Posts tagged ‘parties’

October 23, 2012

Identity and Difference: Stalled Nationalism in the Lebanese Republic

by mkleit

by Jay A. Gupta


In the streets of Beirut, one notices a preponderance of Lebanese flags—hanging out of windows, on cars, in doorways, on buildings. A nationalist gesture, it paradoxically signifies the opposite. Both the “opposition” and government supporters are equally zealous flag wavers. Meant to signify the universal of nationalism, the flag in fact symbolizes fragmentation and impermeable particularity. In this sense, the flag truly represents Lebanon.

It is difficult to imagine what a “united” Lebanon would be. There is a deep and chronic lack of acknowledgement of genuine otherness. In order to unite, there first has to be acknowledgement and tolerance of genuine difference. Lack of respect for boundaries seems to be a nationwide difficulty, seen at both the individual and collective levels. One is indeed tempted to demand a theory—psychoanalytic, speculative, or otherwise—of social boundary malformation. From traffic patterns, to interpersonal relations, to sectarian violence, Lebanon is beset with problems that appear diagnosable in such terms.

The Lebanese Flag Done by Activists

At the individual level, it does not seem to be particularly inspired by belligerence that people do not recognize lines in banks and airports, or do not honor norms of basic courtesy such as reflexively yielding partial passage on sidewalks and in doorways. These seem rather to be microsocial, sensuous indications of broader social attitudes that fail to recognize the genuine existence and autonomy of others. I believe that, at the highest cultural level—politics—these attitudes achieve their full expression and significance in and as sectarianism.

Freud tells us that it is the artifact of narcissism, of infantile entitlement, to act as though one’s boundaries extend indefinitely outward into a thinned out world. This idea suggests the evil twin of a benign, ideal multiculturalism; the ideal pictures many different kinds of people from many different backgrounds gathered and living peaceably together. But this picture presupposes real acknowledgement of the other.
The Lebanese live among each other, but notwith each other. Individuals in Lebanon belong to and are defined by sects, and each sect is its own normative bubble, each with its own particular internal logic that is unconsciously believed to have universal normative significance. This appears related to a strong sense of sectarian superiority and entitlement, each with an absolute sense of the validity of its own normative identity.

Clearly, at the political level, Lebanon is not the scene of a serene “identity within difference”. However, it is not the presence of mere difference among such sects that creates the catastrophic potential of a slide into full-blown civil war, nor is it an a priori belligerence or inclination to violence. Under less strife-ridden conditions than those that exist presently, Lebanese of different sects form lasting friendships, have productive business associations, and otherwise appear to get along. Then what is the psychology of difference that pertains here?

For there to be a real potential of “identity within difference”, there first has to be substantive acknowledgement that difference exists. One would think that, given the history of political chaos and violence here, along with the simple sensory fact of sectarian differences (just walk around the university), such acknowledgement would be a given. But I am beginning to infer that it is not only not given, it is absent. What is this psychology of difference? It is a psychology that maybe imagines that such difference exists, but somehow paradoxically doesn’t really believe it.

Lebanese activists wearing a V for Vendetta mask during a No War protest in Martyr square, one holds the sign of “War again? seriously?”

The level of normative self-absorption within each sect creates an expansion and envelopment of the public sphere, so that while lip service may be paid to difference, no one actually cognizes or experiences it. Genuine otherness is regarded as totally insubstantial, even if present, something like the ambient humming noise in a computer room. So when the other suddenly emerges as something more than something unobtrusively liminal, dwelling at the edges of consciousness, the potential for conflict is immediately realized. That is arguably why opposition and conflict always comes “without warning”; it “erupts” (to use some of the favored media descriptions).

