As the “bloody” new year is kicked off with the ghosts of the sacrificed Coptic Christians in Alexandria, Egypt, here are we, again, lamely debating “sectarianism.”
On Thursday, December 30, 2010, Lebanese Labor Minister Boutros Harb handed out a draft bill to the Secretariat of the Council of Ministers concerning land selling between Lebanese citizens. The law project prohibits land selling operations “between individuals of different confessions not belonging to the same religion” (namely, between Christians and Muslims) for a period of 15 years. Unsurprisingly, ready-made criticism was mechanically recited in reply to Harb’s initiative: “this is a sectarian, racist, and segregationist draft bill.” Cheap comment, easy, and usable in all situations.
I am myself far from being a fan of Boutros Harb’s parliamentary abilities since 1972, and I hardly think such a draft bill would provide the solution. However, I understand Harb’s fears and share them; he is merely sounding an emergency alarm after witnessing a clear Islamic and Islamist tendency to buy property from Christians in Lebanon with ulterior sectarian motives.
Shi’i individuals, backed by wealthy organizations, parties (Hizbullah), and powerful states (Iran), are buying thousands of square meters in the predominantly Christian district of Jezzin (South-Lebanon), as well as in other Christian areas in the Beqaa (where 68 million square meters “went” from Christians to Muslims) and Mount-Lebanon (Baabda, Hadath, Metn). For political, military, and strategic reasons, Hizbullah is seeking expansion outside its renowned strongholds, all over the Lebanese territory.
On the opposite side, and given the stark regional and local Sunni-Shi’i antagonism, Saudis and pro-Saudi Lebanese are compulsively trying to buy land from Christians, sometimes with the generous financial support of Saudi Arabia, to offset Hizbullah’s influence. In the process, the Lebanese Christians, who enjoy no foreign political and financial support, are caught in a vise-like grip (same thing happening in Iraq).
When Minister Boutros Harb says Lebanese Muslim-Christian coexistence is jeopardized, I agree with him. And I think his is an absolutely legitimate reaction to the unacceptable Islamization of Lebanon. I don’t have a clear-cut opinion whether the draft bill must be withdrawn or not, or if modifications and paragraphs should be added to it. What I know is that a remedy has to be found to such a tendency.
The Islamization of Lebanon through land buying is an old and persistent theme, repeatedly suggested by Libyan President Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The Christians who denounce it are charged with being sectarian, whereas the executioners remain above all suspicion.
In Lebanese politics, the tragedy is that there is no alternative to sectarianism, or at least there is no non-sectarian alternative. More so, random criticism of “sectarianism” has become a masquerade in a land where all the politicians think in sectarian patterns, and where they all are pure products of sectarian politics themselves. As ironic as it gets, ultrasectarian leaders such as the Junblats (father and son), Imam Musa Sadr, Mufti sheikh Hasan Khaled, and black-turbaned Hizbullah clerics have been constantly keen on castigating “sectarianism.” Most of the discontents of “sectarianism” despise secularism… It seems like they ask for something and its exact opposite… Better “participation”? “Participation” in what? Participation in the sectarian model! Oh, now I get it, a better sectarian share. That’s what the Taef convention in 1989 revealed: all these “abolitionist” ideologies turned out to be pure dust, the so-called “anti-sectarianists” settled for a better sectarian share. It’s good to call things by their name.
Note, 6/1/2011: I’ve just read Hanin Ghaddar’s (journalist & managing editor of Now Lebanon news website) reply to Minister Harb: “Dear Boutros Harb, Where would I go?,” Now Lebanon, January 6, 2011. It’s an interesting piece. However, the author only focuses on the “Hizbullah peril,” and overlooks the Sunni tendency. I understand she feels more concerned with/about Hizbullah, being “of Shi’i origin,” and a proponent of both secularism and March 14 movement.
Second, I am not sure whether Minister Harb is the right recipient of that letter. It seems more that the author rebels against the country’s civil and political sectarian system. Is Minister Harb liable for the sects’ personal status, which forbid trans-communal inheritance?
Third, along the same line, is Minister Harb to blame for a social-political system which automatically makes all Lebanese secularists outsiders? He’s not the one to answer the “Where would I go?” question.
There’s a great deal of infamy out there, and I would not want it to be laid solely on one man.
“Polémique sur les ventes immobilières entre chrétiens et musulmans au Liban,” L’Orient-Le Jour, January 9, 2011.
“Harb proposal receives mixed reception,” The Daily Star, January 9, 2011.