For millennia, the Middle East has been plagued with religio-political upheaval. With the continual barrage of foreign forces conquering and settling in already-occupied land, resentment toward the West is anticipated. Volatile integration—the compulsory intermingling of culture and mores—persists to this day, evident in the history and language of the Semitic people. Moreover, acquiescing to the demands of Western elites (e.g. US, France, USSR) is likewise reprehensible, thus the enduring regional turmoil.
As the more relatively progressive nation in the Middle East, Lebanon is the epicenter of religious and political friction (Gonzalez et al., 2008, pp. 203-204). According to the CIA’s World Factbook, Muslims comprise 54% of the Lebanese population, Christians 40.5%, and Druze 5.6% (2017). Despite their minority status, Maronite Catholics hold the majority positions of power. This unequal distribution of power originates from the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea in 325 CE, which, under the authority of Constantine the Great, legitimized Christianity, denounced paganism, and partitioned the Roman Empire into various patriarchates directed by bishops (Sarton, 1936, pp. 433; Saato, 2006, pp. 4). In the fifth century, the Lebanese ecclesiastical community of the eastern church, located in Byzantine Antioch, experienced a Monotheletic revival, adopting the teachings of Saint Maron, or Maroun (Hourani & Habchi, 2004; Sarton, 1936, pp. 443). Concentrated near Mount Lebanon, the predominantly Maronite Christian community with some Greek Orthodox and Armenians, after considerable deliberation, acquiesced to the Catholic/Jesuit French occupying forces after World War I (Wenger & Denney, 1990, pp. 24). Rather than resist the newly conceived League of Nations and their imperial edicts, the Christian community, acting in concession with the French, negotiated ostensible independence, culminating in the present-day Constitution and the National Pact of 1943, which “stipulat[es] a Maronite Christian president, a Sunni Muslim prime minister, and a Shiite speaker of the Parliament” (Gonzalez et al., 2008, pp. 204; Zisser, 1995, pp. 895; Lebanon, 2017).
Though Muslims comprise over half of the Lebanese population, their political influence is relatively minute. Due to the Catholicity of the French occupiers post World War I, the predominantly Jesuit education instills Western values, seemingly whitewashing/revising the original heritage and catalyst behind anti-imperial movements during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Kaufman, 2001, pp. 177). This counter-curriculum inverts the ante-war sentiments engendered and promulgated by the Ottoman Empire. In his abstract, Michael Provence writes, “The foundations of both Arab and Turkish nationalism lay in the late Ottoman mass education and conscription project and in the region-wide struggle against colonial rule in the 1920s and 1930s” (2011, pp. 205). Education acts as a bulwark to external forces. France recognized this and capitalized on their pre-existing institutions to inculcate their newly contrived Judeo-Christian, pro-liberal curriculum.
Despite an equally divided Sunni (27%) and Shia (27%) population, Sunnis, the least militant of the two factions/denominations, gravitate toward nationalist policies, blending with the rest of the Arab world in a regional consensus toward an independent Palestinian state (Owen, 1984, pp. 939). Under the direction of Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which once resided in Lebanon, launched a series of attacks against Israel (Wenger & Denney, 1990, pp. 23-24). These efforts, however, were hampered by the vigilant Jewish state, succored by Western forces (Owen, 1984, pp. 936). Meanwhile, some Shia communities aggregated into militant groups such as Movement of the Deprived and Hezbollah (Wenger & Denney, 1990, pp. 23). The Fifteen-Year War, lasting from 1975-1990, came to an end after the United Nations (UN) passed two resolutions approving the immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon, ensuring the end of the turmoil (James, 1983, pp. 616, 619-620; Wenger & Denney, 1990). Nevertheless, the ongoing violence between the Jewish and Muslim communities persists to this day.
Though the Druze, “[c]oncentrated in the Shouf mountains overlooking Beirut,” are sparse throughout the region, their influence in Lebanon’s history is indisputable (Wenger & Denney, 1990, pp. 23; CIA, 2017). Originating in tenth century Egypt, this esoteric, Sufi-sympathizing sect of Ismailiyya Muslims with Gnostic roots, are recognized as fierce fighters, hedging their Soviet-era nationalist community with defense of mores and retributive action (Hazran, 2009; Firro, 2011; Owen, 1983, pp. 939; Wenger & Denney, 1990; Ostrovitz, 1983-1984). As observed by T.E. Lawrence in his Seven Pillars of Wisdom, “‘The Druses, heterodox Moslem followers of a mad and dead Sultan of Egypt’” (Ostrovitz, 1983-1984, pp. 272). Though the austerity of the Druze community is patent, other instances provide illumination of a people “noted for its security, prosperity, and religious tolerance” (1983-1984, pp. 273). Nevertheless, the Druze are an “enigma” (1983-1984, pp. 272). Their ways are mercurial, thus confirming their known ferocity and even terroristic proclivities.
Lastly, the question of identity in Lebanon has remained at the forefront of historical and cultural debate. There are myriad myths, but much are muddled and substantively dissoluble. Kaufman writes,
“Around the second millennium BC, Canaanite tribes (belonging to the Indo-European race…) arrived to the region of Greater Syria from the Persian Gulf…Soon they built a large sea-trading network and founded many colonies, the most famous of which was Carthage…even reach[ing] the shores of America” (2001, pp. 174).
These claims, however, are unfounded. But in recent months, with profound advancement in the field of genome technology, scientists have been able to definitively prove the genetic origin of the Lebanese people. Haber et al. writes, “We show that present-day Lebanese derive most of their ancestry from Canaanite-related population, which therefore implies substantial genetic continuity in the Levant since at least the Bronze Age” (2017, pp. 274). Though uncertainty continues to surround the origins of the Canaanite (or Phoenician, as they were called by the Greeks) people, their regional influence, spanning from Anatolia (i.e. Asia Minor, Turkey) to Mesopotamia (i.e. Israel/Palestine to Iraq and Iran) to Egypt, Cyprus, and the Aegean Sea, is undeniable (2017, pp. 274).
In summary, the turmoil plaguing the region for millennia derives from bitter grudges and ideological differences as well as foreign intervention. The combination of these is disastrous. The religio-political friction culminated into elitist schisms after the end of World War I. Maronite Christians, siding with the French occupiers, received significant rewards in the form of indelible power. Meanwhile, the Muslim majority, though receiving recognition in the international community as a semi-worthy contender, must fight a constant uphill battle for equality. Therefore, various factions resorted to war, forming militant groups to counter Western empathizers. After fifteen years of war, the UN passed resolutions legitimizing the status quo Lebanese government. Furthermore, though violence persists, the Semitic people are largely consanguineous. Even in their dissimilarities, their nationalism, and their egoist/supremacist pride, despite their discrepancies, the kindred is remarkable. Therefore, it would behoove the Arab polities, if possible, to assert a unification effort under the banner of solidarity and tolerant coexistence, not reverting to ancient grudges and religio-political minutiae, but rather, in concert, determine to recognize their familial origins and reside peacefully as an example for the world.