Arab Nationalism and Political Culture: The Conflict of Minorities

By Nicole Woods

The Middle East is a region divided by multiple conflicts. In order to recognize the principal causes of these hostilities, it is important to understand the nature of states in the Arab world. Writing with concern for the legitimacy of these states, Michael C. Hudson observed that:

The legitimacy problem in the Arab world is basically the same as that in most newly independent, rapidly modernizing states. In essence, it results from the lack of what Dankwart Rustow has designated as the three prerequisites for political modernity: authority, identity, and equality. The legitimate order requires a distinct sense of corporate selfhood: the people within a territory must feel a sense of political community which does not conflict with other subnational or supranational communal identifications.1

Contemporary Arab states, therefore, are struggling to establish legitimacy based on the three principles established by Dankwart Rustow. Primarily, this legitimacy crisis concerns the issue of identity. As Hudson later states:

The fact that the Arab world in the late 1970s is divided into eighteen sovereign jurisdictions plus the Palestinian community enormously complicates the problem of developing two of the prerequisites of legitimacy--national identity and authority. National identity in the Arab umma is at best multidimensional, at worst mired in irreconcilable contradictions.2

The establishment of arbitrary borders following British and French colonialsim in the Middle East is not the only feature hampering endeavors of national identity. In order to explain why Arab states have difficulty in formulating a comprehensive identity, an understanding of the Arab definition of nationalism iteself, what it means to the Arabs and what they consider to be unifying elements, is essential. Following a detailed description of Arab nationalism, identification of its principal faults exposes the dilemma of minorities, such as Kurds and Maronite Christians, living whithin Arab states and excluded from this rhetoric of nationalism as defined by the Arabs. Modifying the ideology of Arab nationalism to acknowledge or include these groups, however, is certainly possible. Ultimately, the legitimacy of modern Arab states depends upon the ability of the Arab community to establish a national identity that incorporates all local populations.

Defining the Nation
In their search for a comprehensive identity, the Arabs embraced the German conception of nationalism. Sati' Al-Husri initially identified four types of nationalism: religious ideology relies on a common belief system to define the nation, Marxist nationalism attributes nation formation to modernization and capitalism, the French idea promotes the assumption that nation formation is the result of choice, and the German ideology "perceives of the nation in terms of the cultural nation, and the national language as the skeleton of national culture."3

Al-Husri specifically rejected the French theory of nationalism established by Ernest Renan in 1882 that "nationhood resided in the collective will of the people to live together as a community."4 Rather, he believed that "To equate the nation, as Renan did, with an electoral process of daily plebiscites, was to degrade nationalism to a low form of politics and electioneering."5 Instead, Al-Husri argued that "the strongest and most effective tie is the national tie, which derives from a common language and history."6:

The German thinkers supported the theory that the nation is a living organism which has developed organically through common language and history, which--like all living organisms--is determined by subjective impulses.7

This contention is markedly different from that proposed by Renan, that the nation is a conscious decision. The Germans, in contrast, argued that the nation is a predetermined entity whose transformation cannot be conducted deliberately. This claim, therefore, affected Al-Husri and other Arab nationalist theorists significantly. Nationalism would not be defined by state boundaries but by intrinsic commonalities. The challenge remained, therefore, of distinguishing what features united Arabs in a single nation.

For this objective, the Arabs specifically rejected race as a unifying feature of the Arab nation. Al-Husri, for example, dismissed the concept of race, described as "any common origin of a social group united into a people," as a myth that could assist national cohesion but would not accurately describe the true Arab nation, which developed from a diversity of populations which distinctly separate origins.8 Furthermore:

Theories of racial purity were scoffed at and branded as fanciful concoctions, with no scientific basis or rational validity. Neither the French nor the Arabs were descendants of one single identifiable stock. All nations were formed out of an admixture of races, resembling a great flowing river which is being constantly fed by the waters of various tributaries and sources. To isolate a particular droplet or stream, and claim it to be a representative sample, is to fly in the face of common sense and scientific evidence.9

Therefore, race not only inaccurately described the Arabs,but also was so illogical that it would have destroyed the credibility of the idea of an Arab nation itself. Moreover, many theorists saw the racial approach as deriving from the independent motives of its creators. To illustrate, Shaykh 'Abdullah al-'Alayili believed the German concept of a superior race was"a mere emotional reaction to the decline of religion, on the one hand, and a desire for power and domination on the other."10 Michael 'Aflaq likewise concluded that "divisions based on racial assumptions, such as the one between Berbers and Arabs in the Maghreb, weremanufactured by western imperialism," doubtless for the purpose of conquest.11 Race, therefore, was an unproven notion seen to have functions other than to unite a people. Such a perception, therefore, could not be included as a unifying quality of Arab nationalism.

Rather than ethno-nationalism, then, the Arabs relied on social nationalism to describe their condition. Al-'Alayili outlined these two types and concluded that social nationalism "grew out of feudalism in which social organization revolved around a stretch of territory," yet ethno-nationalism, "which is properly speaking a species of subnationalism, grew out of tribal amalgamations and in which ethnicity took primacy over social factors."12 The difference therefore, is that social nationalism recognizes the importance of a shared space while ethno-nationalism recognizes the importance of mutual and encompassing familial relations. Al-'Alayili suggested that the goal of social nationalism should be to establish the "proper balance between the individual, on the one hand, and the community, or society, on the other."13 Identifying the common bonds between these two entities would significantly encourage this balance.

