Shallow Juan


This from Juan Cole:

[Iraq's] old Sunni Arab power elite, mainly Baathists or the officer class, has not reconciled itself to the political ascendancy of the Shiites and Kurds. They still think they can destabilize the country and take back over. I would compare them to the Phalangists, the fascist Maronite Christians in Lebanon, who fought tooth and nail 1975-1989 against recognizing that Christians were no longer a dominant majority in Lebanon. Eventually they had to accept a 50/50 split of seats in parliament (which is generous to the Christians, given that Muslims are now a clear majority). That the Sunni Arab elite might be quicker studies than the Phalangists is possible but a little unlikely.

That Cole often too readily distils ill-informed smugness is one reason why his blog is so popular with his enemies, but this particular analogy is so off that I sincerely wonder whether he picked up anything about Lebanon when he resided there decades ago.

For one thing, the sobriquet "fascist" is meaningless here, inasmuch as the Christian militias, like their wartime foes, always were first and foremost sectarian. There never was any notion of, or application of, fascist ideology in the wartime Christian militias; and if Cole is going to bring up the fact that the main Christian party, the Kataeb, was influenced by (pre-World War II) European fascist parties, my only answer to that is that it all evaporated long long before 1975. In this context, Cole uses the world solely as an insult.

More egregiously, Cole has reinterpreted the Lebanese war to essentially be one of "Maronite Christians [fighting] tooth and nail … against recognizing that Christians were no longer a dominant majority in Lebanon." That was part of it perhaps, but, c'mon Juan, whatever happened to the Palestinian presence, the gradual erosion of Lebanese state control over domestic affairs, the phenomenon of rapid urbanization that brought many new and contradictory social forces to Beirut? To reduce Lebanon's war to Christian stubbornness is splendidly shallow, and Cole misses entirely that minorities do have legitimate fears that might transcend their desire to hold on to power.

I don't believe, for example, that all Iraqi Sunni Arabs can be collapsed into the regenerative ambitions of Saddam's onetime Sunni henchmen. The community at large may be fearful of its minority status while also rejecting former Baath officials. The community's psychology and mood today is surely far more complex than Cole makes it out to be.

Finally, the notion that Lebanon's Christians were made a "generous" offer by being offered a 50/50 share in seats is such a crude intellectual sleight of hand that I doubt whether Cole has ever heard of the Constitutional Document of 1976. It was an offer for parity in parliamentary representation between Christians and Muslims, and it was made by the Christian president and rejected by Muslims at the time.

Nor was the offer of parity both then and subsequently "generous"; it was smart: Lebanon is a country of minorities, and agreement on parity between the different communities was the only way of ensuring that coexistence between Christians and Muslims would endure. If Cole were a quick study he would have recognized that.

(And Reason readers will excuse me for this very parochial aside on a matter surely of utter disinterest to most.)