UNIVERSITY VIGILS, speech of rector salim Abu (Pluralistic Societies)


Speech by the Rector Selim Abu s.j., on the occasion of the Patron Saint of Saint-Joseph University, March 19, 2001 (translated from French by Elisabeth Davis-Karam, edited by Dr. Clovis Karam)


Distinguished Teachers

Distinguished Staff Representatives

Distinguished Student Representatives

Dear Friends


In her introduction to a book about the philosopher Charles Taylor on pluralistic societies, Amy Gutmann defines one of the priority civic tasks of any university in these terms: “Academic community members – teachers, students, and administrators – can use their freedom of speech to denounce ‘non-respectable’ expressions by showing them as really they are: blatant disregard for the interests of others, rationalization of selfishness or group interests, prejudices or pure hatred of humanity.”[1]

Among the speeches that our university community is called to denounce, I remember today those that seek to justify the domination of Syria over Lebanon, which the overwhelming majority of the population can no longer bear. It is possible that the Syrian army will eventually withdraw to the Bekaa Valley, with, it must be said, a delay of eight years. But it is not so much the physical presence of the army that hurts Lebanese dignity, it is the symbol of domination that it represents and the effective rule that its intelligence services exercise on all sectors of public life. Yet this Syrian control is not about to slacken and there is no shortage of Lebanese sycophants to promote the alleged benefits in dialogues that reflect a culture of subservience and, therefore, fall into the category of  ‘non-respectable’ speech.

To denounce this discourse is not to summarize the content in order to refute it but, as Amy Gutmann says, “show them such as they are”, that is to say, reveal the form and degree to which the words carry harm. They fall within rhetoric, gibberish or verbosity; whether expressed by politicians, religious leaders, or party representatives; whether they are motivated by pragmatism, opportunism, or fear, these speeches can, on one hand pollute social relationships, destabilize the nation, and compromise the State, and on the other hand accelerate the migratory bleeding which empties Lebanon of its young elites, convinced that this country does not belong to them anymore.

It is the sudden emergence of liberated political discourse calling for the redefinition of relations between Lebanon and Syria, real independence of Lebanon, and national dialogue which led, as a reaction, to irrational, controversial, or passionate speech to justify, and sometimes even glorify, the current political and economic subjugation of the country. It is therefore necessary to discuss the circumstances that made possible the liberation of Lebanese political language, before proceeding to a brief typology of ‘non-respectable’ rhetoric which professes to shackle it again, and then to evaluate the highly harmful effects that such discourses have on society, the nation, and the state.


The liberation of political language

It took ten years to start to speak openly, free from coded language, that is to say, circumlocutions, metaphors, metonymy and other figures of speech, under the cover of which the growing unease was expressed caused by the presence of the Syrian army on the whole of the Lebanese territory and the interference of its intelligence services in all sectors of social, economic, and political life of the country.

Two facts that preceded the change in language behavior occurred during the summer of 2000: the withdrawal of the Israeli army from southern Lebanon came providing a strong argument against the presence of the Syrian army throughout the country, which was no longer justified, if indeed it had ever been, and the succession of a young president in Damascus provided hope for a forthcoming liberalization of the Syrian regime and, consequently, a substantial change in its policy in Lebanon.  But neither the commanding state nor the puppet state seemed to see it this way.  Their joint intelligence services were able to prepare – with manipulations, pressures, and threats – an already falsified ballot from the source dictating an absurd “redistricting”, to pave the way for the formation of a permanent  Parliament completely subservient to Syria and to silence any opposition. It was forgotten that excessive repression eventually leads to a surge of freedom. It was thus a tidal wave of  opposition, in Beirut as in the mountains. And people began speaking openly for better or for worse.

