Speech of Rector Selim Abou s.j
regarding Syria's Occupation of Lebanon on

the occasion of the patronal celebration of
St Joseph's University

Ladies and Gentlemen of the faculty
Ladies and Gentlemen of the administrative personnel
Ladies and Gentlemen representatives of the student body
Dear Friends

In his introduction to a book on multi-communitarian societies by philosopher Charles Taylor, Amy Gutmann defines one of the primary civic tasks of any university as follows: “Members of academic communities, faculty, students and administrators, can use our rights to free speech to denounce disrespectable speech by exposing it for what it is, flagrant disregard for the interests of other people, rationalization of self-interest or group interest, prejudice, or sheer hatred of humanity.”[1]

Among the discourse that our academic community is asked to denounce, I dwell today on that which seeks to justify Syrian control over Lebanon, which the vast majority of the population cannot bear any longer. It may be that the Syrian army finally withdraws to the Bekaa Valley, - albeit, one should note, eight years behind schedule. But it is not so much the physical presence of this army which wounds the dignity of the Lebanese, as the symbol of domination which it represents, and the effective domination which its intelligence apparatus exercises over all sectors of public life. This Syrian control is not about to be relaxed, and there will be no dearth of Lebanese sycophants to laud its alleged benefits in a discourse which reflects a true culture of servility and which, therefore, belongs to the category of disrespectable speech. 

To denounce this discourse is not to simply summarize its content in order to rebut it, but as Amy Gutmann says, “to expose it for what it is,” i.e. to reveal the form and degree of harm that it carries. Whether it belongs to the langue-de-bois, to double speak or logomachy; whether it is uttered by political officers, religious personalities or party leaders; whether it is motivated by pragmatism, opportunism or fear, this discourse is of a nature which in part undermines social relations, destabilizes the nation and discredits the state, and for the other part accelerates the migratory hemorrhage which is emptying Lebanon of its young elite, who have become convinced that the country does not belong to them any longer. 

It is the sudden emergence of a liberated political discourse calling for the redefinition of relations between Lebanon and Syria, for the real independence of Lebanon, and for national dialogue, which has unleashed irrational, contradictory or passionate speech which seeks to justify, sometimes even to celebrate, the effective political and economic subservience of the country. It is therefore necessary to dwell on the circumstances which have made possible the emancipation of Lebanese political language, before we proceed to a brief typology of disrespectable speech that pretends to enslave it again, and thereafter to appreciate the highly damaging effect such speech exercises on society, nation and state. 

Liberation of political language 

Ten years were necessary before the tongues unwound and freed themselves from coded language, that is from periphrases, metaphors, metonymies and other figures of speech under which was expressed the increasing unease caused by the presence of the Syrian army on the whole of Lebanese territory and the intervention of its intelligence apparatus in all the fields of social, political and economic life. Two events have operated as a prelude to the change of linguistic behaviour in the course of the summer of 2000: the withdrawal of the Israeli army from South Lebanon has come as a heavy argument against the presence of the Syrian army over the whole territory, a presence which could no longer be justified, if ever it could be, and the access to power in Damascus of a young president, raising hopes for the liberalization of the Syrian regime, and consequently, for a substantial modification of its policy in Lebanon. But neither the dominant nor the Satellite State wished to understand it in this way. Their combined intelligence apparatus was finishing preparing – with manipulations, pressure and threats – an election which was vitiated from the beginning by absurd electoral gerrymandering, in order to allow the formation of a monochromatic Parliament which is totally subservient to Syria, and to shut down any opposition. In the course of that strategy, however, they forgot that an excess of repression leads, sooner or later, to the reaction of freedom seekers. Thus the opposition landslide, in Beirut and in the Mountain. And as tongues unwound, they did so for better and for worse. 

