Saturday, August 20, 2011

Ussama Makdisi - "The Culture of Sectarianism"

Makdisi seeks to challenge the understanding of sectarianism prevalent among historians and politicians alike: that sectarian violence consists of the flaring-up of primordial tensions between autonomous, separate, and rival sects. Sects are viewed as monadic groups of people bound and hence defined by their religious identity over and against other forms of social identity. Sectarian violence, then, is the expression of deep-seated and intractable rivalries and hatreds between groups whose unchanging religious identities create the conditions for situations of permanent, irresolvable conflicts. This understanding of sectarianism gives rise to a politics that attempts to contain sectarian hatreds and prevent them from becoming actual violence, generally by partitions and segregation, creating a sectarian geography that assumes the existence of these sectarian monads.
Makdisi engages in a history of conflicts over Mt. Lebanon during the early to mid 19th Century to contest this understanding of sectarianism. Makdisi demonstrates that sectarianism does not simply exist, nor is it something that is “invented” by colonialist thinkers (as Gyanendray Pandey in The Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India believes, see Makdisi, 7) but is something that is produced through a concatenation of circumstances involving colonialism, Ottoman attempts at reform resulting from confrontations with modernity, the collaboration of local elites, and most importantly, the process of silencing the subaltern revolution that threatened the old social order. Makdisi describes the conditions leading up to the violence of 1860 at Mt. Lebanon between the Maronite and Druze communities that had hitherto lived peacefully in that region. For Makdisi, the Maronite-Druze War of 1860 was not one moment among others where deep-seated hatreds boiled over, but an event that was produced by contradictions within the Ottoman reform movement, the Tanzimat, and the attempts of groups to navigate them, thus reintroducing contingency into this narrative of sectarianism. In so doing, Makdisi demonstrates how a knowledge of these groups as sects was produced by local, Ottoman, and European elites as a way of controlling the crisis.
Chapter 1: “Religion as the Site of the Colonial Encounter”
Scholars treat the Maronite-Druze War of 1860 as an archetype of sectarian violence. Sectarianism, for historians and Lebanese nationalists, is the opponent of modernity: the remnant of tribalism and religious identity that impedes the development of the modern, secular nation-state. This war demonstrates that “Lebanon is, in the final analysis, a metaphor for a failed nationalism in the non-Western world.” (3) This contemporary understanding of sectarianism is inherited from elite Ottoman and European discourses on the meaning of reform in the Ottoman Empire in the 19th Century: reform transitioned the Ottomans from an unchanging, ahistorical, traditional existence to a modern, progressive, linear history, embodying Orientalist understandings of the “changeless East” standing opposed to European enlightenment (Lord Dufferin, quoted in Makdisi, 5). The questions the war raises are “why has the Middle East failed to modernize, to develop, and most important, to secularize? The foregone conclusion has been that the violence represents the triumph of tradition, manifested as sectarianism, over the modern ideals of coexistence and tolerance; and all efforts have gone toward explaining the conditions under which this so-called tradition could reemerge with such devastating consequences.” (5) This understanding of the sectarian history of Lebanon, and the Middle East in general, Makdisi seeks to historicize.
Sectarianism is instead “an expression of a new form of local politics and knowledge that arose in a climate of transition and reform in the mid-nineteenth-century Ottoman Empire and that laid the foundations for a (later) discourse of nationalist secularism.” (6) The context of reform and transition between old and new political and social regimes created what Makdisi calls a culture of sectarianism, which can be defined in several ways:
1) A practice created in the context of Ottoman reforms.
2) A discourse “scripted as the Other to various competing Ottoman, European, and Lebanese narratives of modernization.” (6)
3) The sum of (1) and (2), the “deployment of religious heritage as a primary marker of modern political identity.” (7)
4) Another way of stating (3), a form of knowledge regarding the identity of local communities, their relationship with the modern nation-state, and their place within a history of rationalization and modernization.
As a culture (the total of practice, discourse, and knowledge in this case) produced by Ottoman, European, local elite, and local commoner actors, sectarianism cannot simply be thought of as colonialist knowledge of local communities, or the form resistance to colonialism takes, or as a primordial conflict that takes a particular shape in the context of 19th Century Ottoman reforms. Rather, sectarianism arises as a dynamic process of production whose means are (a) the material and social interests of each party, (b) the power relationships between them, and (c) the competing discourses of reform and concomitant understandings of the roles each party plays in the new reformed state.
Makdisi begins by describing the two competing imperial discourses of reform:
The European colonialist discourse – firmly grounded in notions of European cultural superiority, this discourse stresses the philanthropic duty of Europeans to spread their civilization. In the context of the Ottoman Empire, Europeans felt that colonial administration provided an effective administrative means to carry out European-style reform as a “positive” form of despotism, opposed to “Asiatic” despotism, which was “understood as fanatical and all-encompassing, not an extension but the essence of Asian civilization.” (9) Reform had a definite religious edge to it, such that Islam stood in for all of the evils of Asiatic civilization, seen as a monolithic religious society, under which local Christians were supposedly subjugated and repressed. European Christianity was the counter-monolith, the representative of European civilization that would liberate the people of the Middle East from their Islamic oppressors.