Christian discourse against Syrian control of Lebanon is not new, as seen in the Taif agreement, which dates to ten years ago. It merely clarified, structured, magnified itself to give rise the Declaration of the Assembly of Maronite Bishops on September 20, 2000. But until then, the declaration resounded like a voice in the desert because it was not difficult for Syria to neutralize it: to achieve that, all that was needed was to marginalize the already weak, turbulent Christian community, depriving it of any real representation in positions of power. That’s when, thanks to the electoral campaign and its unexpected results, the speech against Syrian control overflowed the confines of the Christian community and a panic blew beyond its borders. The taboo had fallen.  Druze leader Walid Jumblatt took into account the majority of the Christian stipulations and called for national unity. “Walid Jumblatt,” commented Issa Gorayeb in his September 15th editorial, “is like a modern icebreaker, bulldozer, minesweeper, behind which we see other, more or less strong free-thinkers come rushing.”[2] For Syria and its supporters, this was unacceptable because Walid Jumblatt is a major political leader, because he is Druze, and because during the war he had fought severely against the Christians with whom he now showed solidarity. All that was left to do was unleash hate speeches and death threats against him, a most extreme form of ‘non-respectable’ speech,  showing its despicable face. 


Ideological rhetoric and verbosity

In Lebanon today, we can identify three types of ‘non-respectable’ speech. The first is  ideological discourse of “national” parties, for which the referred-to nation is not Lebanon, but a mythical “Syrian nation” or “Greater Syria” intending to swallow up Lebanon and, eventually, Jordan and Palestine, creating an even larger utopic “Arab nation”, which consists of nothing other than a somewhat secularized nostalgia of the caliphate. These parties, formerly marginalized by the simple effect of the democratic game, occupy key positions in the Administration today and are, occasionally the privileged carriers of the Syrian messages addressed to the recalcitrant Lebanese people. It is one of these parties who boasts to have organized the assassination of president-elect  Bachir Gemayel in September 1982; On November 6, 2000 while in full parlimentary session, a member of another party of the same family reacted to the reasoned, calm speech of the Druze leader with a litany of insults and death threats.  Sometimes in my previous speeches, I have denounced unionist, totalitarian, and ethnic ideologies – based on language, religion or so-called “natural” geographic boundaries –  advocated by Arab nationalists, regardless of their party affilliations. Walid Jumblatt is more explicit and incisive: “In my view”, he says, “these parties have ideologies based on what is called the Syrian nation and the Arab nation, whose ancient, ossified ideologies and racist nature are outdated (…).  In my opinion, there is no Syrian nor Arab nation. There is a vast Arab, Christian and Muslim culture, which goes back several centuries.”[3]

Pan-Syrian or pan-Arabian discourse formally falls under pure phraseology, when not considered a battle of words. This is the case, for example, when the proponents of this kind of speech argue that sending the Lebanese army to its southern border is a service to Israel, and remain silent when we retort this by saying that the presence of the Syrian army on the borders of Occupied Golan serves the interests of the enemy; this is the case, when they say that the Syrian army is present in Lebanon to defend the country against Israeli aggression and remain sheepish if asked when Syria protected Lebanon against Israeli shelling; this is the case, when all people or groups that protest against Syrian hegemony calling for real  independence of Lebanon are accused of complicity with the enemy or with a foreign power favorable to Israel, or when they assert that such claims are likely to stir up religious and sectarian strife. And so on. What is deplorable is that such assertions are often reinforced by similar official statements, when they are not mere repetition.

But the specific vocation of ideological discourse by the Lebanese is here giving meritorious service to Syria and its army. Did Syria not come to the rescue of Christians in 1976, when they were likely to be annihilated by their Muslim adversaries? Did Syria not end the fratricidal civil war and restore peace in the country? Did Syria not shed the blood of its own soldiers so that Lebanon could live again? This litany of untruths, replicated by the arrogant Syrian Information Minister during a visit to Lebanon, was scathingly countered by the pen of Ghassan Tueni[4]. After pointing out that it was Syrian-armed Palestinians and not Lebanese Muslims that threatened the Christians of annihilation in 1976, he then reports supporting examples of the cruel and cynical character of Syrian interventions throughout the Lebanese war, and ends up recommending that the transitioning minister close this chapter which disgraces his country.


