As attempts to stoke sectarian conflict continue in Kerala, it will pay off for the state to study the lessons of Lebanon’s history.
In recent weeks, Kerala has seen the spectacle of sections of the clergy and politicians making allegations that non-Muslim youth are the targets of âlove jihadâ and ânarcotics jihadâ. The terminology used was clearly aimed at driving a sectarian wedge into a state that boasts centuries of communal harmony. It is commendable that Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had the courage and common sense to dispel these allegations with precise facts and figures showing the number of people arrested belonging to different religious denominations, stressing that “the drug trade does not” is not run on the basis of religion â, and thatâ such campaigns would be tantamount to sowing the seeds of hatred â.
It is this peace between religions that has enabled Kerala to climb the dizzying heights of the Human Development Index and has shown international recognition the remarkable way in which its well-heeled health systems could effectively cope with the pandemic. . John Kenneth Galbraith had written of how societies made up of populations with the requisite education and skills could thrive after war and devastation, such as Japan and Germany. If he were alive today, he certainly would have named Kerala, which rebounded from two devastating floods. This was all possible because until now Kerala could avoid the fratricidal policy of sectarianism and focus only on development.
As attempts to stoke sectarian conflict will continue, it will pay off for Kerala to study the lessons of Lebanese history.
Lebanon, like Kerala, was the very epicenter of a rich, multi-religious and ethnically diverse society in the Middle East. Here, Maronite Christians, Greek Orthodox Christians, Greek Catholics, Shia and Sunni Muslims, Druze and Jews coexisted and prospered. As Edward Said said, Lebanon was synonymous with âopenness, diversity and joy of lifeâ.
In 1943, Lebanon became independent and the country was ruled by a carefully crafted national pact of 1943. It was governed by a system of proportional representation of its religions, thus uniting them as voluntary partners of nationality.
Lebanon, like Kerala, adopted modern education early on. With peace between its religions and a literacy rate of 73.5%, Lebanon has taken a good head start. Lebanese working abroad sent remittances in foreign currencies, which formed the backbone of the Lebanese economy. Lebanon’s vibrant economy has benefited from high growth rates, a large inflow of foreign capital, and steadily increasing per capita income. It has become the epicenter of commerce and commerce in the Middle East.
The 1973 Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil price hikes rocked most of the world’s economies. In contrast, the Lebanese economy began to peak, with its GDP doubling in 1973 compared to 1966. Lebanese banks became the main channel for the petrodollar boom. Lebanese banks were the custodians of the new Arab wealth found. The Lebanese pound gained ground against the US dollar.
However, despite all these achievements, unresolved issues of income and wealth inequalities persisted in Lebanon. To distract attention from this controversial issue raised by left-wing parties, elites have increasingly begun to resort to sectarian politics. With the growth of denominational politics, the truce between religions began to crumble in pieces.
Sunday April 13, 1975 will go down in the blood in the history of Lebanon. Cheikh Gemayel Pierre, a Phalangist militia leader attended the consecration of a new church. There, an exchange of gunfire between his militia and unidentified gunmen resulted in deaths. That same morning, a bus carrying Palestinian refugees returning to their camp was ambushed by armed men who shot dead 27 unarmed passengers, including children.
These two incidents sparked latent sectarian passions carefully cultivated by the elites. Instead of calming the situation, they incited the masses. Beirut quickly exploded into an orgy of violence. Lebanon’s religions and their armed militias quickly took hold and this spectacular nation entered a civil war in 1975. Fighting between religious militias tore the city of Beirut apart. An imaginary green line crossed central Beirut: the area north of the line was under the control of right-wing Christian guerrillas, and the south was controlled by a Druze-Muslim-Palestinian alliance.
This conflict in the financial capital of the Middle East naturally had international ramifications, as the major world powers had vested interests in Lebanon’s power struggle. It has now degenerated into an international conflict. The Palestine Liberation Organization, Syria and Israel all participated in this conflict, while the United States and the USSR waged the civil war through their Cold War proxies. All attempts at a ceasefire have failed.