The Ottoman discourse – was directed towards consolidating the power of the Ottoman state, and reforming it to create a rationalized, efficient, modern state. Ottoman rulers wished to “improved security, end corruption, rationalize taxation, and regularize army service,” and did so through a series of decrees and laws collectively known as the Tanzimat. The Tanzimat reorganized the Ottoman imperial administration and reorganized the Empire to accomplish the “juridical equality of all subjects” under the Sultan’s absolute will (10). At the same time, however, as the Tanzimat sought to create a secular state modeled on modern ideals of social equality, it also sought to revitalize Islamic tradition, in essence “advocating a secular Ottoman subjecthood within a modernized yet extremely hierarchical Islamic state.” (11)
These two discourses collided at Mt. Lebanon, a region populated by large groups of Christians and Muslims. The contradictions between the calls for juridical equality within a hierarchical social order, complicated by the European narrative of the Christians living in that region as oppressed, formed the context in which the violence and formation of a sectarian culture took place.
Chapter 2: “The Gentle Crusade”
Makdisi next turns to the European, and particularly European Christian, discourse on Mt. Lebanon and its inhabitants. Due to Mt. Lebanon’s place in Biblical narratives, it was a key destination point for missionaries, travelers, and pilgrims, who evoked a scene of eternal, divine beauty, dilapidated by Muslims who oppressed the Christians (themselves inferior in narratives to European Christians) living in the region. Mt. Lebanon was therefore an ideal site in the Christian imagination to begin the process of cultural revitalization and reform of the area’s inhabitants to conform to the social ideals of modern Christianity.
Makdisi refers to the religious and ideological interest in Mt. Lebanon as a “gentle crusade,” gentle in that it took place without military means but through political alliances forged with (and welcomed by) local elites and accomplished through literary works, and a crusade as the travel and pilgrimage narratives and the discourses surrounding political activities all evoked a stagnant, decaying Islamic Ottoman Empire which stood opposed to a progressive, Christian civilization that “reclaimed the history of this region from the morass of decline and the stagnation of time.” (16) Mt. Lebanon, having fallen from its state of Biblical prestige to decadence and oppression under Islamic despots, was to be redeemed through Christian modernization. Makdisi references Johannes Fabian’s Time and the Other to argue that the peaceful crusaders removed the inhabitants of Mt. Lebanon, along with the entire Ottoman Empire, from coevalness, denying their place in the present and relegating them to a timeless past.
Within this context of decline of Mt. Lebanon existed the Maronite and Druze communities. These groups were, in colonial narratives, isolated havens of Christian and modern democratic spirit, amidst a sea of corrupting influences from Islam and the Ottoman despotism. These communities were essentially the rhetorical foil to the Europeans’ understanding of the Ottoman Empire as oppressive, backwards, and unchanging. These areas had the potential to be reformed into the model of European civilization, but required the assistance of the colonial administration.
The contradiction between religious and secular reform experienced in the Ottoman Tanzimat, however, also were expressed here. Authors like Volney, having come from the Europe of the Enlightenment, were “aligned against political despotism and was opposed to the tyranny of entrenched Catholicism,” and so wished for secular reform, but was even more opposed to Islam, and so idealized “those religious communities which he perceived to be the farthest from Islam.” (21) Again, the interests of sacred and secular reform were left in tension in the European narratives of Mt. Lebanon.
In their narratives, Europeans also “invented the tribes of Lebanon.” (23) While, as described next chapter, the inhabitants of Mt. Lebanon did not primarily identify themselves according to religious community, the Europeans divided them into tribes including Maronites, Druzes, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholics, and Shi’a and Sunni Muslims. These supposed tribes in fact had very similar customs, so that Europeans experienced severe discomfort among the inhabitants. Christians acted like Muslims and were often times almost indistinguishable, which fed the European Christians’ experience of them as threatened and corrupted Christians in need of revitalization and reform.
Chapter 3: “Knowledge and Ignorance”
Having discussed imperial and colonialist discourses of Mt. Lebanon, Makdisi now describes the historical social order of the inhabitants of that region. Violence was not new to the region in 1860, but had almost always been a result of elites keeping commoners in their place. Instead of a sectarian understanding of the communities around Mt. Lebanon, social identity was divided between elites or notables and commoners or ahalis, almost without regard to religious identity. Power was exercised by the notables through “control over religious and secular knowledge,” which they considered to be “essential to a hierarchical ordering of society.” (29)
Although the different religious communities absolutely existed prior to the colonial period, religious identity was not by any means the essential factor in understanding group identities. Mt. Lebanon was divided according to what Makdisi calls a genealogical geography, where territory was not divided by sect, but by the elite family which owned a particular district. The group of elite families which oversaw their separate districts formed a common class of notables, bound together by material wealth, power, and social custom. Elaborate rituals of dress and interaction between notables, and even more elaborate rituals regulating interactions between commoners and notables, cemented the two-tiered hierarchy that defined the local social order.