Compelled and double standard language

The second type of ‘non-respectable’ speech is characterized by double standards, that which one uses behind closed doors versus publicly. Privately, one speaks of the misfortune of being a dependent, occupied, and exploited country; publicly one proclaims joy to be living in harmony between two countries that share the same destiny. Last July, the American journalist Thomas L. Friedman wrote in the New York Times: “These days, the number of statesmen, politicians, and writers who dare speak openly of national interest – from a point of view or vision specific to the future in Lebanon, regardless of Syrian interest – is smaller than ever.”[5] But discourse which is publicly held is of two kinds: compelled speech, motivated by apprehension or fear, or complaisant speech dictated by opportunism.  For the latter, one can see all types of people, from the most sophisticated to the most crude, and in all social classes.  Of the former, it would be erroneous to think that it is always kept in the grip of more or less explicit external threats; it is more often perhaps the effect of an internalization of repression. “Sixteen year ago”, says Thomas Friedman again, “the Syrian occupation was in the streets: checkpoints, soldiers, tanks. All that largely disappeared. But the reason is that the Syrian occupation was shifted from the streets to the heads of the Lebanese. While the world looked the other way, Lebanon was increasingly becoming a Syrian province.”[6]

It is difficult to know to what extent Muslim religious authorities’ advocacy in favor of the Syrian presence in Lebanon corresponds to their deep conviction; they know only that Syria and its agents put particularly severe pressure on the representatives of the community at large.  What is certain, on the other hand, is that double standard here is divided into two opposing, mutually-exclusive discourses: public discourse of the hierarchy, which supports Syrian presence, and private discourse of the majority of people, which denounces it. Sometimes, the latter discourse comes out of hiding and openly expresses itself. Thus, for example, the answer of the Sunni and Shiite muftis to the Declaraion of Bkerké provoked two striking retorts, in the form of two articles of unequal length and of different tone but equally significant. In a brief article called “Between the Patriarch, the Mufti, and Syria”, a Sunni from Tripoli, Doctor in Counseling Psychology, addresses his community’s religious leader: “The position of Patriarch Sfeir is wise and expresses that of all the Lebanese, with the exception of flatterers, profiteers, liars, and the faint of heart. As for you, Mister Mufti, you spoke for yourself and not on behalf of Muslims or Lebanese citizens. Therefore let your heart speak, even if your fatwas are dictated by the brothers. I invite you to get out of your car in the souks and neighborhoods of Tripoli, Saïda, Beirut and Baalbek, so that you see with your own eyes and hear with your own ears the complaint which your brothers in faith, religion, community and country raise against the military and economic presence of the Syrians. On this day in September 2000, I told the truth and, for that very reason, I fear the criticism of nobody.”[7]

In his long article entitled “Of What Dialogue and About What National Reconciliation Do We Speak?”, Saud al-Maula, a member of the National Committee for Christian-Muslim Dialogue, presents a more encompassing, general point-of-view. “It has been ten years”, he writes, “since the Christian church and its people voice their complaints and since we tell them we understand their grievances and agree with them. It is recognized that what is required is to address and repair past deviations and restore equalibrium, but it must be done under the national and institutional umbrellas (…). Ten years have passed and we still believe and say publicly that the State is not a State, institutions do not exist and there is no justice, but a kind of fate sur commande (…). What has happened recently, meaning this mobilisation of Muslims and the so-called secular nationals against the patriarch Sfeir and the appeal of the bishops, does not bode well and constitutes a violation of dialogue, civil peace, and national reconciliation; first because what the Call of to Bkerké announced is repeated by everyone, without exception, unless one takes into account profiteers and thieves; subsequently because the call is expressed using moderate language and  advocates solidarity and balance both within Lebanon and in relations with Syria.”[8]


Pragmatic rhetoric and political cant

The third type of ‘non-respectable’ speech is marked by what is called political cant. It is undoubtedly necessary to be grateful to Prime Minister Rafic Hariri for having honored his commitment to defend the freedom of expression in all its forms and thus having blocked, at least temporarily, the slow killing of democracy as described by the director of the Middle East Forum, Daniel Pipes, before the Subcommittee on Foreign Affairs of the U.S. Senate on June 14, 2000: “The implications of the occupation of Lebanon are frightening”, he said. What was once the most open Arabic-speaking country proudly benefiting from decentralized power, real democracy, the rule of law, unfettered movement, a Hong Kong market style, with independent schools and a free press, has become something like a minor version of the totalitarian state of Syria.”[9] The head of State is committed to ending this rampant dictatorship run by both Lebanese and Syrian intelligences, and thereby restore Lebanon’s image in the eyes of potential Western investors sensitive to the respect of human rights. May he succeed in thwarting the ruses of the intelligence services that are probably more subtle, but also more devious. Whatever the case, if freedom of expression is finally recognized by the government as a fundamental right, real free speech of citizens will continue to be given a flat refusal at all levels of power. We are aware that he has no chance of leading a debate on the Syrian presence in Lebanon. The message is clear: say what you want on this matter but know that you will change nothing in reality; the Syrian presence is “lawful, unavoidable, and temporary.”  This is the official, inviolable, enduring, sacred mantra…discourse of political cant.

