violence and chaos descending upon
once again, it’s worth recalling what first transformed
this one-time “
” into a synonym for horror:
Although many in our ahistorical punditariat had declared
was going to be “the first Arab democracy”,
was a successful democracy beginning in 1943, when it
gained independence from
. It enjoyed a free press, women’s suffrage (from 1953),
and a booming economy centered on banks, trade, and tourism.
And then it all came tumbling down. A hellish civil war
erupted in 1975 and flared on and off into the early 1990s, with 100 different
militias pounding each other with artillery duels inside
Although it’s hard now to remember, during its three
decades of stability and prosperity,
was known as the “
of the Arab World”. Climatically and topographically, however,
it’s more like
, which is at
the same latitude. Both cities enjoy a Mediterranean climate, with mild winters
and sunny summers moderated by ocean breezes. (The forecasted high for today in
is 85 degrees, compared to 113 in
.) As in LA, the tourist brochures claimed you could ski in
the morning and surf in the afternoon—although I’ve never actually met anybody
With a superb location at the east end of the
’s Christian Arabs were Western-oriented, literate, and
entrepreneurial. Protestant missionaries from
, the premiere university in the Arab world, as long ago as
Not surprisingly, those Christian Arabs who emigrated from
before the 1924 reform are among the best-assimilated
immigrant groups in
. Cut off from a constant influx of new immigrants after
the 1920s, the Christian Arabs contributed to this country on an individual
basis, without much remaking
in their own image or inordinately influencing
The list of famous Arab-Americans
kept updated by the Lebanese Druze disk jockey Casey Kasem (the voice of
“Shaggy” on Scooby-Doo)
looks like a random
selection of prominent Americans with no obvious common denominators: e.g.,
consumer advocate Ralph Nader, quarterback Doug Flutie, Indiana governor Mitch
Daniels, Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal, surf guitarist Dick Dale, the Sununu
dynasty of New Hampshire, guitarist Frank Zappa, heart surgeon Michael DeBakey,
and so forth.
Under French guidance, the Lebanese worked out an ingenious
political system. The goal of this “confessional gerrymander” was to restrict
all political rivalries to within each ethnic group. The largest and most
advanced group, the Christians, always got the top political post, the
presidency. The Sunnis, who were second in numbers and wealth, got the number
two job, the prime ministership. The rural Shi’ites were left with the
speakership of the chamber of deputies.
Okay, that’s a little complicated to remember—even though
it skips the details, such as the divisions between the dominant Maronites and
the other Christians—but it’s not too hard to keep straight.
Unfortunately, although we are increasingly involved in
that part of the world, we poor dumb naive Americans still don’t have a clue
just how Byzantine the sociology and politics of the ancient
remain. Just when you’ve finally figured out the difference between the
Sunnis and Shi’ites, you discover that the place is also stocked with a
baffling array of pseudo-Muslim crypto-religions. For example, there are the
arguably quasi-Christian Alawites who run the Syrian dictatorship; their
allegedly angel-worshiping cousins, the dissimulating Alevi who make up
somewhere from 10 to 30 percent of Turkey; the Lucifer-loving Kurdish Yezidis
of Iraq; and, strangest of all, the Donmeh, secret followers of the Jewish
false messiah Shabbetai Zevi, who comprise much of the secular elite of modern
, the local mystery sect is the Druze, who refuse to
explain the nature of their religion. No mutually satisfactory slice of the
political pie could be found for this fourth most important ethnic group.
’s “confessional gerrymander” worked fairly well…for while.
Of course, it failed to build national parties that transcended ethnicity. But,
then, those are rare anywhere.
The more serious problem:
’s demographics shifted. The constitution was based on the
1932 census, when Christians comprised 54 percent of the population.
Regrettably, but predictably, the best educated ethnicity, the Christians, had
the lowest birthrate and were most likely to emigrate. In contrast, the poor
and backward Shi’ites proliferated—and stayed put.
As the demographics changed, the original distribution of
power among the groups became increasingly contentious. The Shi’ites demanded a
new census. The Christians, who predominated in the cushiest government jobs
and were guaranteed half the seats in the legislature, resisted.
Then, immigration became the straw that broke the fragile
Lebanese camel’s back. David Lamb, the Los Angeles Times correspondent in the
Middle East, wrote in his 1988 book
worked, however artificially, then because one group, the Christians, were
clearly in control, lesser minorities were given freedom to maneuver as long as
they didn’t get too uppity and everyone who mattered was making money. Tensions
and hostilities festered only beneath the surface. But in 1970
’s delicate balance was upset.
Palestinian refugees had started arriving in 1948 and sped
up after the 1967 Six Day War. Then, in the “Black September” of 1970, King
turned on Yassir Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation
Organization and booted them out of his country. They relocated to
By 1973, Palestinians made up one tenth of
’s population, and were radicalizing. They forged alliances
with the other outsiders, the Druze. And PLO attacks on
brought retribution raining down on
as a whole, outraging the ruling Maronites.
April 13, 1975
four Christians were killed in a drive-by shooting of a church. Later that day,
a Maronite Phalangist militia massacred 27 Palestinians on a bus. The country
descended into civil war, polarizing along Christian-Muslim lines, but with
many strange alliances and rapid betrayals.
The history of that conflict is insanely convoluted, so I
won’t try to trace its course, but just describe a few bizarre lowlights. For
The Christians invited the Syrian Army into
on the same side, only to see the Syrians switch to
backing the Muslims.
The Shi’ite masses, despising the PLO, initially cheered
Ariel Sharon’s Israeli invasion in 1982, but later, under Hezbollah, became
’s implacable foe.
President Reagan sent in the
military to evacuate the PLO to
, but we were sucked into a war with the Druze, of whom
almost nobody in
had ever heard. The U.S.S.
battleship bombarded Druze mountain villages with
2700-pound shells from its 16-inch guns.
After a suicide truck bomb killed 241 U.S.
Marines, Reagan decided our being involved with all these mafias of Lebanese
crazies was just as nuts as they were. So he got our troops out of
The chaos ground on for another half dozen
years, turning into a Mad Max struggle between clan-based neighborhood gangs,
conquered most of the country in 1990.
In early 2005, during the
demonstrations against Syrian occupation, there was much fatuous commentary in
about the inevitable triumph of democracy. One blogger got a lot of publicity
for a expounding the flattering idea that pro-American democracy must triumph
because all the hot babes go to the anti-Syrian demonstrations. Babes attract
TV cameras and television rules the world, right?
This was particularly ironic because the
weakness of the Babe Theory in
was that those hot babes haven’t been having enough babies. For generations,
the stylish Christian women have been losing the
of the Cradle to the Shi’ite women, who are too covered up to have to worry
about losing their babealicious figures. If there were real, one-person
one-vote democracy in
instead of the “confessional gerrymander”, the hot babes would be wearing
shapeless sacks tomorrow.
But don’t worry about this tale of what
multiculturalism can inflict on a country.
we’ve all been told repeatedly that Diversity is Strength!
Yeah... and War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength too.
Copyright 2007 The Social Contract Press, 445 E Mitchell Street, Petoskey, MI 49770; ISSN 1055-145X
(Article copyrights extend to the first date the article was published in The Social Contract)