Sectarianism as a Means to Liberal Ends

One of the more interesting ways of thinking about Lebanese politics in the last few years was the idea that Lebanese Sectarianism, although morally bankrupt, paradoxically leads to good things like freedom, pluralism and progess. In March 2011, Michael Young wrote:

The [Lebanese] sectarian order is deeply debilitating, but it also offers the only mechanism Lebanon has to enforce equilibrium, therefore preserving political and social pluralism

I always found that idea intriguing, and the pragmatic in me agreed with its logic. Since we don’t have one single dominant player (insert objection about Hezbollah here), power is divided, tyranny is averted and the struggle for power creates an environment that benefits everyone. That’s the theory anyway.

It never made sense to my mind that an elitist “revolution” can somehow topple our deeply engrained sectarian system. The trail of well-intentioned failures from the March 11 movement to the laïque pride to the revolution against sectarianism bears testimony to that. Nevertheless, my better self always struggled with the idea that something right can come out of something so wrong. Now, I have to go through that internal struggle again.

The appeal of the Orthodox Gathering election law

In the last few days, I learned many new synonyms for the words vomit and nausea. It’s because my friends on facebook kept posting this OTV video that promoted an election law which effectively allows the Lebanese only vote for people of their sects. “Regressive”, “disgusting”, “Neanderthal”, “reactionary”, “appalling” are some of the many words thrown around by my liberal and politically correct friends on facebook. Even hackers found it necessary to hack into a Lebanese TV station’s website to show their distaste for the law.

But once again, a shiny silver lining has caught the attention of some liberal observers. Seeing opportunity in a law that is widely abhorred among your peers is a delicate task; the law is so despised and so lacking in dignity that writers need to heavily qualify their arguments with long introductions about how bad the law is (check ✓).

So what good can possibly come out of the law? Sit down, have an open mind, and go read the two pieces by Karl and Elias about why the law could turn out to be good for Lebanese liberals. In short, the law can potentially shake things up in the country, create a backlash, tamper religious insecurity and reduce the influence of regional sectarian leaders and even lower the barrier for secular independents to join parliament. In other words, the law is so bad it’s actually good.

I will add a little titillating thought to the mix: If the Orthodox election law is in effect and the existential fears of christians was reduced, what excuse will people use to prevent Lebanese women from granting their children the lebanese nationality, to treat Palestinian refugees with dignity or for that matter to have a decent demographic census in the country to properly allocate development funds?

Machiavellian cynicism or pragmatic realism?

The question is: Should we lose respect for the liberals who decide to endorse this law for the aforementioned reason? Should we admire the fact that they’re finally thinking tactically? Or would we rather they languished in high-minded hell than endorse such a morally questionable law?