Sa’adeh’s refutation of ‘Lebanese nationalism’

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Part I

By Dr. Edmond Melhem

Sa’adeh rejected the idea of Lebanese nationalism and, on many occasions, criticized its advocates such as the Phalangists and theorists of Phoenicianism. It can be safely maintained that whenever he criticized them, his aim was to prove that:

a) Their theories could not be based on historical and sociological foundations.

b) The Lebanese could not be separated from geographical Syria for they had always constituted a part of its history, life, community, social and economic cycle, and ethnic background…

c) The justification for the establishment of Lebanon was religious factionalism.

d) His party respected the existence of Lebanon, but considered this existence as a “political thing” necessitated by historical circumstances. Therefore, the party would endeavour to establish the necessary circumstances which would eliminate the fears that were behind the set-up of Lebanon.

In the following an attempt will be made to elaborate on Sa’adeh’s refutation of Lebanese nationalism and its advocates.
Sa’adeh denied Lebanese nationalism and argued that it had no historical foundation in fact. He called the propagandists of the idea of Lebanese nationalism, mainly the Phalangists, “isolationists” or “separationists” and accused them of being psychologically sick. He argued that their idea was at odds with the reality and the social fact of Syria, and aimed to isolate the Lebanese Christians from Syrian life politically, economically, culturally and spiritually. Furthermore, in his attempts to refute “Lebanese nationalism”, Sa’adeh made it clear that it would have been a reasonable justification had the “isolationists” requested political or administrative separation from Syria, but in no way could a national separation be accepted. As he put it:
“… if there should exist some special reasons for a separate political administration in Lebanon, this does not mean that the Lebanese should disassociate themselves from Syrian nationalism which has developed from natural and social historical causes.

In the light of the above ideas of Sa’adeh, it may be worthwhile to investigate whether he sought to understand the reasons why some Lebanese wanted to dissociate themselves from Syrian nationalism. And if so, what did he say about these reasons? Was he prepared to accept the desire of the Maronites to be separated from Syria? Before attempting to answer these questions, it may be more fruitful to explore further the reasons why the Maronites solicited for a separate Lebanon and dissociated themselves from Syrian nationalism.

As discussed earlier, the enlargement of Mount Lebanon for economic necessity constituted one reason behind the call for an economically viable but separate Lebanese state. This reason, however, was combined with another one, i.e., Maronite fear of Muslim engulfment. Historically, Maronite writers depicted Mount Lebanon as a safe refuge for the Maronites fleeing political tyranny and religious persecution at the hands of the Sunnite Muslim majority. Tracing the social and political origins of Lebanon, Kamal Salibi discovered that “since the time of Ibn al-Qila’i in the late fifteenth century, the Maronites had generally maintained that they had first arrived in Mount Lebanon as fugitives from intolerable Muslim persecution in northern Syria.” Patriarch Istifan al-Duwayhi (1629-1704), a head of the Maronite Church and a leading historian, was much interested in the history of the Maronites. In his works , he preoccupied himself with the theme that the Maronite community’s history was “a continuous struggle to maintain national and religious identity in a dominant Muslim environment.” Nevertheless, in his works, unlike those of al Qila’i, the Maronites’ long heroic struggle with Islam were toned down. He asserted that the persecution which forced the Maronites, in the seventeenth century, to abandon the valley of the Orontes, in the Syrian interior, and resort to Mount Lebanon took place at the hands of the Byzantines, not the Muslims.

Maronite fear of Muslim engulfment and the image of Lebanon as refuge and a haven for freedom have continuously been raised by Maronite clerics and writers. The outbreaks of warfare between Maronites and Druzes in 1860 and the consequent massacres and persecutions of Christians in Damascus and the Shuf areas of Mount Lebanon together with the resulting problem of increasing Christian emigration, all seemed to have fostered Maronite demands for a separate Lebanon as “a home for the Christians”.

Among the Maronite clerics who pursued the independence of Lebanon as “a home for the Christians” was bishop ‘Abdullah al-Khuri. He headed a Delegation to Paris on 11 February, 1920, in order to save the independence of Lebanon. Before his Delegation was received by the French Prime Minister, M. Millerand, he addressed an appeal to the latter “to protect the interests of the Lebanon, which were so closely tied with those of France.” Soon after the creation of Lebanon, Bishop al-Khuri was reportedly quoted as saying:
The Lebanon within its present boundaries was established with the approval of France in order to serve as a home for the Christians dwelling therein and to provide a refuge for the Christians in neighbouring Moslem countries in case they should be compelled to flee from persecution by their neighbours.

Antun Sa’adeh, it may be said, was aware of the Maronites’ fears and their need for a “refuge”. His understanding of this historical factor is evident in many of his articles on the Lebanese question. The following quotation from an article titled al-In’izaliyyah al-Lubnanyyah Aflassat illustrates this point:
It is a well-known fact that the causes of the creation of a Lebanese state were the religious wars and massacres which were the outcome of sectarian divisions. These events led the Lebanese Christians to demand an independent administration which will protect their interests.

Sa’adeh, it may be also claimed, understood the historical causes that led some Lebanese Christians to demand a separate Lebanon from Syria. Nevertheless, he believed that these causes should not be regarded as justifications for a “Lebanese nation”. The creation of Lebanon, according to him, was not based on “sociological facts”, but was necessitated by historical circumstances. As he argued:

one must distinguish between the entity of Lebanon and its safety from one side and sociological facts from another. To respect an entity because of historical circumstances does not mean isolating ourselves and continuing to accept those execuses forever. The entity has to be a jumping-off point for the Lebanese and not a grave.’

To be continued

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