This third type of speech is meant to be pragmatic. The argument is as follows: let us set aside the political problem of thorny Syrian-Lebanese relations. The Syrian army and intelligence services will eventually leave Lebanon under political pressure, since it is not we who let them in and it is not we who will make them leave. In the meantime, let us work to resolve the unprecedented economic crisis that the country is struggling with. This is the most serious challenge. Such talk ignores two realities that invalidate its content. First, if the people and the so-called “representative” government do not express their rejection of Syrian control over the country, using all means at their disposal, no superpower will come to our rescue. The superpowers are tired of being accused of interfering in the internal affairs of the country each time  they summon resolution 520 of the United Nations which calls for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Lebanon in support for the independence and sovereignty of this country.  Also it is unrealistic to expect to separate economics from politics. The Lebanese Government will without doubt improve the living conditions of the population, but is not able to make Lebanon the regional economic center that it used to be. Economic prosperity is closely linked to political will. But this is jeopardized by Syria who changes it to its own advantage as need be. Lebanon’s political subjection is not likely to encourage investors, whether foreign or domestic.

For proponents of pragmatic speech, those who agree with the motto “Syrian presence is lawful, unavoidable, and temporary” advocate keeping Syria in Lebanese politics so that they can have free reign in the economy. The same is not true of all those who, at all levels of the political and social pyramid, owe their position, influence and privileges to Syria without whose presence they would be nothing. Perpetuation of the Syrian stranglehold on Lebanon is for them absolutely vital. As soon as we disband the three terms of their slogan on the Syrian presence as “lawful, unavoidable, temporary”, they enter into a trance. They go into a trance when they are reminded of the statement by Syrian Vice President Khaddam: “Our forces entered Lebanon without seeking anyone’s permission and will leave in the same way” and the formal request addressed by two Lebanese presidents in 1982 and 1983, asking Syria to withdraw its troops, remained unanswered.[10] They fall into a trance when asked what strategic necessity the Syrian army and its intelligence services (adjacent to the Presidential Palace) have for the Ministry of Defense and the whole of Lebanon. They go into a trance when reminded that the decision taken in Taif, of the redeployment of Syrian troops in the Bekaa as a prelude to their full and final withdrawal from Lebanon, has been postponed continually for the past eight years giving no valid reason to justify the delay. Their stubbornness is not however disturbing because, as soon as Lebanon will have gotten back its sovereignty, they will pull out or leave the country.


Contempt of society

It is evident that the practice orchestrated by these three types of discourse,  where verbosity, doublespeak, and political cant are blended in varying degrees, tends to pervert the language itself and the social relations it promotes. Faced with a rational use of language in order to determine reality and tell the truth, ‘non-respectable’ speech uses irrationality, strives to adjust reality to words and to disguise their meaning; ultimately, it restores neither reality nor meaning. The words join mechanically to one another because, as a linguist says, “We can talk of thinking with words, without thought truly being in action; this is the law of all reflexes: an automatic act replaces a conscious act” and language becomes “a cushion of intellectual apathy”.[11] Under such conditions, discussions of discord and differing point-of-views, so vital to the democratic ideal, are broken down and annull essential discernment-based judgment. Social coherence is broken and solidarity gives way to mistrust. National dialogue which calls for rational discourse can not be forged. And this is perhaps the hidden purpose: prevent dialogue because it would undoubtedly undermine the benefits provided by the status quo.

