الثلاثاء، 10 مارس، 2009

Is it really a new democratic left?

Lebanese University professor Saud Mawla joins debate on HYD
Saoud Mawla-01 April 2005-

BEIRUT – The announcement of the birth of the Democratic Left Movement (more known for its Arabic acronym HYD) has been a new qualitative and bold step in the history of Lebanese and Arab political activity especially that it presented a unique political and intellectual critique when reviewing the past experience of the Arab national liberation movement including its successes and failures, and most importantly it presented the youth with new hope. This youth has always been the heart of every true “leftist” activity.
The new movement has in fact inherited and is the continuation of previous democratic, national and revolutionary experiences that have characterized groups of leftists activists who have been opposed to party stereotypes (that are called Stalinist while in fact these are Leninist and Trotskyist par excellence) and to canned ideological frames (which some secular leftists share with national fascists and neo-Islamist). The groups of leftist activists have launched several initiatives and have organized themselves over the past decade in more than one style, the most famous of them (even though not the only one) was the Democratic Forum.
I recall among these transparent and audacious self-criticisms that of the Organization of Communist Labor in the early nineties and the brave experience of the democratic opposition inside the Lebanese Communist Party and that of the Congregation for Lebanese Dialogue and finally the personal experience of a number of leftist intellectuals in the fields of journalistic and cultural writing and their contribution in defending civil society, democracy, individual liberties, human rights, and humanitarian causes such as the Palestinian cause.
I allow myself here to include another branch, which is also leftist, embodied in the development of the rational and enlightened Islamic line in expressing itself within the framework of Arabic, international, as well as Lebanese dialogue.
These branches came to represent a unique case in the past few years as they were characterized by a kind of solid revolutionary enthusiasm against campaigns aimed to bring back the civil war and against Arab impotence and ultra-Islamic and ultra-nationalistic movements and all aspects of corruption and tyranny.
All this was not to be realized easily, it required awareness, maturity, commitment and cooperation but first and most essentially a vision and a dream. This made me one of the most excited supporters of this new movement and among the ones calling for its backing and improving its theoretical tools and organizational structures so that it becomes capable of touching the thoughts and initiatives of all youth, leftist and democratic moves that are likely to expand and develop in the next decade. And the only greeting I could offer my comrades in the new Democratic Left (from one of the founders of the New Left in the seventies and the New Islamic Movement in the eighties and the Democratic Islamic Left today) is observing what I consider a renewal and a differential approach in the founding statement and practice:
1. Avoiding the logic of ideological classifications or the bragging about belonging to the ‘nationalist’ rank and other forms of ideological blindness and political short-sightedness. The new Democratic Left has taken a daring step here in view of the nature of enthusiastic youth who are constantly looking for slogans and leftist revolutionary principles that serve more their personal aspirations than the actual needs of the country. Having made this observation, I expect that the new movement will suffer from schisms (even if small or marginal) as it advances in practicing this leftist responsibility in formulating a national political democratic thought that is rational, open-minded and diversified and adopting a proper organizational structure for this attempt.
2. The revolutionary ability to try and capture reality as it is and describe it without deforming it or expressing nostalgia about the past or belittling the achievements made possible by the sacrifices of average people in Lebanon and the Arab world (i.e. putting people first - something that old leftist movements failed to recognize). Accordingly, the movement was able to tackle the sensitive issue of Lebanese confessionalism by realizing that abandoning sectarianism and tribalism and adopting institutions and the rule of law is achieved first by coexistence and second by sorting out differences through dialogue and third by civilized settlements and by adopting a culture of openness and mediation and moderation as well as democratic values (justice, human rights) and achieving harmony between state and religion and between justice and freedom and between individual rights and groups’ rights and between Lebanon’s independence as an entity and its Arab belonging.
3. The serious attempt at looking for common factors that permit the formulation of a dynamic program, allowing everybody to put history behind them once and for all and build for a true national reconciliation based on healthy democratic development. This constitutes a departure from previous leftist movements with their decisive and radical standpoints where settlements and reconciliations used to signal concessions that bring its people to the ‘right’ of the political spectrum.
4. A simple, honest and clear rhetoric that is not too pretentious yet one that does not avoid raising realistic questions, all in a transparent and modest language that does not take people for granted. Rather, it acknowledges their rights and roles and aims at involving them in seeking answers and solutions. In raising the issue of liberties, sovereignty and independence and principles of Arab cooperation and the proper Lebanese-Syrian partnership, the new Democratic Left has entered history and found good response from Syrian and Arab leftists who value justice. It is the historical return to the real meaning of leftism and Arabism in forging a leftist Arab democratic path towards liberation and change.
5. Bringing back what’s good and valuable in the local and international leftist tradition especially in striving for the best and the most just, in line with local Islamic, Christian, and humanitarian values and the abandonment of single party mentality and inherited leadership similar to Russian and Bolshevik traditions.
6. The movement does not intend to become a new party to be added to the list of aging and static Lebanese and Arab parties. As such, it did not claim to be the party of all people and did not give unrealistic promises and avoided empty slogans.
7. The movement did not claim to be the exclusive voice of all prominent intellectuals who would release statements of condemnations or support and hold infinite seminars. It rather aimed to launch a new form of intellectual dynamism through debate, interaction, honesty and accountability in order to formulate a clear, humane, just, and open democratic leftist rhetoric that tackles vital issues of nation, society, identity, sovereignty, freedom, democracy, and equality. The movement incorporates all these issues within the framework of the national democratic struggle for a new Lebanon and a new Arab world and a better world.
For all these reasons, and despite few disparities, I find myself, as an Islamist, not only sympathizing with the new movement but an active supporter willing to contribute in activating its role and prospects especially among the youth.

Saud Mawla is a professor of philosophy at the Lebanese University. This article is a translation of the original which appeared in Arabic in the Beirut-based daily, Assafir newspaper. Alternative publishes it courtsey of both the author and the mentioned newspaper.