Christian discourse against Syrian domination is not new – as in the case of the Taef Agreement, it is ten years old. But it was made explicit, structured, and was amplified to give birth, on 20 September 2000, to the Declaration of the Assembly of Maronite bishops. Until that date, Christian discourse resounded like a voice in the wilderness, and it was not difficult for Syria to neutralize it. It was enough in order to do so to marginalise the turbulent Christian community, which Syria had already decapitated by preventing it from any authentic representation in power. It was then, thanks to the electoral campaign and its unexpected results, that the discourse against Syrian domination crossed the boundaries of the Christian community, and that a wind of panic blew beyond Lebanon's frontiers. The taboo was broken. The Druze leader Walid Jumblatt took on board most of the Christian requests and called for national unity. As Issa Ghorayeb commented in his editorial on 15 September, “Walid Jumblatt appears today as an ice-breaker, a bulldozer, a minesweeper, behind whom one already sees other free thinkers rallying more or less resolutely.”[2] For Syria and its supporters, that was not acceptable, because Walid Jumblatt is a considerable political leader, because he is Druze, and because during the war he had fought the very Christians with whom he was now allying himself. There followed the unleashing against him of a discourse of hatred and death threats, which is the extreme form of disrespectable speech, its most despicable form indeed. 

The ideological discourse and logomachy 

In present day Lebanon, one can distinguish three types of disrespectable speech. The first is the ideological discourse of so-called “national” parties, for whom the nation of reference is not the Lebanese nation. Rather, reference is either to a mythical “Syrian nation” or “the large Syria”, which is supposed to absorb Lebanon, and, in due course, Jordan and Palestine, or to a utopian “Arab nation” which is even larger, and which has no other point of reference than the nostalgia, slightly secularized, of the Caliphate. These parties, which were marginalized in the past by the mere operation of the democratic game, occupy at present key positions in the Administration and are, occasionally, the preferred bearers of Syrian messages to the frustrated Lebanese. It is one of these parties which takes pride in having organized, in September 1982, the assassination of president-elect Bashir Gemayel; it is the member of another party, of similar lineage, who, on November 6, 2000, in the fullness of a parliamentary session, responded to the reasoned and serene speech of the Druze leader with a litany of curses and his death threat. 

It happens that I had denounced, in my previous speeches, unionist, totalitarian and ethnicising ideologies which were anchored in language, or in religion, or in some alleged “natural” geography, - and promoted by Arab nationalists, irrespective of the party they belong to. Walid Jumblatt is more explicit and more incisive: “In my mind, these parties which have ideologies based on what is called the Syrian nation or the Arab nation, these parties with old, frozen ideologies with a racial character, are obsolete… In my mind, there is no Syrian nation or Arab nation. There is a vast Arab culture, Christian and Muslim, which goes back several centuries.”[3] 

Pan-Syrian or pan-Arab speech belongs formally to pure phraseology, when it does not fall into logomachy. This is the case, for instance, when the holders of this type of discourse insist that sending the army to the Southern border is rendering a service to Israel, and stay mute when they are told that the Syrian army stationed in the Golan would in this logic be serving the interests of the enemy. This is also the case when they declare that the Syrian army is present in Lebanon to defend this country against Israeli aggression and stay coy when asked of one single instance in which Syria protected Lebanon from Israeli bombardments. This is equally the case when they make accusations of collusion with the enemy or with a foreign power supportive of Israel against any person or group which rejects Syrian hegemony and asks for the real independence of Lebanon, or when they affirm that these demands fan the flame of confessional and sectarian drives, and so on. What is deplorable is that these assertions are often reinforced by similar official declarations, when they aren’t are simple repetitions thereof. 

But the specific vocation of the ideological discourse is to boast of the immense services rendered to the Lebanese by Syria and its army. Did Syria not fly to the rescue of the Christians, in 1976, at a moment when they were running the risk of being destroyed by their Muslim adversaries ? Did it not put an end to the fratricidal war and reestablish civil peace in the country ? Did it not spill the blood of its soldiers to allow Lebanon to live again ? This litany of counter-truths, which was taken on by the arrogant Syrian minister of the information on the occasion of a visit to Lebanon, found its sharp refutation under the pen of Ghassan Tueini.[4] After reminding the minister that it was not the Lebanese Muslims but the Palestinians, who had been armed by Syria, who in 1976, threatened Christians with annihilation, he denounced, with several illustrations, the cynic and cruel character of Syria's intervention throughout the war of Lebanon, and ended by suggesting to the passing Minister that he close that file which does not honour his country. 

