What Kerala can learn from the history of Lebanon’s sectarian politics

In recent weeks, Kerala has seen the spectacle of sections of the clergy and politicians making unfounded allegations that non-Muslim youth are the targets of “love jihad” and “drug jihad”. The language 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. By showing the exact number of people arrested in different religious denominations, he was able to prove that “the drug trade is not run on the basis of religion”.

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 Christians, Shia and Sunni Muslims, Druze and Jews coexisted and prospered. As Edward Said said, Lebanon was synonymous with “openness, diversity and joy of life”.

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 currency, 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 rise in OPEC oil prices in 1973 had rocked most of the world’s economies. In contrast, the Lebanese economy has started to peak.

Lebanese banks have become the main channel for the petrodollar boom and have become the custodians of new Arab wealth. The Lebanese pound gained ground against the US dollar. Beirut was the “Paris of the East”.

However, to distract attention from the controversial issue of income inequality, 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. There was an exchange of gunfire between Sheikh Gemayel Pierre’s Christian militia and unidentified shooters. On the same day, 27 Palestinians were killed in an ambush.

These two violent incidents sparked the 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. The religions of Lebanon with their armed militias quickly took the ground. This spectacular nation has entered a civil war. The fighting ravaged the city of Beirut. The area north of Beirut was under the control of right-wing Christian guerrillas and to the south was controlled by a Druze-Muslim-Palestinian alliance.

This conflict in the financial capital of the Middle East naturally had international ramifications. The great world powers had interests in the struggle for power in Lebanon. 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. Repeated attempts at a ceasefire have failed.

In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon. The Israeli army on arriving in Beirut joined with the Phalangists and began the encirclement of West Beirut and the indiscriminate bombardment of residential areas in Beirut. Lebanon also had to witness the cruelest pogrom in modern history, under the custody of Israeli forces. Christian Phalangist forces killed 2,300 Palestinian men, women and children in the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps.

As in all conflicts, there was an economic price to pay. Industry in Lebanon suffered direct damage valued at nearly £ 7 billion (one fifth of the industry’s fixed capital). The indirect damage to industry, commerce and businesses has been estimated at £ 2.23 billion. Industry and commerce were paralyzed. Foreign banks that came to Beirut were now fleeing the besieged city. Lebanese banks, once overwhelmed with funds, now found that their deposits were running out. The Lebanese pound, which once stood proudly against the dollar, has now collapsed in value from £ 4 to £ 477 to the US dollar. The business elites who funded sectarian politics and conflicts now bore the brunt of this conflict.

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, prompted the various factions to accept peace.

After 15 years of indecisive fighting, in October 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 political representation. “. It was a cruel irony, because that is exactly how Lebanon was ruled for almost 30 years, under the 1943 Pact, until civil war broke out in 1975.

This sectarian conflict had cost the lives of 150,000 Lebanese. 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 15-year 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 that had flourished in the interregnum.

Kerala is in the position of Lebanon before the civil war. It is peace between religions that has enabled the State to climb dizzying heights in the human development index. It is this peace that has enabled the state over the decades to develop well-heeled public health care systems that have brought to the attention of the international community the remarkable way in which it has handled the pandemic. Renowned economist John Kenneth Galbraith had previously written about how societies made up of populations with the requisite education and skills can thrive after war and devastation, such as Japan and Germany. If he were alive today, he certainly would have included Kerala, which rebounded from two devastating floods.

All this was possible, because until now Kerala could avoid the fratricidal and myopic policy of sectarianism that Lebanon and its politicians cultivated until its destruction.



The opinions expressed above are those of the author.


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