The Ottoman Empire generally followed a policy of “benign neglect” towards the inhabitants of Mt. Lebanon, content to let them live according to their historical customs (37). Because of the region’s proximity to Damascus, however, the Ottomans were especially harsh towards any political activity that could be considered a threat to imperial rule, and consequently engaged in periodic invasions of the region against notables who were too ambitious. The Ottoman governor Abdullah Pasha, for instance, “conferred legitimacy on Bashir [Shihab, the head of a notable family], and, in exchange, he expected discipline, prosperity, tranquility, and security of the imperial subjects, as well as the prompt deliverance of required taxes and all other obligations, the safeguarding of roads, and the eradication without forgiveness of all those who would sow corruption and transcend their huddud, or limits.” (38)
The secular and religious authorities collaborated in a different way to cement social hierarchy, by creating an elite community that possessed knowledge and a class of commoners who were ignorant. The knowledgeable elite community knew the limits of acceptable social and religious custom and political engagement of each tier of the hierarchy, and “had the power to explain, legitimate, alter, or otherwise mediate such boundaries.” (38-39) This composition of power relations within the society of Mt. Lebanon was affirmed by local chroniclers, who understood social rank not only as a “natural fact but an inviolate reflection of the will of God. They took a dim view of popular mobilizations, including the French Revolution, which Haydar Ahmad described as having thrown open the ‘doors of hell’ which allowed the ‘Lord of Darkness’ to emerge. They feared the breakdown of social order and submerged the history of the commoners in a narrative of the elites.” (41) Any intrusion of the commoners into politics was treated as a literary trope indicating an aberration of the norm, to lead to instability and unpredictability. Social order was always restored through the just violence of the benevolent Ottoman state.
The limits of commoners were not to be involved in politics, but to engage in economic production on the huge…”tracts of land” …owned by the elites (42). Commoners were meant to be loyal and religious subjects, obedient to the local elites and the Ottoman state. Any violation of the commoners’ limits was attributed to their ignorance having been manipulated by a cunning leader. The most serious crime an elite could commit was therefore corruption, the act of “‘stoking the passion’ of the commoners and ‘seducing’ them into rebellion […] deliberate upsetting of the natural order by otherwise sensible elites for their own political advantage.” (45)
In this way, commoners were, in the narratives and histories of elites, systemically denied agency in political affairs. This was primarily expressed through a nonlinear understanding of temporality. The social hierarchy and communities of knowledge and ignorance were seen as the eternal expression of God’s will, and any transgression of that order could always be pardoned and atoned for (through punishment) to return to this norm. The Ottomans and the inhabitants of Mt. Lebanon certainly understood the march of linear time, marked through the deaths and lives of Sultans and elite governors, but politics had a cyclical element to it, as “the social order was assumed to be eternal and unchanging in a world that recognizably changed.” (50)
Chapter 4: “The Faces of Reform”
Religious identity became increasingly prominent during the Egyptian invasion and occupation of Syria during the 1830s. While the population was uniformly drafted into Egyptian military service, several Druze notables remained loyal to the Ottoman sultan and revolted against the Egyptian occupational force. In response, the Egyptian authorities attempted to arm the Maronites and set them against the Druzes. While this was the first time Maronites and Druzes had ever come into conflict on a communal basis, Makdisi adds the caveat that this conflict was not in any way a religious conflict, simply a divide and conquer political strategy that pitted different communities against each other. What this strategy did do, however, was to highlight the identities of these two groups as separate and monadic communities and attach rhetorical and ideological significance to those communities. The Maronites, in the eyes of the Egyptians, were loyal and obedient subjects, while the Druzes were rebellious infidels. For Makdisi, this highlighting of communal identity over social position in a hierarchy was the first step in producing tribal and sectarian identities in Mt. Lebanon.
In 1840, the European powers decided to reinstate Ottoman authority through intervention, which they interpreted as a liberatory military action on behalf of the non-Muslim inhabitants of the region. With Mt. Lebanon returned to Ottoman control, the empire attempted to institute, in collaboration with British and French colonial advisors and administrators, the Tanzimat reforms there. However, the contradiction between the secular and religious aspects of the reforms, combined with the European interest in liberating the Christians of the region, coincided in the application of the Tanzimat’s laws, which were interpreted in such a way as to foster sectarian identities. One of the first actions of the combined Ottoman-European architects of Mt. Lebanon’s regional government was to proclaim the legal equality of all “religious communities” in the region, effectively making religious identity the primary marker of political identity (60). The new regional government was composed of a “religiously mixed council” that included elected representatives, generally notables, from each of the region’s religious communities (61). This new government was supported not only by the European and Ottoman authorities, but also by the regional notables, and most importantly, by the Maronite clergy, who demanded to be treated as a group with a separate religious identity from the Greek Orthodox and Catholic Christians. Religious identity thus became not only the most prominent marker of political identity, but now religious groups began to be actively involved in politics, something that had not previously occurred.
