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31 October 2016


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I had this conversation repeatedly when I was Professor of Arabic at West Point. My office mates the first year I was there were the two officers who taught Chinese language. They knew little of Middle Eastern culture and as they learned of it from me were struck by just what you say, i.e., that in the ME religion both as path to salvation and also as sectarian identity matters a great deal while in the Far Eastern cultural matrix other factors prevail. The desire to believe that in the ME religion does not really matter is endemic in the West and that idea is completely wrongheaded. In Lebanon religion as sect is the backbone of personal identity and on that base political leaders assemble followers, Aoun is a Christian leader. He has made common cause with Nasrullah's hizbullah in order to be able to successfully oppose what are essentially Sunni controlled forces headed by Hariri and backed by Saudi Arabia. Are there cross sectarian groupings in Lebanon? Yes, but they are notable for their scarcity. pl



For me, "oriental" does not denote little people with light brown skin, black hair and slanted eyes. No, it denotes the culture or cultures that are noticeably different from that of modern Europe and North America and which predominate across North Africa, the greater ME and the Asian land mass to the east of that. With regard to your point about similar divisions among groups like the Walloons and Flemings in Europe, you are correct. These difference are an exact analog but without the specific cultural content of similar divisions in the ME. The European divisions have nothing to do with present immigration. They have existed for a very long time. pl



What was the sectarian composition of the 8th Brigade at Souq al-Gharb? pl



The Hariris have always had a river of Saudi money to employ in Lebanon and Syria. why would that be different now? Saudi budgetary difficulties would not IMO be a barrier to that. pl

The Twisted Genius


It was mostly Maronite Christian with another 20% Sunni Moslem, so it had a lot of reasons to hold the ridgeline.

Babak Makkinejad

I agree; indeed if one refuses to acknowledge empirical facts, that would be just plain stupid.



That was what I remembered of the brigade's composition. IMO Aoun is a Lebanese patriot but he sees Lebanon as an essentially Christian country. He has reason to see it that way. The French created Lebanon as a Maronite enclave carved out of the side of the Syrian Mandate specifically as a kind of "reservation" for the Maronites for whom they had repeatedly intervened as protectors in the 19th Century. Unfortunately for this intention, the French found it necessary to include large numbers of Sunni and Shia Muslims within the boundaries of the new state. That and the influx of Palestinian refugees in 1948, many of them Muslim completely unbalanced the original demographic design of the Lebanese state. for the Maronites, for whom Aoun is such a standard bearer, he is a hope of preserving what they see as the essential character of Lebanon. Intelligent Muslims there agree that the Christians are essential. What they have often said to me is that without the Christians, especially the Maronites, Lebanon would be just another part of Syria. pl


, but is in fact so evil it wants to replace us Ship of Theseus style - a stealth transition.


Hood Canal Gardner

"Culture is real. Culture is important. Culture endures." Yes!

It "evolves/renews itself" as well (ie) is not static...especially when whacked, something the WDC pointy heads flush at our peril. IMO cultural anthropology/sociology, cultural geography has a central (yet developed) place in METL.


The Chinese differ rather sharply from Koreans, Vietnamese, and the Japanese, though. The Chinese are much more cosmopolitan and "accepting" of outsiders, at least in the big picture sense--individual clans, groups, etc. might be very inward looking, but they are willing to coexist with other groups on some agreed-upon long term compact. Not quite so with the more homogeneous ethnic groups that have superficially adopted Chinese cultural trappings. They have much more ingrained sense of "propriety" when it comes to defining a Korean, Vietnamese, or Japanese, and are not so willing to accept deviations. They will be polite towards those who are obviously "outsiders" but much less tolerant towards those who look like one of them, but not acting like they "should." It may not show up as much on "cultural" matters (Koreans are less tolerant than Taiwanese, say, wrt LGBT, but generally more tolerant than Westerners, for example), but on matters of politics, history, and ideology, go against the conventional wisdom...look out. (As Babak reminded us in another thread, two mayors of Nagasaki were assassinated, in 1990s and 2000s, respectively, for saying that the Japanese emperor had some responsibility for World War II--in a society where firearms are uncommon.)