Constrained discourse and double speak 

The second type of disrespectable speech is characterized by double speak, the one which is expressed in private, and the one which is uttered in public. In private, one complains of living in a satellite country, occupied and exploited; in public one expresses one's glee in experiencing an osmosis between two countries which share the same destiny. Last July, Thomas L. Friedman could still write in the New York Times: “The number of Lebanese politicians, statesmen or writers today who will dare to articulate a distinctly Lebanese national interest, position or vision of the future – independent of Syrian interests – is lower than ever.”[5] But the speech held in public is of two types: it is a constrained discourse, motivated by fear or apprehension, or an accommodating discourse, which is dictated by opportunism. Among the latter variations, on finds the most subtle and the grossest, and no social group is spared. Among the former, it would be wrong to think that it is always held under the sway of a foreign, more or less explicit, threat; rather, and more probably, it comes as the effect of an internalization of the repression: “Sixteen years ago, the Syrian occupation of Lebanon was on the streets - Syrian checkpoints, soldiers and tanks. That has largely disappeared. But that's because the Syrian occupation has moved from the streets into the heads of the Lebanese. As the world has looked away, Lebanon has increasingly become a Syrian province.”[6] 

It is hard to know to what extent the pleadings of Muslim religious authorities in favor of the Syrian presence in Lebanon corresponds to their deeper convictions; one only knows that Syria and its agents exercise a particularly severe pressure on the representatives of the community in general. What is certain however, is that double speak splits here into two opposed discourses which are foreign to each another, public discourse held by the hierarchy, which is favorable to Syrian presence, and the private discourse of the majority of the people, which is opposed to it. What happened is that the latter has ceased to be clandestine and has expressed itself openly. For instance the response of the Sunni and Shi‘i muftis to the Bkerké Declaration has provoked two strong responses, under the form of two articles which are equally significant, though unequal in length. In a column entitled “between the Patriarch, the Mufti and Syria”, a Sunni from Tripoli, who is a doctor in orientation psychology, addressed the religious head of the community in the following terms: “The position of Patriarch Sfeir is wise and expresses the opinion of all Lebanese, with the exception of the sycophants, the profiteers, the liars and the weak-minded. As for you, Mr. Mufti, you have spoken in your personal name, and not in the name of the Muslims or the Lebanese. Let your heart speak, even if your fatwas have been dictated by the brothers. I invite you to get down from your car in the souks and neighborhoods of Tripoli, Saida, Beirut and Baalbeck, so that you see with your own eyes and hear with your own ears the complaint that your brothers in faith, in religion, in community and in nation raise against the military and economic presence of the Syrians. In this day of September 2000, I have spoken the truth, and for that very act, I fear no one’s accusation.”[7] 

In a long article under the title “About which dialogue and about which national reconciliation is one talking?”, Saoud al-Maoula, member of the National Committee for Islamic-Christian dialogue, puts his ideas at a more general, more comprehensive, level. “It has been ten years,” he wrote, “that the Church and the Christian street complain and protest, and that we tell them that we understand their complaint and agree with them in recognizing that what is needed is the correction of deviations and the restoration of balance, but that it must be done in the shadow of the State and in the framework of the institutions… Ten years have passed and here we are, recognizing and saying in public that the State is not a State, that the institutions do not exist, and that justice is not justice, but some dictated order… What happened recently, I mean this mobilization of Muslims and so-called “secular nationalists” against Patriarch Sfeir and the call of the Bishops, does not augur well and constitutes a blow to dialogue, to civil peace and to national reconciliation; first because what the Bkerké Declaration said is what everyone, without exception, says, except if the group of profiteers and thieves is taken into account; and second because the declaration is expressed in moderate language and calls for solidarity and balance both inside the country and at the level of our relations with Syria.”[8] 

Pragmatic discourse and langue-de-bois 

The third type of disrespectable speech is characterized by what is known as langue-de-bois. One should perhaps be grateful to the Prime Minister, Mr Rafic Hariri, for honoring his promise to defend freedom of expression under all its aspects and to have blocked, at least temporarily, this slow death sentence to democracy which was described, on 14 June 2000, by the director of the Middle East Forum, Daniel Pipes, before the Subcommittee of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee: “The implications of occupation for Lebanon have been dire. What had been the most open of the Arabic-speaking countries, boasting decentralized power, real democracy, rule of law, unimpeded movement and a Hong Kong-style free market, along with independent schools and an unfettered press, has turned into something like a minor version of the totalitarian state of Syria.”[9] The Prime Minister intends to put an end to this creeping dictatorship which is run by both the Lebanese and Syrian intelligence services, and, by doing so, to rehabilitate the image of Lebanon in the eyes of potential Western investors who are sensitive to the respect of human rights. One hopes he will also be able to undo the schemes of the intelligence services which may appear discreet, but are no less devious for that. In any case, even if freedom of expression is finally recognized by the government as a fundamental right, the citizens’ free speech faces, at all levels of the power structure, an ultimate rejection. One is warned that one has no chance to start a debate on the Syrian presence in Lebanon. The message is clear: you can say whatever you wish but you should know that you will change nothing; the Syrian presence is “legal, necessary and temporary.” This is a sacred leitmotiv of official discourse, it cannot be violated or changed: it is the discourse of langue-de-bois. 