The Maronite church leaders insisted that they be considered a ta’ifa, which at this time essentially referred to a sect, meaning that the clergy would be able to represent all members of the Maronite community as a unit separate from other religious sects in the region. In addition, since the Maronites were the majority of the population of Mt. Lebanon, the head of the Maronite Church was also appointed to be governor of the entire region, regardless of religious identity. And so the contradiction between religious and secular reform inherent within the discourse surrounding the Tanzimat resurfaced in the actual government of Mt. Lebanon, since while all religious sects were declared legally equal, the Maronites were given greater authority through the instatement of a Maronite governor over the entire region.
Another problem in the new arrangement lay in its tension with the old genealogical geography of Mt. Lebanon. While previously loyalty to one’s local notable was the most important social boundary, now religious communities gained prominence, whose members were in close geographical proximity to each other. Since the notables on the council still possessed strong local control over taxation and everyday administrative activity, whether one’s regional notable was a member of one’s religious group became for the first time a social problem. In 1841 this tension turned violent when a Maronite notable refused to return a particular region to the Druze family that had previously owned it, causing a Druze revolt against what they perceived as an infringement of their rights, followed by a Maronite revolt in a different region against taxation by a Druze notable. For Makdisi, this new violence demonstrated that “a marked redefinition of the relationship between religion and politics had profound implications for a multireligious society. The old regime had been dependent on a notion of a quietist religion and passive subjecthood that had underpinned and yet was separate from a nonsectarian notable politics. Restoration politics, however, had singled out the religious identity of the local inhabitants as the point of departure for a modern reformed and ambivalent Ottoman sovereignty in Mount Lebanon.” (64)
Chapter 5: “Reinventing Mount Lebanon
In response to the violence of 1841, elites were left trying to interpret the tensions in such a way as to restore order. As described earlier, violence in the region had previously been understood as a transgression against elite authority, and in the nonlinear temporality of the inhabitants of Mt. Lebanon could be reversed and pardoned to reestablish social custom and normalcy. The elites now, however, were unsure of just how to define normalcy and social custom, due to the changes towards sectarian political identities. This problem was exacerbated by the decision of the European and Ottoman authorities to, as their response to the violence, mandate the partitioning of Mt. Lebanon along sectarian lines, fully breaking with the old genealogical geography of the region.
This joint Ottoman-European decision to partition Mt. Lebanon was informed by the utilization of the discourse of knowledge and ignorance that had defined traditional power relations between elites and commoners in the region. This time, however, both Europeans and Ottomans set themselves up as the knowledgeable group, as opposed to the ignorant local population of the region. The Europeans understood the conflict between Druzes and Maronites as an “ancestral conflict” that underscored the necessity to prevent the Christians of the regions from being corrupted and destroyed by outside influences (69). The Ottomans, for their part, understood the violence as another example of why central authority was necessary to further the cause of modernization. The net effect of these discourses interpreting the violence was to construct a narrative of a primordial sectarian conflict that stood against modernity, whether defined in European or Ottoman terms.
