It was none other than the Prophet Mohammad who said: “There will come a day upon my nation where nothing will be left of the Koran except its figure, and from religion, except its name; its sheikhs are the most evil on earth, subversion emanates from them and to them it returns.“

The manipulation of Islamic thought by certain rulers and reactionary movements to create, protect or destroy tyrannical regimes, to foster intellectual sterility, oppression and violence, is one of the main structural (some would argue organic) factors that have formed a basic impediment to this region’s progress. This religious or cultural determinant also includes manipulation of Judaism and Christianity. The second factor is a historical determinant, whereby the city-state, representing the most advanced form of human community at its time did not evolve to reach the next step in the ladder of development, the nation-state. Instead, cities like Tyre, Byblos, Akkad, Sumer, Ebla and Ugarit withered and regressed into little villages, or were engulfed (or sometimes enlarged) into empires. The third factor is a geographical determinant, under which the region’s positioning and its natural resources have subjected it to invasion from the likes of the Tatars, the Crusaders, the Ottomans, the Allies, and most recently the U.S. in Iraq.

Those three factors—ingredients of history, geography and culture—are not only a source of creativity (as discussed in Parts 1 and 2), but of instability as well. It is those factors combined that lie behind our inability to build institutions and replace the persistent reign of mediocre leaderships. Those factors are also reflected in the people’s collective consciousness and have led to a state of ‘anomie’. In his book, What is Wrong with Lebanon?, published in 1990, Dr. Munir Khoury refers to a book by Durkheim, Le Suicide, which attributes suicide to three societal conditions: egoism, altruism and anomie. According to the sociologist Mark Iver, anomie is a “state of complete loss of control, whereby the individual becomes socially frustrated... has no longer any standards, but only disconnected urges... is responsive only to himself, responsible to no one. His only faith is the philosophy of denial. He lives on the thin line of sensation between no future and no past.”

Evidence of this phenomenon in the region has been revealed in tens of opinion polls conducted by Information International. Dr. Khoury states that anomie breeds anxiety, and he also discusses conditions of alienation, withdrawal, aggression and compliance. In Lebanon, the examples are plenty: a lack of institutions, corrupt and inept leadership, a pendulum existence between submission and rebellion, tolerance and racism, and tribalism and openness. Are we Lebanese, Syrians, Arabs, Keserwanis, Southerners, Shiias, Sunnis, Muslims, Christians, Kurds, Assyrians, Iraqis, Saudis? All of the above? None of the above?

We fail to agree on who we are and on our history, and continue to swing on the pendulum. In a quick historical flashback, we can name many examples: the dispute over Caliphate succession between Ali and Muawiya; Genghis Khan, who demolished Baghdad, is seen as a faithful Muslim by some groups, while Salaheddine is seen as an Arab nationalist liberator, ignoring the fact that he was a Kurd; Bashir Gemayel, Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat are seen by some groups as ‘traitors’ and by others as ‘heroes’.

It was the historian Kamal Salibi, who stated that “historical self-deception is a luxury which only societies, confident of their unity and solidarity can afford. Divided societies, on the other hand, cannot afford such fanciful indulgence. To gain the degree of solidarity that is needed to maintain viability, their best chance lies in getting to know and understand the full truth of their past, and to accommodate its realities.” While the pendulum continues to take us back and forth, from the Dark Ages to the 21st century, we are lost between a rich past and an uncertain future. But all pendulums eventually come to rest, as will the Arab world. In Arabic, this state is called ‘ittizan’, meaning equilibrium or rationality.

See Issue 24 for Part 4 of this editorial series

Jawad Adra