Monday, February 04, 2008

Electile Dysfunction

When a system fails, it appears to do so suddenly. But in general, real failure had already begun long before the cracks appeared.

Le vase où meurt cette verveine

D'un coup d'éventail fut fêlé ;

Le coup dut effleurer à peine :

Aucun bruit ne l'a révélé.

And so it goes for the Lebanese system, with the cracks that appeared last Sunday, during a riot initiated under false pretences. One can only hope that the army’s inquiry, led by a certain General Kassem (no, not Naim) will not be a whitewash, but the political stakes are too high. On one side of the divide, we see Hezb calling for a full inquiry into a riot it has started, and even for the death penalty. On the other side, we see a divided country struggling to remain afloat in the midst of deepening economic crisis. It does not help that the main actors of this drama are increasingly irrational, as Ghassan Karam points out;

Very few rational people will place high expectations on economic performance when they simultaneously choose to implement a policy of economic disruptions, risk enhancement and increased instability. The Lebanese opposition, however, have adopted exactly such a policy. They create unstable conditions, promote acts that disrupt economic activities, encourage actions that discourage investments, contribute to lower level of economic welfare and a lower level of tax revenues collected by the authorities. Yet they martial their forces to demonstrate against the governments inability to provide services that they have obstructed through their own activities. Go figure.

With such lack of rational thinking, no wonder that it now matters little that the first victims were shot from the back, from “their” side; the army is discredited for trying to keep the peace. And General Suleiman faces a tough choice if he maintains his candidacy; finding the truth may be politically inconvenient, but fudging it may destroy the army… How does one expect soldiers to keep the peace if they are going to be punished for doing their job?

Mais la légère meurtrissure,

Mordant le cristal chaque jour,

D'une marche invisible et sûre

En a fait lentement le tour.

Such an Electile Dysfunction (H/T to Dr. C.A. for the Diagnosis) can only be a symptom of the deeper disease that ails our “Representative Republic”. Many would add that the system had already failed long before the events of this week. And most would agree that it is all caused by our mass schizophrenia, itself caused by the accumulation of mental dichotomies forced upon Levantine minds by our consociational-sectarian system…

In this context, those divinely inspired leaders are risking destroying the army for the small “benefit” of scuttling the Suleiman candidacy. They may not feel much need for it now, but time will prove otherwise. The postponement of Suleiman’s election means that any election has been effectively cancelled. And this condemns Hezb to play for keeps.

Son eau fraîche a fui goutte à goutte,

Le suc des fleurs s'est épuisé ;

Personne encore ne s'en doute ;

N'y touchez pas, il est brisé.

In this case, the game has already been lost before it began. Playing it will change nothing, since it does not matter who takes over the Presidential Suite if you’re on the Titanic.

True, as the local branch of the Pasdaran, Hezb is a powerful force. However, as it moves down this road, it cannot limit its goals to “conserve” its weapons and privileges; it has to go after the whole enchilada. And this is where the trouble lays. In the immediate, while Hezb’s Sunday foray was damaging, a few useful cretins still provide Nasrallah and his flock with a very useful Christian fig leaf, egged on by their hatred of Geagea. But on the long run, there will be few takers as they realize Hezb’s real motives. As Michael Young cautions;

[Hezb] is, perhaps unintentionally, pushing Shiites into a confrontation with the rest of Lebanese society to protect itself, and nothing could be worse for the community. […] In 1975, the Christians had their own Kerbala complex, one that dictated stubbornness in the defence of Christian prerogatives, which at the time were regarded as an existential red line. In the process they lost their control over the state. […] But Kerbala, as one astute analyst has put it, is hardly something the Shiites should want to remember, as it ended in a massacre and defeat.

However, some of Young’s logic is dangerously flawed. This is more than a fight between “the Shiites” and “the Others”; it is a fight for the survival of any secular hope in the Arab world. And partly for this reason, many would dispute his simplistic notion that the past war was merely between “the Christians” and “the Moslems”. The dynamics of the past wars were far more complex and involved many still secular forces, as demonstrated by the fact that when the Syrians took over, they found many willing Christian allies.

Therefore, such flawed logic’s real danger is that a different conclusion can be drawn from the one proposed by Young; the Christian defeat was due to disunity, not to Arab unity against them. After all, others were also able to win against similar odds… This is the logic I see used by many of the more “reasonable” Shiite supporters of Hezb; since “the Christians” lost because of their disunity, the Shiites can only prevail because they are united…

Souvent aussi la main qu'on aime,

Effleurant le coeur, le meurtrit ;

Puis le coeur se fend de lui-même,

La fleur de son amour périt ;

But such simplifications are a poor policy guide; even united, the Shiites” remain a minority, and Hezb’s monopoly has ensured that few credible alternatives remain. Unlike “the Christians”, “the Shiites” have no “Plan B”. Regardless of their relative weight, size does not really matter in this context, for two reasons.