“There is a vast difference”, writes Saud al-Maoula on the subject, “between those who want honor, dignity, freedom, and democracy for Syria and the Arabs and those who, for personal or partisan interests, want to use Syria as an instrument of domination and oppression, repression of freedoms, violation of people’s dignity. There is a vast difference between those who have taken upon themselves the concerns of the nation and demands of society for reform and change, those who watched over the unity of the nation, their interests, their freedoms and dignity, in Lebanon as in Syria (…) and those who brandished the slogan “unity of path, unity of destiny” to engage in the policies of division and destruction, to the point of accusing  others of treason and apostasy. The difference is vast between those who try to embody the phrase “One single people in two States” and those who have forced people into the situation of “one State with two peoples” and have caused the relationship between the two neighbors to dry up and the development of Lebanese racism toward all Arab kin (…). Those responsible (for all this mess) are neither the Call of Bkerké, nor the statements of Walid Joumblatt, Omar Karame, M. Nassib Lahoud, or Boutros Harb, nor the silence of Hussein Husseini, and still less the wisdom and moderation of Mohammed Mehdi Chamsedinne. Those responsible are the foolish policies, the unhealthy authoritarian regimes, the atmosphere of repression and terror, and this contempt for stability, values, and principles on which Lebanon was founded.”[12]

This contempt for civil society turns to perversion when the Power does not hesitate to periodically arouse controlled unrest in predetermined settings or inflammatory rhetoric made to provoke the fear of a return to civil war among the population in order to suggest that without the presence of Syrian forces, Lebanon would again be the scene of communal clashes. In reality, few people are fooled by this tactic which is part of a classic arsenal that aims to divide and conquer. What is new since last summer, that is to say since the liberation of political language and the de facto consensus which is establishing itself among the Lebanese on  fundamental issues, is that the intelligence services are showing obvious signs of nervousness: they do not even care any more about keeping up appearances and are resorting to even the most uncivilized ploys. “Who therefore”, wondered Samir Franjieh, “took the initiative in Akkar to push the clerics to insult Patriarch Sfeir and to call all the municipality presidents in the region to publish a press release calling for retention of the Syrian forces in Lebanon? Can we for a moment think that these are ‘spontaneous’ initiatives? And was the Tripoli manifestation, during which slogans insulting the Maronite Patriarch were launched in the presence of ministers and members of parliment,  also spontaneous’? (…) It is clear that those who rule are currently at war with society. Since the question was raised regarding the Syrian presence in Lebanon, threats and acts of intimidation have multiplied, and those in power refuse to dialogue with its citizens.”[13]


The hatred of the nation

‘Non-respectable’ speech is not satsfied simply impeding national dialogue, it goes after the historical foundations of the nation expressing their resentment toward the overall agreement in the declarations of the Druze leader and the Maronite Patriarch, representatives of the two founding communities of Lebanon. To understand the scope of such hostility, one must stop a moment on what I would call “the Joumblatt phenomenon”. Initially, critics are asking why he turned against Syria, of which he was a faithful ally. Jumblatt provides a clear explanation. On September 12, he declares: “Some Lebanese intelligence services, which were a burden to the population, tried to sow discord and to undermine civil liberties, like many Lebanese who pledged allegiance to Syria. But this cannot continue. It is unthinkable that they intervene everywhere, in universities, in labor unions, in public life, and in the press, all in the name of shared security by the two nations.”[14]  On October 24th, he exclaims: “It is quite surprising that after 25 years, it (Syria) has not yet understood that it must stop interfering in Lebanon’s internal political games and stop opposing systematic vetoes against any person ever so slightly representative of the Christian base.”[15] The substance of his thought can be summarized in one of these terse, cryptic statements: “Before China took back Hong Kong, it started a slogan: one single country, two policies. In our case, it is: two countries with one policy. Two countries and two policies are necessary. With a minimum of coordination.”[16]

His critics are wondering then how and why he reaches out to Christians who have a heavy bone of contention splitting them apart “Does he want us to believe his big lie which is his national function?; is this national function illustrated by the massacre of Christians from the mountains and for which he now wishes to obtain full pardon regardless of the detriment to Syria?”[17] It is in these terms that this member of the Syrian Baath Movement expresses himself during a full parliamentary session which ended with death threats. More dignified, but not less hostile is this journalist who considers it “necessary to distinguish Walid Joumblatt from those who support his stance against Syria”[18], but who have reason to be historical or ideological enemies and will soon turn their backs on him. We find, under other pens, similar speeches whose authors are apparently bewildered by the Druze leader’s reconciliation with former foes. An absurd argument, in truth, because one has never heard of friends needing to be reconciled! Students from Saint Joseph University School of Engineering understood this well, writing on the poster announcing a conference by Walid Jumblatt next to his name: “An enemy whom we respect and love.” Must we forget that it is often external or internal wars that forge nations? Must we forget, in this particular case, that the conflicts and reconciliations that have marked the history of the mountain communities helped shape a true national consciousness, which was later extended to the people of the coast and the periphery?

