Angry Arab today links to two excellent articles, which I want to present here too. (Scroll down in this post to find more links to other sites.)
The first article, on Electronic Lebanon, is a clearheaded scientific analysis of the pattern presented by Washington’s economic and military aid to various countries in the Middle East over time, and the lessons to be drawn out of this pattern by Lebanon. It is an edited translation of the original arabic article written by Lebanese Canadian journalist Hicham Saffiedine in al-Akhbar. Read it (english). It is illuminating.
The second article is a review of a new book by French anthropologist/demographer Emanuel Todd, ‘Le rendez-vous des civilisations’ – in which he debunks the destructive and unscientific populist notion of a ‘clash of civilisations’ promoted by the Bernard Lewis and Daniel Pipes-types. He argues that islamism is a manifestation of muslim societies adapting to modernity, a transitional reaffirmation of a vanishing identity. This is a notion that has been put forward earlier by sociologists and orientalists alike, but Todd backs it up with the demographic (falling birth rates) and literacy (rising literacy rates for both men and women) figures that invariably precede the transformation, revolutionary or not, of a traditional religious society into a modern secularized one. He accordingly makes the rather shocking prediction that the secularization of the muslim societies is imminent. Do not dismiss the man: he was the only one to predict the fall of communism years before it happened. Read the review in the original french here or in an english translation here.
And while I’m linking, here is some other stuff I have wanted to mention on In the Middle of the East: I have only recently discovered the excellent weblog Loubnan ya Loubnan. It is maintained by a French writer using the pseudonym Nidal, who prefers to remain anonymous ‘to protect my friends in Lebanon and myself’. You will understand that this is not just a vain claim, once you have read some of the extensive analyses he writes on various ‘politically sensitive’ subjects such as the ‘odious national debt’ run up by Lebanon’s very own Berlusconi, Rafiq Hariri and his highly dubious Solidère-construction, or this article on the economy of the civil war when the various ‘sectarian’ militias were running their little shreds of territory like mafia gangs, exploiting and terrorizing the very people they pretended to protect from their ‘enemies’ on the other side, whom they only occasionally bothered to fight. Nidal argues there never really was a ‘civil war’ in Lebanon, as civil wars are fought over control of the state, while in Lebanon the various factions were mostly cooperating to keep the state powerless so that they could divide the loot among each other. He further discusses the valid point that the leaders of the militias are all still in power now, and were actually rewarded by the Taif accords in 1989, which consolidated their ‘conquests’ as well as their political power. Social scientists who study the economies and dynamics of civil wars the world over have long reached the same conclusions about, say, the Algerian civil war in the nineties, Iraq now, or Somalia and Afghanistan seemingly since forever – but Nidal, who is obviously a very well informed person, makes the in-depth analysis for the Lebanese case, and (s)he is not afraid to name names either.
Another study of the country, history and sociology of Lebanon, which is more neutral (if only because its political history conveniently ends in 1975, although it was written in 1987) is the Lebanon volume – online here – in a series of Country Studies/Area Handbooks published by the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress and sponsored by the U.S. Department of the Army. Nothing really new or shocking in there, and it’s not very in-depth either, but it’s a good introduction and an easy read.
Next I want to link to the site of MENARG, the Middle East and North Africa Study Group headed by Prof. Sami Zemni of the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences at the University of Ghent (Ugent) in Belgium. If you surf to ‘publications’, you will find a number of excellent in-depth studies by Zemni, Christopher Parker, Nadim Hasbani, Ruddy Doom and others on subjects ranging from jihadism in Morocco to neo-liberalism in Jordan to the war economy in Iraq to the Danish cartoons. If you surf to ‘staff’, you will find that yours truly has recently been appointed ‘independent associate researcher’ to MENARG. I can’t wait for the first paycheck to arrive… 😉 If you surf to ‘links’ you will find that they still haven’t put anything on there.
Finally, another excellent website related to my old university is that of Herman De Ley’s Centre for Islam in Europe, which has a wealth of materials ranging from course materials to entire series of scientific and press articles in various languages, and on a far wider range of subjects than the centre’s name would suggest. As it is run from the Faculty of Literature and Philosophy, of course, it approaches matters from a different angle, i.e. socio-culturally rather than socio-politically.