The Bane of Lebanon: Sectarianism that is All Encompassing.

by Ghassan Karam There is a time for everything. A time to live and a time to die but there is never a time to be sectarian “
Lebanese secular activist, holds up a banner during a march calling for secularism and the abolishment of sectarianism, in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday April 25, 2010.

by Ghassan Karam

There is a time for everything. A time to live and a time to die but there is never a time to be sectarian “a member of a sect or faction, especially one who is bigoted in his adherence to its doctrines or in his intolerance towards other sects, etc.” To be sectarian is to be close minded, to be a bigot, to see the world through a very narrow angle that distorts reality and makes a mockery of diversity, pluralism and democracy. Paradoxically these are some of the most important themes that many in Lebanon pretend to be promoting when in effect they are doing the opposite by pledging their allegiance to the backward and reactionary visions of the men of the cloth of the clergy.

Lebanon is currently in the midst of dealing with such three schizophrenic issues, each of which demonstrates clearly the need for a law that prohibits the clergy from meddling in political affairs. Interestingly enough each of the three largest sects in Lebanon has to face reconciling the irreconcilable; political stands that are the exact opposite of what each sect wants to appear to be promoting.

Maronites and Democracy:

No one can ever seriously question the commitment of the Lebanese Maronite church to a sovereign and free Lebanon. The church has played a major role in the creation of Greater Lebanon, as it exists today, and has always taken positions that challenge the political hegemony of foreign powers in Lebanon. Unfortunately though, the church leadership has seen it fit to play a political role in Lebanon instead of concentrating on its spiritual one. By doing so the church has promoted a distorted vision of identity. It has claimed in the past and still maintains that all Lebanese are equal but some are more equal than others. That is at least one reason, why it insists that the Lebanese official institutions are not to be populated either by elected officials judged by the merit of their vision nor are appointed officials to show superior knowledge and expertise in their respective fields. The Maronite church has favoured in the past and continues to favour the fact that the “official” sectarian denomination of a specific number of both appointed and elected officials  should be the only criterion taken into consideration in these elections or appointments. Merit can easily be trumped by religious practice. What seems to be crucially important to Bkirki is to have 50% of the Lebanese MP’s be of the Christian faith and they are willing to lobby government for what they consider to be their fair share of political appointees whether these individuals are qualified or not to perform a certain job. Bkiriki and all Maronite MP’s do not seem to see the irony , maybe one can call it even the hypocrisy, of claiming to be democratic but yet insisting on a quota. The recent discussions regarding a reformed electoral system have even magnified the antithesis between what they claim to espouse and what they actually support. Most of the major Maronite blocs are on record supporting the strange proposal by the Orthodox Church that would mandate each sect should elect its own representatives. Isn’t that the most antiinclusive measure that a society can take and isn’t this a measure that defines personal political identity in terms of religious sect at birth? Is there any room in this vision for non believers or for those that make a profound distinction between the sacred and the secular? Whatever happened to personal qualification as being the only yardstick against which potential recruits are to be judges.

Sunnis, Civil Marriage and Women’s Rights.

The Sunnis Dar Al Fatwa does not fare any better than the Maronite church. They are just as schizophrenic if not even more so since what is at stake does not appear to be that fundamental. Yet the Sunni clerical hierarchy has seen fit to oppose, and rather strongly, the proposal that would offer Lebanese  women some official protection against domestic violence and abuse. The strange reasoning by the Mufti is that protecting women against abuse by the male hierarchy would lead to the dissolution of the sacred family institution. Did they ever stop to think that if abuse is so crucial to this institution then maybe it does not deserve to survive? But the beat goes on. The Sunni mufti speaks of equality and individual rights but promotes domination and hierarchy by one gender over the other.

Shia and independence,

Yes not all Shiites in Lebanon are members of Hezbollah but HA acts as if it is the sole representative of Shiism in Lebanon, and to be fair it is the strongest of the Shia factions. Its leadership has never hidden their total commitment to the Wilayat Al Faqih, the relatively new interpretation that arose in Qom and was popularized by the Grand Ayatollah Khomeini. If the clergy are to be the rulers and if Islam is to be the answer then how does HA propose to bridge the vast chasm that would never accept non Shiites as equals? To claim a belief in the philosophy of Wilayat Al Faqih eliminates immediately any belief in the other, in nation states and in their sovereignty. To HA Lebanon as an independent state would be tolerated only because it cannot be conquered. As soon as it becomes feasible to transform society into a totally Shiite one then the individual rights of others will never act as a hindrance. That is not democracy or the rights of the down trodden masses. That is ultimate discrimination.


Based on the above it should be obvious that each of these three sects has a major problem of credibility. Each advocates, for convenience only, an idea that it opposes vehemently in practice. These in compatible positions cannot persist for ever. Each of them will at one point or another be called upon to stand up and be counted. Inconsistent positions will ultimately cause the collapse of the edifice that is built of quick sand. Lebanon’s salvation, for all its citizens, is to judge each of them on His/her merit and allegiance to the common good. It is time that men of the cloth should retire to their respective religious institutions and it is time for the Lebanese to define their political identity in terms of what is good for the state and not by whether various members prey, or how they pray. The clearest sign that Lebanon has joined modernity would be when voters cast their ballots on the basis of ideas and not sectarian affiliations. We should rejoice when the Lebanese elect a Shia woman for Presidency, a Protestant as a PM and a Druze as a speaker of the Chamber of Deputies. It is only then that we would have transcended the narrow politics of divisions and chosen real democracy.