Another illustration of verbose discourse is the treachery of those who have an indescribable yearning for a return of the Mutasarrifiya period in the recent Druze-Christian reconciliation. With all due respect to his detractors, Walid Jumblatt has effectively reached the stature of a national leader. In the founding history of his people, he has tapped into the legitimacy of the unifier role which he wanted to assume. This is what Ghassan Tueni emphasized at the end of the legislative elections. “Only Walid Joumblatt”, he wrote, “knows how to give a historical dimension to an election campaign by placing himself in his Lebanese heritage. He gave his victory, or rather the victory of the Mountain in both Choufs, to all men who love freedom and of democracy.”[19] Jumblatt himself is well aware of his legitimacy as a national leader: “We are ultimately,” he said, “the heirs of a great emir of this Mountain, the emir of coexistence and independence, Emir Fakhreddine.”[20] The Maronite Patriarch recognizes him as “a great political leader representing a community that is a cornerstone of the Lebanese entity.”[21] When an integrated nation as ours is threatened in its existence, it is natural that a surge from the founding communities comes to its rescue. This is the conclusion drawn by Issa Gorayeb in a text with a significant title ‘Overwhelming Minority’. Highlighting the collapse of all taboos and the release of Lebanese political language, he writes: “Of this change in thinking, the country is especially indebted to two men: Patriarch Sfeir whose admirable courage got the better of some of the attacks as cautious reservations did of others. And Walid Jumblatt, who with unparalleled courage has delivered clear proof that a Lebanon that has once again become Lebanese is not the insane dream of only Christians.”[22]


The Humiliation of the State

Over a despised society, over a nation held in contempt, lies a humiliated state, whose arrogant rhetoric is in fact, in the eyes of the people, a dreary process of verbal compensation because it is in total contradiction with reality. To say, for example, that the relationship between Lebanon and Syria is “fraternal and permanent”, is to pretend to be unaware that for twenty-five years, the relationship is, in the most strict sense of the term, only that of domination, of which Lebanon – society, nation and state – has not finished paying the price. To say that questioning this relationship is dangerous because it might destroy national unity, is to assume that there is national unity where is doesn’t exist, since one part of the population has been politically marginalized by Syria for the last ten years and the other part is ordered to collaborate with Syria; so all attempts for national reconciliation is systematically blocked. To say that the problem with Syrian-Lebanese relations must only be handled State by State, is to imply that both States are equal partners, while one is put into strict custody by the other and therefore can no longer be the voice of public opinion nor of it’s people’s aspirations. Consequently, the term democracy, whichever way its used, is nothing more than a meaningless word. “In the past,” writes Alya Riad el-Solh, “we exported freethinking to any oppressed person in the Arab world.  Today, we import intolerance, so that is can oppress us.”[23]

Intolerance is the offspring of the principle “unity of path, unity of destiny” that the custody State has successfully imposed on its servants but which, for the majority of the population, remains an empty slogan intended to justify its overall implementation by Lebanon, at its own expense, under the dictatorship of Syria. That the slogan come to explain itself and the resulting discourse is all the more peremptory as it is incoherent. “Logic, in Lebanon”, writes Alya el-Solh, “is no longer the accepted logic that we know. It exploded into a multitude of logics that are made and unmade according to the whim of oppression.”[24] So, for example, the dismayed population wonders what it possibly means that ’«a State in war does not deploy its army to the border.” It wonders what national interest Lebanon finds to defy the United Nations and European Union, which recommends with insistence, but in vain, to send its army to the South. Finally, it wonders why Syria’s grip on Lebanon must be maintained until the liberation of Golan Heights. In this regard, Alya el-Solh reminds us that when, at the end of the French mandate, Lebanon obtained its independence before Syria, the latter did not ask Lebanon to freeze its independence until Syria got its own. It is because, it specifies, the relationship between both countries was then in accordance with the rules, marked by the mutual respect and civility which ensues from it.[25]

More royalist than the king, the Lebanese State has informed us that if the Syrian army withdraws, its intelligence services would remain and that Syrian presence would continue at least until the conclusion of a global and comprehensive regional peace agreement. This clearly means that the recovery of Lebanon’s independence is postponed indefinitely. This is what jeopardizes the Pact that, in 1943, was the foundation of the independent state. As we should recall, the minimum principle of this Pact was the famous double negative – “neither East nor West” – that is to say, the Christian renunciation of French protection against the Muslim renunciation of a union with Syria. However this principle is openly flouted, Lebanon having virtually become a Syrian province against the will of all its citizens.

