Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Totten on Lebanon

I have an apartment in Beirut, and I recently traveled to Cairo. Arriving back here was like returning to the U.S. from Mexico.
Michael J. Totten's remarks about Lebanon are a breath of fresh air in a storm of gloomy assessments coming out of the Middle East.

(My own interest in the politics of the region began nearly a year and a half ago when I came across the word consociational in a post about Lebanon. I thought it was a typo, but learned upon investigation that it is descriptive of a hybrid strain of representative democracy which institutionalizes the interests of selected minority interests in the form of protected parliamentary seats. It seems to be a built-in safeguard against tyranny of the majority, but at the same time places a kind of cog in the gears that can hamper progress. I'm not a political scientist, but my instinct is that consociationalism is similar to the old county-unit system of the South which allowed rural interests to dominate rural interests in state legislatures until the "one man, one vote" principle was finally implemented by the courts.)

Thanks Pejman. Snips here...
...Most talk of Iraq on the Middle Eastern street revolves around occupation, terrorism and war. Iraq is not yet a model for anything. It looms, instead, as a warning. Hardly any Arab wants his country to become another Iraq. In time that may change, but right now that's just how it is.
...Beirut is where the taboos in the region--against alcohol, dating, sex, scandalous clothing, homosexuality, body modification, free speech and dissident politics--break down. Its culture is liberal and tolerant, even anarchic and libertarian. The state barely exists. The city's pleasures are physical and decadent. Beirut is where American and European tourists used to go to loosen up, gamble, drink booze and pick up women--and that was in the 1950s. Today it is where Saudis and other Gulf Arabs like to vacation because they can do, think, wear, and say whatever they want. ...No one thinks Lebanese freedom is a sham. This country would not be even a ramshackle sort-of democracy if the people who live here had not demanded that much for themselves. The March 14 revolt, in which almost one in three Lebanese demonstrated in Martyr's Square for freedom and independence, reverberated powerfully throughout the Middle East. Iraq still makes most Arabs shudder. Lebanon, though, is genuinely inspiring.
...Freedom means more than just relieving the boot from your neck. Freedom also means fun and the pursuit of happiness. That's why so many Arabs come here on holiday, and why so many would rather live here. Never forget: demand for Levi's and rock 'n' roll did as much to bring down the Soviet Union as the yearning for Western-style democracy did.

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