This third type of discourse wants to be pragmatic. The argument is the following: let us leave aside the thorny political problem of Syro-Lebanese relations. The Syrian army and its intelligence services will eventually leave Lebanon under the pressure of the Great Powers, it was not us who got them in, and it will not be us who will make them leave. Meanwhile, let us tackle the unprecedented economic crisis which the population is mired in. This is the more serious challenge. Such a discourse occludes two realities which undermine its content. First, that no power will come to our rescue if the people and the government which is supposed to represent them do not express, with all the means that they have at their command, their rejection of Syrian control over the country. These powers are tired from hearing the accusation of interference in the internal affairs of the country, every time they recall UN Resolution 520, which stipulates the withdrawal of all foreign powers from Lebanon, and every time they repeat their support for the independence and sovereignty of this country. The Lebanese government could no doubt improve the people's lives, but it cannot make Lebanon again the regional economic pole which it once was. Economic prosperity is narrowly linked to political decision. Therefore the political domination of Lebanon is not of a nature that encourages investors, whether they are Lebanese or foreign. 

For the defenders of the pragmatic discourse, the leitmotiv: -“the Syrian presence is legal, necessary and temporary”-  seeks to relieve Syria on the political front in order to obtain a free hand in the economy. It is not the same however for those who, at various levels of the political and social pyramid, owe their place, influence and privileges to Syria, and who would be reduced to nothing without its presence. The perennial character of Syrian control over Lebanon is for them absolutely vital, and they get into a panic when are disarmed the three terms of their slogan on Syrian presence as “legal, necessary and temporary.” They also get into a panic when they are reminded the affirmation of Syrian vice-president Khaddam: “Our forces have entered Lebanon without soliciting anybody's authorization, and will leave in the same way”, and the official request, which was left without response, and which was expressed by two Lebanese presidents who, in 1982 and 1983, demanded from Syria that it withdraw its forces.[10] They get into a panic when they are asked what strategic necessity is served by the presence of the Syrian army and the Syrian intelligence on the outskirts of the presidential palace, of the Ministry of Defence, and on the whole of Lebanese territory. And they get into a panic when they are reminded that the decision taken in Taef was to redeploy Syrian troops to the Bekaa as a prelude to their total and definitive withdrawal from Lebanon, and that this has been constantly postponed for the past eight years, without any valid reason to justify this delay. Their obstinacy is however not worrying, for as soon as Lebanon recovers its sovereignty, they will switch sides or leave the country. 

Disdain for society 

It is evident that the orchestrated practice of these three types of discourse in which are mixed, in variable proportions, logomachy, double speak and langue-de-bois tends to pervert the language itself and the social relations mediated by language. Confronted by a rational usage of language, concerned with understanding reality and speaking the truth, the irrational use that is made of language by disrespectable speech seeks to adapt reality to words and betray their meaning. To some extent, it does not care about reality, or even about meaning. Words get associated in a mechanical way with each another because, as a linguist says, “one can talk by thinking words, without thought being real; this is the law of all reflexes; the automatic act gets substituted for the conscious act,” and language becomes “a pillow of intellectual laziness.”[11] In these conditions, discussion over disagreements and differences, which is so essential to the democratic ideal, finds itself annulled, as is annulled the critical discernment which establishes the faculty of judgment. Social coherence is broken, and solidarity gives way to distrust. The national dialogue which is called for by rational discourse cannot be established. This is perhaps the hidden objective: to prevent dialogue, because it would necessarily disrupt the advantages brought about by the status quo. 