Hearing this discourse coming from imperial authorities, local Maronite and Druze notables decided that the best way to ensure their continued material power was to present themselves as the “guardians of tradition and social order and their rivals as the instigators of perennial perfidy.” (75) Elites themselves took up the discourse of primordial sectarian conflict to their own advantage,
presenting themselves as the only genuine interlocutors of the so-called primordial sectarian communities that inhabited Mount Lebanon. The sought to transform their religious communities into political communities and to harness invented traditions to their respective causes. The construction of a political sectarian identity did not come naturally; it entailed petitions, meetings, and the incessant application of moral as well as physical pressure by the leaders in each community to overcome local rivalries, regional differences, and family loyalties. Maronite and Druze elites each strove to present a unified front to the Ottoman state and the European powers, effectively ignoring a long history of nonsectarian leadership. (77)
In order for this reorganization of the social and political geography of Mt. Lebanon to succeed, elite discourses had to become the rhetoric expressing everyday life as well as local history, becoming, as Makdisi argues, “hegemonic in a Gramscian sense.” (77) Thus, communal life in Mt. Lebanon was redefined entirely from the top-down:
Partition was not a local decision, and the natives were not consulted but were depicted as savage mountaineers incapable of solving their own problems. To this extent at least, what followed in Mount Lebanon over the next two decades should be interpreted in light of the arrogance of imperial powers who dismissed as an “inconvenience” centuries of native coexistence. It is also clear that with partition the very notion of coexistence became a vexing issue in a society increasingly defined along religious lines. The logic of partition demanded the unambiguous classification of the local inhabitants into one or another camp, either Christian or non-Christian. The European-designed partition plan assumed that there were in fact two distinct and separate primordial tribes of Druzes and Maronites to which all Druzes and all Maronites instinctively adhered. Leaving aside the fact that Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholic communities resnted being under Maronite tutelage, the partition legitimated sectarian politics by organizing the administration and geography of Mount Lebanon along religious lines. (80)
Thus, society in Mount Lebanon began to develop along sectarian lines. Local education and history was reoriented towards a supposed sectarian past that was increasingly read into the region’s history, and new political decisions were made under the assumption of intractable differences between Maronite and Druze communities. In this climate, new narratives of “pure” communal identities became more prominent, particularly in the work of the Maronite Bishop Murad, who claimed that Mt. Lebanon had always been a Christian refuge from Islam, framing communal and sectarian tensions as “a wider struggle of modern, progressive, and united Christianity against a barbarous Islam.” (83) A later reorganization of the Mt. Lebanon government into separate Druze and Maronite councils only furthered the invention of pure communal identities and traditions. The Druze and Maronite elites in these councils were treated themselves as knowledgeable groups, told by the Ottoman governor to forget past violence and to “restore an allegedly traditional status quo ante of political sectarian harmony under benevolent Ottoman rule.” (86)
One way in which elite sectarian consciousness infiltrated itself into the communities of commoners was through education, particularly through missionary schools. Christian missionaries, particularly Jesuit missionaries, carried out what they saw as reform by teaching children their ancient Christian identity, tying it not only to their sectarian identities but with their essential affinity with European civilization.
Chapter 6: “The Return of the Juhhal
As Makdisi notes, Ottoman and European authorities were attempting to recreate hierarchically-organized society while “they undermined its material and metaphorical foundations.” (95) The true challenge to the social order came, however, from an insurrection of commoners, the community of Maronite juhhal, or ignorants. These commoners wished to represent themselves, rather than letting themselves be represented by elites, and “deliberately and autonomously sought to carve out their own place in the modern world and to enter the realm of traditionally elite politics.” (97) A group of Maronites in the Southern Kisrawan district of Mt. Lebanon had been led by elites of the Khazin family, but a muleteer, Tanyus Shahin, began to lead the other commoners of that district in a revolt which overthrew the Khazin notables and installed Shahin as the “general representative of all Kisrawan.” (99)
In justifying the rebellion, the Kisrawan commoners exploited the rhetoric of social equality that had surrounded the Tanzimat to argue against the rule of notables and social hierarchy in general. The contradictions latent within the construction of the Tanzimat now became actualized as both commoners and notables interpreted the set of laws in ways which justified their claims to rule the Kisrawan district. The notables argued that the “right to property – and with it the confirmation of social hierarchy – was far more important to them than the nebulous Tanzimat right to equality of treatment.” (102) The notables had hitherto owned the land and thus carried out administrative functions and held power over it. So far as they were concerned, the rebels had usurped the property that was rightly theirs.
In the back and forth between commoners and elites, both sides eventually turned to the Patriarch of the Maronite Church to decide the competing claims. The church, however, was caught between its own competing interests, both having pledged their support to the Ottoman modernization and affirmation of social equality, while also being one of the largest landowners in the district and hence having its own territorial claims at stake in the preservation of property rights. Since the church had always believed in social hierarchy, however, it ultimately sided with the Khazin elites and Ottoman state that
the term ahali [commoner] implied the ideal of a politically quiescent population; it intimated a passive community whose legitimate and lawful needs (about which there was no consensus) were represented by others. They deployed the trope of the passive and obedient ahali primarily to isolate and delegitimize the rebels, whom they accused of being at the forefront of a conspiracy whose goal was to overturn the order of things and to instigate the innate “ignorance” of the commoner class. At the most basic level, this accusation reflected elite unease in the face of a genuinely popular movement, an inability to comprehend that the meaning of ahali was itself bound to change following the Tanzimat, and a refusal to accept the idea that commoners had a stake in the making and interpretation of history or that they could participate in rational rule or government. (104)
Makdisi thus concludes that “a subaltern movement now claimed to speak for all and, in so doing, impinged on the coherence of an elite Marionite identity.” (105)
The commoners and elites, and increasingly the Ottoman and European imperial authorities, were engaged in a struggle “to define the contours of the Tanzimat in Mount Lebanon,” and thus the meaning of modernization and reform. (105) Shahin understood the Tanzimat to demand equality both within and between religious communities, thus linking “religion and reform in a manner that turned an imperial project of reform on its head. The Sultan and his reforming ministers assumed that the traditional social order – the separation of high and low, elite and nonelite – would remain unchanged by reform. Indeed Ottoman officials saw that the right to religious equality in a modernizing empire was possible and desirable only if all subjects maintained their hudud, or statin in life. It never occurred to the reformers that the upheavals of reform would provide for a subaltern understanding of the Tanzimat.” (105)
Shahin’s key transgression, in the mind of the elites and the Ottoman authorities, was to claim knowledge of what the people’s needs were and how they ought to be politically addressed and represented. Shahin claimed knowledge, however, on the basis simply of being a Christian Maronite, the member of a religious community, thus also indirectly affirming a sectarian identity. Indeed Shahin believed that along with liberating the Maronites from elite rule, they also had to liberate themselves from the Druzes living in the region, taking up the European colonialist narrative of Mt. Lebanon as a sanctuary of Christendom among a sea of Muslim corruption. This understanding of the rebellion intensified once violence spread past the borders of the Kisrawan region into other “mixed districts” of Maronites and Druzes.