The scholars, therefore, reached relative consensus that Arabic and Islam are two of the principal unifying factors of Arab nationalism. Arabic was notable because communication performs a vital role in uniting a population, through speech and through the written word, including literature.14 Moreover,

language in general--concepts, references,style--carries a load of tacit meanings, nuances, and subtle keys to common values and experiences which differentiate assimiliated from nonassimilated strangers.15

Al-Husri acknowledged thesignificance oflanguage while formulating his theory of Arab nationalism. He observed that language was

The most important non-material link between the individual and the other members of a social group, because it is the instrument of communication... of thought... and not least, of the heritage of ideas and cultureal achievements.16

Therefore, al-Husri recognized a connection between communication and the perpetuation of aculture or a nation. In fact, he declared that language virtually defined nations, which were "principally distinguished from each other by the fact that they speak different languages, and the separate existence of each one of them is based on this, their own language."17 Thus, Al-'Alayili pronounced that the land of the Arabs

coincided with the historical and final expansion of the Arabic language. This was a natural development resulting from successive Arab conquests, migrations and settlement. The final triumph of Arabic followed the law of natural selection whereby other languages, spoken by various ethnic communities, were gradually wiped out and the Arabization process left behind a permanent imprint and a triumphant language.18

Yet the philosophers did not limit themselves to a scientific discussion of the relation between language and the nation. Rather, they built upon these basic assumptions and applied Arab pride to these contentions. Language was particularly important tot eh Arabs, as Edward Atiyah argued, because although Westerners might be convinced by the reason and rhetoric of an argument, Arabs were persuaded by the beauty and style of the oration.19 Thus Qustantine Zurayq argued that

It is the duty of the nationally conscious [Arab] [sic] to ponder his language in order to know its genesis and how it spread and to comprehend its superior qualities over other languages and the special endowments which enablled it to achieve complete mastery over these vast reasons.20

Certainly the expectation was that pride of language would generate pride for the nation. Furthermore, Zaki Al-Arsuzi stressed the mystical qualities of Arabic compared to other languages, such as Latin. Arabic, he argued,

is essentially in conformity with nature itself. It is an intuitive language whereby what it signifies is not mediated by the concept which gives meaning to both signifier and signified. Rather, the word and its meaning are both united in their signification of a referent that is itself fully absorbed in this direct operation.21

The admiration of the Arabs for their language led Hans E. Tutsch to declare that "Language for the Arabs is not only a means of communication, but an opiate for the people."22 Arabic is, without a doubt, a principal factor in the theory of Arab nationalism.

The perfection of Arabic resulted from the success of Islam, the theorists claim, and therefore, the religion itself must be a unifying factor of Arab nationalism as well. Primarily, the language spread with the religion, most importantly because the Qru'an, the scripture of the Muslims, had been revealed in Arabic. Thus Arabic, rather than aramaic, came to dominate the region. In fact, in some instances Arabic became popular more rapidly than Islam.23 An evident interdependence exists, therefore, between Arabic and Islam that is important for the discussion of Arab nationalism. Even in the contemporary Arab world, the standard Arabic is viewed as originating from the dawn of Islam.24 The Arabs, therefore, hesitate to alter their language in any manner that they believe would corrupt the pure language of the Qur'an.25

Islam as it relates to nationalism, however, is not a religious attitude but a historical and cultural heritage. Particularly in the mind of the Christian Michael 'Aflaq, Islam and Arab nationalism were inseparable.

For in Europe, religion was imported from the outside and thus remained 'alien to its nature and history,' whereas for the Arabs Islam formed part of their innermost personality.26

The Arabs and Islam, therefore, share a common territory and historical legacy. Qustantine Zurayq, another Christian Arab, initiated this premise when he recognized the significance of the influential Arab prophet, Muhammed.27 That Islam was initially revealed to the Arabs, who became "its earliest arbiters and protectors," responsible for delivering the Message to all mankind, and that the Arabs ultimately performed a substantial role in the administration of the united Islamic state are valuable historical heritages for Arabs of any faith.28 Most significant for the promotion of Arab nationalism, moreover, Islam established the first union of Arabs:

The first and foremost achievement of the Islamic movement was the unification of the Arabs for the first time in their history. Thus, in a historical setting, Arabism owes to Islam its very existence.

Originally divided by tribal loyalties, Islam provided a common brotherhood that persuaded the Arabs to become one nation.29 Christine M. Helms attributes this unity to the communal nature of the five pillars of Islam. Most importantly, the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca unites Muslims worldwide, "essentially becoming the earthly embodiment of the spiritual Islamic community."30 Michael Hudson promotes a similar view:

The profound significance of Islam as a component of Arab identity lies in its pervasiveness in society, its integrating function beyond kinship, its adaptability, and its sociopolitical values.31

This societal consiousness united all Muslims during Islam's first years of practice and expansion. As Muslims themselves, therefore, many Arabs were also united by this phenomenon. Thus the Arabs, regardless of their faith, consider Islam as a secular unifying feature of Arab nationalism.

