Levant is an imprecisely defined region in the Middle East south of the Taurus Mountains, bounded by the Mediterranean Sea on the west, and by the northern Arabian Desert and Upper Mesopotamia to the east. The term Levant is employed to refer to peoples, states, or parts of states in the region, namely: #Jordan, #Lebanon, #Palestine, #Syria, and #Israel.
The major cities of the Levant include the following: #Beirut, a coastal city with a French influence formerly known as the “Paris of the Middle East”; #Damascus — considered by some to be the oldest continually inhabited city in the world, Damascus contains several world-famous Arab souqs (open-air markets); #Jerusalem — quarreled over by Jews and Arabs alike, this famous city is the site of revered holy sites for Christianity, Islam, and Judaism; #Tel Aviv — a coastal city branded for its vacation and resort possibilities; #Amman — a modern city serving as a launching pad to visit Jordan’s attractions; and, #Aqaba – a popular vacation city located on the Red Sea, well known for it breathtaking scuba diving and marine life.
Above is the tourist spin for the Levant.
“Beirut was never just a city. It was an idea – an idea that meant something not only to Lebanese but also to the entire Arab world. For years before Beirut became a hellhole, it represented almost gentle – the idea of co-existence and the spirit of tolerance. An idea where diverse religious communities – Shiites, Sunnis, Christians and Druse – could live together, and even thrive, in one city and one country without having to abandon their individual identities.
The spirit of Beirut (before the civil wars) is what is known as the Levantine spirit. The word “Levantine” derives from the Old French word levant, which literally means, “rising.” The Levant, where the sun rose was the geographical name given to all those countries bordering the eastern Mediterranean. The Levantine political idea, which grew naturally among the communities of the eastern Mediterranean, was an original way of dealing with diverse tribal, village, and sectarian identities, and it inspired the Beirutis and ultimately the Lebanese to believe they could build a modern Arab republic, melding together seventeen different Christian, Muslim, and Druse sects. The Levantine idea posited the notion if men cannot break with their tribal pasts, they can at least learn to check them at the door of the cities in which they live.”1
That was Beirut at its best – a “plural society in which communities, still different on the level of inherited religious loyalties and family ties, co-existed within a common framework,” offered Albert Hourani, Lebanese historian.
“To be a Levantine,” wrote Hourani, “is to live in two worlds or more at once, without belonging to either.”
“With the destruction of the Ottoman Empire after WWI, the Levantine idea was gradually choked to death in Smyrna, Basra, Salonika, Alexandria, and Aleppo, by Greek, Turkish and Arab nationalists who had no patience for, or interest in, heterogeneous cultures and the spirit of tolerance of a bygone era. However, in Beirut the idea lived on – primarily among the elite Christian and Muslim classes.
Between these two groups Christians and Muslims intermarried, interacted, became business partners, and produced new ideas together, and they were the ones who really made Beirut a cosmopolitan Manhattan of the Arab world – a refuge for the politically radical and a springboard for the Arab avant-garde. Effete Arab politician ousted by coups d’etat came there to write their memoirs, and aspiring Arab artists and poets came there to make it on the Arab Broadway.”2
Civil wars in Lebanon changed Beirut, the worldly city, into trapped factions where everyone went to their particular corners ending the Levantine spirit and destroying a working highly enterprising compassionate role model for MENA. The fact Beirut never had any resources except its commerce of a melting pot meant no difference to those hell bent on winning turf over conscience and ego over mercy.
Today, we witness another emerging yet far reaching civil war in the region of the Levant as the Islam State (ISIS/ISIL) is forced into existence by highly trained, overly equipped militia men who believe it is a holy war dating to the time of their original holy Prophet.
What is unclear is whom this militia is, how it was trained, where it found its impetus to take so much turf in such a short time with so little force with such few in number of its holy warriors. What destroyed Beirut’s Levantine spirit was the carving up the country by Lebanese against Lebanese. This parallels what is reported happening in Iraq and Syria, this moment in the infernal struggles in the land of the Tigress and Euphrates.
Clearly, the Levantine spirit will not soon surface in the new Islam State, formerly known as the ISIS or ISIL. Until recently the insurgents were called the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant (ISIL), or the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham – all shortened to ISIS or ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). They renamed themselves July 2, 2014 with a proclamation via a video on Youtube.
