Editor-In-Chief: Charbel Baini

The Lebanese State and the Lebanese In America in the 1930s/ Dr Dennis Walker

Under their Mandate, the French greatly elaborated confessional patterns in political life.  Yet at the same time the French also built into parliamentary politics a "list" system that fostered a kind of feudalism (_iqta’iyyah).  (This feudalism too, like confessionalism, had had its beginnings in the Ottoman period).  Under the French, most electoral districts were multi-seat districts.  Given the lack of genuine party organizations and that clan loyalties remained so salient, most lists centered around a strong clan leader, usually landed.  Members of other, minority confessions in the electorate would attach themselves to the clan-boss' list on a compromise or payment basis, and pledging complete political fealty.  Money and clan influence, intimidation and violence were to dog Lebanese electoral politics during French rule.  The list system's promotion of the power and wealth of the strong, land-holding boss or _za'im_ was to be denounced as "feudalism" by young Kata’ib, pan-Syrian and pan-Arab and Kata'ib radicals: yet, this “list” set-up divided each sect unit while associating leaders from different sects in a single list.  Thus, the list system, while it delayed the accession of the national bourgeoisie to power, helped contain and defuse the confessionalism inherent in the post-1920 Lebanese polity.
 Social and clan divisions within the Catholic (and other) sects, only deepened by feudal parliamentarism, made it hard to integrate any Catholic nation or sub-nation in Lebanese political life.  By 1931, _al-Bashir_ wrote that "the party differences", divisive day-to-day politics, had shattered the unity of "the sons of the single religion", making it impossible for them to agree on shared ventures to realize "the interest of their [sectarian?] nation" (ummah).  This _al-Bashir_ item evoked an [Islamophobe] sense that "the aggressors" could assail the Christian sects' "religious affairs" and collective "interests" at any time: but no one thought of these, so preoccupied were most Maronites with their "worldly" personal and partisan-political aims.  The item viewed Lebanon's Christians as a threatened minority in relation to the mainly Muslim region: the pan-Catholic journal sought guidelines from Europe with a wrong image that England's Catholic minority had made itself a politically coherent entity to maintain its religious interests vis-a-vis British political parties.  ["al-Din wal-Ahzab" (Religion and the Parties), _al-Bashir_ 3 September 1931].  A correspondent from Hammana in the Jabal lamented that young and old, rich and poor, were now thinking only of party politicking: "this beloved Mount Lebanon is fated to have its sons and interests destroyed" ["In Hammana", _al-Bashir_ 2 April 1931 p. 4].  The radical secularists around the semi-open Syrian nationalist party of Antun Sa'adah excoriated Lebanon's clan-based "feudal" parties for their incapacity to address modern issues.  _al-Bashir's_ laments at parliamentarism's fragmentation of the political sect-unit that might have been shows how even deformed parties that manipulated the sense that the sect was vulnerable, to some extent helped a Lebanese political society to form through small selfishness.  A Lebanese Nation was saved as an inclusive possibility for the future by the clan-fragmentation of rural Lebanon, coupled with the elections and their limited, divisive prizes.  The struggles over the prizes between neighboring clan-bosses of the same sect, the resultant divisions in local society, and the need for a boss to conduct joint actions with bosses of other sects, delayed Islam or Maronitism from cohering as mega-community units in Lebanese politics.  The small, corrupt, divisions in themselves enabled Lebanese society to go on functioning and sometimes even in a way to cohere into something like a nation, for instance when ejecting the French (only possible with British support).

