Sep 08 2007

Lebanon’s future

 YaLibnanTV (websites www.yalibnan.com/ and www.iloubnan.info/-English) has this disturbing bit:

If you would like to know if you are Phoenician and interested in knowing your lineage, then please visit The Genographic Projects’ website to contribute DNA…

As an American mongrel with mixtures of English, German, Irish, Cherokee, Pawnee, and God-only-knows what else, when I read/hear about tracing a Phoenician bloodline in Lebanon, it immediately makes me suspicious that there is a nationalist agenda lurking behind it.  It smacks of the same Aryan poppycock the Nazis bandied about so effectively.  I know there are Lebanese who want to posture as something non-Arab, whatever that means, and I know there are outside powers just itching to exploit that idea to their own advantage, but are there any post-Ottoman “nations” in the Middle East, Arab or otherwise, that aren’t the result of creative map-making by the Western victors of WW1?  Were there nationalistic impulses during and before the Ottomans that actually reflect the present mix of peoples within any modern nation’s borders?

If this Lebanese mythology about its Phoenician purity is ancient, and not a relatively recent creation of a certain minority’s attempt to continue wielding majority political power, then when did it first manifest itself in Lebanese culture?  Was Phoenician culture one that prided itself on racial purity or did those ancient mariners freely mingle their DNA as they traded throughout the Mediterranean?  And for a corridor of land that suffered pillage and rapine for ten thousand years (the Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, Turks, English, and Israelis, to name a few), is it even possible that a once-pure (if it ever was) bloodline has not since been hopelessly diluted?

I can see it now, a Lebanese version of debutante balls and coming-of-age ceremonies, where the rich-and-famous “Sons and Daughters of the Phoenicians (Arabs need not apply)” are presented to the upper crust of society, just like our own DAR snobs who separate themselves from those unfortunate Americans who arrived later, or were already here.

Lebanon is an exceptional place.  Her people are exceptional.  We all remember the beautiful vistas and the remarkable hospitality and incredible food.  But this false pride in some kind of a higher claim to the land artificially validates a continuous segregation between the richest and poorest Lebanese.  Will Phoenician pride turn things around for Lebanon’s poorest, its Palestinians and Shiites?  Or will it just lead to more conflict and bloodshed?

In case you haven’t figured it out, I hate nationalism.  I hate it here in America and I hate it in Israel and Palestine, and I especially hate the evil it has unleashed in Lebanon these last 60 years.  Just imagine a Middle East where you could drive uninterrupted from Cairo to Haifa to Jerusalem to Damascus to Beirut.  Imagine how rich and complex and fascinating that culture would be.  I’ll take that any day over an exhumed and purified Phoenicia.

Tina wrote back about an hour later:

I think you’re reading way to much into this. There has been some interest in seeing where the Phoenicians settled. It was a small group and there is the thought they may have founded Carthage and perhaps other places in North Africa. Lebanon was a crossroads as you know and a lot of people have settled there over the millennia. I think there is just some curiosity about the original Phoenicians and what happened to them.

To which I responded,

Perhaps you’re right, but “Phoenicia” has been a code word in Lebanese conversation for way too long.  To put it bluntly, it is code for “not Arab” and “not Muslim.”  Tom Friedman commented on it in his “From Beirut to Jerusalem” book, suggesting that the Israelis had been duped into believing they could exploit a common anti-Arab sentiment to their advantage.

Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about, from http://phoenicia.org/phoeleb.html:

“We proved at length that between the Mediterranean countries geographically similar to Lebanon and those, for example, of Saudi Arabia, the center of Arabity, there is no similitude that can be signaled. As far as race is concerned, nothing binds the Lebanese to the Somalians other than the features inherent to all men. The mode of living of the Lebanese and the other Mediterraneans are also very different from those of the people of Arabia and other desert countries of the interior who have barely emerged from the sand.”

“And this is what we also demand for our language. Anyway, Arabic is no more spoken anywhere: it is arabo-script and not arabo-phone… Teaching it at the expense of the other languages of culture, leads to a stagnation of culture, especially since this language, like any other, carries with it its patrimony which is meager and pertains to the desert that slowly destroys our own patrimony and everything that is not itself…”

“The religious question is even more arduous. Islam is a State religion in all the Arab and Islamic countries except Lebanon. The Arabs have all sorts of schemes to clean Lebanon of all those who oppose his arabization, including slaughtering since close to a century.”

 “Their scheme consists: 1- to impoverish us in order to force us to sell our land; 2- to drown Lebanon in the sands of foreign Arabs, generally uncultivated and fanatical, who often carried arms against us in order to prevent anyone from speaking of a Lebanese race, especially on the cultural level…”

Still not convinced?  Take a look at these links:

http://www.unitedphoenicianparty.org/
http://www.amazon.com/Reviving-Phoenicia-Search-Identity-Lebanon/dp/1860649823

(Reviving Phoenicia follows the social, intellectual and political development of the Phoenician myth of origin in Lebanon from the middle of the 19th century to the end of the 20th. Asher Kaufman demonstrates the role played by the lay, liberal Syrian-Lebanese who resided in Beirut, Alexandria and America towards the end of the 19th century in the birth and dissemination of this myth. Kaufman investigates the crucial place Phoenicianism occupied in the formation of Greater Lebanon in 1920. He also explores the way the Jesuit Order and the French authorities propagated this myth during the mandate years. The book also analyzes literary writings of different Lebanese who advocated this myth, and of others who opposed it.)

http://www.lebaneseforces.org/ph/ph.php
http://eccelibano.blogspot.com/2007/07/21-year-old-lebanese-gets-it.html

Finally, take a look at the hateful comments following the recent youtube videos mentioned on this list.  I really wish it was just curiosity, but I think the impulse to trace Phoenician orgins is based on the much darker urge to discover some innate superiority…

Børre’s email that started it all:

Sent: Saturday, September 08, 2007 8:40 AM
Subject: Lebanon’s future

There’s an interesting spread of material that tries to put the established and bankrupt interests aside:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xcrp9PoTzA4&NR=1
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xcrp9PoTzA4&NR=1

– Børre

There were two responses from Ray Close:

From: Ray Close
Sent: Sunday, September 09, 2007 10:55 AM
Subject: Re: Lebanon’s future

I thought your essay on Lebanon/Phoenicia was a masterpiece — not only because it was beautifully written and keenly insightful, but because it touched a deep chord in me. 

I hope you don’t mind that I shared your piece with a number of friends of mine, mostly contemporaries with roots in Lebanon similar to my own —  people who share a deep love for the country and its people.  I know that they, however, like you and me, share the same concern about the streak of arrogance among some of Lebanon’s people that you have so accurately associated with the Phoenician myth.

On an even more personal level, I happen to feel exactly as you do about nationalism in general, and its corruptive influence throughout history.  Like you, I am repulsed by many of its manfestations here in America today.

Thank you for what I think is an exceptionally fine essay on a subject very close to my heart.

Ray Close


From: Ray Close
Sent: Sunday, September 09, 2007 11:02 AM
Subject: First response

Literally within five minutes of sending your essay to friends, I received this answer from former Senator James Abourezk.

Dear Ray:
 
[Monsieur d’Nalgar] is absolutely right.  During the ’70s civil war, more and more of the right wing Lebanese called themselves Phoenicians.  I always asked each of them, if that was the case, to speak some Phoenician to me.
 
It’s good to hear from you on occasion. 
 
Best regards.
 
Jim Abourezk

Permanent link to this article: http://levantium.com/2007/09/08/lebanons-future/

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