An Islamic state (Arabic: الدولة الإسلامية al-dawlah al-islamīyah) is a type of government, in which the primary basis for government is Islamic religious law.
“Islamic civilization, since the time of Prophet Muhammad (s) until now, is firmly founded on the concept of ‘rule of law.’ For that reason, the law is published and known, and citizens and courts are expected to uphold it. In addition, Muslim citizens must adhere to Islamic law – Shariah. If a Muslim citizen commits a religious violation, he is judged according to Islamic law. A non-Muslim citizen is judged in religious issues by the laws of his own faith.
Invoking Divine Principles and Human Reason
Islam is a complete package – a complete message and way of life. To fraction it into its components, then examine them individually, will yield little or no understanding of Islam’s holistic whole. Inevitably, aspects of Islam examined separately, without a wide-ranging grasp of its totality, will be taken in a fragmented context, in which case aspects may take on the appearance of extremism.
However, when viewed from a comprehensive perspective by any fair person, Islam will be found sensible in all its aspects and practices. Could it be otherwise for a faith that powers one of the greatest living civilizations – one whose dynamism and creativity supplied a foundation for countless aspects of modern society?
Shariah is the Islamic Law – the disciplines and principles that govern the behavior of a Muslim individual towards his or herself, family, neighbors, community, city, nation and the Muslim polity as a whole, the Ummah. Similarly, Shariah governs the interactions between communities, groups, and social and economic organizations. Shariah establishes the criteria by which all social actions are classified, categorized, and administered within the overall governance of the state.
Shariah first establishes the patterns believers should follow in worshipping Allah: prayers, charity, fasting and pilgrimage.
Islam’s law comprises a comprehensive outlook on life. As one looks from a satellite at this planet, the Shariah conceives of the earth as a single ‘city’ with diverse inhabitants—in modern parlance, a ‘global village.’ Islam looks to the benefit of the society as a whole from a general perspective and presents a theoretical model that if followed provides safety and protection for society.
Shariah literally means ‘a well-trodden path to water,’ the source of all life, representing the Path to Allah, as given by Allah, the Originator of all life.”3
Reading the entire citation above may still leave those of us without a wholistic understanding, yet if raised in a faith we can certainly recognize our own values are in fact exact to those of the faith of Islam.
The question arises, if Christians, Muslims and Jews, come from the same book of sacred texts then why pray God are we pitted against each other. Why is MENA nothing but one enormous civil society heartache stretching across the region? While writing this, how many more children are maimed and murdered in the name of what?
Many blame the US of Dirty Oil and its corporate slave ownership for the on-going wars in the region. Iran builds its own vanguard of anti-America as does Palestine reacts with its anti-Israel call for apartheid. Too many fan the flames with their own sickness of internal rage acted out in Facebook posts, Tweets, and Youtube channels. The piddle stream media actually has abandoned the killing fields in the region preferring to safely write from afar to deliver the empire’s latest mis-information.
Tit for tat and an eye for eye are primitive responses based in fanatical festivals of fear and control. The fact the Islam State (#ISIS/#ISIL) proposes to bring about regional stability and sanity with the institutionalizing of Sunni Shariah by instigating the weapons of fears is beyond this writer’s comprehension. No peace has ever been won through bias, crimes, misbehavior, and total disregard of leniency and compassion. Hatred (see my prior post on hate) ensures only one specific – more hatred, more bigotry, more fanaticism, more parsimoniousness, and more meanness. It is peculation of those in the subset of the stingy sadistic within our species. Vicious words and deeds are primitive aggressions to gain control over another. Reaction to same aggravates further cruelty and vehement action and the cycle of violence continues until when? When we have totally annihilated Earth, life, and ourselves?
Maybe the Levantine spirit exhibited in Beirut was a false assumption. Yet, for me, a die-hard peacenik, it is a mission statement of acceptance of species survival I will continue to beat on my jungle open-mindful tom-toms until I crossover to the other side. Fairness to all people who hold different views can never be legislated or instigated with fear mongering. Tolerance is an organic technique for any organism to survive in extreme conditions.
These times are as acute as our 200,000-year old species has ever experienced. We are smack-dab in the 59th minute.
1. From Beirut to Jerusalem, Thomas L. Friedman, p. 216
2. Ibid p. 217-218