Congrès Mondial des Études sur le Moyen-Orient et l'Afrique du Nord

Barcelone du 19 au 24 Juillet 2010


The 1930s: A Pivotal Moment for Lebanese Intellectual, National, and Legal History (320) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED institution: Boston University (USA)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Betty Anderson

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: The decade of the 1930s represents a fascinating intellectual moment for much of the world. In Europe, Nazism and Communism challenged democracy and liberalism; in the colonized world, nationalism framed the identities, often for the very first time, of organized opposition movements. Religion lost influence in public arenas to ideas disseminated by leaders of secular institutions. Differing definitions of modernity presented alternative visions for individual and national progress. The 1930s, as a result, represents a unique moment in intellectual history precisely because so many contradictory movements existed simultaneously.The 1930s’ movements contributed to heated debates among Lebanese intellectuals, tourist guides, civil servants, and students because all of them, in their own particular arenas, sought to construct both a Lebanese and Arab identity and state independent of the French colonizers. The 1920s, to speak in general terms, found these actors grappling with the new realities of the French-created new state of Greater Lebanon; the 1930s turned the discussion into one of Lebanese and Arab agency. In this decade, Lebanese actors sought to determine their national identities while slowly taking charge of the governmental institutions initially established by the French. In many of their debates, pan-Arab nationalism met up with a burgeoning Lebanese territorial nationalism, sometimes in conflict but just as often in coordination. This dynamic moment of intellectual ferment, regardless of the diversity of elements, all focused on the route that would best direct Lebanon to independence.

At the American University of Beirut (AUB), the 1930s witnessed a sharp shift in student discourse from one of modernity to Arab nationalism. Prior to the 1930s, students had embraced the template of masculine and feminine modernity put forward by their American teachers, seeing only the Western model as the pathway to national and individual success. In the 1930s, Arab professors gained influence on campus, and consistently worked to bring their political activities on to campus. Students read the Red Book, something of a bible of Arab nationalism in this era, and joined the nascent Arab nationalist parties forming in the Levant. In their writings on campus, they rejected the American model for future success and, instead, wrote a narrative of Arab communal empowerment that positioned them as leaders of a dynamic reform movement.

As an alternative to French colonial interference ‘both intellectual and colonial ‘fascism and Nazism entered Lebanese political debates in the 1930s. Until that point, the discourse on modernity and cultural relevancy had been viewed through the lens of Westernism, with no viable alternatives presenting themselves. With the political and economic success of Nazi Germany, Lebanese Arabs could look to an opposing model, appealing because it arrived devoid of any kind of colonial apparatus. However, instead of adopting Nazi ideology and structures as easy ways to fight against Western domination, Lebanese intellectuals brought these new ideas into their complex debates about their future identities. They wrote a narrative of cultural independence that captured only those aspects of these foreign ideologies that resonated with their burgeoning national identities.While AUB students and Lebanese writers integrated world intellectual movements into meta-narratives of Arab identity, simultaneously, the new Lebanese state created centrifugal forces generating citizen loyalties. By the 1930s, French colonial officials, Lebanese journalists, and hoteliers defined and marketed a Lebanon for tourist consumption. This Lebanon identified ‘or to use Hobsbawm’s term, invented’ valid national sites in rural and urban areas largely through beauty pageants and representations in the press of both the land and village.

Tourism, as a result, contributed to legitimating Lebanon as a nation-state, proving that it had a primordial origin and a historical process bringing it into its present form. The resulting national narrative delimited the extent of Lebanon’s economic and political boundaries.

Arrete 60 represents a major step toward nationalizing the court structure in Lebanon, while also contributing to the very complex nature of Lebanese nationalism. When founding Greater Lebanon after WWII, the French entranced the sectarian political structured that had been established under European influence in Mount Lebanon in the 19th century. The 1943 National Pact solidified it; with some modifications, it still serves as the foundational element defining political-religious relations within Lebanon. Today, the state recognizes 18 different sects and all of them have their own personal status codes. A 1936 personal status directive sets the framework for how individuals and sects would interact with each other and the state. This directive comes after the Lebanese state structure had solidified sufficiently that its legal and legislative leaders needed to move to the next step and define their own citizenship laws. The 1930s, in this case, set into motion an independent Lebanese legal structure.

Chair: Fida Adely (Georgetown University)
Paper presenter:Betty Anderson (Boston University), "Modernity to Arab Nationalism: An Intellectual Shift at the American University of Beirut (AUB) in the 1930s".
Paper presenter: Goetz Nordbruch (University of Southern Denmark, Odense), "A challenge to the local order - Reactions to the rise of Nazism in Lebanese cultural magazines"
Paper presenter: Nadya Sbaiti (Smith College), "Land, Tourism, and Pageantry in 1930s Lebanon"
Paper presenter: Maya Mikdashi (Columbia University), "Arrete 60: Personal Status, Recognition, and Secularism in Lebanese Law"