Thursday, September 20, 2007

Dialogue... of the Lambs

Ah, “dialogue”… Hallowed by thy call...

In Lebanon, rather than a means to an end, it has become an end in itself… I was never good at conflict negotiations, but the “dialogues” that I overheard in my childhood allowed to develop a few ideas of my own as to how it can best be carried out.

Common Ground

A dialogue is essentially a “reciprocal conversation”; the Ancient Greeks had a concept of “flowing-through meaning”; it is composite word made up of dia (across), and legein (speak). This “speaking across” may not be part of its modern definition, but the concept is still far better than the all too common Arab habit of “speaking at”.

One prerequisite to dialogue is a measure of common goals. Herein lays a problem with modern Lebanon;

A first problem is that the “partners” do not agree on the meaning of “nation”. With sectarian groups more powerful than states, some see a “nation” as an “umma of believers”, other as a grand “sectarian alliance”, and yet others as some great “ethnic conclave”…

A second issuer is the lack of common values. It is hard enough when those who value life may not agree on its exact definition, and do not concur on what should be given priority. It is harder when a strong party to that “dialogue” is not interested in life or liberty as an end in themselves, and not even in a great “Jihad”, but in “martyrdom” as the ultimate end.

While most Lebanese long for it, a modern secular democracy appears far from the minds of their leaders. It is also far from the minds of far too many people, many of whom believe that the God who gave us life and granted us reason did so only so that we can deprive others of their life, even at the expense of our own.

Common Language

Another prerequisite of “dialogue” is the use of a common language. Consider your local high school bully; for all the PC crap being marketed around, anyone with a functioning memory understands that there is no sense of “talking” to bullies.

Unless you use the right “words”. Whenever engaged in a “dialogue” with a bully, it helps to use Universal Sign Language, augmented by a little Touch Therapy. One may not always impress one’s point upon them, but they will learn to value your input, and even avoid future “conversations”.

A scene from the movie “Thirteen Days” on the Cuban Missile Crisis can best illustrate this issue of “language”. When told by Admiral Anderson to “Get out of our way”, since his Navy “has been running blockades since the days of John Paul Jones”, McNamara explains to him;

John Paul Jones... you don't understand a thing, do you, Admiral? This isn't a blockade. This, all this, is language, a new vocabulary the likes of which the world has never seen. This is President Kennedy communicating with Secretary Khruschev”.

So, after the current assassination, we can still say Yes to Dialogue.

But How?

This leads us to a question; how do you respond when faced with such arguments?

When faced by murderers who blackmail you, and ally themselves with liars and hypocrites who know no rules, how do you “dialogue”?

When your own “allies” are faster with words than with deeds, how you back your “dialogue”? How do you leverage such an exposed position?

When those who should be on your “side” are far too willing to follow Panglossian demagogues, how do you convince them that “evil is [not] essential to the order of the world”?

The fact that most of those who claim March 14th would not survive Zadig’s dance is far from relevant in this context; when the house is on fire, you don’t inquire about the water’s PH… There’ll be time enough to clean anything that did not burn…

Lambs and Wolves

Even if one is intent on “dialogue”, one general direction would be to talk to each one with “their” language. Even those who preached the Gospels knew how to be “lambs amongst lambs, and wolves amongst wolves”.

Do not misunderstand me; I am not necessarily advocating an “eye for an eye” in the retaliatory sense, but in its original, “egalitarian” meaning. To those who decided to skip the benefits of the enlightenment, only lex talionis Works. After all, we can only treat others as good as they treat us…

A “golden rule” for “Black Arabists”, if you will…

This would serve a good guide in such “dialogues”; old hands in Lebanon would often point out that the judicious use of leverage can avoid wider violence; the power perceived is then power achieved.

It helps that you’re not alone in your fight, and your ideals have much support among your people.

But it does not help if you’re acting like a lamb, and “run” into hiding when the wolf attacks. When faced with hyenas, the lion has the teeth to back his roar…

And bear in mind that wolf’s goals are not limited;

He is in for the long haul…

…He’s after the entire flock.


Roch said...

Great video, do you think the lebanese can do the same?

ghassan karam said...

In most countries ; maybe even all; there are different political parties that compete for power and the chance to govern. There is nothing unusual about that. But what makes the Lebanese example unusual and maybe even unique is the fact that our two major political groups (they do not rise to the level of being political parties) vie not with each other as if one group is from Venus and the other from Mars.

Republicans and Democrats in the US or Labour and the Conservatives in the UK, just to use an example, have completely different visions about what must be done in order to improve the level of public welfare but both groups, those in power and those in opposition essentially have the same paradigm but differ only on the means. That is radically different from saying that each group has a different paradigm or vision of reality.
In Lebanon the two groups have nothing in common. Thery seek different end; one seeks a sovereign state while the other does not believe that there should be a state.
As a result there is no room for compromise. If one is to compromise on what is basic to it then it is in essence repudiating the basic idea on which its whole vision is built. Does this mean , therefore, that both visions should have equal moral claims? No. Those who do not believe in the whole concept of a state should not be allowed to use the power and the institutions of the state itself in order to abolish it.
There is always room for dialogue provided that ther is an agreement about the end. If the end is a nation statethat is sovereign, independent and democratic then all other means are fair game.But unless HA is to accept the notion of rule of law, independence ,individual liberty etc... then there is nothing to talk about. Don't ask the fox to guard the hen house even though the fox is wearing a less frightening costume.

Anonymous said...

Hazbani commenting
GK you did hit some nail on the head. This is the basic problem of the USA, UK, Europe and some small states in the ME visa vis what Pres. Bush calls the enemies of freedom. Your solution has not been accepted, yet. If and when it is totally accepted what will be the difference between the two groups?. But then and yet the Christian members of the governing system in Lebanon want to live, surprisingly enough, by being what they are they do not belive in self killing for the cause. So that means that party B is going to gain, by killing or intimidation. What is the solution? I do not know.