It would be deeply counterintuitive to suggest that the Lebanese do not recognize the real divisions that exist within their society. I am not suggesting that they do not, but rather that when they do, it is too late. The veneer of social normalcy (a phenomenon in Lebanon that deserves a book-length treatment) is a veneer that plasters over these real, divisive differences, and interprets them in inappropriately benign ways. When there is not open conflict, it is as if the nation exists in a wholesale state of denial, flattering itself on its cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism.
Real dialogue geared towards mutual understanding must begin with substantive acknowledgement of genuine difference, and it is perhaps only such substantive acknowledgement that can forestall violent conflict. Indeed, at the legal-political level of “power-sharing” there does seem to be this sort of substantive acknowledgement. However, an uneasy détente institutionalized in legal-political structures between intractable enemies, each with an absolute sense of normative entitlement, ought not to be conflated with the unity of purpose, sensibility, and vision that is the hallmark of successful democracies. Perhaps Lebanon is the living argument for the thesis that religion ought, at all costs, be separate from politics.

Some of the Lebanese parties’ hand signals, colors are not relevant to any specific political party



November 13, 2011

World intrigued by “Occupy Wall Street” movement – By Reuters

by mkleit

(Reuters)Tahrir Square in Cairo, Green Square in Tripoli, Syntagma Square in Athens and now Zuccotti Park in New York — popular anger against entrenching power elites is spreading around the world.

Many have been intrigued by the Occupy Wall Street movement against financial inequality that started in a New York park and expanded across America from Tampa, Florida, to Portland, Oregon, and from Los Angeles to Chicago.

Hundreds of activists gathered a month ago in the Manhattan park two blocks from Wall Street to vent their anger at what they see as the excesses of New York financiers, whom they blame for the economic crisis that has struck countless ordinary Americans and reverberated across the global economy.

I Can't Affor a Lobbyist

In the U.S. movement, Arab nations see echoes of this year’s Arab Spring uprisings. Spaniards and Italians see parallels with Indignados (indignant) activists, while voices in Tehran and Beijing with their own anti-American agendas have even said this could portend the meltdown of the United States.

Inspired by the momentum of the U.S. movement, which started small but is now part of U.S. political debate, activists in London will gather to protest outside the London Stock Exchange on October 15 on the same day that Spanish groups will mass on Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square in solidarity.

“American people are more and more following the path chosen by people in the Arab world,” Iran’s student news agency ISNA quoted senior Revolutionary Guards officer Masoud Jazayeri as saying. “America’s domineering government will face uprisings similar to those in Tunisia and Egypt.”

Chinese newspapers splashed news about Occupy Wall Street with editorials blaming the U.S. political system and denouncing the Western media for playing down the protests.

“The future of America stands at a crossroads. Presuming that effective measures to relieve the social mood and reconstruct justice cannot be found, it is not impossible that the Occupy Wall Street movement might be the final straw under which America collapses,” said a commentary in the Global Times.

“This movement has uncovered a scar on American society, an iceberg of accumulated social conflicts has risen to the surface,” said the commentary in the tabloid, which is owned by the Communist Party mouthpiece, the People’s Daily.


In Cairo, Ahmed Maher, a founder and leading member of Egypt’s April 6 Youth Movement which helped to topple autocrat Hosni Mubarak, said it was in contact with several groups organizing the anti-Wall Street demonstrations.

“A few days ago we saw a banner in New York that said ‘This is Tahrir Square’,” Maher said, referring to the Cairo square that became the epicenter of Egypt’s revolution.

“The Arab Spring has definitely inspired the burst of protests in the United States and Europe.”

Others noted differences between Arab protesters and U.S. protesters, branded by one Republican presidential candidate as “anti-American” and so jealousy-ridden that they wanted to “take somebody else’s … Cadillac.”

“The Arab protests started with requests for reform but quickly transformed into demands for governments to leave, or at least their leaders,” said Abdulaziz al-Uwaisheg, columnist in Saudi daily al-Watan. “The American protest is against specific policies … It did not ask to change the government.”

Spanish media have devoted daily coverage to Occupy Wall Street, dubbing participants “Indignados in Manhattan,” with left-leaning newspapers saying the U.S. protesters were inspired by Spain’s own disenchanted youth-led grouping.

