Clericist Catholic Authors and the Crystallization of Historical Memory of WW1 in Lebanonist- Particularist Discourse, 1918-1922 -1

By: Dennis Walker
Monash Asia Institute - Monash University (Australia)


For those clerical Lebanese writers bound to the West by French and Latin, the slaughter of World War I showed that both pro-Catholic and secularist ideologies had failed to maintain peace and prosperity in Europe. The clericists felt they were tied to the fate of the European states the secularism of which they hated by binding themselves aesthetically to the Latin languages. They also felt the need of a protector against some Muslims after Turkish hostility in Mount Lebanon destroyed the old ideology of Ottoman multisectarian developmental tendency]].
This study will analyze a sampling of Lebanese images and assessments of World War I taken from the clerical intellectual journal al-Mashriq, edited by Fr. Luis Shaykhu , and the more popular but likewise Jesuit-founded al-Bashir 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-Bashīr carried the maximum range of reactions to the European as well as Middle Eastern theatres of the Great War.


1. Images of France (and French-speaking Belgium) in WW1
1.1. Ambivalence to France and the West
The pre-World War I and post-WW1 setting of al-Mashriq had inculcated neither automatic support for Western powers such as France, nor automatic alienation from Muslim groups. Many clerical Catholic educators and writers in the 1920s feared that rising radical forces inspired by French anti-Christianity might soon take overall control of all levels of education in Lebanon, threatening both the clericists' survival as an elite and the transmission of a sectionally modernized Catholicism to new generations.

Opposed local writers argued that secularist education had to be expanded to integrate the heterogeneous sects of post-1920 Greater Lebanon lest it one day fall apart. The dislike both clericists and modernizing Christians were developing for French and Western cultures qua exclusionary absolutes in education and government was Arabist common ground with Muslims that could foster some features for a linguistic nationalism.

The World War in some ways had underscored the need of the region's Christians for a Protector. But, in a sense, Shaykhu and his fellow conservatives were simultaneously arguing against the modern world as that was being patterned into existence by the history of the West, in particular thinkers who drew upon the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. One of the gravest consequences of WW1 for clericist writers was that by bringing down the Tsarist state it had ushered atheistical Communists to political power. But Catholic conservatives in Lebanon in the early 1920s characterized socialisms and the infant Soviet Union as one late emanation of the much wider secular sector of European Enlightenment thought that had been launched in France. 

Clearly, Shaykhū - ideologue revered of a Maronite Church that was buying more and more agricultural land and would under Patriarch Antun 'Aridah's  venture into modern services and manufactures - was reluctant to let even social democratic parties or trade unions pursue any special interest of poor groups within politics.

Most clericists and Lebanese modernists read French, and both groups were anxious to prove to readers of Arabic that Europe was on their side. Such respect for France and the West among Christian Lebanese favored the secularists more than the clericists in the debate given the movement of many West European nationalist states and certainly the French state to post-Christian patterns and ideas.

However, the spread in Lebanon of French-medium institutions and of connections with the French state had, since the 18th century, improved the material welfare and the bargaining power of diverse categories of Maronites in the Muslim-dominated Ottoman Empire. Shaykhu  and other clericists who felt little love for some central thought-patterns and institutions connected to the secular French state, had still received formal Christian education in French: that language bonded them aesthetically to that polity. This acculturation and the formal Catholicism of most Frenchmen had kept enough strength to rally those writers to a French state they disliked when the context became her survival in the face of Germany.

1.2. F rance in the War

The Lebanese clericists' vision of the war was shaped by their bilingual bookishness as well as by religious emotions on which Allied propaganda played. Religious and other cultural sites influenced the opting for the French side by the clerical writers. Fascinated by the science of the new technology of long-range bombardment that France too developed in the War, Raf'il Nakhlah the Jesuit noted that German long-range artillery firing on Paris on 23 March 1918 and thereafter from 120 kilometers away killed in a church 79 people who had come for prayer on Good Friday.

2 Germany's indiscriminate

[or intentional? neo-pagan?] bombardments of sacred places of the Christians such as Riems cathedral fueled Shaykhu's  choice of sides: the French troops did not destroy public buildings, churches and palaces and factories as the Germans did, except when they were fortified to shelter hostile Germans - sleight of hand that barely concealed that total war had brutalized the French, too, to religious and other art or sites or culture as precious in themselves. And Shaykh now swallowed too the self-validating propaganda of the French that they, if few others, stood for principles and universal [secular] enterprises far wider than the nationalisms firing the mayhem. A collapse of France would have ended "the freedom and liberty of the whole civilized world" - not a perspective in his Ottoman-era attacks upon freemasonry emanating from the anti-clerical laicist French polity.



Post a Comment