These theories of Arab nationalism appear general and flexible enough to encompass the entire Arab world. Indeed, as an ideology alone, the idea of Arab nationalism might benefit the Arabs in the development of their culture and the advancement of national causes, such as the Palestinian issue.32 As a state policy, however, Arab nationalism reveals its shortcomings. The Arab world is not homogeneous, and a state ideology founded on the nationality of only one group is destined to exclude the minorities living within the borders. Thus the two fundamental features of Arab nationalism, Arabic and Islam, have divided the states of Iraq and Lebanon, respectively. As these two countries attempt to apply Arab nationalism in order to solve the problem, the results prove that the application of Arab nationalism to the state must be revised in order to reestablish order and strengthen state legitimacy.

A Different Language: The Kurds of Iraq
The Kurds are not Arabs, and their national identity differs significantly from that of the Arabs. This dissimilarity originates from the Kurds' lengthy history of isolation, resulting from living in a virtually unassailable mountainous region as well as subsisting in an autarkic economy and establishing strong territorial connections. As a result, the Kurds maintained relative autonomy regardless of changes in the imperial rule surrounding them.33 In fact, Kurdish tribal influence might have reached from Eastern Europe to the Persian Gulf around the 1st century B.C.E.34 Despite enjoying autonomy, however,

the Kurds have never formed an independent political entity; throughout their history they have been ruled by outsiders, including the Armenians, the Persians, the Byzantines, and later the Turks and Arabs.

The land of the Kurds constantly exchanged hands between empires. Most importantly, the Persian and Ottoman empires partitioned the Kurdish lands, transforming the area into a frequent battleground. This activity prevented the Kurds from developing a unified, independent state. Yet the Ottoman Empire still permitted the Kurds to rule themselves autonomously until the 1800s when the Ottomans established direct rule over the Kurdish lands.

This event had a strong influence on the development of Kurdish nationalism. At this time, the Kurds were united (by a foreign empire) for the first time, under a central administration, while around them other groups established their own sense of nationality, most notably the Arabs.35 In addition, the Kurdish culture faced extinction via assimilation into Persian and Arab culture because the Kurds did not view themselves as comprising a distinct nationality. Like the Arabs, the Kurds were not a homogeneous race.36 Moreover, most Kurds practiced the same religion as the Arabs and Persians and would have embraced the Arab idea of an Islamic legacy. 37 Having been educated in written languages such as Turkish and Arabic, moreover, many urban Kurds became assimilated into Turkish and Arab culture.38 In order to rescue their Kurdish heritage, therefore, the non-assimilated Kurds took an active interest in their native language.39

Language became an important feature of identity for the Kurds because it differed significantly from Arabic. Kurdish is a former Western Iranian language derived from Indo-European languages, while Arabic has Semitic origins.40 Moreover, the Kurds have a proud, oral literary history that existed before Islam.41 This heritage separated the Kurds from the Arabic Islamic historical legacy. During direct Ottoman rule, when the Kurds began to consolidate their national ideology, they established a written language.42 This action established some permanence for Kurdish language and prevented assimilation.

Yet lingual centrifugal forces divided the Kurds as well. For example, the Kurds wrote using the script of the natives surrounding them, so that they wrote their language in Arabic script around Iraq and Cyrillic script near the Slavs.43 Furthermore, like the Arabs, the Kurds spoke many diverse dialects, but differing from each other to the degree of difference between Romance languages such as Italian and Portuguese.44 The Kurds speak a variety of these dialects in modern Iraq.45 Despite these differences, the Kurds considered themselves a "nation of internal diversity," which distinguished them from a unitary minority that permits foreign rule.46 Like the Arabs, the Kurds recognized themselves to be different from the Ottomans and desired independence.47

The development of Kurdish national sentiment demonstrated that Kurdistan should have been a separate entity following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire. Great Britain, however, aimed to exploit the oil reserves discovered in the Kurdish district of Mosul. The British, therefore, annexed a part of Kurdistan to the British mandate of Iraq in the Sykes-Picot Agreement that divided the Ottoman Empire between Great Britain and France in 1916.48 As a result, the Kurdish lands were partitioned by the borders ofTurkey, Iraq, and Iran.49 The Kurds became a minority in all three of these countries. In Iraq, for example, they comprised about seventy-five percent of the minority population, becoming the most significant minority for the central government to placate.50 More importantly, the Kurds consisted of 23% of the Iraqi population,allowing them the opportunity to challenge the authority of the Iraqi government. Yet the dependence of Iraq on the resources of the Kurdish district prevented the Iraqi government from allowing the materialization of an independent Kurdishtan.51 The fate of the Kurds, therefore, depended on the decisions of Baghdad.