“There is a large difference”, writes Saoud al-Maoula on this point, “between those who want, for Syria and the Arabs, honour, dignity, freedom and democracy, and those who, for partisan or selfish reasons, want Syria to be an instrument of domination and oppression, of repression of freedoms, of the violations of people’s dignity. There is a large difference between those who take upon themselves the preoccupations of the nation and the claims of people in terms of reform and change, those who care for the unity of people, for their interests and dignity, in Lebanon and in Syria,… and those on the other hand who brandish the slogan “unity of course, unity of destiny” so as to give way to the politics of division and destruction, to the point of accusing others of treason and apostasy. The difference is large between those who try to give actuality to the formula “One people in two States” and those who force onto people the reality of “One state with two peoples”, and who are the reason for the drying up of the relations between two brotherly peoples and for the development of Lebanese racism towards all our Arab brothers… Responsibility for this waste is not because of the signatures onto the Bkerké Declaration, or the statements of Walid Jumblatt, or Omar Karamé, or Nasib Lahoud, or Boutros Harb, or the silence of Hussein Husseini, and even less so the wisdom and moderation of Muhammad Mahdi Shamseddine. Those who are responsible are the tenants of stupid policies, of unwholesome authoritarianism, of repression and terror, and disdain for all the lasting values and all the principles upon which Lebanon is founded.”[12] 

Disdain for civil society turns into perversion when, in order to argue that without the presence of Syrian forces Lebanon would be again the theatre of communal fight, the Authorities do not hesitate to provoke periodically, in a number of circles, controlled trouble or high-pitched speeches which are supposed to trigger among the population the fear of a return to internal war. In reality, few people are fooled by a tactic which is part of the classical arsenal of divide and rule. What is new since last summer, that is since the liberation of political language and the de facto consensus which is growing among the Lebanese on fundamental questions, is that the intelligence services show evident signs of nervousness: they do not even care to salvage the appearance and use the grossest stratagems. “Who has taken”, Samir Frangié asks, “the initiative in Akkar to push the ulamas to insult Patriarch Sfeir and to call for the presidents of all the municipalities of the region to publish a statement calling for the Syrian forces in Lebanon to remain ? Can one think for a second that these are ‘spontaneous’ initiatives ? And the demonstration in Tripoli during which slogans which insulted the Maronite Patriarch were expressed in the presence of ministers and deputies, is it also ‘spontaneous’ ?… One must face the fact that the Authorities are today at war with society. Since the issue of Syrian presence in Lebanon was raised, they multiply threats and intimidation attempts, refusing any dialogue with the citizens.”[13] 

Hatred for the nation 

Disrespectable speech does not limit itself to establishing hurdles to national dialogue, it concerns the historical foundations of the nation by expressing its frenzy against the almost total concordance between the declarations of the Druze leader and those of the Maronite Patriarch, who represent each of the founding communities of Lebanon. To understand the magnitude of this hostility, it is worth pausing for a moment at what I would call “the Jumblatt phenomenon”. In the first phase, his detractors asked why he turned against Syria, to whom he was closely allied. Jumblatt explained it clearly on September 12: “Some Lebanese intelligence services which, like many Lebanese, claim an alliance with Syria, have been a burden to the population, and they have tried to sow discord and to undermine public liberties. This cannot continue. It is not normal that they intervene everywhere, in universities, in trade unions, in public life, in the press, in the name of common security.”[14] On October 24, he protested further: “It is astonishing that after 25 years, Syria has not yet understood that it must stop interfering in the internal Lebanese political game, and that it must cease to cast a systematic veto against any person who would be minimally representative of the Christian community.”[15] The fullness of his thought is summarized in one of those hitting sentences the secret of which he knows well: “Before China took over Hong Kong, it threw a slogan: one country, two policies. In our case it is: two countries with one policy. We need two countries and two policies. With minimal coordination.”[16] 

Jumblatt’s opponents ask why and how he offers an arm to the Christians, with whom there is a troubled past: “Does he want us to believe this big lie about his national role; is this national role illustrated by his massacre of Christians in the Mountain, for which he wants now to be absolved by offering higher bids, to the detriment of Syria ?”[17] It is in these terms that this deputy from the Syrian Baath spoke in the midst of Parliament, ending it with death threats. More dignified, but no less hostile was a journalist who considered it “necessary to distinguish between Walid Jumblatt and those who support his positions towards Syria,”[18], but who have reason to be his historical or ideological foes and will not fail to turn their back on him. One finds, in other articles, similar declarations whose authors are apparently disconcerted by the reconciliation of the Druze leader with yesterday’s enemies. A truly uncouth argument, because no one has ever heard of the need for reconciliation among friends ! Those students of the High School of Engineers who wrote next to the announcement of Walid Jumblatt’s lecture at Saint Joseph’s University - “An enemy we respect and love” -, understood this well. Should one forget that it is often external or domestic wars that forge nations? Should one forget, appropriately, that conflicts and reconciliation which mark the history of the Mountain, have contributed to sculpting a real national conscience, which has thereafter extended to the people of the littoral and the periphery ? 