In the face of this violence and threat to their authority, Maronite and Druze notables signed an agreement to join together to defeat this insurrection of ignorant commoners. They therefore allied military forces with the Ottomans and marched on Kisrawan. In response, Shahin called upon all Maronites of the nearby districts to be of “one hand and one mind” against the elites (114). Shahin thus “conflated the defense of reform with the salvation of ‘the’ Christian community. In shifted, in other words, the basis of loyalty away from a notable family toward an imagined political sectarian community.” (115)
Chapter 7: “The Devil’s Work”
Although the ensuing violence between Druzes and Maronites, which resulted in the destruction of over 200 villages and the massacre of Maronites, particularly in mixed communities, has generally been interpreted by historians as the product of “alleged Ottoman policies of ‘divide and rule,’ Great Power machinations, material factors such as the decline of textile production in Syria, and sectarian tensions left over from the days of the Egyptian occupation,” “rarely discussed – although it seems to be one of the fundamental facets of the war of 1860 – is its transgressive nature, which violated social as well as geographic and religious boundaries.” (119) Makdisi, in newly recounting the war, specifically seeks to “unsettle the pretension of homogeneity and solidity of communal identity that the term sectarianism implies.” (119)
The war’s aspect of social transgression was the result of Shahin and his rebels’ seeing “little difference between social liberation in Kisrawan and freedom from Druze ‘tyranny’ for the Christians of mixed regions.” (120) For Makdisi, this understanding of their rebellion’s goals was transgressive in three ways:
1) Shahin and the rebels identified themselves as defenders of the Christian faith, challenging the hitherto unquestioned status of the bishops and Maronite elite families.
2) They imagined their own geography of Mt. Lebanon, uniting Christian villagers, ignoring both the traditional genealogical geography and the Ottoman-European partition of the region.
3) The rebels did not consent to be represented politically by anyone else, but rather engaged in political and military action in their own capacity as political agents, upending the traditional understanding of commoners as politically quiescent.
However, Shahin and his rebels were materially a very weak fighting force, poorly equipped and organized. As such, they stood no chance of defeating both the Druze military and the growing elite and Ottoman counter-revolutionary reaction that was sure to bring the Ottoman regular army to Mt. Lebanon. Shahin hoped that other Christian villagers would join their cause and take up arms with his rebels, but this support which might have helped even the odds against Shahin’s enemies never in fact materialized. For their part, the Maronite elites and bishops were more concerned with preserving social hierarchy, and so saw Shahin more as a threat to Christians than as their defender. In fact, they saw the commoners he had banded together as a group of ignorants who Shahin had manipulated to divide Christians rather than unite them.
