Civil and Uncivil Violence in Lebanon: A History of the Internationalization of Communal Contact

Civil and Uncivil Violence in Lebanon: A History of the Internationalization of Communal Contact

Civil and Uncivil Violence in Lebanon: A History of the Internationalization of Communal Contact

Civil and Uncivil Violence in Lebanon: A History of the Internationalization of Communal Contact


In this long-awaited work, Samir Khalaf analyzes the history of civil strife and political violence in Lebanon and reveals the inherent contradictions that have plagued that country and made it so vulnerable to both inter-Arab and superpower rivalries. How did a fairly peaceful and resourceful society, with an impressive history of viable pluralism, coexistence, and republicanism, become the site of so much barbarism and incivility? Khalaf argues that historically internal grievances have been magnified or deflected to become the source of international conflict. From the beginning, he shows, foreign interventions have consistently exacerbated internal problems. Lebanon's fragmented political culture is a byproduct of two general features. First, it reflects the traditional forces and political conflicts caused by striking differences in religious beliefs and communal and sectarian loyalties that continue to split the society and reinforce its factional character. Second, and superimposed on these, are new forms of socioeconomic and cultural stress caused by Lebanon's role in the continuing international conflicts in the region. Khalaf concludes that Lebanon is now at a crossroads in its process of political and social transformation, and proposes some strategies to re-create a vibrant civil and political culture that can accommodate profound transformations in the internal, domestic sphere as well as mediate developments taking place internationally. Throughout, Khalaf demonstrates how the internal and external currents must be considered simultaneously in order to understand the complex and tragic history of the country. This deeply considered and subtle analysis of the interplay of complex historical forces helps us to imagine a viable future not only for Lebanon but also for the Middle East as a whole.


“Bloody encounters have been the most visible molders of peoples' collective destinies.”

—A. B. Schmookler,Out of Weakness (1988)

Lebanon's national image has been, for much of its checkered political history, associated with three seemingly intractable aberrations: protracted and displaced hostility, reawakened communal solidarities and obsessive dependence on, often subservience to, external patronage or foreign intervention. To a considerable extent, in fact, these are also the country's defining elements which, off and on, have informed much of the country's sanguinary history with collective strife.

The overriding thrust of the study is predicated by the view that by probing into the persisting character of those three basic elements one can better understand the destabilizing consequences of the interplay between internal divisions and external dislocations and, consequently, the changing form and magnitude of collective strife.

The internal disparities are generally a byproduct of deep cultural cleavages inherent in sharp communal, confessional, and other primordial and segmental loyalties. Juxtaposed to these are the uneven socioeconomic and cultural transformations that have always had a differential impact on the relative standing of the various communities.

The external sources are discordant and divisive in at least three respects. First, in earlier and more recent episodes of collective strife, as the country became increasingly embroiled in superpower rivalries, it could not be sheltered from the destabilizing consequences of such struggles. As this occurred, the original issues provoking the conflict receded. Threatened and marginalized groups, victims of internal socioeconomic disparities or political neglect, sought external protection and patronage. Foreign powers, keen . . .

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