Breaking Glass

Lebanese Rules

Between 1975 and 1991, Lebanon suffered a bloody civil war that had massive repercussions regionally and globally.  Among other things, the hostage crisis in the 1980’s detonated the Iran-Contra crisis that almost destroyed the Reagan presidency.  Today, Lebanon is relatively peaceful, though under a repressive Syrian hegemony, and the whole story may seem of little importance to anyone except a regional specialist.  But  the Lebanese experience might well provide a foretaste of conditions in the West, and specifically Europe.  Above all, the Lebanese meltdown should raise alarms about contemporary Western concepts of nations and nationalism and the seemingly inevitable triumph of global capitalism.

A brief history is in order.  Lebanon was an artificial entity created by the French in 1920, out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.  To oversimplify, the society was heavily stratified, with an extraordinarily wealthy elite drawn from Maronite Christians, whose main rivals were Sunni Muslims.  The lowest classes were Shiite Muslims.  In 1943, Lebanese elites agreed on a National Covenant, which held good for 30 years.  Political power and offices were shared out on the basis of a recent census, itself an outrageous piece of creative accounting that gravely underestimated the numbers of the poor and disinherited.  Under the gerrymandered system, Christian elites agreed to respect...

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