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Lebanon the crucible.

Kaufman, Asher. Reviving Phoenicia: The Search for Identity in Lebanon. London: I. B. Tauris, 2004. 277 pp.

Attie, Caroline. Struggle in the Levant: Lebanon in the 1950s. London: I. B. Tauris, 2004. 257 pp.

Grafton, David D. The Christians of Lebanon: Political Rights in Islamic Law. London: Tauris Academic Studies, 2003. 286 pp.

Shanahan, Rodger. The Shi'a of Lebanon: Clans, Parties, and Clerics. London: Tauris Academic Studies, 2005. 208 pp.

Harris, William. The New Face of Lebanon: History's Revenge. Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers, 2005. 350 pp.

Blanford, Nicholas. Killing Mr Lebanon: The Assassination of Rafik Hariri and its Impact on the Middle East. London: I. B. Tauris, 2006. 236 pp.

Once again, news of the tiny republic of Lebanon has splashed across the headlines and pages of American and European newspapers and in the electronic media. For over a month Lebanon captured international attention and focused our thoughts on the Arab Near East. All that occurred when Lebanon's Shi'ite militia, Hizb Allah, under the leadership of Shaykh Hassan Nasrallah, "kidnapped" or took prisoner, two Israeli soldiers. Israel's massive land, sea and air response triggered a 34 day war between Hizb Allah and Israel, and brought the world to the brink of another Middle Eastern catastrophe. In the aftermath of the conflict, nothing has changed.

Interest in Lebanon has never receded in both diplomacy and scholarship. The six books under review all lend credence to that claim; and each work sheds some new light on the subject.

Reviving Phoenicia (the ancient name for N. Canaan) reviews the history and politics of Lebanon in five periods: Origins, Before And After the War, The Mandate Years, Three Phoenician Currents and, lastly, The Adversaries. The book concludes with a chapter called "Dream and Disillusionment," and an essay entitled: "What Lies Ahead."

The main thrust of this study is that Lebanon is divided between those who uphold its pre-Islamic past and those in favor of its Islamic history. This division remains to this day as a source of tension in Lebanon's bi-cultural existence.

The Struggle in the Levant focuses on Lebanon after its independence and the policy of President Camille Chamoun who tried to keep Lebanon neutral by being pro-British and pro-American, and less pro-French, to win Moslem support. He failed when the Sunnite Moslems of Lebanon favored Arab Nationalism (Nassarism) over Lebanese Nationalism (Lebanonism).

This is Lebanon's big problem--its Moslem-Christian relations which are easily manipulated by outsiders. Thus, there are two different views of what Lebanon should be in a political-religious context.

The Christians of Lebanon highlights the perspective of the Christians of Lebanon living among a large Moslem minority which may be actually the majority. As the book states, the Christians are seeking further "coexistence" in a multi-confessional state but some Moslem "extremists" want to change Lebanon into an Islamic State, similar to Iran.

The Shi'a of Lebanon outlines the history of that sect which might be the largest group in Lebanon. Some scholars have said that despite their size they have been marginalized by the other religious groups. The author of this work clarifies that view by placing the blame for Shi'ite victimization on the Shi'ite political leadership.

The New Face of Lebanon is a continuation of the author's original study: Faces of Lebanon (1997) with an additional chapter (8) entitled: "Ta'if Lebanon 1990-96," and a revised conclusion. The book analyzes, in a general way, the New Lebanon which is, more or less, the same old Lebanon with the same problem of Confessional Democracy, but perhaps better balanced. Nevertheless, the Shi'ites still "resented the Christian-Sunni-Druze" alliance after Ta'if. The study is right on target.

Killing Mr. Lebanon chronicles the last hours of the life of Rafik (Rafiq) Hariri in its opening chapter, Countdown. It credits the Hariri assassination with the freeing of Lebanon from Syrian domination, and after his death he remained a freedom fighter. His death helped to trigger the Cedar Revolution.

Hariri's death unleashed the Lebanese nationalists of all sects against the Syrian regime in Lebanon and with the support of both France and the United States Lebanon won its independence. Only the Shi'ites backed President Lahoud, Syria's strongest ally in Lebanon. Thus, Syria supports Hizb Allah's war with Israel hoping to get Israel out of the Golan Heights and the Shebaa Farm. Syria would also like to see Nasrallah's group installed in Beirut as the new government that could "invite" Syria back into Lebanon and thus undo its forced departure.

Iran has its own agenda in Lebanon as part of its quest to spread Shi'ism into the Arab World and beyond. Iran wants to expand its influence and act as protector of all Shi'ites. As of this writing, Shaykh Nasrallah is on a tightrope, but he is no fool. He holds both powers at bay, playing them off against each other.

A.J. Abraham/Lebanon, The Crucible

A.J. Abraham *

* Professor A.J. Abraham is Professor on Middle Eastern History at John Jay College and New York Institute of Technology.
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Author:Abraham, A.J.
Publication:Journal of Third World Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2007
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