Pulse Media


Painting the Picture

Fisk (extracts)

The other Lebanese problem - which the people of Northern Ireland will immediately spot - is that a sectarian state, where only Maronites can be the president and where only Sunnis can be the prime minister, cannot be a modern state. Yet if you take away the sectarianism France created, Lebanon will no longer be Lebanon. The French realised all this in the same way - I suspect - as the Americans have now realised the nature of their sectarian monster in Iraq. Listen to what that great Arab historian, Albert Hourani, wrote about the experience of being a Levantine in 1946 - and apply it to Iraq. To live in such a way, Hourani wrote:
"is to live in two worlds or more at once, without belonging to either; to be able to go through the external forms which indicate the possession of a certain nationality, religion or culture, without actually possessing it. ... It is to belong to no community and to possess nothing of one's own. It reveals itself in lostness, cynicism and despair." Amid such geopolitical uncertainties, it is easy for westerners to see these people in the borders and colours in which we have chosen to define them. Hence all those newspaper maps of Lebanon - Shias at the bottom and on the right, the Sunnis and Druze in the middle and at the top, and the Christians uneasily wedged between Beirut and the northern Mediterranean coast. We draw the same sectarian maps of Iraq - Shias at the bottom, Sunnis in the middle (the famous "Sunni triangle" though it is not triangular at all) and Kurds at the top. The British army adopted the same cynical colonial attitude in its cartography of Belfast. I still possess their sectarian maps of the 1970s in which Protestant areas were coloured orange (of course) and Catholic districts were green (of course) while the mixed, middle-class area around Malone Road appeared as a dull brown, the colour of a fine, dry sherry. But we do not draw these maps of our own British or American cities. I could draw a map of Bradford's ethnic districts - but we would never print it. I could draw a black-white ethnic map of Washington - but the Washington Post would never dream of publishing it.
It's interesting, that just as reserving the presidency to one community, the PM to another and the speaker of parliament to yet another is not entirely democratic, the same goes for restricting democracy to one religious/ethnic community within society. It might be said Lebanon and Israel are on a par. The difference is, of course, that in one case, several communities must strive to live together in harmony, whereas in the other only one community is officially represented by the state, which was in fact created for that one single community. The others, who lived on the same land for generations must accept second-class status.