The sense of general crisis, and the failure of the French and their client new elite to bring development that could make life in the homeland bearable for ordinary citizens, was in the air for Catholic Lebanese in the early 1930s.  Though some Christian Lebanese elements continued to collaborate most fruitfully with the French, even they and the subordinate Lebanese government were not very hopeful that that partnership could truly make Lebanon's economy viable enough to stop the migration of Lebanese abroad.  The Lebanese Festival held by the U.S. diaspora in Bridgeport, Connecticut and in Detroit, Michigan drew some ruthless reflections from those migrants, which the pro-French press back in Lebanon published.  One Lebanese-American leader, Na'um Mukarzil, suggested that the Lebanese government establish a Department of Migration to make the departure of the Lebanese systematic, since it could not deliver the economic development to end it.  Instead of trying to limit the migration of Lebanese, the Lebanese government should facilitate it.  Mukarzil's two speeches exhorted "patriotic" service of the Lebanese homeland: that "patriotism", though, had to be expressed through economics.  Thus, he voiced a hope that the Lebanese government would encourage diaspora Lebanese in the Americas to extend their stores and family businesses into proper joint-stock companies able to then open branches in Lebanon and stimulate the economy of the homeland from which they had come.  In the same spirit of making US ethnicity's relationship with the homeland across the seas economic, Mukarzil called for the annual Lebanese Festival in Connecticut to contain an exhibition for Lebanese (and general Syrian) food products and manufactures, especially luxury textiles, carpets and handicrafts: the Festival would find markets in the USA for such imports.  Mukarzil did have a vision of bringing Lebanon into a new stage of development, but knew that the Lebanese would have to transform the laissez faire Lebanese state for that: he felt that all post-1920 Lebanese governments had themselves caused the ongoing chaotic migration by not developing the "resources and facilities of the country" (_marafiq al-bilad_).  He called for the Lebanese government to be made interventionist: not just to found a Ministry of Migration to spare diaspora Lebanese who came back to look over the possibilities the "claws" of private-sector "exploiters" ("barathin al-muntafi'in"), but that the government supervise electricity, lighting, irrigation, tobacco, and water supplies.  It was the sluggish development of those that made the enterprising despair and migrate, and offered no openings for any capital they came back with.  Mukarzil had a bleak vision that Lebanon would be unable to develop itself out of its own resource and skill base: thus, migration and the diaspora had to be made a resource: the diaspora was a "school" through which "the developed lands" trained prospective leaders who had to be enticed back to transform Lebanon with their skills and capital ["Fil-Mahjar: al-Mahrajan al-Lubnani", _al-Bashir_ 13 October 1931 p. 1.  Mukarzil delivered one of the speeches on which this article drew at the Lebanese Festival on 4 July 1931, while his brother read the other on his behalf before a function in Detroit on 6 and 7 September.  Mukarzil must have been ideologically congruent with al-Bashir, which referred to him as "our friend"].
                         Mishal Shibli agreed with Mukarzil and al-Bashir's editors that the Lebanese government had spent very little money to try to attract back the large number of Lebanese who had migrated overseas.  He urged that a serious Department of Migration be established that would conduct economic propaganda to entice the migrants or at least some of their capital back to Lebanon.  It could stress the modern judicial system and justice existing in the country, and Lebanon's stability ["Da'irat al-Muhajarat al-Lubnaniyyah" (The Lebanese Department of Migration), _al-Bashir_ 20 October 1931 p. 1].
 Mukarzil in 1931 described the bureaucrats of the subordinate Lebanese particularist statelet as "officials who strive to realize their own interests instead of the public interest".  Discussions about the diaspora highlight that even the conservative Christian nationalist settings have always had pluralistic discussion about the functions of the government machinery.  Some Maronite and Catholic circles have called for a more interventionist, bigger government machinery to meticulously engineer at least aspects of development and social change.  Their recommendations would have modified the sometimes chaotic laissez faire and undirected entrepreneurial course that accented divisions of sects in the Lebanese people, but in the 1960s and 1970s did improve the life of most sectors of the Lebanese through quick development.
                        But there was little chance that any new approach to the Lebanese diaspora would bring any fresh cultural sustenance (though it brought substantial verbal  political support) for the beleaguered particularists in Lebanon.  A new generation of Lebanese in many migrant communities in the Americas were at this time cutting their links with Lebanon to decisively assimilate themselves into their host communities.  The in any case often unpalatably anti-clerical and politically anti-particularist literary activity of the diaspora thus was already a fading tradition.  Thus, according to the New York mahjar newspaper _al-Huda_, a thoughtful somewhat Lebanon-orientated organ under the management of Salum Mukarzal, military service by the youth in the American armed forces was revolutionizing the national identification of “Lebanese and Syrians” in America, making them feel Americans first and anything else only secondarily [“Masiru Muhajirina ba’da Tul al-Ghiyab!” (What is Happening to our migrants after their long absence!) _al-Bashir_ 11 ---19??? --- March 1942]. The Lebanese and Syrians in the United States had formed a “Defend America Committee” [_al-Bashir_ 1 April 1942 p.1].  “The Arab community in America had risen up as one man to support its second homeland, and has begun to make a great contribution to its war effort”.  The youth of the about one million Arabs in America had enlisted in the Armed Forces in their thousands; their women were active in the American Red Cross; the American treasury had praised the Lebanese and Syrian communities for their subscribing millions of dollars in war bonds.  This particular article in _al-Bashir_ was more optimistic about the continued survival of distinct Lebanese culture in the _mahjar_ than the preceding _al-Huda_ item, but noted the delicate problem that “three quarters of the Arab community in America were born there, being the descendants of those struggling heroes who came to the New World during the second half of the past century.  The vast majority of them continued, despite their total integration into American life, to preserve the closest spiritual bonds with their first homeland” [“Mawqif Jaliyatina min al-Harb: al-Nubugh al-Lubnani fi Khidmat al-Hulafa’” (The Stand of Our Community Towards the War: Lebanese Capacity in the Service of the Allies), _al-Bashir_ 14 March 1942].  _al-‘Amal_, the Kataib party newspaper on 20 April 1944 suggested that the newly-formed Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs --- in Lebanon’s own long-term interest --- take unnamed steps to “bring back the largest number of migrants to the homeland and to preserve the Lebanese character of those who delay in returning.”  _al-‘Amal_ thought that “Lebanonism might survive in the diasporas twenty or thirty years more:  the only question is, what will happen after the passing of this brief period of time?”
 The Kata’ib newspaper _al-‘Amal_ was thus visualising institutions under which diaspora communities would be encouraged to repatriate themselves to Lebanon with the capital they accumulated abroad.  Those Lebanese who remained abroad would, perhaps through the provision of educational or cultural institutions that would preserve their original non-local identity, be transformed into an extraterritorial instrument of some Lebanese foreign policies --- an ethnic foreign policy lobby, of which there are many in America today in our new century.

[Researcher at the Monash Asia Institute, Monash University, Melbourne 3145, Email: dennis.walker@monash.edu.au].

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