I don't know if the boundary between the West and the Orient is nearly as neatly defined as one might think, in some aspects, at any rate. On matters of laws, institutions, and "family/clan," South Italians and Greeks, and even Cajuns in United States (this, I know from personal experience--my "other" family who are Cajun are more like my Korean family than anyone else I've known in their way of thinking, in some sense--but not necessarily in other senses.) can behave very "oriental" manner. The culture that we associate with the "occident" strikes me as not quite even "European-North American," but really Northern European/Northeastern U.S., with a huge gray area.


The short answer is that Aoun is a Lebanese patriot. He has fought for Lebanon as opposed to some faction within Lebanon.

While it may have started out "secularist", and it is certainly painted in the West as such today, Hezbollah also concerns itself primarily with the welfare of Lebanon as a whole. Lebanese must stick together if they wish to have an independent Lebanon. The alternative is forever killing each other with outside support, while ultimately giving up parts of Lebanon to Israel.

They are today learning this lesson all across the Middle East. The Neocon wars are bringing more factions together, than dividing them. And teaching them to resist.


Col Lang,

My apologies, I did not mean to offend. The comment was intended to be a bit "tongue in cheek". As an explanation:

Here in SA, the "PC nonsense" can be overwhelming with regards to everything being blamed on the racism of the past, and the present. The "new" 1994 government kept "race" as the boogieman, only the method of application is different.

SA is a wonderfully culturally diverse country and I find the continuation of race based policies undermines the natural movement towards cultural harmony here.

IMO, we are all first and foremost human beings, and as such what one's physical appearance is does not alter the commonality of humanity. A viewpoint where a person's physical features becomes the reason to differentiate one from another dismisses this common connection we have as a species. As such, differentiating people by "race" is implying that we have no commonality with each other. This is a simplistic view IMO.

This country has a long history of this type of view and the repercussions have been, and continue to be detrimental to it. After 30 plus years living here, surrounded by all this diversity, I came to the conclusion that it is one's "culture" that sets us apart.

As you mention, a culture is made up of many facets that have evolved during the course of its existence. Since there are so many different cultures here in close proximity, the uniqueness of each is fairly easy to see. For the most part, there is a tremendous tolerance of each other here where in other parts of the world the same cultures are fighting each other.

Possibly due to the apartheid system where races were kept separated, the cultural cores here are very strong, communities and traditions are still maintained, even under the new system which doesn't require this.

What we do get here is what I call "culturism". Which simply means that we all generally have a preference for our own culture over another one. I have lived more than half my life over here but still have many of my "American culture" views and attitudes, I haven't fully integrated into the SA culture, but strangely enough I no longer fit into the American culture either.

So the degree to which one individual's "cultural preference" can tolerate another's "cultural preference" varies. In secular societies, and it appears from above, in the Eastern Asian cultures, there is a high tolerance, while in the more extremist societies there is little or none.

I tend to see human interactions through this lense.

I read Porkchop Express's comment as a bit of a "leg pull", and was trying (not so successfully) to point out it was about culture not race.


To expand on TTG's remarks on the 8th Brigade, there is a good wiki article on it. (in reading about the Lebanese Civil War, one has to distinguish that LAF=Lebanese Armed Forces (Aoun) from LF=Lebanese Forces (militias, JAJA=Gaegea for one)).


The Porkchop Express

I agree with the Colonel's assessment, particularly their well honed ability to camouflage true beliefs--especially for the benefit a western audience.

It's not racist to say so. At least I don't think so. Sarcasm, dude. But go ahead and call a western educated Lebanese "oriental" (Lebanese in particular and to a lesser degree other Arab peoples) and see what happens.

Generally includes one or more of the following: charges of racism, a presentation of selective historical facts based on sectarian beliefs, postcolonial progressive talking points, Edward Said/Frantz Fanon quotes, and a whole litany defenses and/or ad hominem attacks. It's something of a game, really.

Their culture is not our culture and vice versa, to pretend otherwise is silly and counter productive. Doesn't mean it's better or worse. It's just not the same.