The situation of the Kurds in Iraq provides a useful opportunity for studying the imperfections of Arab nationalism because the ruling party in Iraq, until recently, has itself subscribed to the theories of Arab nationalism. The government attempted, therefore, to apply these theories in order to alleiate the Kurdish problem. Beginning with the early nationalist theorists, very little had been stated regarding groups that refused to integrate into Arab nationalism.When the Iraqi ruling party, the Ba'ath, came to power in 1963, therefore, they had few references for integrating the kurds into an Arab Iraq. Michael 'Aflaq simplified the dilemma at the time and claimed that it "resulted from an incorrect understanding of Arabism." Arabic nationalism, he explained, was not limited or chauvinist but flexible and humanitarian. In addition, 'Aflaq blamed foreign imperialism for attempting to divide the Middle East and claimed that "the Kurds lived side by side with the Arabs for hundreds of years and fought courageously to defend the Arab lands." Therefore, although the Kurds were a separate nation, they enjoyed a special bond with the Arabs, and this bond was an integral part of Arab nationalism. In addition, 'Aflaq declared that the Kurds had the same objectives as the Arabs in their nationalist endeavors, and that only a minority of Kurds were attempting to benefit from the situation by attempting to destroy this historical bond.52 Two fundamental points emerged from 'Aflaq's statements. Primarily, the Arabs respected the Kurdish nationalist goals and understood their concern for the future of their culture. Secondly, the Arabs and Kurds needed to unite, especially in Iraq, against foreign forcesthat would benefit from a dispute between the two groups.

These two points were irreconcilable with Kurdish nationalism. By including Kurds in Arab national theory, although in an indirect way, 'Aflaq forced the Kurds into a relationship that they evidently did not desire. Moreover, claiming to respect Kurdish goals projected the appearance of a benevolent government, while in truth the Iraqis only intended to recognize the Kurdish endeavor to preserve their culture, not to self-government. By transforming these points into policy, therefore, the Ba'ath were condemned to encounter resistance.

The application of these assertions inevitably became one of duality and conceit. In 1958, before gaining power, the Ba'ath published a statement assuring that "Kurds and Arabs are partners in Iraq." Yet the partnership was certainly not bilateral. During the early 1960's for example the Ba'ath hardly allowed the Kurds any voice in their affairs. Meanwhile the Ba'ath pursued their own goals of pan-Arabism, without the consent of the Iraqi Kurdish population, who had been declared their "partners" in Iraq. The decision to include Iraq in any Arab federation or state should have included the Kurds, who were naturally concerned regarding their fate in a larger nation-state to whose nation they did not belong. The Kurds, therefore, demanded that the Ba'ath grant them autonomy, but negotiations on the matter were unsuccessful.53

In 1968 the Ba'ath again rose to power and made sincere efforts to reconcile with the Kurds. This compromise mostly consisted of recognizing Kurdish culture and incorporating Kurds into the central government.54 Later, on March 11, 1970, the Ba'ath granted extensive concessions to the Kurds that established self-government and ceded to other Kurdish demands while dedicating the Iraqi government to helping in the development of the Kurdish district.55 These negotiations were largely the result of Iraqi fears that instability would weaken the state and allow foreign infiltration, not of the development of any new platform that recognized Kurdish rights to self-rule.56 In 1972, however, the situation worsened again as the Ba'ath and Kurds disagreed regarding the implementation of the 1970 agreement.57 The Kurds concluded that they would have towin their independence by force.58 The fighting that ensued resulted in a breakdown of the Kurdish movement and the success of the Iraqi government.59 Later, however, in 1976, Iraq again granted autonomy to the Kurds,60 but in 1988 unleashed what appeared to have been an extermination project against them.61 Thus the duality continued.

The policies that the Iraqi government adopted in relation to the Kurds provoked A. Sherzad to state:

Iraq has been the scene of a confrontation between two unequal, hierarchically structured entities: an Arab entity, endowed with a state structure, and a semi-independent Kurdish entity, lacking a state structure but possessing its own political sphere, albeit in a minority capacity. As far as Baghdad's strategy is concerned, it has aimed, and still aims to integrate the Kurdish entity within its own state structure and ideology, thus destroying its autonomy, reducing the Kurdish question to one of mere cultural recognition. This recognition could be progressively eliminated through long-term strategies, such as the intensification of campaigns aimed at promoting the arabization of the Kurdish regions.62

This was inevitably the result of attempting to include Kurds, who already possessed a nation of their own, in the Arab nationalism framework. By honoring their own language and refusing to assimilate, the Kurds proved to be dissidents in the eyes of the Ba'ath. When applied to a state structure where significant minorities are present, therefore, the theories of Arab nationalism predictably fail to generate a comprehensive political culture.

Divisions of Faith: The Maronites of Lebanon
According to theories of Arab nationalism, Lebanon should not experience the problems that it does. The majority of the Christians and Muslims in this state are Arabs, speaking Arabic and sharing a similar culture.63 Thus the population already enjoys a shared heritage and language. Yet the principal difference among them is, of course the diversity of their religions. The most influential relgious group, the Maronites, are seignificantly separated from the Muslims and indeed the rest of Lebanon because of their religion. This difference has hindered Lebanon's development of a cohesive national sentiment and produced antagonism between its Muslims and Christians, especially the Maronites.

