Across the Bay

Friday, February 11, 2005

Young on Cole

Michael Young has responded to Juan Cole's moronic explanation of the root cause of the Lebanese war (see the Addendum to my "Cole-ossal" post below). Michael was in fact quite generous and polite considering that Cole was spewing completely ill-informed and ideological garbage. I'm pasting all of Michael's post here:

    This from Juan Cole:

    [Iraq's] old Sunni Arab power elite, mainly Baathists or the officer class, has not reconciled itself to the political ascendancy of the Shiites and Kurds. They still think they can destabilize the country and take back over. I would compare them to the Phalangists, the fascist Maronite Christians in Lebanon, who fought tooth and nail 1975-1989 against recognizing that Christians were no longer a dominant majority in Lebanon. Eventually they had to accept a 50/50 split of seats in parliament (which is generous to the Christians, given that Muslims are now a clear majority). That the Sunni Arab elite might be quicker studies than the Phalangists is possible but a little unlikely.

    That Cole often too readily distils ill-informed smugness is one reason why his blog is so popular with his enemies, but this particular analogy is so off that I sincerely wonder whether he picked up anything about Lebanon when he resided there decades ago.

    For one thing, the sobriquet "fascist" is meaningless here, inasmuch as the Christian militias, like their wartime foes, always were first and foremost sectarian. There never was any notion of, or application of, fascist ideology in the wartime Christian militias; and if Cole is going to bring up the fact that the main Christian party, the Kataeb, was influenced by (pre-World War II) European fascist parties, my only answer to that is that it all evaporated long long before 1975. In this context, Cole uses the world solely as an insult.

    More egregiously, Cole has reinterpreted the Lebanese war to essentially be one of "Maronite Christians [fighting] tooth and nail ... against recognizing that Christians were no longer a dominant majority in Lebanon." That was part of it perhaps, but, c'mon Juan, whatever happened to the Palestinian presence, the gradual erosion of Lebanese state control over domestic affairs, the phenomenon of rapid urbanization that brought many new and contradictory social forces to Beirut? To reduce Lebanon's war to Christian stubbornness is splendidly shallow, and Cole misses entirely that minorities do have legitimate fears that might transcend their desire to hold on to power.

    I don't believe, for example, that all Iraqi Sunni Arabs can be collapsed into the regenerative ambitions of Saddam's onetime Sunni henchmen. The community at large may be fearful of its minority status while also rejecting former Baath officials. The community's psychology and mood today is surely far more complex than Cole makes it out to be.

    Finally, the notion that Lebanon's Christians were made a "generous" offer by being offered a 50/50 share in seats is such a crude intellectual sleight of hand that I doubt whether Cole has ever heard of the Constitutional Document of 1976. It was an offer for parity in parliamentary representation between Christians and Muslims, and it was made by the Christian president and rejected by Muslims at the time.

    Nor was the offer of parity both then and subsequently "generous"; it was smart: Lebanon is a country of minorities, and agreement on parity between the different communities was the only way of ensuring that coexistence between Christians and Muslims would endure. If Cole were a quick study he would have recognized that.

That's asking too much of Cole. I mean are you seriously asking him to drop the "ill-informed smugness" and the epithet "fascist" (when it's for his ideological enemies of course) for actual serious, learned analysis?! C'mon Michael!

The fascist bit is really funny. I don't know who coined it with regard to the Maronites (who are always made synonymous with the Phalangists, which is a gross reductionism, let alone the erroneous assumptions about the actual status of the Phalangists throughout the war), but it sure has stuck as gospel truth. The even funnier thing is how Keith Watenpaugh and Geoff Schad were at pains to remove any connection to fascism from the Baath where the epithet is so much more applicable and accurate! But Michael is right, it's clearly just an insult, and reveals something about Cole's ideological premise. No surprise that his characterization is so similar to Fisk's (again, see my "Truth about Dalrymple" post for the quote).

I will also take issue with the entire notion of majority and minority in Lebanon, and I don't mean here to engage in the charged game of numbers (which by the way is 60% to 40% not as Cole usually has it, 70%-30%. But you'll see that's meaningless as it groups incredibly diverse and competing communities and sects under those broad labels. I mean is an Ismailite, Druze, or Alawite actually considered "Muslim" by Sunni Muslims?!) My point is more akin to that made by Michael at the end of his post: Lebanon is a country of minorities. There is no clear-cut majority as in Iraq for instance, which is another plural society. But the Iraq case highlights my point. No one when talking about Iraq groups Sunnis and Shiites to talk about an "Arab majority." Similarly no one groups Sunnis and (Sunni) Kurds to talk about a balance between Sunnis and Shiites. Why? Because it's clear that Sunnis and Shiites and Sunnis and Kurds are not to be considered together as forming a larger group. Same thing in Lebanon. You cannot talk about "Muslims." There are Sunnis, Shiites, Druzes, Maronites, Orthodox, etc. No single community has anything that resembles a majority. You have a slight advantage for the Shiites with numbers somewhere in the (low) 30% range of the total population with the Maronites and Sunnis not far behind with numbers in the 20+% range. I.e., there's a close balance. It's truly a country of minorities. Anyone who clusters "Muslims" vs. "Christians" in Lebanon is completely ignorant of the internal dynamics of the country. The only place where that cluster appears is in the 50/50 division of parliamentary seats. But that's as far as it goes because the actual division then splits among the various competing sects and the parties. I've been highlighting the divisions even within the one Shiite community between Amal and Hizbullah and others vying for more political room beside the dominant duo. So once again, the notion of "Muslim majority" vs. "Christian minority" is utterly meaningless in Lebanon.

Not only is it meaningless, it also imposes a majoritarian view of democracy that was never the one used in Lebanon. Lebanon, as I have argued in my posts on Iraq using the Lebanese analogy, is a consensus model. It's a model for plural societies. It's the model used in Iraq today (and I will come back to that in more detail when I reply to the anonymous reader who left a comment about this). Now, try applying the majoritarian model in Iraq, even when you do have a clear majority there, which you don't in Lebanon, and see what happens! Partition or war. Clearly there's something ideological about applying it to Lebanon. If it's the post-colonial or Third-Worldist impulse or what have you, equating the Christian Maronites with the Christian colonial powers or any of that garbage, I don't know. I leave that nonsense to MESA people and to idiotarians like Robert Fisk. That stuff is popular in those circles.

So once again I agree with Michael that Cole's statement about the 50/50 division of parliamentary seats being a "generous" offer by Muslims is a silly and "crude intellectual sleight of hand." Cole was pontificating about ways to secure minority rights in Iraq, be it through bicameralism or through proportional set-asides. The Lebanese system is a combination only with one chamber. But instead of over-representation in one chamber, the seats were split in half in a single chamber regardless of the demographic changes. And specific governmental offices (like President, Prime Minister, and Speaker) are set along sectarian lines (Maronite, Sunni, and Shiite respectively). This system is clearly alien to the majoritarian model, yet it's a model that can be a stable democracy. This is what they're trying out in Iraq. This is what works in segmented societies. Period. As Michael put it: "agreement on parity between the different communities was the only way of ensuring that coexistence between Christians and Muslims would endure."

So Cole doesn't only show a lack of knowledge with regard to Lebanon, but with regard to the entire concept of consensus vs. majoritarian democracies, which is what we're witnessing in Iraq as well. My take is that it's ideological (because of the Christian element. You'll get more in the upcoming parts of the Dalrymple post).

Here's an advice to Juan, pick up a copy of Lijphart's works. But I'm afraid Michael's right once again: "If Cole were a quick study he would have recognized that."