On Moderation & Reform in the Middle East.

As it stands, the Middle East is struggling between three paradigms:

(1) Militant anti-Zionist Islamism, headed by Iran. Mass ideology + war incentives are the everyday bread.

(2) “Silent” Islamism bejeweled with some sort of “local-plus-Western” liberalism in the fields of economy and culture, headed by Saudi Arabia. The confrontation with Israel is not a priority, sometimes quite the contrary: peace is sought, directly or indirectly, concretely or theoretically.

(3) “Stagnating” autocratic regimes. Corruption + privileged ruling class are preventing any kind of deep reform.

There are Sunnis and Shi’is in each of the 3 above-mentioned paradigms. In reality, the so-called “Sunni-Shi’i” rivalry is not as clear-cut as the mass media claim. However, there are predominant tendencies that are well-known to the public. I don’t need to repeat them here.

As for Lebanon, the challenge is to be able to think within a set of circumstances where messages of sectarian hatred are permeating the medias, with a spiraling inflation of statements pitting Ahl as-Sunna against the Shi’a. The Lebanese arena is polarized again; radicalized Sunnis vs. radicalized Shi’is; and the two main rival Christian parties despise each other like never before.

The situation calls for great moderation, yet most “moderates” nauseate me. Moralists and their stock wisdoms bore me. I mean those who adopt so-called “moderate” statements in order to appear politically correct; those who are continuously afraid of slighting their rival; those who do it for the sake of so-called “dialogue” and “accommodation,” without knowing what dialogue really is.

I am very demanding when it comes to moderation. Moderation does not consist in “pouring water into wine”–this repels me. It does neither impose to say what the other wants to hear, nor giving in to hypocrisy by making concessions on one’s convictions and beliefs. Moderation entails setting a premium on the truth and committing to pursuing it. Moderation is a burden, because it requires, at once, rationalization and an excellent emotional grasp of the problem. Moderation is a pursuit of justice. No need to drink diluted wine to sound moderate. Always keep your wine pure, but have less of it if you must.

IMHO, the challenge today is to transcend the March 8/14 antagonism. Why? Because it is pointless. All those who opt for any of the 3 paradigms are in error; whether they prefer Iran, or Syria, or Saudi Arabia, or the US. They are wrong. The 8/14 antagonism hasn’t led us anywhere (except sterile–and bloody–confrontation), and won’t lead us to any kind of solution.

I have absolutely no idea of how realistic this wish is.

I used to think Lebanon was a failed state (cf. my post on the matter). Well, it now occurred to me that Lebanon is a failed nation.

Renan says the nation is an everyday plebiscite. Have we ever “vibrated” together as one entity? Never.

We can’t agree on history, values, strategic choices, and identity. Let’s take this as a fact and build on it. This is a typically “post-modern” attitude. We can agree on socio-economic development. Politics keep us apart and it’s pointless to argue about them.

Economy and aspiration for development brings us together. So let’s start from there.

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P.S. (from a reader):

I think that the selfish time of Nations and the role of Nations is indeed finished. This is the time of Universalism. It doesn’t mean the concept of countries and the feeling of belonging are over. On the contrary. But no cultural identity nowadays can define itself without taking into consideration the universal dimension. It is a success factor for building modern “identities.”

Lebanon got an F on the “nation” course, when it was once the time of nations. But I think Lebanon can get an A in the future as a modern Universalist country. We should believe in that and it will happen. — Antoine S.

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