The Porkchop Express

You have it exactly right on all the vectors of their spleen. I am used to it. BTW, "oriental" in my usage is as in "Our Oriental Heritage" by Will Durant rather than las in "Orientalism" by Edward Said. I liked Said's book until I realized that what he was saying is that Arabs are no different than anyone else. He had an odd background. Perhaps that is why he denied the existence of his own people's culture. BTW I don't find that the supposedly westernized Christians are less Arab than the Muslims. The Phoenician thing is funny. The Phoenicians are as long gone as the ancient Philistines. pl



I wonder if Said's view in "Orientalism" is rather like my own view about (East) Asian Americans--although, unlike Said, I strictly limit my view to Asian-Americans and NOT Asians. I think one blind spot introduced by PC-ness (I wonder if it inflicted Said too) is that Americans who come from a given ethnic background see themselves, who, often are more American than a "foreign ethnic" (even if there are cultural residues) and apply the American mold that they fit into to "their own (alleged) people back in their (alleged) homeland." But Asian Americans are, by and large, people who left Asia behind and chose to be Americans. We are more foreign in Asia than we are here, and we don't care much for those who insist that we are "Asians."

We had this conversation before, but my take on Bobby Jindal is that he is basically a Louisianan with some Indian background, not an Indian in Louisiana. I often wondered Said was attributing his own New Yorkerness to the Middle Easterns (although Said was probably too old when he settled in New York to be a fully assimiliated New Yorker...but what do I know?).



" then Americans want their women to be fighting on actual battle fields and become POWs."

See #13:


Once an old Iranian man asked me why then they call us I ranians,(trying to insult us)? and I replied why then you call them Ammerikai and not Americans? It's the same thing? He had no answer.
IMO, orientalist, redneck, rag head, towel head, camel driver etc. are all the same, meaning less, point less insults, for those incapable of having reason for dialogue. IMO, considering the recent history of ME, Israel Palestinian issue, ISIL, etc. the world has past the age of orientalist name calling, we are way beyond that. And not necessarily in the way ES elaborates.
As I have come to understand at least in Iranian media, and regular street people westernization ( which doesn't include Christianity, religion, technology, modernity, but is about gay, racism, hegemony) is as demonize as here some westerners' view the orientals.


Very informative and interesting info....a middle finger to the American empire....nice



Traditional Oriental Studies does not call anyone names. It merely describes them. pl



I received one of my all time favorite nastygrams today from someone in Paris, France who resents my overall impression of the Lebanese. The best bit described me as a "senile old yankee drinking himself to death in the gutter outside a bar in Appalachia." The hurtful part was being called a "yankee" since I have worked so hard for so long to live down the stigma of my colonial ancestors in the Deep North and my birth in the Bay State (albeit on a federal military post). And, there are not that many bars in Appalachia. A still would be easier to find and I could always find a source of apple brandy (Virginia Calvados) around Maidenhead Falls in the Blue Ridge. pl


Normally, I would agree with you but there is a new sheriff in Riyadh


Saudi return on investment in Hariri Inc has been dismal in the last twenty years.

Timbre Sick o' More

All of the outside powers who meddled in Iraq, Libya and Syria are certainly hoping that they are driving the final nails in the coffin of Arab nationalism. The Israelis loudly & proudly claimed to have accomplished the task in 1967. The last I heard, the motherland that the Syrian soldiers say they are fighting for is still the Syrian Arab Republic and its President is still a Ba'thist, whose ideology is anti imperialist and antisectarian...in other words, in opposition to the exact evils that have revealed themselves in all their naked horror in the last 13 - or 90 - years.



I hope you are right and some degree of rationality has emerged in Riyadh, but it does not show yet in Yemen or Syria. pl


Awn is the new Christian warlord. His cross-sectarian version of Lebanese nationalism, like its older brother Arab nationalism, has been swept aside by the new sectarian narrative.

Hafez Assad use to think of Lebanon as part of Greater Syria. With a million new Syrian refugees Lebanon may well become just that, although that is not what late President had in mind.

The paradox reminds me of the saying "Man plans; God laughs."

BTW, the neocons have been trying to break Lebanon since 2003, when Syria looked at the American project in Iraq and realized its danger.

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