“Whatever the Party holds to be the truth, is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party.” — Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell (Part Three, Chapter 2)
Having read George Orwell’s 1984 for the first time since high school, I couldn’t help but notice the parallels one could draw between Orwellian Oceania and Lebanon today. Orwell wrote his novel in 1949 about a hypothetical-fictional dystopian society set in 1984. The novel has been used numerous times in various books, articles and references in drawing comparisons and parallels between the events of the book and those of real life.
Lebanon is currently in a chaotic situation — to no one’s surprise. 30 years since the end of the Civil War (1975-1990), the country is still suffering from the remnants of this tragic war. Coupled with sectarianism, corruption, mismanagement and terrorism, Lebanon is not a textbook example of your typical country.
After the Civil War, the country’s war lords turned into respected politicians and founded political parties which they, today, run like a family business, with nepotism being common. Lebanon’s sectarian system has had each sect be led by a particular leader who is supposedly meant to be the only person in the universe who is capable of safeguarding and protecting the existence and continuity of that sect in the country — because as we all know, each religious sect is under the threat of annihilation and only a strong determined and stubborn leader can stand up for their sect in the face of the other.
Lebanon’s political landscape is far more complicated than to simply point a finger at someone and accuse them of being ‘Big Brother’; but this complexity in itself is the reason why 1984 can enlighten us about the absurdities we are currently living in. How can this dystopian novel be understood in today’s Lebanon ?
Balance of power
It is propaganda and disinformation which has kept the political class in power. Thus, the cult of personality of not just one leader, but a dozen, can be seen among the different sects in Lebanon. Orwell writes that it is The Party which governs and holds power in his dystopia. In our dystopia, it could be read as the Hizbollah-led government.
Unlike Lebanon’s other sects, the Shi’a camp is almost entirely monopolized by Hizbollah and its ally the Amal Movement. That is because Hizbollah is supposed to be infallible. Pictures and posters of its leader(s) and its dead adorn the streets which are under its control. Their flags, coupled with Iranian ones, hang on electricity-poles on every street. The leader, Hasan Nasrallah, has not been seen in public for years and lives in a bunker out of fear for his life. Akin to the telescreens in 1984, which are used to spread propaganda through news reports about how Hizbollah keeps on winning wars, battles and are absolutely not credible, his speeches are broadcasted live to a euphoric yet angry live audience — they chant, scream and some even cry (of joy?), party and Iranian flags are waved, and propaganda music is played. The omniscient and omnipresent leader has spoken! Dissent is not tolerated and there is no place for opposition when the Party’s existence is of divine right. Hizbollah has infiltrated the government, not only through democratic elections but also intimidation and a show of force (see 8 May 2008).
In 1984, ‘War is Peace’ is one of the Party’s slogans. Why is War equated with Peace? That’s because ‘Peace’, here, is the status quo. Perpetual war is both an imaginary state of never-ending war and a means of keeping the balance of power amongst the existing political players in the country.
In the novel, at some point, Eurasia is no longer Oceania’s enemy and is replaced by Eastasia, but it is apparent that no one noticed the change. Hizbollah’s eternal enemy is the State of Israel, or “the Zionist entity,” which embodies the evil of all evils. The Organization’s weapons are blessed by God Almighty to fight the evil Zionists and take back Al-Quds! ; but from one day to the next, Hizbollah is seen fighting for Bashar Al-Assad in Syria, dragging the country into a war it does not want to be a part of.
Hizbollah does not want peace — it wants to maintain the status quo. It has convinced the populace of a threat which is not there.
Hizbollah controls and manipulates people to the extent that just like in 1984, speaking against the organization in public (out loud?) or contradicting its policies is blasphemous.
Doublethink is the ability of an individual to control his/her memories, to forget it voluntarily, then to forget about forgetting. It’s a tool The Party uses as a way to self-discipline its followers. Through Doublethink, Hizbollah never fails to manipulate and distort facts — to hide its evil. Hizbollah controls the populace through this denial of truth and anyone who goes against it is a thoughtcriminal; anyone who dreams of rebellion, dissent or criticism is guilty of thoughtcrime (akin to Wilson, in the novel). This also applies to non-Hizbollah members or none Shi’a Lebanese who dare think/suggest that Hizbollah is a terrorist organization.
In The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism for Emmanuel Goldstein, an important book mentioned in 1984, the fragile balance the country rests on is ‘war’. There should always be a balance among the different sides so there’s never one that gets stronger than the other. Perpetual war in Lebanon means having the populace live in misery to prevent them from ever learning enough to understand the true nature of their country. In Goldstein’s book, the surplus of natural resources goes to funding ‘war’ and the situation in Lebanon is not much different (not to mention the misery Iranians live in while their resources are being used to fight unnecessary proxy wars in foreign countries).
The perpetual war amongst the different sects and the one which exists with our neighbors has led Lebanon to unnecessary disarray. The country’s economic and financial woes and the friction between the different communities, but also the tense situation between these communities and their government is on the rise, and people wonder if there’s going to be another actual — bloody — war.
1984 is an eye-opening book. It is complicated and even disturbing — to me at least. Each page I turned reminded me of my country. It reminded me of the fear, the threats, the censorship, the propaganda and the state of perpetual war.
Regardless, if this perpetual war in Lebanon escalates today, then I doubt there’s going to be a Lebanon to rebuild tomorrow.