First, it is a sad trait of our Lebanese lobster basket that, as one group reaches some sort of prominence, the others unites to confront them, ensure all stay in the same quagmire. Because of Hezb’s monopoly of “Shiite Representation”, the “group” in question is perceived to be an entire community. As a result, all the others will gang up on it, and the coming conflict will gain a uniquely sectarian dimension. The early warning signs are there …

Second, this time around, a sectarian fight in Lebanon will lose any of the secular pretence of the past one. As such, it will easily spread into the neighbourhood, particularly Syria where “the Alawites” are still ruling over “the Majority Sunnites”. And as the rot spreads into Syria, the contradictory sectarian interests of any “coalition” against “the Shiites” would grow, and render it unstable. This will further accelerate the division process, and soon sectarian group will split apart.

Toujours intact aux yeux du monde,

Il sent croître et pleurer tout bas

Sa blessure fine et profonde ;

Il est brisé, n'y touchez pas.

Our "neighbours" from hell make too much of their own stability; they forget that our flawed little country merely reflects the ills of the entire region. We’re a “message” they better head, lest the sectarian rot that infects us spread far and wide, across our increasingly porous borders. And do not mean the usual stuff...

To our South, some are starting to debate the significance of their own national identity. However, little progress will be made in the face of immediate urgencies and steadfast incompetence, and the society risks falling into an increasingly reductionist logic…

To our east, north, and beyond, any debate is effectively stifled. Few would argue for a need for change of some sort, but fewer would dare implement it. Pace the odd morphine shot or state visit, change will come as hard facts creep in. The system has failed for all practical purposes. The collapse is just a matter of time.

Just like those two poor souls in Iraq, the region’s inhabitants are gullibly letting others lead them to their demise… the only hope for the Lebanese smarten up

And that's the only real cure for Electile Dysfunction


R said...

Hi Jeha,

Sound analysis. In fact you (and I and others) have touched upon these issues before, but it can't hurt to re-iterate them. I hope its ok if i post a couple of excerpts from some of my previous posts just to highlight that things were rather clear a year ago and even before, when things were salvagable... Now, I am not so sure...

from here, posted on april 17, 2007:
"The reason behind Hizbulla choosing to fight a losing battle is simple: the stakes are simply too high and eventhough the deck is stacked against them, Hizbulla have no choice (short of changing their very identity, ideology and MO) but to continue in their desperate tactics aimed at preventing the game from changing...

... Hizbulla is putting its willing Shia base in an increasingly precarious situation, as the Sunni leadership in March 14 is becoming more and more comfortable with its Sunni identity, that can be a dangerous game to play...".

and from here
"Syria: Another Sunni-Shiite civil war on another of their borders, with them on the Shiite side and 70% of their population being Sunni, is nothing short of signing their own death sentence.
Moreover, in my opinion, their eggs are all in one basket. Killing the investigation and/or toppling the government and/or killing the March 14 leadership while trying to avoid a civil war that might be too much to handle and to check. In short desperate obstructionism... However the rationality of their decisions and the extent to which they are cornered might prove decisive in how crazy they might behave. Still history has shown them to be masters of brinkmanship without ever crossing the line. They realize that once the line is crossed, there is no turning back."

as well as (from the same post)

"The only danger in my opinion is in the alliance of Syria, Iran and Hizbullah, not because they want a civil war but more because they might not see an alternative to it. In the case of the Syrian regime, desparation might (in the medium to long-range future) lead them to a point where they might decide to bring Lebanon down with them, or to think that a burning Lebanon might for some reason salvage their anomalous control of Syria. In the case of Hizbulla, the fact that they have been pushed away from the borders with Israel and are separated from their arch-enemies by thousands of international and Lebanese troops might challenge their very "raison d'etre". Moreover, the fact that they are armed to the teeth with nowhere to use these weapons and no enemy to channel them against might lead to them redefining the enemy internally. We are already seeing signs of that"


Thanks for the space and sorry for the long post...

fubar said...

Your video is "no longer available."

Here is one for you:

Jeha said...

Thanks, and you're always welcome. The only thing I would disagree with you on is the "Shia base"; I think there is far less unanimity behind Hezb than meets the eye... Or any party for that matter. It is just that, in a sectarian context, communities tend to identify with the ones who can provide patronage.

Thanks for the link. That's unfair, those Mullahs get all the babes. The video thing is fixed now. I will try and make others in Flash as I learn it, and if I find the time...For now, I am using collage and capture adaptations, such as this one of the Douma game.