Modern Lebanon will have known only 32 years of independence between two completely different mandates. One political veteran commented on this difference: “France”, he says, “had at least the decency to choose from the local best and brightest to manage public affairs. The most competent and upright individuals were appointed to counsel both at the political level and administrative level, which was efficient. Today, the most incongruous “parachutages” are made. Allocations are given according to rations and a trading of favors. We so often see some fraud in  applicants’ alleged qualifications for specific duties. And when that is not enough, one resorts to intimidation.” Then he emphasizes the decline of democracy since Taif: “Before Taif”, he says, “internal political life was effective and reasonably satisfactory in terms of democratic freedoms (…) Today, because of the famous slogan (…), it is falling apart. And the only freedom that is left to local political actors is to tear each other apart for more benefits.”[26] Everything is happening as if the Syrian mandate imposed on Lebanon after Taif aimed to teach the Lebanese to unlearn democracy and forget the taste of independence.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


            On November 21, 2000, the eve of Independence Day, USJ students who were joined by students from other universities as well as graduating highschool students, marched in tight rows from the Medical Sciences campus to the National Museum to demand real independence of their country. Among the banners waved by the protesters, three bore messages that seem appropriate to close with an explanation of their meaning and scope.

The first banner said: “Yes, thank you, but that’s enough!”. After the courteous word – thank you for services rendered – the word for refusal: No to the continuation of Syrian forces and their intelligence services in the Lebanese territory; No to plots to make believe that the nation is religiously divided and still needs a guardian; No to the exploitation of Lebanon and the Lebanese for the exclusive benefit of Syria, under the false pretense of a common strategy; No, absolutely not, to reducing Lebanon’s de facto status to that of a Syrian province.

The second banner said: “The resistance will not be extinguished.” The resistance today aims to keep the language of protest alive and defend free expression. No to the perverse twinning of freedom of expression with the alleged security concerns recommended by those in power; No to stratagems by intelligence services to again confine talks of protest among a marginalized Christian community; No to visits by security officials to university administrations requesting the names of club election candidates or to inquire about possible manifestation plans; No to the infiltration of young recruits among the students of various departments.

The third banner said: “We want dialogue.” The demonstrators resumed their idea, issued by religious and political leaders of all stripes, of convening a national congress to discuss the relationship between Syria and Lebanon and to envisage the future of a liberated Lebanon. Indeed, it is important that the de facto consensus, outlined among the Lebanese in spite of the Power, be consolidated and formalized by a detailed, official, national agreement, not among the parliament members but among the country’s qualified representatives of the political, economic, social, and educational domains. Also misunderstood, or thought to be a joke, is the contention that the National Assembly is identical to the desired National Congress, especially when we know how the majority of members were elected.

But young people rest assured: the process of liberation is irreversible. In the absence of a currently impossible National Congress, intercommunal networks of intellectuals and professionals meet regularly to promote discussions of resistance and to consider the future of a freed Lebanon. The time will come when Syria will understand, perhaps even before the Lebanese leaders do, that it is in its interest to withdraw completely from Lebanon, to respect the independence and sovereignty of this country, and to establish a relationship of mutual understanding. But the Lebanese distrust of Syria will never really dissipate until bilateral relations result in an exchange of diplomatic delegations, as is the case between all Arab countries.

As to the political future of Lebanon, it is also encouraging, regardless of what a lot of young Christians think who have known only war and the post-war era and who are questioning the degree of Muslim allegiance to the shared homeland. What they should know is that, with quite an understandable delay, Muslims today feel the same sense of nationhood as Christians, the same intellectual and emotional attachment to the Lebanese homeland.