These antagonisms are mostly the result of historical opportunities. The Maronite faith was founded in Syria by Maron, a monk who broke away from teh Uniate Church of Syria and established a mystical order in the late 300s C.E. Later facing persecution from the church of Antioch, the maronites escaped to modern-day Lebanon.64 They resided peacefully within the Christian empires until the Muslims rescued the Maronites from Byzantine rule three centuries later. Although not persecuted by the Byzantines, the Maronites viewed themselves as Semites and welcomed the opportunity to be joined with the Muslim Arabs as one entity. As non-Muslim "People of the Book," or dhimmi, the Maronites were granted some autonomy and allowed to live peacefully under Khalifate rule.65 Later the Ottoman Empire adopted the same practice, naming the system millet. Although this system allowed the minority religions to practice their separate faiths, it also established some undesirable attitudes that perpetuate under the modern political culture of Lebanon.66 To illustrate:

The theocratic view was the basis of the 'millet-system,' which, while it allowed a certain autonomy to the minorities, also increased the completeness of their separation from one another and from the majority. This was particularly true of those minorities of which a large proportion lived compactly in a single area; they came to regard themselves, if they had not always regarded themselves, as a 'peculiar people' linked by no moral or political tie with their neighbors. To complete their isolation there was added the memory of injustices, real or imagined, which they had suffered at the hands of the majority.67

These injustices occured most forcefully during the Khalifate reigns of Abd al-Malik and al-Mutawakkil. Al-Malik permitted Muslims to settle in dhimmi lands and prohibited Christians from becoming civil servants, and later al-Mutawakkil degraded Christians by forcing them to show openly in demeaning ways that they practiced a different faith than the Muslims. These actions greatly affected the Maronites by fostering distrust for the dhimmi system and fear of a systematic annihilation of their religion.68

When the Crusaders came in 1097, therefore, the Maronites welcomed these new heroes and became their closest allies. This new friendship developed into a profitable relationship between the Maronites and the West following Maronite "conversion" to Roman Catholicism. Although the Maronites maintained many of their original practices, the union with the West has been an incredibly strong influence in the Maronites' perception of themselves.69 For example, the Maronites consider themselves to be French, not Arab, and they therefore make great efforts to practice French culture, rejecting their own heritage.70 This sentiment resulted from a declaration made by the French king during the Seventh Crusade that Maronites are citizens of France.71 At the same time, however, these Crusaders persecuted the Muslim Arabs, producing Arab hatred of the West.72 The enemies of the Arabs, therefore, were the friends of the Maronites. The Maronite estrangement of the Arabs became even more pronounced following the First World War. At that time, as Great Britain and France divided the former Ottoman Empire, the Arabs felt betrayed by the two European powers whom they believed had come to liberate them. Having previously identified with France, therefore, the Maronites did not feel the same outrage as the Arabs and were, in fact, negatively associated with the new colonial power by the Arabs.73 A clear distinction between Maronites and Arabs came to exist.

As a result of these changes, the Maronites have developed a distinct nationality. In fact, the Maronites explicitly do not desire any association with the Arabs.74 They consider themselves "Arabic-speaking," rather than a part of the Arab nation.75 Consequently, the Maronites "conceptualize Lebanon as a country in but not of the Middle East."76 Moreover, "it has led them to regard Lebanon not primarily as the western frontier of the Arab world but as the eastern frontier of Christendom."77 This religious association with the West proved advantageous when modernization began to influence the Middle East. Because Western technology dominated the globe, modernization would benefit primarily those who spoke a Western language and had a Western education. For the Maronites, these virtues came as a result of their sharing a common religion with the Western countries. While the Maronites increased their wealth, however, the Arabs experienced a psychological conflict as they attempted to reconcile their culture with their need for Western productions. Thus,

so much of Lebanon's success story before and after World War II was a Christian triumph, one that ignited the innate assumption of Christian superiority, encouraged by the West's own barely hidden contempt for the Arab East.78

The Maronites, therefore, developed a sense of supremacy over other Lebanese, especially the Muslims, whose religion they despise.79

Considering themselves to be superior, the Maronites believe that they have a special mission in the Middle East to use their supremacy to "perform their duty to Christendom."80 This duty takes many forms; often it is to transmit Westernization to the Arab lands.81 The Maronites' perceived mission originated from their conceptualization of Lebanon as a bridge between two worlds: the Western European Christian lands and the Arab-Islamic East.82 Lebanon, they argue, has its own historical legacy of autonomy. "Caliphs, Crusading rulers and Ottoman Sultans alike refrained from demanding more from Lebanon than tribute and the formal recognition of their suzerainty." Consequently, the country became a haven for persecuted minorities and religious groups who, in order to survive, did not trouble each other. Thus Lebanon has acquired a history of tolerance that is important to the Maronites' confidence in their importance.83