Makdisi, however, sees the War of 1860 as comprehensible only as a result of the contradictions inherent within the Ottoman attempt at reform. The tension within discourse proclaiming the equality of all religious groups under the law, highlighting both the political identity of all commoners and the differences between religious sects, allowed for the contest over interpretations of reform between commoners, elites, Ottomans, and Europeans, that produced the war: “the circumstances surrounding the violence of 1860 must be understood not as conspiratorial but as contingent, not as tribal but as modern, not as unexplainable but as a comprehensible attempt to purify a reformed landscape created by the combined efforts of locals, Europeans, and Ottomans.” (128)
The violence perpetrated by the Druzes in turn confirms for Makdisi the socially transgressive nature of the war. Against traditional justice that always allowed for forgiveness and return, Druze warriors mutilated the bodies of those they left alive, leaving permanent markings on Maronites signifying that there would be no return to any social order other than one reconstituted “along pure and segregated sectarian lines.” (128)
Unable to control or even comprehend the violence on the ground, the Ottoman governor Hursid relied on “a myth of primordial communalism to explain the violence.” (131) He wrote to the Grand Vizier that the War of 1860 was the result of an “age old enmity” between Druzes and Maronites, and that each group needed to return “to his place” or boundary in order to recreate order in the region (Hursid, quoted in Makdisi, 130-131). This interpretation of events, though, taken up by the Ottoman and imperial authorities as the true explanation of the war, belied the complexity of the violence. The war was not, generally speaking, waged between standing armies, but was carried out often times by mobs or by small groups of assassins who would engage in revenge killings. Prior to the war, such killings would have remained family matters, but in the context of the process of production preceding this paroxysm (10 points for Gryffindor!), “the prevailing atmosphere tended toward greater communal separation and segregation with each additional killing,” despite incidents where Druzes and Maronites protected each other or collaborated (132). Additionally, despite the various ways in which this war was socially transgressive, the Maronite rebels did not see themselves as breaking with “all traditional notions of community and subjecthood. The Christian villagers who rebelled against Druze control underscored their belief that their actions were legitimated by their status as obedient subjects who were merely recovering their rights guaranteed them by the Tanzimat.” (133)
In the context of increasing concerns over communal security, though, a united Maronite front failed to emerge, not only because of the lack of elite participation, but because Maronite communities, particularly ones in mixed districts, were too afraid of leaving themselves undefended to join an army. The Druzes were ultimately better able to organize, and so not only directly attacked Christian emirs and priests, members of the class of notables against whom violence on the part of commoners had been thought unthinkable, but engaged in a “total cleansing of conquered areas” of Maronies, which they did not consider “a shameful event to be covered up but a moment of exultation because in an era of rights based on property, on population, and on representation, the elimination of the Catholic other was the only guarantee of security.” (139)
Eventually, the local governor Hursid was able to eke out a peace treaty between Druzes and Maronites, and in so doing attempted to erase the subaltern aspects of the war, describing it instead as the result of the age-old sectarian hatreds that still dominate our discourse surrounding sectarian violence today. In his effort to reestablish a “semblance of social order,” Hursid’s peace treaty accomplished two goals:
The first was to reinstate an imperial Ottoman authority over the natives – to once more draw a clear line between the Sultan’s representatives and the Sultan’s subjects and to reinforce a Tanzimat-era notion of equal imperial distance from all subjects regardless of religious affiliation. The second was to underscore the illegitimacy of popular mobilizations and to reconsecreate a strict sectarian hierarchy. Together, these functions conspired to “abolish” the memory of the conflict and, with it, the reality of transgression of social order and the possibility of liberation. (142)
Hursid injected his understanding of the violence into the peace treaty, posturing himself as a knowledgeable elite who understood the reality of supposedly ancient sectarian conflicts between ignorants in religious groups and the leaders who manipulated them. The aim of the peace treaty, as Makdisi concludes, was to return commoners to their boundaries in social hierarchy and to forget the conflict entirely, conspiring to “write the ahali out of history,” reestablishing the image of the quiescent commoner who stays out of politics (144).
Chapter 8: “A Very Old Thing”
The Ottoman authorities, in turn, sent the regular army to Mt. Lebanon to punish the perpetrators of the war in the name of modernization, viewing sectarian violence as “primordial behavior that emanated from what Napoleon III described to his troops (about to embark for Syria) as ‘the fanaticism of a previous century.’” (146) In so doing, the Ottoman army set up the modern Ottoman state as having a monopoly on legitimate violence, demonstrating that “what had occurred in 1860 did not belong in any way, shape, or form, to the modern world.” (148) This violence was a message addressed just as much to the Europeans as to the locals, demonstrating the Ottoman commitment to modernization and the quelling of supposedly ancient violence. The Ottoman authorities, then, collaborated with Hursud and the elites to produce a knowledge of sectarianism and sectarian violence that still informs how we think of such matters.
