Shared Futures? Lebanon and Northern Ireland ARCHIVE – 29-4-14
So it would seem that with each passing post, I get further and further away from the Levant! Well if you bear with me, there is a point to the western detour.
Every year I am lucky enough to organise a half-day conference with a contingent from the Netherlands Defence Academy (NDA). Basically a group of their final year undergrad students come to Northern Ireland (NI) to learn about the conflict.
They talk with MLAs, security forces and take tours of the major conflict points and learn from the oral history given on those tours. Basically it gives these young scholars an insight into the complexities of deeply divided societies, useful, because a number of them will go on to serve in places like it round the world during peace-keeping missions.
One part of their stay is to come to QUB and discuss the role of the consociational politics in the management of NI’s conflict. (Consociationalism was originally codified by Dutch scholar Arend Ljiphart when he observed the Dutch system).
The consociational model has received criticism throughout the years, the chief among them is that rather than ‘solving’ or addressing the root causes of conflict, it accepts the divides and accommodates them, therefore, conflicts do not transform and are entrenched.
Consociationalists answer this point by stating that the point of consociational mechanisms is a means to end conflict, to stop bloodshed first and foremost. By bringing warring parties to a table, more normatively acceptable democratic principles have the space to take hold, away from violence.
This year the discussion with the students from the NDA focused on the transformative aspect (or lack thereof) of consociationalism. The original consociational example of the Netherlands provides a shinning example of how a formerly divided society and was able to move towards ‘standard practical’ politics.
What is really interesting, is that the Netherlands made this transition within 2 generations, and if observing NI’s politics has shown, 2 generations would be quite surprising (read: extremely).
So it begged the question. What factors meant that the Dutch society could move away from the consicational conflict ‘management’ practices and ‘transform’ their conflict? Several factors were highlighted by the NDA students:
1: The absence of violence (or major outbreaks of violence) between the different communities.
2: The presence of and the occupation of Nazis, that meant that all Dutch felt a collective grievance in the face of common foe.
3: The creation of a coherent and accepted national identity. When, compared to the NI case, we have two component identities that apparently cannot be reconciled.
When the 3rd point was raised, I found myself thinking about another consociational arrangement, Lebanon (ah the point you say!). But when compared to NI, Lebanon has a much more coherent sense of national identity.
Before the Lebanese civil war, there was great debate on whether the state in its mandate created formulation, was a real or fictitious entity. Arab nationalists argued that France had dismembered Lebanon from a greater Syrian state.
Interestingly though, by the end of the Lebanese civil war the idea of Lebanon in its current borders was solidified. This is seen in the Taif agreement:
“Lebanon’s soil is united and it belongs to all the Lebanese. Every Lebanese is entitled to live in and enjoy any part of the country under the supremacy of the law. The people may not be categorized on the basis of any affiliation whatsoever and there shall be no fragmentation, no partition, and no repatriation [of Palestinians in Lebanon]”
With that, there is now very little dispute or debate among the vast majority of people that they are all Lebanese.
However, this has failed to materialize into transformative politics that would bridge the divided society. Often times, sub-identities create lines of difference, negating the presence of an overarching national loyalty.
NI, (which does have a very small percentage who aspire to reconcile British and Irish identity into a Northern Irish single) and Lebanon (with its firm national loyalty common among all), experience similar symptoms of deeply divided societies.
Which leads me to conclusion that an overarching national identity is not as an important a factor, or at the very least not important enough to draw people together without the help of other factors.
Certain factors like cross-community education, or greater shared geographical community spaces maybe required. As both NI and Lebanon share divides in these issues.
From a cursory look, it seems that very little can be done to transform ‘ethnic/national’ divides without the communities sharing formative education together and without living together, regardless of the presence of consociational mechanisms or not.
So what other factors are vital to helping transform conflict? Is education and shared space even that important? Please share your thoughts below.