Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Politician, the Traitor and the Troublemaker

Nearly one month after the cease fire, Lebanese politics are back to business as usual. Lebanese leaders and citizens are engaging more than ever in their verbal sparring to mark political territories. As they engage in this risky exercise, they redefine conceptions of citizenship and democratic representation into alarming hate-brewing reservoirs.

One can tell how politicians perceive their constituencies from their communication with them-and there has usually been hardly any, apart from the usual populist rallies. It took the July war with all its victories and defeats for politicians to address some unfortunate commons who happen to be caught under fire. Nasrallah primarily appealed to the support of the ‘Lebanese people’’, an imagined cohesive mass with no room for divergent opinion. Other politicians called on the solidarity of ‘the Lebanese’ and its variant ‘all the Lebanese’, probably referring to the various Lebanese sectarian groups rather than individuals. The media referred to them at times as ‘civilians’, only when they fell victims of the frequent Israeli attacks. More interestingly, they were hardly never consulted or even addressed as ‘citizens’. Once the war was over, got back to their self-centred paranoid bickering, after money-talking citizens into hundreds of thousands of splashed US dollars (ironically enough) handouts and promises of mass local and Arab donations.
The Lebanese version of citizenship works on a pre-packed basis. Under the multiple patriotic banners of Lebanon’s best interests, politicians make decisions for citizens, require their cooperation, and promise rewards or punishment accordingly. In this way citizens are stripped from their basic citizenship status, and loyalty overpowers accountability. Thus, politicians and citizens hang on to their patrio-meters and take to discrediting others as either traitors or troublemakers-depending which side they are on.

The labeling craze has taken its toll when anyone can be called a traitor for deploring physical damages, regretting human losses, or object to being thrown into war. Similarly troublemakers are accused of exhibiting excessive nationalist pride, expressing anger at an impotent international community, and believing in popular resistance.

This partisanship hell has been so much taken by scoring points and blindly justifying stands, at the risk of hindering self-reflection and silencing any questioning voices. Apart from the fanatic supporters of either camps, many people seem to agree with bits of both sides of the arguments. It is time move beyond the traitor/troublemaker dichotomy and debate priorities of public and citizens interests. Otherwise, such a vicious cycle would only lead to a situation of continuous political and social standstill, if not to the very recent troubled climate of assassinations and repetitive conflict.

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