Because their self-proclaimed legacy is separate from the Arab legacy of Islam, the Maronites cannot associate themselves with the Arabs. Rather, they have chosen the ancient Phoenicians to be their honorary ancestors. The Phoenicians correspond conveniently with the Maronite idea of Lebanon as a cosmopolitan bridge between East and West. Moreover, this independent identity further separates the Maronites from the Arabs and raises their status: "It is because of its Mediterranean culture that the Maronites claim Lebanon is above and apart from the Arabs who surround it."84

The concepts above are among three influences motivating the Maronites:

the Maronite's determination to separate themselves from their cultural environment; their innate sense of superiority in relation to the Muslims and other Lebanese Christians; and their visceral fear as a Christian minority in the Muslim Middle East.85

The third factor, therefore, is fear. The Maronites believe that their culture and religion are threatened with extinction. This threat has driven them to pursue domination of the state in order to protect their way of life.86 When their ultimate control is endagered, the Maronites react perceiving that enemies intend to eradicate them.

Though accused by other Lebanese of believing they are a bit more than first among equals, the Maronites' basic fear is that stripping them of their economic and political prerogatives is the prelude to driving them from Lebanon.87

The feeling of vulnerability has resulted from Maronite history of persecution. Furthermore, the Maronites do not distinguish between Arabs and Muslims, and they see the Middle East as constituting an "Arabo-Islamic" nationality even though the Arab nationalists have insisted that nationalism stresses the legacy of Islam rather than the religion itself.88 Therefore, "all Lebanese Christians perceive as imperiled their survival as a religious minority trapped in a sea of Islam."89 Thus, the Maronites "reject all forms of pan-Arabism as nothing more than a mask for pan-Islamism."90 The Maronites believe that responsibility rests on the Arabs and Muslims to relieve their fears.91

Unfortunately, the Arab nationalists were not certain how to respond. Many of the first Arab nationalists had been Lebanese, yet the Maronites, one minority among several in the country, had disowned their natural nation.92 As had been the instance with the Kurds of Iraq, Arab nationalist theory offered minimal advice regarding how to amend the situation. The works of Sati al-Husri offered this suggestion:

Everyone who speaks Arabic is an Arab. Everyone who is affiliated with these people is an Arab. If he does not know this or if he does not cherish his Arabism, then we must study the reasons for his position. It may be a result of ignorance--then we must teach him the truth. It may be because he is unaware or deceived--then we must awaken him and reassure him. It may be a result of selfishness--then we must work to limit his selfishness.93

Applying al-Husri's advice, the Arab nationalists attempted to understand the Maronite position and teach them "the truth" regarding the nationalist movement. The results were nebulous. The Maronites had rejected the historical legacy of Islam and now mistrusted the Arab assurances that nationalism did not stress religion. Yet, "the leaders of the nationalist movement have always professed the best possible intentions towards the Christians, and have been quick to disown anything which might give the opposite impression."94 The Maronites, however, have not been reassured.

Then the Arabs dedicated themselves to "work to limit the selfishness" of the Maronites. Probably the Arabs of Lebanon performed their duty to Arab nationalism unintentionally, because the Muslims, other Arab Christians, and in fact most groups within Lebanon believed that the system that had instituted Maronite political hegemony was unfair and they desired more power for themselves. The Muslims in particular claimed that "the 1943 Pact was born out of a Muslim spirit of accommodation, that it contained no special safeguards for any particular community, but that it no longer suited the present situation."95 Both political authority and financial status, therefore, require redistributing.96 Theh Mulsims proposed that Lebanon abolish its confessional political structure and practice secular democracy. As a majority, the Muslims would be sure to gain power from this arrangement, and the Maronites, as a minority, would lose their advantage.97 The Maronites, therefore, accused the Arabs of offering more loyalty to the Arab national cause than to Lebanon itself.98 As in the past, the Maronites believed that a threat to their monopoly of power endangered their special mission for Lebanon. The Maronite refusal to relinquish power has thrown Lebanon into civil war.

The Maronites, it would seem, have not heeded the words of Michael 'Aflaq:

Confessional differences have distanced an important section of the Arabs from the Spirit of their country and its traditions... We wish that a full awakening in Arab Christians of their nationalism takes place, so that they can see in Islam a nationalist education for themselves, which they must cherish and fill themselves of because it is part of their nature and history, and because it is the arena in which the Arabs have probed their ability in thought, moral force, and spiritual ascendancy.99

Conflicts between religious groups in Lebanon, therefore, do not result from intolerance of each other's religion.100 Rather, these conflicts are typically battles for power or, concerning Arab nationalism, conflicts of identity rather than confessional schisms. The Maronite desire to distance themselves from the threat of "Arabo-Islamic" nationalism and from its seemingly threatening Islamic legacy explains why Maronites do not subscribe to 'Aflaq's appeal. The Arabs found some success, however, when this aspect of Arab nationalism received less emphasis in Lebanon. The Arab desire to incorporate the Maronites into their nation has resulted in a removal of Islam as a fundamental factor of Arab nationalism.101 Consequently, many Maronites have begun to recognize their similarities with the Arabs, including the Muslims. Increasingly, Maronites profess to being Arab rather than Phoenician. It would appear that the Arab nationalists have had some success in Lebanon in incorporating a minority into the nation.