“Occupy Wall Street is one more branch of a global movement,” said Veronica Garcia, a 40-year-old lawyer involved in the Spanish demonstrations.


Blessed are the Poor

While Spain’s “Indignados” have poured much of their anger so far on politicians, Garcia said Saturday’s Madrid march was likely to focus more on bankers.

In London, which was hit by rioting and looting by disaffected people in early August, protesters were using social media like Facebook and Twitter to plan their Stock Exchange protest on Saturday.

The Occupy London protest aims to draw attention to “the economic systems that have caused terrible injustices around the world,” according to their website.

“Bankers have got off scot-free whilst the people of this country are being punished for a crisis they did not create,” a statement on the website said, echoing the chant taken up by U.S. marchers: “We are the 99 percent.”

Unions, which organized protests against austerity moves in debt-stricken Greece, welcomed the New York protests.

“It’s optimistic because we haven’t seen such protests before,” Greek public sector unionist Despina Spanou told Reuters. “There is no coordination so far because most of this is spontaneous, but we cannot rule anything out.”

Newspapers around the world have sought to identify the true motor of discontent driving the Occupy Wall Street movement, with the Korea Herald seeing an historic dimension reflecting the civil rights movement and anti-Vietnam War rallies.

“But perhaps the closest historical parallel is with the Populist movement of the 1890s, which, like Occupy Wall Street, was a broad, economics-driven revolt that targeted a predatory class of corporate capitalists – the robber barons of the Gilded Age,” the newspaper said.


Japan’s Kyodo news agency ran an interview from New York with organizer Kalle Lasn who said he hoped that “Occupy Wall Street” would inspire Japan’s jobless youth.

“Is there some beginning of some kind of ‘Occupy Tokyo’ or ‘Occupy Marunouchi’, something like that happening in Japan right now or not?” Kyodo quoted Lasn as saying, referring to the Marunouchi business district in


The Occupy Wall Street protests across the United States with their focus on banking bailouts and unfairness appeared to present a dilemma for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

The protests support one Kremlin agenda by underscoring the economic troubles of Moscow’s Cold War foe, but could also send a signal encouraging street protests — not what Putin wants as he heads toward a second stint as president in a March vote.

This July, Putin said the United States was “acting like hooligans” in the global economy. In Aug

ust, he said the United States was living beyond its means “like a parasite.”

Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev have not spoken publicly about the protests, but state-run TV stations they use to shape opinion seem to have found a way around the contradiction.

Footage of crowds protesting against perceived corporate greed and government connivance echo

Occupy The World

ed the emphasis on U.S. economic inequality that was a Soviet-era propaganda staple.

Such footage may also back up Putin’s argument for a tight state rein on

Russia’s corporate world –

– and his colorful depictions of the United States as a flagging, sometimes dangerously irresponsible financial power.

At the same time, news footage often focusing on outspoken, outlandishly dressed participants in the U.S. protests appeared aimed at lending the crowds a circus-like look that could be to discourage Russians from trying this at home.

The Chinese, however, have not been so subtle, using the movement to fire repeated broadsides at the capitalist system.

“The Occupy Wall Street movement was sparked by the extreme disparity between the rich and the poor,” the Hong Kong Economic Journal said in its editorial.

“Now it looks like the spark is being turned into a great fire that is spreading to other countries.”

British commentators were not so convinced by such an apocalyptic vision. Giles Whittell in the London Times, highlighting the movement’s lack of a coherent agenda, came to the conclusion in a headline that it was: “Passionate but Pointless.”

(Reporting by Charlie Zhu in Hong Kong, Andrew Hammond in Dubai, Parisa Hafezi in Tehran, Marwa Awad in Cairo, Catherine Hornby in Rome, Michael Martina in Beijing, Antoni Slodkowski in Tokyo, Peter Griffiths in London, Tracy Rucinski in Madrid, Renee Maltezou in Athens, Steve Gutterman in Moscow, David Cutler in London; Writing by Peter Millership; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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