Notable in this regard are the words on Lebanon’s uniqueness that Imam Mohammed Mehdi Chamseddine confided, a month before his death, to representatives of the Arab press in Paris. “I was among the first to advocate the abolition of political sectarianism (…)”, he says. “I had drawn up my own strategy around the idea of democracy in number, having foreseen the elimination of district political existence, the adoption of the individual as a single political entity, and the rejection of community allocations governing the formation of parliament and government. But in recent years, I’ve reflected a lot, so that now I no longer hold this view: I consider the Community system a key part of the equation for Lebanon, provided that the government be cleaned up (…). I have abandoned democracy in number in favor of political communitarianism but, as just said, the application of this principle is currently prone to corruption and must be reformed. I would like to see the Lebanese ensure broader representation; I would like a guarantee such that no community can complain of being crushed by the majority.”

Chamseddine’s faith in the uniqueness of Lebanon goes further. “As for the relationship between Lebanon and Syria”, he asserts, “I have said and I repeat that Lebanon is forever beyond any unionist plan. Assuming that a great Arab Republic from Tangier to Aden was formed, Lebanon would be the second Arab Republic; it will remain a distinct Arab country. No union. The nature of the Lebanese society demands it and the interest of the Arabs requires it too. It is best for Lebanon, as for the Arab and Islamic surroundings, that this country remain an independent and sovereign republic, that unites with no other country, that collaborates with all, but does not get absorbed by in any other country.”[27]


Ladies and Gentlemen,

In all our communities today, voices are calling for the liberation of Lebanon, the recovery of its independence, the full exercise of its sovereignty. These voices are dedicated to widen their audience, to shake the cowardice of some and confuse the interest calculations of others. The national debate is open, it is irreversible. But it is not only on how to strengthen the resistance against a foreign takeover, it also includes an intense critical reflection on the future of the country. In this regard, the University of Saint Joseph is an ideal place to host and stimulate rigorous and honest discussions on what we agree and disagree on, for the purpose of national consensus. With the means at its disposal, Saint-Joseph University must be at the heart of the democratic debate.

(translated from French by Elisabeth Davis-Karam, edited by Dr. Clovis Karam)


[1]               Amy Gutmann, Director of the Center for Human Rights of Princeton University, Introduction to Charles Taylor, Multiculturalism.  Difference and Democracy, Paris, « Champs », Flammarion 1994, p. 38-39.


[2]               L’Orient-Le Jour, September 15, 2000.

[3]               L’Orient-Le Jour, August 30, 2000, p.2.

[4]               An-Nahar, October  2, 2000.

[5]               Thomas L. Friedman, “Lebanon: Soul on Ice”, New York Times,  July 18, 2000.

[6]               Ibid.

[7]               Mou’men Dennaoui, An-Nahar, September 22, 2000, p.12.

[8] Al-Mustaqbal, September 24, 2000.

[9] Testimony of Daniel Pipes, in USCFL (United States Committee for a Free Lebanon), June 14, 2000.

[10] “At the Arab Summit in Fès in 82, President Sarkis officially asked Syria to withdraw its troops as had already been done by the other countries contributing to what was called the Arab Deterrent Force ( … ) The following year in September, President Gemayel was addressing a note to the General Secretariat of the League reiterating the call for Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon and the departure of all foreign forces, a copy of which was sent to president Hafez el-Assad”  (Emile Khoury, L’Orient-Le Jour, September 28, 2000).

[11] Albert Sechehaye, “Thought and Language”, in Essays on Language, Paris, “Common Sense”, The Midnight Editions 1969, p.88.

[12] Saoud al-Maoula, “Who are the true friends of Syria?”, An-Nahar, November 11, 2000.

[13] Samir Frangié, “The barricades of the State”, L’Orient-Le Jour, December 20, 2000.

[14] L’Orient-Le jour, Septbember 13, 2000.

[15] L’Orient-Le Jour, October 25, 2000.

[16] L’Orient-Le Jour, September 13, 2000.

[17] Assem Kanso speech, L’Orient-Le Jour, November 7, 2000, p.4.

[18] Ibrahim al-Amin, As-Safir, November 13, 2000, p.2.

[19] An-Nahar, August 21, 2000.

[20] L’Orient-Le Jour, September 25, 2000.

[21] L’Orient-Le Jour, November 9, 2000, p.3.

[22] L’Orient-Le Jour, November 25, 2000.

[23] An-Nahar, November 21, 2000.

[24] Ibid.

[25] See ibid.

[26] Commentary by Emile Khoury, “A political system that is gradually losing its specificity”, L’Orient-Le Jour, October 26, 2000.

[27] An-Nahar, December 7, 2000, p.5.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.