On Arab-Western Dialogism
I, too, have ropes around my neck. I have them to this day, pulling me this way
and that, East and West, the nooses tightening, commanding, choose, choose. I
buck, I snort, I whinny, I rear, I kick. Ropes, I do not choose between you.
Lassoes, lariats, I choose neither of you, and both. Do you hear? I refuse to
MODERN LEBANON is a bundle of paradoxes. Relations between its numerous confessions have ebbed and flowed between peaceful coexistence and violent conflict.1 Mirroring these changes, public discourse in the West and the Arab region has alternately extolled Lebanon as the “Gateway to the Orient” or the “Paris of the East” (in the 1950s and 1960s) and denounced the mayhem of “Lebanonization” and the “orgy of violence” during the 1974–1990 war. Lebanon’s political system is at once ostensibly democratic and subject to neofeudalist networks of patronage. Also, despite being one of the smallest nation-states, Lebanon’s national identity has been contested under myriad banners, secular and religious, progressive and reactionary. Finally, the delicate interconfessional demographic balance and precarious political equilibrium have historically made Lebanon vulnerable to both endogenous and exogenous forces, including internal strife, the Arab-Israeli conflict, Cold War superpower rivalry, and Syrian claims over Lebanon. These quandaries have ensnared Lebanon in a permanent identity crisis, leading to occasional flare-ups that culminated with the 1974–1990 war.
The Maronites have until recently played a major role in Lebanon’s convoluted politics. Maronites adhere to religious teachings that developed in the fourth and fifth centuries around Saint Maron, spiritual leader of a group of monks in the valley of the Orontes River in presentday Syria (Valognes, 1994, p. 370). At Maron’s death around 410 A.D., his followers institutionalized his doctrine, and effectively started the Maronite confession, which became a branch of Catholicism. Due to