In the previous post, I tried to shed the light on the underlying sectarian logic of Syrian nationalism and its privileged ties with the Greek-Orthodox community. This affinity can be also found within the Greek-Catholic community, although to a lesser extent. Non-Christians within the SSNP constitute a population which would be interesting to study, given that they do not fit into a confessional frame. In this case, I think the historic-geographic variable is of greater importance to them, i.e. the belief of a “natural” Greater Syria.
But let us go back to the Greek-Orthodox and their tendency to adhere to “secular” leftist ideologies and Arab nationalism.
Affinities To Arab Nationalism
[Note: I call Arabness ‘urûba and Arabism (or Arab nationalism) ‘urûbiyya.]
Arab nationalism is often considered in itself rather than in relation to its context. It is too often taken for granted as an obvious idea, whereas it is a modern ideology (i.e., a recent construction) par excellence. First of all, Arab nationalism is the product of colonialism; in that respect, it is a purely anti- and post-colonial ideology. Since the colonizer was “the West”, anti-Westernism became one of the core components of Arab nationalism. It is an ideology of independence, an ideology of self-determination, an ideology of self-affirmation vis-à-vis the enemy–namely, “the West”. Arabism inherently rejects the supremacy of “the West”; it rejects its hegemonic foreign policies. Arabism states that “the West” is arrogant, condescending and unjust; in short, that he is an oppressor. Unfortunately, one did not point out enough that nationalism itself is a Western ideology.
It seems more obvious to me why “cultural” Greek-Orthodoxy in the Arab world has had affinities to Arabism than Syrianism. “Orientality” is central to Greek-Orthodox self-image. Of course, once I define myself as “Oriental”, I do it in opposition to the non-Oriental, that is to say, the Occidental. One of “Oriental” Christianity’s main issues is its ignorant persistence in defining itself in Occidental terms. This criticism applies particularly to the Catholic Churches in the Arab world.
The Greek-Orthodox’s overdone sense of “Orientality” is/was the first factor pushing them towards Arabist ideologies. This attitude has primarily politico-religious reasons: the schism with Rome and the “Western” Roman Empire in 1054 A.D. The birth of “Orthodoxy” and the birth of the “Orient-Occident” dichotomy are not two simultaneous events; they are the same event. Hostility towards Rome and Europe are two faces of the same medal. The rivalry between Catholic and Orthodox missionaries from the 18th through the 19th century played an essential role too. In response to Catholic missionary activities, the Orthodox Church started developing its own educational infrastructure in order to prevent the increasing defection of Orthodox flocks to Catholicism in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine.
Therefore, “cultural” Greek-Orthodoxy was opposed to the European powers’ policies (esp. France’s and Italy’s) in the Levant throughout the 19th century. It also rejected the French mandate, perceived as a Catholic, Western colonization. It was natural to show hostility towards their traditional allies, the Maronites, esp. that they held official relations with the Vatican since the creation of the Maronite College in Rome in 1584. In the eyes of most Greek-Orthodox’s in 1920s and 1930s, the French mandate was almost similar to a modern Crusade.
The Lebanese state was created by France at the demand of Maronite elites headed by the Patriarch. Lebanese nationalism (Lebanism, or Lebanonism) was in fact a purely Maronite nationalism claiming to be secular. To this day, I believe, Lebanese nationalism remains a falsely secular nationalism. For most Greek-Orthodox, Arab nationalism was used as a convenient tool to oppose the designs of the “Maronite Lebanist right”.
I still remember this wonderful phrase of former Greek-Orthodox deputy Najah Wakim (Nasserist) during the parliamentary conciliabule held in the city of Taef (Saudi Arabia) in October 1989. When asked about the result of the conference, he let out jubilantly, unaware of the fact that he was being recorded: “We screwed the Maronites!” (حرقنا دين الموارنة)
Affinities To Communism
More than five years ago, I went with a couple of friends on a “sociological” visit to Christian villages in the Far-South of Lebanon. One of those villages was Deir Mimas, a beautiful small town perched on a hillside. Zealously Greek-Orthodox and conspicuously communist. It is obvious that communist and leftist ideologies flourished in South-Lebanon in the 1960s and 1970s among Shi’is and Greek-Orthodox because these populations felt they were totally abandoned by the central authority (perceived as a Maronite authority)–and indeed were they neglected. The other striking phenomenon in Deir Mimas was the display of posters picturing the Soviet Union. My interpretation is that the USSR was always stigmatized as a Russian Orthodox empire despite its clearly atheist character. In the deeply sectarian Arab society, relevant features (such as confession) are taken into consideration, while others are discarded. Russian influence in the Levant increased after the signature of the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca (pronounce küchük kaynardja) in July 1774, which granted Russia, among other things, the right to protect the “Eastern” Orthodox Christians of the Ottoman Empire. I think the confessional factor largely played out in the 20th century too, as the USSR was perceived as a modern Russian–or at least Russian-dominated–empire. A perceived Orthodox empire anyway, which certainly titillated the Greek-Orthodox’s sensibility.
In this part of the world, sectarian sensibilities are never too far away from political considerations. Leftism was probably a way to counter “Maronite rightism”, Arabism a tool to contradict Maronite Lebanism, and secularism a way to block the Maronite-dominated sectarian order.
I believe there is a mainstream “political Greek-Orthodoxism”, represented by Minister Tareq Mitri, Bishop Georges Khodr, Ghassan Tueni, and others. There are also “ugly ducklings” such as Charles Malik (1906-1987), who were more Maronites at heart than Greek-Orthodox (politically speaking). These are the remaining 25% Kamal Junblat indirectly referred to. Once again, Comrade Kamal, you were right.