The bad faith of those who want to see in the recent Druze-Christian rapprochement some nostalgia of the times of the Mutasarrifiyya is further illustration of the logomachic discourse. However distasteful to his enemies, Walid Jumblatt has acquired the stature of a national leader. He locates in the founding history of his community the legitimacy of the role as unifier which he seeks. This was underlined well by Ghassan Tueini as soon as the legislative elections were over: “ Only Walid Jumblatt knows how to position himself in the logic of Lebanese legacy and give his electoral campaign its historical dimension. He has presented his victory to all men who are fond of liberty and democracy, or rather the victory of the mountain in the two Choufs.”[19] Jumblatt himself is conscious of his legitimacy as a national leader: “We are, ultimately, the heirs of a great Emir of this Mountain, the Emir of coexistence and independence, Emir Fakhreddin.”[20] And the Maronite Patriarch recognized in him “a great national leader representing a community which constitutes one of the pillars of the Lebanese entity.”[21] When a pluri-confessional nation like ours is threatened in its very existence, it is natural that salvation should come from a reaction of the founding communities. This is the conclusion which Issa Ghorayeb drew in a text with a significant title: -“Massive Minority”-, by underlining the fall of all the taboos and the liberation of Lebanese political language: “In this evolution of the minds, the country owes it mostly to two men:  Patriarch Sfeir, whose admirable combativeness will have vanquished the onslaught of some as well as the cold reservations of others. And Walid Jumblatt, who with unparalleled courage, has offered the shining proof that Lebanon which has at last become Lebanese is not the mad dream of the Christians alone.”[22] 

Humiliation of the State 

To the humiliated society and the loathed nation is superposed a humiliated State, whose haughty speech is nothing else, to the population, than a sad process of verbal compensation, as it stands in perfect contradiction with reality. To say, for instance, that the relations between Lebanon and Syria are “brotherly and permanent”, is to ignore that for the past twenty-five years, they are, in the strict sense of the term, relations of domination of which Lebanon - society, nation and State -, has not finished paying the price. To say that any questioning of these relations is dangerous, because it could break national unity, is to expect national unity where there is none, since part of the population has been marginalized by Syria for the past ten years, while the remainder of the people has been forced to collaborate, and while any movement aiming at national understanding is being systematically blocked. To say that the problem of Syro-Lebanese relations must be treated only from State to State, is to presuppose that the two States are equal partners, while one is under severe tutelage, unable to represent public opinion and the aspirations of its people. As for the term ‘democracy’, which is repeated under various modulations, it has been emptied of all significance. “In the past,” Alia Riad al-Solh writes, “we used to export free thought to all oppressed people in the Arab world. Today we import a single thought, so that it oppresses us.”[23] 

Single thought is the daughter of the principle, “unity of the road, unity of destiny,” which the dominant state has succeeded in imposing upon its vassal, but which remains for the majority of the population an empty slogan, destined to globally justify the execution by Lebanon, to its detriment, of Syrian diktats. When the slogan tries to be elaborated, the discourse which results becomes the more peremptory because of its incoherence. As Alia al-Solh explained, “logic is in Lebanon no longer the normative logic we know. It has exploded into a multitude of logics which get done and undone depending on the circumstances of oppression.”[24] Thus, for instance, a stunned population wonders what could be meant by “a state at war cannot deploy its army on its borders.” It wonders what national interest there is for Lebanon to defy the United Nations and the European Union, which recommend with insistence, but to no avail, that the army be sent to the South. It wonders finally why the control of Syria over Lebanon must remain until the liberation of the Golan. Alia al-Solh recalls in this respect how, at the end of the French mandate, when Lebanon gained its independence before Syria, Lebanon was not asked to renounce its independence until independence was gained to Syria: “Then relations between the two countries were in conformity with the rule, and marked by mutual respect and the rules of courtesy.”[25] 

More royalist than the king, the Lebanese Authorities want us to understand that if the Syrian army withdraws, its intelligence services will remain and that the Syrian presence will continue at least until the conclusion of a comprehensive and total peace. This means that the restoration of independence to Lebanon is adjourned sine die. This, in turn, puts at risk the Pact which presided in 1943 over the establishment of an independent State. The minimal principle underlying the Pact, one remembers, was the famous double negation “Neither East nor West”, i.e. the renunciation by Christians of the protection of France against the renunciation by the Muslims of union with Syria. But this principle is openly flouted, and Lebanon has become virtually a Syrian province against the will of all its citizens. 

