this discussion closed.

Jeha said...

Mamma mia!

Well, I guess we're mostly on the same page, or at least in the same book... Maybe not on the same paragraph, but that would be asking too much.

And it would make the discussions a bit too sedate. A similar thread is ongoing at Mary's Exit Zero, Though the initial problem that brought it up is different, the basic problem is the same; the inference of the religious in the mundane.

Amoz, Moz, Ghassan, moi, and a few others all seem to agree that religious inspired politics has more than a few pitfalls. Amos is more skeptical, however, about the wisdom of a strictly secular-based system. Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia both come to mind. Though those systems found much inspiration is the religious conservatism that preceded them, I feel his remains a valid point.

moz said...


Yes we could be going around in circles so I guess we better stop this. I fully understand your point of view. Furthermore I fully agree with you that in an ideal world, a government would be totaly secular. But Lebanon is, well not even close to ideal. Switzerland and the Nordic countries are very secular and very peaceful. But they have a great advantage that their secterian make up is in the main limited to a few Christian sects who have never been as fanatically devoted to their religion as we Middle Easterners. Therefore it is easy at the outset, much like any Western democracy to start your secular govt. on a secterian foundation, which makes nearly everyone happy and build your secular nation on that.

But specifically, in Lebanons case, with so many sects all fanatically devoted to their beliefs, we cannot use any one religion as a foundation to build a secular state on nor can we igone secterian values in building our state, irrespective of how much we disagree on what the people would want - although if we ever do get a referendum on anything that should surely be one of the first.

I would even go as far to say that a secular solution is most likely the only long term solution for Lebanon. I just don't think its possible. However, for the time being, removing the secterian and confessional exclusivity for govt. positions and posts would be a great step in the right direction and would allow us to start building a state free from secterian bias.

I guess im saying lets guarantee pluralism first, in all aspects of govt. then we can work on secularism. :)

Amos said...


I'm sorry, but I could not let your aside about

"Christian sects who have never been as fanatically devoted to their religion as we Middle Easterners"

slide. This is patently untrue, as Europe's great wars of religion in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries demonstrate.

moz said...

Apologies, I meant never in the coloquial sense not historical. I should have been clearer that I was refering to relatively recent times.