With violence and chaos descending
upon Lebanon once again, it`s worth recalling what first
transformed this one-time
"Switzerland of the Middle East" into a
synonym for horror:
Although many in our
ahistorical punditariat had declared that Iraq was
going to be
"the first Arab democracy",
Lebanon was a successful democracy beginning in 1943,
when it gained independence from France. It enjoyed a
free press, women`s suffrage (from 1953), and a booming
economy centered on banks, trade, and tourism.
And then it all came tumbling down.
A hellish civil war erupted in 1975 and flared on and
off into the early 1990s, with 100 different militias
pounding each other with artillery duels inside Beirut.
Although it`s hard now to remember,
during its three decades of stability and prosperity,
Beirut was known as the
"Paris of the Arab World".
Climatically and topographically, however, it`s more
Los Angeles, which is at the same latitude. Both
cities enjoy a Mediterranean climate, with mild winters
and sunny summers moderated by ocean breezes. (The
forecasted high for today in Beirut is 85 degrees,
compared to 113 in Baghdad.) As in LA, the tourist
brochures claimed you could ski in the morning and surf
in the afternoon—although I`ve never actually met
anybody that energetic.
With a superb location at the east
end of the Mediterranean, Lebanon`s Christian Arabs were
Western-oriented, literate, and entrepreneurial.
Protestant missionaries from New England founded the
American University of Beirut, the premiere university
in the Arab world, as
long ago as 1866.
Not surprisingly, those Christian
Arabs who emigrated from Lebanon and Syria to America
1924 reform are among the best-assimilated immigrant
groups in America. Cut off from a constant influx of new
after the 1920s, the Christian Arabs contributed to
this country on an individual basis, without much
remaking America in their own image or inordinately
influencing America foreign policy.
list of famous Arab-Americans kept updated by the
Lebanese Druze disk jockey
Casey Kasem (the voice of "Shaggy" on
Scooby-Doo) looks like a random selection of
prominent Americans with no obvious common denominators:
e.g., consumer advocate
Ralph Nader, quarterback
Doug Flutie, Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, Indy
500 winner Bobby Rahal,
surf guitarist Dick Dale, the
Sununu dynasty of New Hampshire, guitarist Frank
Zappa, heart surgeon Michael DeBakey, and so forth.
guidance, the Lebanese worked out an ingenious political
system. The goal of this "confessional gerrymander"
was to restrict all political rivalries to within each
ethnic group. The largest and most advanced group, the
Christians, always got the top political post, the
presidency. The Sunnis, who were second in numbers and
wealth, got the number two job, the prime ministership.
The rural Shi`ites were left with the speakership of the
chamber of deputies.
a little complicated to remember—even though it skips
the details, such as the divisions between the dominant
Maronites and the other Christians—but it`s not too hard
to keep straight.
Unfortunately, although we are increasingly involved in
that part of the world, we poor dumb naive Americans
still don`t have a clue just how Byzantine the sociology
and politics of the ancient Byzantine Empire remain.
Just when you`ve finally figured out the difference
between the Sunnis and Shi`ites, you discover that the
place is also stocked with a baffling array of
pseudo-Muslim crypto-religions. For example, there are
the arguably quasi-Christian
Alawites who run the
Syrian dictatorship; their allegedly
angel-worshiping cousins, the dissimulating
Alevi who make up somewhere from 10 to 30 percent of
Lucifer-loving Kurdish Yezidis of Iraq; and,
strangest of all, the
Donmeh, secret followers of the Jewish false messiah
Shabbetai Zevi, who comprise much of the
secular elite of
the local mystery sect is the
Druze, who refuse to explain the nature of their
religion. No mutually satisfactory slice of the
political pie could be found for this fourth most
important ethnic group.
Lebanon`s “confessional gerrymander” worked
fairly well…for while. Of course, it failed to build
national parties that transcended ethnicity. But, then,
those are rare anywhere.
serious problem: Lebanon`s demographics shifted. The
constitution was based on the 1932 census, when
54 percent of the population. Regrettably, but
predictably, the best educated ethnicity, the
Christians, had the lowest birthrate and were most
likely to emigrate. In contrast, the poor and backward
Shi`ites proliferated—and stayed put.
demographics changed, the original distribution of power
among the groups became increasingly contentious. The
Shi`ites demanded a new census. The Christians, who
predominated in the cushiest government jobs and were
guaranteed half the seats in the legislature, resisted.
"Lebanon worked, however artificially, then because
one group, the Christians, were clearly in control,
lesser minorities were given freedom to maneuver as long
as they didn`t get too uppity and everyone who mattered
was making money. Tensions and hostilities festered only
beneath the surface. But in 1970 Lebanon`s delicate
balance was upset."
refugees had started arriving in 1948 and sped up after
the 1967 Six Day War. Then, in the
of 1970, King Hussein of Jordan turned on
Yassir Arafat`s Palestinian Liberation Organization and
booted them out of his country. They relocated to
Palestinians made up one tenth of Lebanon`s population,
and were radicalizing. They forged alliances with the
other outsiders, the Druze. And PLO attacks on Israel
brought retribution raining down on Lebanon as a whole,
outraging the ruling Maronites.
April 13, 1975, four
Christians were killed in a drive-by shooting of a
church. Later that day, a Maronite Phalangist militia
massacred 27 Palestinians on a bus. The country
civil war, polarizing along Christian-Muslim lines,
but with many strange alliances and rapid betrayals.
of that conflict is insanely convoluted, so I won`t try
to trace its course, but just describe a few bizarre
lowlights. For example:
Christians invited the Syrian Army into Lebanon,
putting Syria and Israel on the same side, only to
see the Syrians switch to backing the Muslims.
President Reagan sent in the U.S. military to
evacuate the PLO to Tunisia, but we were sucked into
a war with the Druze, of whom almost nobody in
America had ever heard. The
U.S.S. New Jersey battleship bombarded Druze
mountain villages with 2700-pound shells from its
truck bomb killed 241 U.S. Marines, Reagan
decided our being involved with all these mafias of
Lebanese crazies was just as nuts as they were. So
he got our troops out of Lebanon.
The chaos ground on for another
half dozen years, turning into a Mad Max struggle
between clan-based neighborhood gangs, until Syria
conquered most of the country in 1990.
early 2005, during the Beirut demonstrations against
Syrian occupation, there was much fatuous commentary in
America about the inevitable triumph of democracy. One
blogger got a lot of publicity for a expounding the
flattering idea that pro-American democracy must
triumph in Lebanon because all the
hot babes go to the anti-Syrian demonstrations.
Babes attract TV cameras and television rules the world,
This was particularly ironic because the weakness of the
Babe Theory in Lebanon was that those hot babes haven`t
been having enough babies. For generations, the stylish
Christian women have been losing the
Battle of the Cradle to the Shi`ite women, who are
too covered up to have to worry about losing their
babealicious figures. If there were real, one-person
one-vote democracy in Lebanon instead of the
"confessional gerrymander", the hot babes would be
wearing shapeless sacks tomorrow.
But don`t worry about this tale of
what multiculturalism can inflict on a country.
Here in America, we`ve all been
told repeatedly that Diversity is Strength!
[Steve Sailer [email
him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and