Modern Lebanon has known 32 years of independence between two mandates, and the two mandates are very different from each another. A political veteran likes to underline this difference: “France had at least the decency to choose the better group amongst those available for the management of public affairs. The most competent and most honest people were called to task, both at the political and administrative levels, and the Administration was effective. Today the most bizarre appointments are made. Distribution of posts is made according to quotas and influence. One has often seen fraud in the qualification of seekers of some positions. And when this is not sufficient, intimidation is resorted to.” Then he underlines the decline of democracy after Taef: “Before Taef, domestic political life was active and passably acceptable at the level of democratic freedoms… Today, following the notorious marching orders,… it is deliquescing. The only freedom left to the local political actors is to destroy each other in order to get more advantages.”[26] All happens as if the Syrian mandate, imposed upon Lebanon in the wake of Taef, has as its objective to teach the Lebanese how to unlearn democracy and to forget even the taste of independence. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

On 21 November 2000, on the eve of independence day, the USJ students, joined by students from other universities and students from high school, demonstrated in large numbers from the Medical Science Campus to the National Museum, to demand the real independence of their country. Amongst the banners brandished by the demonstrators, three carried inscriptions the meaning and scope of which it seems to me useful to develop in conclusion. 

The first banner said: “Yes, thank you, but it’s enough.” After the word of courtesy – thanks for the services rendered – the word of rejection: no to the continued presence of Syrian forces and their intelligence agents on Lebanese territory; no to the machinations which pretend that the nation is divided confessionally, and that it always needs a tutor; no to the use of Lebanon and the Lebanese to the exclusive profit of Syria, under the false pretext of a common strategy; no, strictly no, to reducing Lebanon to the de facto status of a Syrian province. 

The second banner read: “Resistance will not die.” Resistance continues today to maintain alive the language of protest and to defend free expression. No to the perverse twinning of the freedom of expression with the imperatives of security alleged by the Authorities. No to the stratagems of the intelligence services to confine again the discourse of protest to the ambit of a marginalized Christian community; no to the visit of Security agents to the Administration of the University to ask for the names of candidates to alumni elections or to enquire about demonstration plans; no to the infiltration of their young hirelings amongst the students of various universities. 

The third banner said: “We want dialogue.” Demonstrators took over the idea, which was expressed by political and religious personalities from all sides, to call for a national congress that debates Syro-Lebanese relations and envisages the future of a liberated Lebanon. It is important therefore that the de facto consensus, which has been underlined by the Lebanese despite the Authorities, gets consolidated and formalized by an official national understanding, not between the deputies, but by way of a procedure which needs to be specified in utmost detail, between qualified representatives of the country’s political, economic and educational spheres. This is also why it is difficult to understand, if not as a joke, the affirmation that Parliament is the same as the National Congress being sought, especially when one knows how the majority of deputies have been elected. 

But our young men and women can be reassured: the process of liberation is irreversible. In the absence of a National Congress which is presently impossible to convene, intercommunal networks of intellectuals and professionals meet periodically to promote the discourse of resistance and think about the future of a liberated Lebanon. The moment will come when Syria will understand, perhaps before the Lebanese political representatives themselves, that it is in its interest to completely withdraw from Lebanon, to respect the country’s independence and sovereignty, and to establish relations of mutual recognition. But the mistrust of Lebanese towards Syria will not really dissipate until the bilateral relations will get translated into an exchange of diplomatic relations, as is the case amongst all Arab states. 

As for the political future of Lebanon, it is also reassuring, despite the belief of many young Christians who have only known war and its aftermath, and who wonder about the degree of allegiance of Muslims to the common land. What they should know is that, with a delay which is understandable, Muslims share today the same national feeling as Christians, the same intellectual and emotional attachment to the Lebanese nation. 

