Clericist Catholic Authors and the Crystallization of Historical Memory of World War I in Lebanonist-Particularist Discourse, 1918-1922

Article excerpt

Abstract

The First World War was a crisis for pan-Catholic ideology in Lebanon. The Maronite and other Catholic intellectuals and journalists most dyed by Westerners saw millions of them kill each other and deplete their states for the long term. Christianity and the Catholic Church had not enabled Christians to resolve disputes constructively. Could so weakened a France now sustain any role as a "protector" of Lebanon's Maronites and other Christians? The peril to the West during WWI, though, did make the Arab Catholic intellectuals turn a blind eye to the secularizing aspects that marginalized Christianity there, aspects which those intellectuals had assailed in peace-time. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire ended in acrimony the relations that the Maronites had built with the Turks, while leaving open friendship with Arab Muslims who had opposed the Turks.

Introduction

This study traces the impact of World War I on the evolution of metanarratives of history in that part of geographical Syria that became the Republic of Lebanon in 1920. Its focus will be the Lebanese populations that followed the "Catholic" versions of Christianity. Given our concern about the world War's effects for the long-term evolution of historical identity. Our study will heavily draw its communications sampling from clerical intellectuals of cultural distinction who were opinion leaders after World War I and whose writings are still read in Lebanon.

We will analyze Lebanese images and assessments of World War I taken from the clerical intellectual journal al-Mashriq, edited by Fr. L-w*s Shaykh- (1859-1916), and the more popular but likewise Jesuit-founded al-Bash*r newspaper from 1919-1925. A nativist tradition has existed in Maronite discourses that has been the reverse of eager to imbibe Europe's patterns of Catholicism, or French or other Western languages, or the secularized ideologies or histories of France and other Western societies. But as publications founded by European Catholics, and inclusive in their Catholicism rather than just Maronite, al-Mashriq and al-Bash*r carried the maximum range of reactions to the European as well as Middle Eastern theatres of the Great War.

The Ottoman Empire is a joint bygone history of Arabs (Muslim and Christian) and Turks. (The Muslims of the Indo-Pak sub-continent, like the Maronites ruled by a different religious group, built some links of their own to that Empire's struggle). As a global war, World War I and its aftermath further interwove the histories of the Middle East and those European states that had long been intent to expand into the Ottoman Empire. Our concern in writing on Maronite history and culture is, here again, to stress their deep cultural connections to Muslim Arabs as well as to Christian Westerners. Some "Lebanese" Catholics wanted a binary conflict between Christian and Muslim blocs, but can the dual personality of Lebanese Christians put them in just one camp now to be constructed?

This study of Catholic reactions to World War I (1914-1918) should further the discussion of the problems and dysfunctions in the construction of such wide meta-communities as pan-Christianism (France-Maronites), multiethnic Ottomanism (Turks-Arabs-Maronites), pan-Islamism, and pan-Arabism (Maronites and Muslim Arabs). Some European states, notably Britain, France and Russia, had long been intent to expand into the Ottoman Empire. World War I and the behaviour of some Turkish officials in Mountain ("Jabal") Lebanon made the pan-Catholic affiliation of the Maronites and the Melkites to France and other European states stronger than ever before, for a time. Yet the identification by Lebanese Catholics with France and other Western states could snap at any time because those states had secular ideologies and lifestyles that ran against Christianity and the Church. Our concern here is if European states could again become Christian enough, and Catholicism itself again be made relevant enough as an ideology in international relations to keep the disparate Lebanese and European states together in a long-term symbiotic alliance. …