Friday, April 25, 2008

Is the opposition organically anti-state?

Is the opposition organically anti-state?
By Michael Young
Daily Star staff
Thursday, April 24, 2008

Let's thank Michel Aoun for informing us that the shooting of two Phalangist sympathizers in Zahleh on Sunday by a hanger-on of parliamentarian Elias Skaff was an "individual act."

That explanation helps us better understand the killing in 2005 of two Lebanese Forces partisans by one Youssef Franjieh, a follower of Suleiman Franjieh, who fled and was never caught. It helps us understand the detention by Hizbullah last week of an Internal Security Forces member registering building code violations in Beirut's southern suburbs; or the freeing by Hizbullah of two youths stopped by the security forces in Qomatieh, also last week; or the attack, last week again, against two couples at Monnot street by youths arriving on motorbikes from the Downtown "tent city" after a verbal altercation; or the murder last year of the two Ziads, whose killers are believed to have sought shelter in the southern suburbs; or the laying down by Hizbullah of kilometers of private telephone lines, in parallel to those of the state.

If a politically motivated crime, like all those other abuses of the law, can be dismissed as an "individual act," then there is really not much left for the Lebanese to discuss. But Aoun's blitheness signaled a deeper dysfunction in that his and the opposition's actions and statements in the past two years have, almost by definition, pitted them against the state and its institutions. Murder has been downplayed as isolated; the security forces have been routinely treated as a threat; and even gunfire directed against the army has been viewed as a tolerable form of protest.

March 14 sympathizers have also at times ignored the state, despite an argument to the contrary from the leader of the Democratic Gathering, Walid Jumblatt, in this week's editorial for the Al-Anbaa newspaper. There are worrisome reports that young men from the Akkar have been brought in as muscle to Beirut in the event of an outbreak of fighting in the capital. But the fact is that the parliamentary majority, whatever its shortcomings, has never drifted into organic hostility to the state - and more particularly to the idea of the state. It has gained from this, in the face of an opposition that, in rejecting the majority and government, has aggressively undercut those national institutions buttressing both.

When Hizbullah's secretary general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, last year told the majority, "Establish a state and we will join it," he was engaging in sophistry. Had there been no state, Hizbullah would not have taken Lebanon through an ongoing 14-month political crisis to allegedly gain greater representation in that state. Had there been no state, the opposition would not have had to close down Parliament to thwart the election of a president not of its choosing. Had there been no state, Michel Aoun, who once claimed to personify that state, would not have lost most of his 2005 electorate by being widely regarded today as someone who would destroy Lebanon to be elected at its head.

Writing in 1944, the banker and journalist Michel Chiha, in many ways the preeminent theoretician of the Lebanese system, made an observation that remains grimly relevant today: "The history of modern Lebanon has shown in the most extreme way that every time that Parliament disappeared, every time the principle of representation died a violent death, specifically confessional authority substituted itself for Parliament and automatically one or several Sanhedrins were born."

There have been three prongs in the opposition's strategy since December 2006, when it escalated its actions against the Siniora government: First, resorting to civil disorder, whether through the creation of the "tent city" and its transformation into a closed-off security zone or the blocking of roads in January 2007 and January 2008; second, leveling accusations of treason against members of the parliamentary majority; and third, shutting down Parliament to prevent a presidential election. Each of these steps speaks to the repudiation of the state and of national solidarity.

Chiha was right that multiple Sanhedrins would result from the closing of the legislature, but we can add a detail: Whether the legislature is open or not, Hizbullah will only go along with the state by denying it primacy over the party; and Aoun will do so solely if the state is his.

That's why we can groan at the affected evenhandedness that has sometimes come to define the debate over the current political crisis. Those adopting this approach usually have an argument that goes something like this: The parliamentary majority and opposition are equally to blame for the ambient deadlock; the political leadership on both sides is blameworthy for ruthlessly pursuing its self-interest; what is needed is a third way to light up the path out of our debilitating condition.

Self-righteousness is convenient, since it allows one to say "a pox on both their houses." But that doesn't push matters forward. Many things can be said in condemnation of the parliamentary majority, but it alone has a project that aims at consolidating the state - not turning it into a Syrian protectorate, a depleted subsidiary of an armed militia, or a consolation prize for a man who, on his last stab at power, thrust Lebanon into a two-year nightmare.

We should pay attention to Chiha, who was healthily obsessed with the limitations of the Lebanese system he defended. Lebanon will only be normal again once the opposition is integrated into the political order. But that presumes it actually wishes to be, and will truly accept the authority of the state. For the moment, nothing suggests this is the case. So to equate the parliamentary majority and the opposition, when one side is about the state and the other about its negation, seems boldly tendentious.


JoseyWales said...

Now if only the idiots at the Daily Star (and the rest of the press) would listen to Young and stop equating the 2 sides.

Yes the 2 sides suck. But one you can work with and can be reformed. The other is hell bent on its anti- state agenda.

HappyDae said...

Well-written Mr. Young. I find your writing as sound as your thinking. Excellent -- spot on!

Happy Dae.