This success is not without its drawbacks. Primarily, a majority of Maronites still perceive themselves as non-Arabs.102 In addition, the Arab nationalist theory required reform before the Maronites could consider assimilating into the Arab nation. As a result, the Arabs of Lebanon do not relate to the other Arabs as cohesively as was initially expected by the nationalist philosophers. Consequently, the political culture of Lebanon associates more with the country's own unique national citizenship than with the Arab nation.103 As a result, the Lebanese differ from the Arabs in their opinions regarding Middle Eastern matters such as the Arab-Israeli conflict. For the Arabs this issue is certainly a national concern. For the Lebanese, however, it concerns only the state.104 Although eventually the Arabs may successfully unite Lebanon, it will not be a state embracing Arab nationalism as its political ideology.

Conclusion: Arab Nationalism and Political Culture
As evident from these case studies, Arab nationalism cannot successfully integrate all minorities into a cohesive political culture without difficulty. This is the dilemma of all non-civic nationalities that, by adopting the Germanic view that nations are natural phenomena existing regardless of choice, these nations encounter resistance by groups within the country who have selected their own complete nationality. As the Kurds of Iraq and the Maronites of Lebanon demonstrate, these separate nations often began with one simple difference that, through history, has evolved into a complete and separate identity. By establishing the defining features of the Arab nation, the theorists consequently excluded groups who identify with only one of these features.

Arab nationalism seems a bad choice for a political ideology in a country with significant minority populations who feel threatened as a minority in a nation-state. Yet Arab nationalism could still operate successfully at the state level. This feat, however, would involve manipulating the nationalist theories. A.H. Hourani writes regarding the matter, saying,

In the long run there is only one way in which the problem of minorities can be solved: majority and minorities must form a 'community' with one another, must learn to respect and trust one another, and on the basis of trust and respect work together for common ends... This does not mean that the differences between them will competely disappear, for unity does not necessarily imply uniformity;... It means that both majority and minorities must be conscious that their loyalties and duties do not stop at the limits of their racial or religious group, and that every human community must, if it would avoid falling into mortal sin, make itself the servant of something higher than itself.105

As altruistic as this idea might sound, however, very few communities are willing to collaborate in this manner. Writing prophetically, Hourani adds:

If Arab and Egyptian nationalism should become essentially Islamic movements, giving the Arab Christians at best an inferior position on the margin of the national community, then the status of the religious minorities cannot be improved. Equally, if it adopted a racial basis the linguistic minorities could not expect any amelioration of their lot.106

Describing the problems of modern Arab nationslim almost perfectly, Hourani has attested to the movement's destiny to fail. As stated by Michael Hudson, the political community of a state must not conflict with the identities of minorities within the state.107 In fact Hourani expresses his doubts regarding the integration of two particular groups into the Arab majority. "There remains two communities which are likely to resist assimilation: the Maronites of Lebanon and the Kurds of Iraq."108 He suggests that these groups be granted some autonomy, as what might have been successful in the case of the Kurds had the two parties agreed on its implementation.109 Although this solution might be effective in many cases, it does not offer a universal resolution. The reconciliation between Arab nationalism and the minorities must be determined on an ad hoc basis and will potentially take many forms, like the transformation occuring in Lebanon. When applying Arab nationalism to the state, though, its effects on minorities must not be ignored.

(Endnotes to follow bib.)

Al-Khalil, Samir, Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1989.

Choueiri, Youssef, Arab Nationalism: A History: Nation and State in the Arab World, Oxford, Blackwell Publishers, 2000.

Ghareeb, Edmund, The Kurdish Question in Iraq, Syracuse, Syracuse University Press, 1981.

Helms, Christine M., Arabism and Islam: Stateless Nations and Nationless States, Washington, D.C., The Institute for National Strategic Studies, 1990.

Hourani, A.H., Minorities in the Arab World, London, Oxford University Press, 1947.

____________, Syria and Lebanon: A Political Essay, London, Oxford University Press, 1946.

Hudson, Michael, Arab Politics: The Struggle for Legitimacy, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1977.

Izady, Mehrdad R., The Kurds: A Concise Handbook, Washington, D.C., Taylor and Francis International Publishers, 1992.

Kreyenbrock, Philip G., and Stefan Sperl, eds., The Kurds: A Contemporary View, London, Routledge, 1992.

Mackey, Sandra, Lebanon: Death of a Nation, New York, Congdon and Weed, Inc., 1989.

Nuseibeh, Hazem Zaki,The Ideas of Arab Nationalism, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1959.

Sirriyeh, Hussein, "Lebanon: Dimensions of Conflict," Adelphi Papers, no.243, Autumn 1989.

Smock, David R., and Audrey C. Smock, The Politics of Pluralism: A Contemporary Study of Lebanon and Ghana, New York, Elsevier, 1975.

Tibi, Bassam, Arab Nationalism: A critical Enquiry, New York, St. Martin's Press, 1981.

Tutsch, Hans E., Facets of Arab Nationalism, Detroit, Wayne State University Press, 1965.


