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Shi'ite Lebanon

Shi'ite Lebanon: Transnational Religion and the Making of National Identities

Roschanack Shaery-Eisenlohr
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Shi'ite Lebanon
    Book Description:

    By recasting the relationship between religion and nationalism in the Middle East, Roschanack Shaery-Eisenlohr proposes a new framework for understanding Shi'ite politics in Lebanon. Her study draws on a variety of untapped sources, reconsidering not only the politics of the established leadership of Shi'ites but also institutional and popular activities of identity production. Shaery-Eisenlohr traces current Shi'ite politics of piety and authenticity to the coexistence formula in Lebanon and argues that engaging in the discourses of piety and coexistence is a precondition to cultural citizenship in Lebanon. As she demonstrates, debates over the nature of Christianity and Islam and Christian-Muslim dialogue are in fact intertwined with power struggles at the state level.

    Since the 1970s, debates in the transnational Shi'ite world have gradually linked Shi'ite piety with the support of the Palestinian cause. Iran's religious elite has backed this piety project in multiple ways, but in doing so it has assisted in the creation of a variety of Lebanese Shi'ite nationalisms with competing claims to religious and national authenticity. Shaery-Eisenlohr argues that these ties to Iran have in fact strengthened the position of Lebanese Shi'ites by providing, as is recognized, economic, military, and ideological support for Hizbullah, as well as by compelling Lebanese Shi'ites to foreground the Lebanese components of their identity more forcefully than ever before.

    Shaery-Eisenlohr challenges the belief that Shi'ite identity politics only serve to undermine the Lebanese national project. She also makes clear that the expression of Lebanese Shi'ite identity is a nationalist expression and an unintended result of Iranian efforts to influence the politics of Lebanon.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51313-5
    Subjects: History, Anthropology, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  5. Note on Transliteration
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  6. Introduction: Claiming Cultural Citizenship in Lebanon, from Margin to Center
    (pp. 1-16)

    The citizens of Nabatiyya, a town in South Lebanon with a majority of Shi‘ite inhabitants, believe that the Independence Day celebrations of Lebanon, which take place every year on the 22nd of November, are incomplete without honoring the name of Muhammad Bey Fadl, a Shi‘ite leader whose family is from Nabatiyya. He was a co-designer of the new Lebanese flag after independence. Fadl’s son Ahmad has asked the country’s leaders to add Fadl’s name to a list of honorees, but so far in vain. Adham Jaber, a Shi‘ite and the mayor of Nabatiyya, wonders how “the Lebanese government, since its...


    • ONE Two Nations and One State: Shi‘ite and Maronite Lebanon
      (pp. 19-49)

      You ask for my name?

      My name is The South

      My age?

      I was born the day freedom lost its way

      My identity card?¹

      The identity was lost²

      And today, my identity

      Is a pen, a shovel, a rifle.

      I defend the forgotten villages of the south

      I defend the holiest of causes

      You don’t comprehend what a cause is

      Your citizenship, a wallet, a beautiful woman, and an American car

      They insist on making my cause sectarian

      Very well, I will tell you, I am a southern girl

      I love creating freedom, and I reject forms of humiliation of...

    • 2 Schooling and the Creation of Lebanese Shi’ite Public Identity
      (pp. 50-86)

      Schools are sites of the production of nationalism and effective grounds for propagating visions of a moral society and public ethics. But what happens when a state fails to monopolize and disseminate one coherent national narrative and one vision of morality to its citizens? In Lebanon, because of constitutional definitions and its weak public infrastructure, religious communities often take over school education for the citizens. The Lebanese Constitution defines its citizens—regardless of self-identification—as subjects belonging to religious communities. These communities are accorded “unequal access to political power and public office.”¹ As a result of this political structure, community...


    • 3 Shi‘ite Piety and the Palestinian Cause: The History of a Discourse
      (pp. 89-118)

      Since the early 1970s, the attitude of Shi‘ites toward the Palestinian cause has increasingly shaped debates over Lebanese Shi‘ite public identity. In this context, the term Palestinian cause has incorporated at least two meanings: the subaltern struggle against imperialism in general (third worldism) as well as the specific Lebanese configuration of this cause, i.e., the question regarding the presence of Palestinian refugees as well as their battles against Israel from southern Lebanon. When the Iranian revolution succeeded in 1979, a discourse had already been formed in the transnational Shi‘ite world that linked Shi‘ite piety to the support of these two...

    • 4 The Politics of Shi‘ite Authenticity Since 1982
      (pp. 119-157)

      When the Iranian government sent volunteers to Lebanon to fight against the Israeli invasion in 1982 despite Amal’s disapproval, many Amal members began to resist Iranian hegemonic claims. This resistance was multilayered and its overarching theme was to locate Iranian Shi‘ites on the less authentic side of Shi‘ism. In this chapter, I focus on some of these boundary-making processes as they unfold in everyday life, in religious ritual, and in theological-legal debates. The performance of parodies of Iranians, for example, is one component of a broader production of narratives and stereotypes about a presumably distinct Iranian form of Shi‘ism, which...

    • 5 Iranian Cultural Politics in Lebanon
      (pp. 158-198)

      By the end of the Lebanese civil war in 1990, the Iranian government realized that its long-term presence in Lebanon depended on more refined strategies than direct military, economic, and ideological support of Hizbullah that drew on pan-Islamic and pan-Shi‘ite discourses and practices. To advance their postwar projects and interests, the Iranian government and the ruling religious elite were in need of appropriate cultural politics in Lebanon. To claim what they thought was their share they had to adjust, adapt, and propagate their strategies in discourses that shape Lebanon and to participate in some of the ongoing public debates there....

  9. Epilogue
    (pp. 199-218)

    I began this book by suggesting that it will provide a background to understanding the current Lebanese crisis and that it would also create an analytical framework for assessing involvement by the Iranian government in post-Saddam Iraq. In the remaining pages I outline the main events in Lebanon since February 2005, offer my reading of current Iranian-Hizbullah relations, and conclude by proposing some alternative approaches to analyzing Iranian-Iraqi Shi‘ite transnationalism.

    The assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister, Rafiq Hariri, on February 14, 2005, provoked a series of demonstrations and counterdemonstrations led by rival and dominant political parties and leaders. These...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 219-260)
  11. References
    (pp. 261-274)
  12. Index
    (pp. 275-290)