Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Musings on Lebanon: Beavers VS Tsunamis

Part of my comment in Good Neighbors (a peaceblog) on a thread discussing Lebanon's "cold war", increasing tribalization, Hizballah encroachment and so on:

Lebanon is interesting in that it’s the “demo” battleground for various regional and occasionally global powers. By analyzing the endless multi-faction marionettes’ war in Lebanon one can infer the interests, desires, resources and a whole lot more about the puppeteers. On the results of my feeble understanding of the situation I can but quote the oft-used verse by Yeats:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

But no rough beast slouches towards Bethlehem; this turmoil is the natural and inevitable result of tremendous historical processes. The societies of the Missile East were, in brief 70 years, yanked from pre-industrial (and in some cases pre-Iron Age) tribal existence straight into post-industrial nationhood; most of the nation-states these nations inhabit were concocted by decomposing Colonial powers, with borders and national systems slapped carelessly on at the whim of drunk European nobles; the unrealistic but fundamental Arab world view was shattered repeatedly by reality (and hastily patched by idiocy) in the same period; the impact of Western ideas - nigh-impossible to understand without the cultural basis - on Missile East was akin to an autobahn car pile-up at 300kph.

The pressures created by all of the above, the poor pressure valves of Arab culture (being mostly violent since the clampdown on independent thought a few centuries ago) and the increasing pace of progress (exacerbating the cultural gaps and resultant problems) dictate that a massive change is inevitable. China and Japan went through similar processes for different reasons and with different manifestations in the past century. Some systems just no longer fit and are too rigid to be fixed. So they break and are eventually rebuilt as something more viable. I wonder what the collapse of the Arab world will look like. I wonder what the eventual new system to emerge from it will look like.


Peaceblogs to peace are like beaver dams to tsunami.


Nobody said...

It's very well written. I don't know if I should start discussion here as I am already responding to you on my blog.

Regarding Lebanon itself its future may eventually come to depend totally on the future of Syria which is showing signs of cracks all over. I am not really sure about the details as I don't understand well the dynamics between the Sunnis in Syria and northern Lebanon. But I can easily imagine some kind of a new Sunni Crescent going from Iraq through Syria into Lebanon and destabilizing all of them.

Abu Sa'ar said...

Frankly, the destabilization of greater Missile East can be very beneficial for Lebanon: unlike the rest of the Arab-speaking states, they have a financial infrastructure and a work ethic. Well, they will probably not survive as a state, but their civilization will remain, I believe.

They also have factions with the prerequisites for survival in a region-wide sea of violent anarchy - namely mostly autarchic and fortified city-states (or tribal territories that are kind of like Duchies in pre-Industrial and Industrial age Europe). Think Italy in Machiavelli's time. They just have to play their cards right - and unlike, say, the Palestinians or Yemenites, these are cards you can win with.

Nobody said...

If Syria goes down there may appear a renewed interest among e Sunnis both in Syria and Lebanon to create a single state with the new state including all of Lebanon. Such a development will cut the Shiites from Iran, we may well become at this point their lifeline. In fact, there may appear a sort of regional alliance of Israel, Christians, Druze and maybe even Alawis, if they succeed to hold Latakia, to counter this threat. This is what I think is a very possible scenario

Nobody said...

On the other side of Syria, the Kurds, if they survive until then in Iraq, may try to take over the Syrian part of the greater Kurdistan. At this point the entire, call it, Shiite Crescent, will rise up and join ranks.

Nobody said...

Syria is a key country here. That's why we should watch it all the time. The US has inadvertently unhinged Iraq. Now it's only Syria left. Syria falls and the way is open for the new Middle East to emerge.

Abu Sa'ar said...

I think your vision of Shiite crescent is ignoring the history of their recent rise. It was fueled by Iran and will be undone by the disintegration of Iran's society.

I have no doubt that when the aberration called Islamic Revolution finally collapses, there'll be hell to pay from a social POV; they are a lost society, devastated by decades of oppression and poverty. Iran is too weak to survive, much less lead a Shia alliance. And Persia will be busy rebuilding itself - I doubt they'll stick to Islam as the cohesive element, especially given their wealth of experience with independence as a nation and the devastation visited on them by Islamists. They'll be busy bringing unemployment to below 30% and heroin addiction to below 20%; without Iran, who'll pay for Shia expansion?

And as for Syria - you're right in a way. They might be key, but the door is held together with glue. The collapse of Kitty Dynasty will certainly create a lot of mess, but they're not the glue holding Missile East together. Saudi Arabia is; real change will happen when it happens in Riyadh.

Nobody said...


Saudi Arabia is not that relevant for us. And Iran is one of the most sophisticated Muslim countries in the world. And it's a real country, not like Iraq or Syria. If the Ayatollahs go, Iran may well stage an impressive comeback.

