Written by SAID E DAWLABANI
I am honoured to publish this ‘guest blog’ by the remarkable Said E Dawlabani. Following a prominent 3-decade long career in the real estate industry, he has become one of the leading experts in the value-systems approach to macroeconomics and is the founder of The Memenomics Group. He has lectured widely on the subject of ‘Where Economics meet Memetics’, has a blog with that title and has authored several papers on economic policy and global value systems. His upcoming book, ‘Memenomics: The Quest for Value-based Economic Policies’, will further develop these ideas
Said’s other overriding interest is the development of the Middle East and North Africa. He is Chief Operating Officer of the Centre for Human Emergence Middle East and serves on its Board of Directors, alongside pioneering thinkers like Elza S Maalouf, Jean Houston and Spiral Dynamics co-developer Don Beck. As a Lebanese-American, he writes with experience, insight and passion of the way its meddling in Lebanon has contributed to the neo-civil war increasingly engulfing Syria.
The gruesome images of dead children and the systemic slaughter of innocent people in Syria continue to shock the world day after day. Just recently a human rights group uncovered over 2-dozen torture chambers spread throughout the country which are run by the notorious Syrian Mukhabarat (intelligence). As the regime continues to invent stories about who is responsible for the violence, their credibility seems to diminish by the hour and the spectre of a full-blown civil war hangs over every square inch of the land. For me personally and for millions of Lebanese who grew up during the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, the horror of the Syrian Army and its intelligence unit is something that is forever etched in our minds.
Lebanon has been a place for regional proxy wars since its independence from France in 1948. The place is a paradox and a cross roads between East and West. Before this oldest Arab democracy could ever get a chance to function, much bigger political forces sealed its fate. It was in the best interest of the West and regional Arab powers to keep Lebanon’s central government weak. For the West, it was a place to relieve pressure on Israel by housing hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees, while the United Nations paid Lebanese and Palestinian officials to administer care but did very little to improve lives in refugee camps. By the 1970s these deplorable conditions exploded in what became known as Lebanon’s civil war. In 1974 the Syrian Army entered Lebanon under the guise of peacekeeper to separate Palestinians and Sunnis on one side and the Christians on the other. The Syrians found life in Lebanon to be too good to leave and justified their occupation by being the perpetrators of instability - siding first with one side and then the other. The country has since been set back in its cultural emergence by several decades. For 30 years the world powers looked the other way while the Syrian Army was inflicting the same horrors on its much smaller, much richer and helpless neighbour it is inflicting on its own people today. Much like a bully who is not confronted in time, the pathology of bullying helpless people has taken on a far more dangerous form, emboldening it to become the disturbed, cold blooded killing machine it is today.
Although Lebanon has its longest common border with Syria, the value systems of the 2 countries could not be any further apart. In general, the elements of culture that are considered essential for human emergence in Lebanon amounted to what is called an open system that, for centuries, allowed its inhabitants to seek higher levels of human existence. As a child growing up there, the presence of any form of governmental authority was barely noticeable. Laissez-faire policies (due more to the absence of government than to deliberate design) enabled commerce and the media to thrive with freedoms rarely seen in any of the Arab dictatorships. Before the start of the civil war, Beirut was known as ‘the Paris of the Middle East’ where it would be a common occurrence to see The Beatles perform in one venue while across town an Indian Guru lead a meditation group. In short, Lebanon’s culture had far more memetic complexity and density that made its values more comparable to the West than any other Arab nation. The Syrian value systems, on the other hand were anything but open. It was in the best interest of Syria’s Baath Party and the Assad family to keep the majority of their citizens, including their soldiers, illiterate on purpose. At one point, before the winds of the ‘Arab Spring’ blew through the streets of Damascus, one out of every 4 men worked for the Syrian Mukhabarat. These men dressed in plain clothes, pretending to read a newspaper - although everyone knew they couldn’t read – but they made sure no one spoke ill of the leadership. Lebanese culture, on the other hand, frowned upon its citizens if they didn’t attain a minimum of a high school degree and learned to speak a minimum of 3 languages. When the Syrian brutal RED system entered a Western-oriented-but-weak ORANGE system, a clash of civilizations was inevitable. Following are just a few examples of the torture the Lebanese people suffered under a 3-decade long Syrian occupation…
While the Lebanese believed in hard work to get the creature comforts of life, the Syrian Army believed in stealing it. If a Syrian security officer in Lebanon liked a nice car, within 24 hours it was on the streets of Damascus driven by an army officer. If the owner of that car ever confronted the soldiers stealing it, he would be either killed on the spot or taken away to one of the most notorious torture chambers, the Mazzi prison, never to be heard from again. Over the years this type of civil society bullying on the hands of a brutal military (with a much lower level of complexity) grew to become the biggest kleptocracy in the region. It formed organized crime gangs and spread systemically to Lebanese institutions from government ministries to private banks. The Assad family continued engaging in political meddling in Lebanon to justify the presence of their soldiers as peacekeepers in order to keep money coming in from the oil rich Gulf States and the UN. The Saudis and the Kuwaitis favored the status quo so they could enjoy their summer vacations in the mountains of Lebanon in peace and tranquility. In typical RED vMEME fashion, the Assads and the Baath party elites kept all the money that poured into the Syrian coffers for themselves and ignored the most basic needs of their soldiers, such as winter blankets and proper shoes. This turned some the soldiers into petty thieves who would steal firewood from homes near their garrisons – just to keep warm in the harsh, snowy winters.
To the Syrians, Lebanon was a goldmine. Not only did the Syrian intelligence apparatus pillage its intuitions, its economic system provided employment for as many as 600,000 Syrians who supported their extended families. Although most of the work was in farming and construction, wages were much higher in Lebanon than in Syria (which offered meager employment opportunities). But, as is often the case with a closed diabolical RED system, the regime couldn’t see the benefits of its presence in Lebanon and wanted a much bigger peace of ‘the pie’. It thought nothing of cutting down anyone that came in the way of what it wished for. In a stark display of poor judgement, typical of the RED vMEME, the Syrians killed the ‘goose’ that laid the ‘golden egg’. In 2005 Syria’s ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah, was implicated in assassinating Rafik Hariri, a self-made billionaire and a very popular (ORANGE-driven) Lebanese Prime Minister. This heinous act exposed the true face of the Syrians and unleashed the fury of the Lebanese public, forcing the ouster of the Syrian security apparatus. All the Arab leaders loved Hariri and the pretense of a Syrian army keeping the peace quickly disappeared along, with millions in Arab aid. Suddenly the 30-year kleptocracy came to an end. In a matter of weeks, Syrian labourers were no longer welcomed in Lebanon. Over half a million Syrians with Purple/RED values suddenly had nothing to do – and there were millions of mouths to feed.
Not having Lebanon to bankroll Syria’s RED compulsive habits and to feed its growing population, in my opinion, was the primary reason for the Syrian uprising. Although the young Assad had embarked on economic reforms, they weren’t moving fast enough to keep millions of mouths fed and transform a leadership that had gotten used to stealing everything it had ever desired. Reforms that target real economic change take a long time to bear fruit and very few in Syria have that kind of patience. The economic reforms that have been implemented so far became the Baath party’s substitute kleptocracy for Lebanon. Meanwhile the killing machines of the dreaded Shabiha militias have turned their weapons on their own people because their diabolical RED training doesn’t allow them to think of what else to do. All this combined to create the perfect storm for emergence out of the most closed and toxic RED systems imaginable…and the gruesome results are horrifying to see.