First, punishment had to be meted out according to the standards of modern justice. Thus, the supposed perpetrators of the violence were punished “regardless of their religious persuasion,” but merely to demonstrate the Sultan’s authority over all his subjects in line with the secular aspects of the Tanzimat reforms (149). In addition, the regular Ottoman army carried out punishments, symbolizing the organization and rationality of the modern Ottoman state as opposed to the passionate, ignorant mob that was at the bottom of sectarian violence. For Makdisi, however, this violence, carefully scripted to demonstrate the values of modernity to the eyes of all, was in its application a “crude terror intended to silence the population, born not out of a sense of frustration or alienation but out of a deliberate, imperial policy that set out to ‘discipline’ the masses of Syria. The terror masked an essentially reactionary goal: to banish the subaltern from politics once and for all and to reconstitute the broken lines of hierarchy by recovering the meaning of Europe and the Tanzimat from popular understanding.” (151)
The knowledge produced about sectarianism, then, has to be understood in the context of the attempt to absolve the Ottoman state and European authorities from any responsibility in the violence, limiting the conflict “to an allegedly tribal sectarian landscape removed both physically and temporally from metropolitan centers.” (151) The Europeans and Ottomans thus constructed a new, tribal geography of the region, thus explaining the supposedly ancient conflicts between religious and ethnic groups as intractable feuds. Local elites became the scapegoats of the war, either accused of not doing enough to stop the violence, or of conspiring to manipulate the commoners to engage in it. The authorities ultimately convinced Shahin to confess to having corrupted villagers to fight, thus forgetting the populist aspect of his rebellion: “two visions were represented that day, one of reinvigorated elites keen to put the memories of the Kisrawan rebellion and 1860 behind them and eager to regain their ‘rightful’ share in local politics, and the other of a spent populace that was unsure of its place in postwar society and unable to remove itself from the shadow of 1859 and 1869, where it had enjoyed its finest, yet saddest, hour.” (159)
A new Christian government was founded in Mt. Lebanon in collaboration with European authorities, determined to “bring civility and modernity to an allegedly unmodern province. […] All was ordered. All was deliberated beforehand, methodical, absolute, and without any doubt or contradiction. All was, needless to say, in stark contrast to the perceived anarchy on the ground that led to the creation of the Mutasarrifiyya [the new government].” (160) In so doing, the new government helped to create what Makdisi calls a culture of sectarianism in the region, creating an absolute split between religious identity, associated with antimodern, ignorant, and anarchic society, and modern secularist governance, associated with, modernity, knowledge, and rationality. The new government re-partitioned Mt. Lebanon based entirely on sectarian lines, but still with elite representation for each group, reaffirming the social hierarchy against which Shahin had fought.
Makdisi concludes that
In the aftermath of 1860, a culture of sectarianism developed in the sense that all sectors of society, public and private, recognized that the war and the massacres marked the beginning of a new age – an age defined by the raw intrusion of sectarian consciousness into modern life. At a public level, the discourse of sectarianism permeated all facets of administration, law, education, and finally, with the establishment of the Lebanese republic, the state. Mount Lebanon continued to be haunted by the possibility of renewed religious violence, and consequently there emerged a political culture determined to “forget” the trauma of 1860. This culture depended, and still depends, on a myth of communal homogeneity – that there is such a thing as a Maronite or a Druze nation that can or should be represented – and on a myth of traditional religious tolerance and harmony, all the while minimizing or ignoring he fact that such harmony undergirded an utterly rigid and often fiolenct notable hierarchy. […] The culture of sectarianism dominates, as well, the private world of citizens. It encompasses, beyond the eye of state surveillance, a range of aspirations, fears, and beliefs that as often contradict as reinforce the public culture of sectarianism. It forces all citizens to make a basic choice, either to resist or to support sectarianism – either to believe in a past that allows for the possibility of coexistence or to believe in a past that forever denies it. (163-164)
While dominating both public and private consciousness of religion and social life, however, sectarianism is ultimately an effect of the anxieties and contradictions inherent in the project of modernization, which it does not fully resolve, only explain away as something ancient and intractable. In turn, though, sectarianism is not simply an elite knowledge, but something that commoners also participate in, and is thus something that is produced through the competing interests of different parties. “There has never been a pure sectarianism, only narratives about its purity.” (165)
In the context of the 20th Century, concerns regarding sectarianism focus more on sectarian violence as an obstacle to national development. Again, sectarianism appears as “an illegitimate and divisive force, more a deviancy than an authentic expression of a specific historical experience. Sectarianism, moreover, has been depicted as a monolithic force, unchanging in the fact of history, while the nation-state has been viewed as the culmination of history.” (166) Makdisi insists, though, that if sectarianism is, as he has demonstrated, something that was produced in a historical context, “therefore it can be changed.” (166) Ottoman and European colonial histories written after the War of 1860 furthered the understanding of sectarian violence as a primordial and intractable conflict, exonerating themselves from guilt, while local histories emphasized the role of conspirators in the conflict to lessen “the need to face the contradictions that lay at the heart of changing communal identities.” (171) Local historians attempted to reconstruct the narrative of a unified community in Mt. Lebanon while having to come to terms with its new sectarian organization, and so chose to blame shadowy conspirators or each other.
Makdisi hopes that in describing sectarianism as something produced and contingent, however, he will show a way forward in confronting these seemingly impossible conflicts: “The beginning of sectarianism did not imply a reversion. It marked a rupture, a birth of a new culture that singled out religious affiliation as the defining public and political characteristic of a modern subject and citizen. To overcome it, if it is at all possible, requires yet another rupture, a break as radical for the body politic as the advent of sectarianism was for the old regime. It requires another vision of modernity.” (174) In so doing, Makdisi directs our attention towards other conflicts around the world that are labeled sectarian, in order that we may question whether they are in fact produced and contingent conflicts, saying “what happened in Mount Lebanon could occur, and in fact has occurred, elsewhere in the modern world.” (174)
I would, however, direct your attention to the huge…tracts of land…owned by elites. This man explains:

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