In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon. The Israeli army, on arriving in Beirut, allied with the Phalangists and began the encirclement of West Beirut. They started indiscriminate bombardment of residential areas in Beirut. Israeli officers have received instructions to attack Muslim neighborhoods in Beirut. Colonel Eli Geva, an Israeli officer whose column was to lead the assault on West Beirut, requested to be relieved of his brigade command and refused to participate in the assault on a defenseless civilian population. Tanks pounded, shattering buildings and killing ordinary citizens. The “Soldiers Against Silence” – a group of Israeli officers – demanded an end to the war.
Lebanon must have witnessed the cruelest pogrom in modern history. On September 15, 1982, Israeli forces surrounded the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila and allowed Lebanese Christian Phalangist forces to enter the camps. Gunshots could be heard until dawn. In the morning, as the journalists moved in, they saw more than 2,300 bodies riddled with bullets and mutilated Palestinian men, women and children.
As in all conflicts, there was an economic price to pay. The Lebanese industry is estimated to have suffered direct damage valued at nearly Â£ 7 billion. The indirect damage to industry, commerce and businesses has been estimated at Â£ 2.23 billion. A fifth of the industry’s fixed capital has been lost. It was the business elites who financed sectarian politics and conflicts must now bear the brunt of it.
Industry and commerce were paralyzed. Foreign banks that entered Beirut were now fleeing the besieged city. While Lebanese banks, once full of funds, now found their deposits depleted, militias collected taxes and the civil service was maintained with deficit financing.
The Lebanese pound was now taking a hard hit. The Lebanese pound has collapsed in value of L Â£ 4 to L Â£ 477 against the US dollar.
The civil war in Lebanon lasted 15 long years. The Lebanese were exhausted. The sheer futility of this long war, the savagery it involved, and the inconclusive nature of the conflict made the different factions accept peace. After 15 years of indecisive fighting, on October 22, 1989, in Ta’if, Saudi Arabia, an agreement was reached between the warring religious factions, based on the principle of “mutual coexistence” of religions and their “good representation. Politics ” . It was a cruel irony, for that was exactly how Lebanon was managed under the 1943 Pact, until the 1975 civil war broke out. It had cost up to 150,000 Lebanese lives. About a quarter of the country’s population has fled abroad and hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to move from one part of Lebanon to another.
Lebanon woke up at the end of the civil war to find that it had lost its preeminent position in the Arab world. Arab money no longer needed educated and multilingual Lebanese. Middle Eastern businessmen had learned to deal directly with Western banks and corporations. Lebanon was no longer the financial capital of the Arab world. The Middle East had developed its own markets and financial centers. Dubai, Riyadh, Muscat, Doha and many other world-class financial centers had flourished in the interregnum.
It is a story never taught in India. The tragedy of the rejection of constitutions based on secular values, for sectarian ideologies, has forever marked nations like Lebanon. Edward Said’s words resonate upon reading the history of Lebanon:
âInstead of having wise leadership that emphasizes education, mass mobilization and patient organization in service of a cause, the poor and desperate are often swindled into magical thinking and solutions. fast and bloody that these dreadful models deliver, shrouded in lies. religious claptrapâ¦ We need to step back from the imaginary thresholds that supposedly separate people from one another in supposedly conflicting civilizations and reexamine the labels, reconsider the limited resources available and decide in one way or another. ‘another to share our destinies with each other, as in fact most cultures have done, despite belligerent cries and beliefs.
This short history of Lebanon should remind the people of Kerala what they have to lose if they fall prey to the myopic politics of sectarianism.
Santosh Paul is Senior Counsel at the Supreme Court of India. He is the author of âChoosing Hammurabi: Debates on Judicial Appointmentsâ (LexisNexis), âAppointing Our Judges: Forging Independence and Accountabilityâ (LexisNexis) and âThe Maoist Movement in India: Perspectives and Counter-perspectives “.
The opinions expressed are those of the author.