Most remarkable, in this context, are the words of Imam Muhammad Mahdi Shamseddin on the specificity of Lebanon, which he shared with the Arab press correspondents in Paris a month before his death: “I was”, he said, “one of the first people to propose the abolition of political confessionalism… I had established my own project around the idea of numerical democracy, predicting the suppression of the political existence of communities, the adoption of the individual as the sole political entity, and the rejection of communitarian quotas which decide the formation of Parliament and government. These last years however, I have thought a lot, so much so that I am not of the same opinion any longer: I consider the confessional regime as a fundamental formula for Lebanon, on condition that it is cleansed… I have renounced numerical democracy in favour of a political communalism, but, as I just said, the application of this formula is presently subject to corruption and must reformed. I would like to see that the Lebanese are ensured a larger representation, and would want such guarantees as to be certain that no community can complain from being crushed by the majority.” 

The faith of Shamseddin in the specificity of Lebanon goes further: “As for the relations between Syria and Lebanon, I have said and repeated that Lebanon is to remain forever out of any unionist project. Even if one supposes that a unified Arab Republic is established from Tangiers to Aden, Lebanon will be the second Arab Republic, it will remain the other Arab Republic. No union. The nature of Lebanese society requires it and the interest of Arabs also requires it. It is preferable for Lebanon, and for our Arab and Islamic environment, that the country remains an independent, sovereign Republic, which does not get united with any other country, which collaborates with them all, but does not let itself dissolve its existence in any type of union.”[27] 

Ladies and Gentlemen, 
In all our communities today, voices rise to request the liberation of Lebanon, the recovery of its independence, the full exercise of its sovereignty. These voices are destined to enlarge their audience, to shake off the pusillanimity of some and to confound the interested expectations of others. The national debate is open, it is irreversible. But it does not only concern the means to reinforce the resistance against foreign control over Lebanon, it also involves an intense critical reflection on the future of the country. In this respect, Saint Joseph’s University is a privileged place to welcome and stimulate rigorous and honest discussions over our agreements and disagreements, with a view to forming a national consensus. With the means it has at its disposal, Saint Joseph’s University must be at the heart of the democratic debate.
[1] Amy Gutmann, director of the University Centre for Human Values at Princeton University, Introduction to Charles Taylor, Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition, Princeton 1994, 23.
[2] L'Orient-Le Jour, 15 September 2000.
[3] L'Orient-Le Jour, 20 August 2000, 2.
[4] An-Nahar, 2 October 2000.
[5] Thomas L. Friedman, "Lebanon: Soul on Ice", New York Times, July 18, 2000.
[6] Id.
[7] Mu’min Dennawi, An-Nahar, 22 September 2000, 12.
[8] Al-Mustaqbal, 24 September 2000.
[9] Testimony of Daniel Pipes, in USCFL (United States Committee for a Free Lebanon), 14 June 2000.
[10] "At the Arab Sommet in Fes in 1982, President Sarkis officially requested Syria to withdraw its troups as had done already the other countries which were taking part in what was called the Arab Force of Dissuasion… The following year, in September, President Gemayel sent the General Secretariat of the League a note repeating the Lebanese call for an Israeli withdrawal and the departure of all foreign troups, in a document which was addressed to President Hafez al-Assad." (Emile Khoury, L'Orient-Le Jour, 28 September 2000.)
[11] Albert Sechehaye, "La pensée et la langue", in Essais sur le langage, Paris, "Le sens commun", Minuit 1969, 88.
[12] Saoud al-Maoula, "Who are the real friends of Syria ?", An-Nahar, 11 November 2000.
[13] Samir Frangié, "The barricades of the state", L'Orient-Le Jour, 20 December 2000.
[14] L'Orient-Le Jour, 13 September 2000.
[15] L'Orient-Le Jour, 25 October 2000.
[16] L'Orient-Le Jour, 13 September 2000.
[17] Speech of Asem Kanso, L'Orient-Le Jour, 7 November 2000, 4.
[18] Ibrahim al-Amin, As-Safir, 13 November 2000, 2.
[19] An-Nahar, 21 August 2000.
[20] L'Orient-Le Jour, 25 September 2000.
[21] L'Orient-Le Jour, 9 November 2000, 3.
[22] L'Orient-Le Jour, 25 November 2000.
[23] An-Nahar, 21 November 2000.
[24] Id.
[25] Id.
[26] Reported by Emile Khoury, "Un système politique qui perd peu à peu de sa spécificité," L'Orient-Le Jour, 26 October 2000.
[27] An-Nahar, 7 December 2000, 5.