To reclaim its legacy as a paragon of plurality, argues a research associate at Georgetown’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Lebanon must first climb out of the morass of `isms` into which it has devolved through decades of civil strife and the meddling of others.
Though relatively short, Dagher's book covers a lot of ground. It contains a historical overview of Lebanon's myriad communities as well as an analysis of the development of their mutual distrust. By exposing the nation’s selfdestructive, intercommunal misconceptions, the author aims to dispel them. Among her allies she numbers no less a figure than Pope John Paul II, whose1997 visit to Lebanon is stirringly described by Dagher, who shows him standing outside a cathedral (with the sun setting into the Mediterranean as a backdrop) and imploring the country’s youth to `bring down the walls erected in the painful past.` Those walls, in the author’s view, are founded on dogmatic ideologies: sectarianism, secularism, Maronitism, fundamentalism, pluralism, and pan-Arabism, to name a few. With unabashed passion, Dagher warns that if Lebanon fails in its multicultural mission, it spells doom not just for a nation uniquely positioned to bridge the gap between Christianity and Islam, but for the entire Levant, which looks to the `country of Cedars` as an oasis in a desert of expanding fanaticism. Her book is a model of engaged journalism, combining thorough research with intensity derived from a personal connection to the subject matter. Quoting numerous Christian and Muslim leaders who stress the importance of preserving diversity, she proves that pluralism is not her ideal alone; it is Lebanon's. Documenting the nation’s efforts before and after the civil war to build a model democratic society of diverse sects, she makes a convincing case that the current chronic discord is an aberration.
A tougher read for the casual Middle East reader than, say, Thomas Friedman's From Beirut to Jerusalem (1989), but far more penetrating and therefore a must for the expert.