Whither Christian Lebanon?

Haven’t had the chance yet to get a hold of Kamal Dib‘s book, Hâtha-l-Jisr-l-‘atîq: Suqût Lubnân-l-masîhî? 1920-2020 (This Ancient Bridge: The Fall of Christian Lebanon?), Beirut, An-Nahar, 2008, 531 pp. Dib, a Lebanese-Canadian economist, has published several books in Arabic and English on Lebanon (and other topics), among which the excellent Warlords and Merchants: The Lebanese Business and Political Establishment, London, Ithaca, 2006, 333 pp. I’ll try to buy it asap.

Such an opportune coincidence indeed; I was wondering recently where Lebanese Christians stand today, given the regional Sunni-Shi’i antagonism, and the undeniable decline of Christianity in the Arab world, esp. in Iraq and Palestine. The Jordanian Christians seem to be at peace, the Copts in Egypt are carrying their own cross, and the fate of Syrian Christians remains uncertain in the future. There are external and internal factors explaining this phenomenon. I will only focus on the internal ones. (The external factor being Islamism.)

IMHO, the Lebanese Christians’ strength came, under Ottoman rule until our modern era (i.e. 1920), from their territorial expansion. In the 19th-20th centuries, Non-Muslims constituted 25% of the population in the Arab provinces of the Ottoman empire. By all odds, the era of nationalisms (Arab, Syrian, Lebanese, etc.), which started roughly in 1920, was detrimental to the Christians’ expansion.

The cornerstone of Christian presence–and power–was landownership. The landowners were (1) convents, and (2) peasants/farmers. In that respect, the end of Christian Lebanon began with the progressive disappearance of rural culture, and the soaring urbanization. In other terms, the more urbanized the Christian Lebanese will be, the more likely they will be to disappear. The civil conflicts of 1975-90 were fatal to Lebanese Christianity, not due to the number of victims they caused, but because they constituted a major blow to Christian Lebanese rural culture, and marked the beginning of a forced, and accelerated, urbanization process.

Money comes and goes; the land stays. To be more precise: even real-estate properties come and go, only agricultural estates remain. When you capitalize on individual qualifications, it is easier for you to look for a job elsewhere (i.e., emigrate). So, the more educated and intellectual the Lebanese Christians will become, the easier will it be for them to go abroad.

Land = the only guarantee.

Come what may.


P.S. 11/2: It is a real dilemma indeed, that education and urbanization are noxious factors to Christendom in Lebanon. This is assuredly not a call to ignorance or illiteracy. Just an observation. Whatever happens, I believe that the challenge is to learn (again) how to “keep in touch” with one’s land, if one is of rural origin. There is no solution but a successful conciliation of one’s rural and urban identities. One end, different means

P.S. 4/25/2011: Just came across this related book title too: Bassem Khalifah, The Rise and Fall of Christian Lebanon, York Press, 2001 (2nd revised edition), 216 pp.

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