Lebanon’s Agony

Max Rodenbeck in the New York Review of Books:

Screenhunter_03_jun_12_1755It is easy enough to counterpoint the opulence and squalor, hope and despair that remain such close bedfellows here. It is far harder to untangle the network of shifting allegiances that make up the spider’s-web-in-a-kaleidoscope of Lebanese politics. Differences between the eighteen sects that are formally recognized in the Lebanese constitution, which reserves political offices proportionally for representatives of different religious communities, form only part of the puzzle. Other elements include clan loyalties, class, historic alliances, ideological currents, the grievances of refugees from throughout the region, money interests, guns, and foreign intrigue involving everyone from the Vatican to the CIA and Mossad to the rival Shiite seminaries at Najaf in Iraq and Qom in Iran.

Scholarly attempts to clear this thicket are fraught with risks, starting with the fact that there is scarcely an overarching narrative on which enough Lebanese can agree to establish commonly accepted truths. Rather like in modern Italy, but more so, this is a place where achieving any sort of closure on important national traumas, such as the “Events” of 1975–1990—known to the rest of the world as the civil war—has proved dismayingly elusive. Historical happenings that elsewhere would be simple signposts on a recognized road become instead prisms, used to construct mutually negating paths.

More here.