Whither Lebanese left?

Ghassan Makarem has this to say on Lebanese leftism (emphasis mine):

For instance, one of the main disagreements between the independent left and the party left has been around issues of sexism and homophobia … There is a fear of diverse spaces without a “historical” leadership, as they put it.Most intellectuals on the Lebanese left see themselves as having a messianic purpose and think that activists should follow their orders and stick to their priorities. Unfortunately, these priorities are not much different than those espoused by the UN and the NGO community and thus they do not represent the working class or any marginalized social segment.

The traditional left, even the supposedly more radical groups such as the 4th International, considers issues of sexism, oppression, and diversity as being separate and secondary to the class struggle. For us, due to local particularities, the issues of sexism and sexuality were breaking points; our politics forced us to break with the traditional left. At the same time, the entire left is still male dominated and it is still common for men to deny the need to develop women’s leadership.

[W]e always stress the importance of the international movement at all its levels and critique the nationalism of the traditional left, which refuses to look at events outside of Lebanon. For us, the struggle is local, national, and international at the same time.

Interesting observations, although I am less optimistic than Mr. Makarem on the existence of an independent Lebanese left… I have grown to despise the elitist and exclusivist nature of the left in Lebanon, and here I am not even talking about the traditional party left (forget about them) but the self-identified "alternative" (and even intellectual) left. I will neither name people nor point fingers, but they will be fairly easy to "detect" by observers. I was having an e-mail discussion with someone on this issue (in particular about the alternative left's adoption of standard Lebanese political discourse), and although I might've sounded very rude (I call it honesty), I think my arguments hold. I will post only the bits that I wrote, because I consider the e-mails I receive confidential unless given a green light to make it public:

I don't have a problem with people's attachment of a value to the work they've done, but I do have a problem with exaggeration and over-valuation (if such a word exists). As for "being active on the ground", with all due respect, I don't think there is any such thing in Lebanon. Had there been one I would've already been part of it. Those who break with the standard discourse are usually accused of being impractical. But impractical they are not. Those who accuse us of being impractical adopt the policy of "if you can't beat them, join them". There is no "linkage" issue here. You either accept such [standard Lebanese political] discourse or you don't. It's that simple.

There was also a discussion of the role of leftist groups in "bridging the gap" between different parties in Lebanon, and here are my observations:

Sectarianism cannot be cured by expanding interaction. That's a myth. There is interaction. But there is also sectarian mentality that transcends interaction. So for example, a Christian and a Muslim would interact at school (and they do), or even outside of school, be friends, and so on, but at the same time they can be sectarian (as most are) when it comes to politics (even in terms of local administration). Sectarianism is not about utterly refusing to interact with "the other". Moreover, are you saying that [leftist] groups would be bridging the gap between other sect-based groups (such as LF, HezbAllah, FM, etc.)??? Correct me if I am wrong, but that is the impression I got. If I am right, then I couldn't disagree more. I mean, these people don't need anyone to bridge the gap. They will bridge their gaps if their respective zu'ama do. So if these sheep (that's what they are) see Al-Siniora and Nasrallah cracking jokes, they (i.e. Sinorites and Nasrallahites) will immediately start cracking jokes with one another. And so on… You cannot work within the system because you will BECOME the system if you do. You might say I'm not realistic but the desire to change the world is not about realism, it's about utopianism.

On idealism, the system, and alliances:

I guess you can call me an idealist "who sit[s] on the side and watch[es]", but it's a matter of choice and principle, and it's better than not sitting on the side and watching and instead engaging in the standard Lebanese discourse and battle of words, as well as inappropriate alliances.

Those who argue for joining the system for its own sake are indeed opportunists. But those who argue for joining the system for the sake of the cause that they claim to represent are worse: they are defeatists. And defeatism is enemy #1 because it is the enemy within.

Finally:

I am simply disappointed at the exclusionary policies of leftists, and here I am […] talking about […] the "veil of secrecy" that is uncalled for in some instances (for example, I feel offended when someone who KNOWS ME WELL ENOUGH says he/she does not trust me with a "secret" on a leftist initiative. Wouldn't you?). I mean, besides the fact that everyone who knows me knows that I can be trusted with secrets, there is the issue of making such a huge deal out of a very small thing, making it sound like one is planning a freaking military revolt… Leftists really need to stop being so paranoid about people THEY KNOW. Period.

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4 responses to “Whither Lebanese left?

  1. “Most intellectuals on the Lebanese left see themselves as having a messianic purpose and think that activists should follow their orders and stick to their priorities.”

    Sadly this is true for most (if not all) parties around here be it left, middle or right, progressive or otherwise.

  2. Indeed. This is actually the case elsewhere too, with regards to the left that is (although most non-Lebanese leftists deny it)… I guess it’s not such a typical Lebanese problem, after all… I have criticized way too many leftists and leftist groups outside Lebanon for this..

  3. You got it wrong, Freedom. You are actually quoting Ghassan Makarem. Klassen was the one asking the questions.

  4. Oops, yes it seems like I did! Thanks for the correction! 🙂

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