The Shiite Crescent, in which I group just about everybody who is not Sunni Arab, does not need Iran to emerge. Never mind that its recent activity has little to do with anything other than Khomeini ideology. However, If Syria falls, there may start a realignment of the region along ethnic and national lines. At this point, the divisions and borders will be natural and spontaneous. They won't require any particular ideology to emerge. It's a very sectarian vision of the future, I agree. But I can't see anything else capable of any durability in this region in the future.

Nobody said...

BTW This is a very good article about Syria: Syria: Identity Crisis. It's old but I think it's very close to the real thing.

Abu Sa'ar said...

"It's a very sectarian vision of the future, I agree. But I can't see anything else capable of any durability in this region in the future"

Agreed. My point is that the current situation (of unnatural social and political boundaries) will continue for as long as it can. It's a human system and the prime priority of human systems is self-perpetuation.

Walla, let us say Syria collapses and the great rise of minorities will begin. Saudia and Emirates will be threatened (very much so); it'll be in their interest to prevent anarchy as it will soon spill over their borders. They have the money to rent Blackwater to depopulate Syria if need be. We didn't yet see their money talking in desperation. Syria is key; Saudia is glue.

As for Iran - exactly. They're not psychotic barbarians who are driven to constant violence and extremism by their culture. They will return to the processes started by later Qajars and the Pahlavis; ergo, they'll have at least a decade of massive reconstruction before they'll return to prominence and success.

Nobody said...

I would say the same thing about the Shiites in general. When the Ayatollahs go, many Israelis and others would be surprised to discover that there exists a certain Islam, very personal, mystically oriented and withdrawn Islam, suspicious of politics and involvement in political matters. This Islam has never been too far away. It has always existed in this region. And this is the Shia Islam.

As far as this part of the world of Islam is concerned, there exists no need for any Islamic reformation. Far from this, there exists a need for de-reformation to roll back all the innovations introduced by Khomeini, some of which seem to have been simply copy pasted from the textbooks of Chinese and Russian communists.

Nobody said...

In fact, when I say "when the Ayatollahs go", I am already wrong. The Ayatollahs in Iraq and elsewhere plainly want to have nothing to do with this system. They are now trying to stay away from politics as much as they can.

Abu Sa'ar said...

You reckon the Atatollahs are realizing they've created a monster?

And my point is that Islam will become much less important as an identity for Persians. Think Kosovars. The eventual alliance will not be a Shia vs Sunni alliance, it'll be Secular/Liberal Order vs Theocratic/Tribal Anarchy; of modern identities versus pre-modern identities. Thus the religious dichotomy is, I believe, irrelevant. Like Baath, Fateh and such - these people are secular pre-modern barbarians, clothing their primitive tribalism in the language of modern ideas; a sort of fascism on one hand and a weird melange of whatever happens to sound good on the other. I think these are just sounds to them, pretty decorations on their primordial patriarchies.

Persia is hopeful in having resisted Arabization all these centuries; not unique, as Kurds and a few other were also successful in keeping their civilizations. As such they're not subject to the fate of a culture that Ibn Khaldoun thought hopeless :)

Hmmm, I am rambling again. Bottom line: it is not religion that'll determine the shape of Middle East to come, it's ethnicity and culture. I can see why Shia Islam seems as a likely cohesive agent - as a counterbalance for Sunni Islam - but I doubt that it'll serve that role simply because advanced societies have better things to keep them together.

Nobody said...

Abu Sa'ar said...
You reckon the Atatollahs are realizing they've created a monster?

I think the realization happened even when Khomeini was still alive. This is how I understand the story of Montazeri... The fact that Khamenei has become Khomeini's successor says it all. Khamenei has no standing as a scholar and this is happening under a regime that's supposed to be led by experts of Islamic law. There were always strong quietist streams inside Shia Islam. I think they will get the upper hand when Khomeinism goes down. Khomeinism has discredited the idea of political Islam.

And my point is that Islam will become much less important as an identity for Persians. Think Kosovars.

Political Islam will have to go. Everything in history has its ups and downs. The current wave of fundamentalism should subside at some point. It can't go on like this for eternity. I will give it another decade. About personal religion I am less sure. I don't see this region going secular any time soon. I can't imagine it without religion.

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gella@israel said...

i have strange feeling like the situation on middle east is just a instrument for usa and russia in their conflict. both countries are trying to get as much influence on middle east as possible, so they provocate and start wars, support israel or press it...scary shit

Nobody said...

Strange feelings indeed. Reminds me of an old Russian joke.

A Russian partisan sneaks into a village and crawls on all four to his house.
"Hey Maria," he whispers to his 80 years old wife. "Are the any Germans in the village?"

"Man, you are fucking crazy" tells him his wife, "The war has ended 60 years ago"

"Oh shit," says the partisan. "I used to bomb a train every week all those years"

Well, I don't know if they told you this, but the cold war ended 20 years ago.