1 Michael Hudson, Arab Politics: The Search for Legitimacy, p. 4.

2 Ibid., pp. 5-6.

3 Bassam Tibi, Arab Nationalism: A critical Enquiry, p. 118.

4 Hudson, p. 34.

5 Youssef M. Choueiri, Arab Nationalism: A History: Nation and State in the Arab World, p. 123.

6 qtd. by Tibi, p. 119.

7 Ibid., (quoting al-Husri) p. 126.

8 Ibid., p. 123.

9 Choueiri, p. 122.

10 Ibid., p. 135.

11 Ibid., p. 161.

12 Ibid., p. 134.

13 Ibid., p. 133.

14 Hazem Zaki Nuseibeh, The Ideas of Arab Nationalism, p. 76.

15 Hudson, p. 35.

16 qtd. by Tibi, pp. 119-120.

17 qtd by Tibi, p. 120.

18 Choueiri, p. 140.

19 Hans E. Tutsch, Facets of Arab Nationalism, p. 37.

20 Nuseibeh (quoting Zurayq), p. 69.

21 Choueiri, p. 147.

22 Tutsch, p. 36.

23 Christine M. Helms, Arabism and Islam: Stateless Nations and Nationless States, p. 29.

24 Tutsch, p. 35.

25 Nuseibeh, p. 73.

26 Choueiri, p. 163.

27 Ibid., pp. 130-131.

28 Helms, p. 23.

29 Nuseibeh, p. 20.

30 Helms, pp. 36-37.

31 Hudson, p. 47.

32 Tutsch, pp. 132-133.

33 Edmund Ghareeb, The Kurdish Question in Iraq, p. 4.

34 Mehrdad R. Izady, The Kurds: A Concise Handbook, p. 35.

35 Ghareeb, p. 5.

36 Philip G. Kreyenbroek and Stefan Sperl, eds., The Kurds: A Contemporary Overview, p. 11.

37 Izady, p. 133.

38 A.H. Hourani, Minorities in the Arab World, p. 96.

39 Kreyenbroek and Sperl, p. 69.

40 Ibid., p. 70.

41 Izady, p. 175.

42 Kreyenbroek and Sperl, p. 69.

43 Ibid., p. 71.

44 Izady, p. 185.

45 Kreyenbroek and Sperl, p. 71.

46 Izady, p. 185.

47 Ghareeb, p.5.

48 Ibid., p. 29.

49 Ibid., p. 3.

50 Hourani, Minorities, p. 91.

51 Kreyenbroek and Sperl, p. 24.

52 Ghareeb, pp. 53-55.

53 Ibid., pp. 61-66.

54 Ibid., pp. 79-80.

55 Ibid., p. 87.

56 Ibid., p. 83.

57 Ibid., p. 105.

58 Ibid., p. 158.

59 Ibid., p. 174.

60 Ibid., p. 190.

61 Izady, p. 215.

62 Kreyenbroek and Sperl, pp. 136-137.

63 A.H. Hourani, Syria and Lebanon: A Political Essay,p.142.

64 Sandra Mackey, Lebanon: Death of a Nation, p.34.

65 Ibid., p. 32.

66 David R. Smock and Audrey C. Smock, The Politics of Pluralism: A Comparative Study of Lebanon and Ghana, p. 89.

67 Hourani, Syria and Lebanon, p. 127.

68 Mackey, pp. 33-34.

69 Ibid., pp. 35-36.

70 Ibid., p. 43.

71 Ibid., p. 40.

72 Ibid., p. 66.

73 Hourani, Syria and Lebanon, p. 104.

74 Mackey, p. 40.

75 Ibid., p. 42.

76 Ibid., p. 39.

77 Hourani, Syria and Lebanon, p. 132.

78 Mackey, pp. 67-68.

79 Smock and Smock, p. 91.

80 Hourani, Syria and Lebanon, p. 133.

81 Ibid., p. 129.

82 Ibid., p. 119.

83 Ibid., pp. 129-130.

84 Mackey, pp. 42-43.

85 Ibid., p. 41.

86 Hussein Sirriyeh, "Lebanon: Dimensions of Conflict," p. 20.

87 Mackey, p. 45.

88 Hourani, Syria and Lebanon, p. 103.

89 Mackey, p. 30.

90 Ibid., p. 45.

91 Ibid., p. 53.

92 Hourani, Syria and Lebanon, p. 116.

93 qtd. by Hudson, p. 39.

94 Hourani, Syria and Lebanon, p. 144.

95 Sirriyeh, pp. 12-13.

96 Smock and Smock, p. 168.

97 Sirriyeh, p. 16.

98 Ibid., p. 12.

99 qtd by Samir al-Khalil, Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq, pp. 197-198.

100 Smock and Smock, p. 90.

101 Hourani, Syria and Lebanon, p. 103.

102 Smock and Smock, p. 157.

103 Ibid., p. 99.

104 Sirriyeh, p. 45.

105 Hourani, Minorities, p. 119.

106 Ibid., p. 121.

107 see note#1.

108 NB: When I began this paper I was not aware that Hourani specifically identified these groups as potential problems. It would appear that Mr. Hourani and I share the same ideas.

109 Hourani, Minorities, p.122.