Lebanon and political externalities bleg

A few weeks back, my co-blogger John Lee blogged about the worldwide success of the Lebanese diaspora and used this to argue against the hypothesis that people in a conflict-torn and economically unsuccessful region will necessarily be unsuccessful elsewhere in the world. Reading John’s post led me to ask the question: what about Lebanon’s immigration policy? Prima facie, Lebanon appears to be the poster child of the problems with a liberal immigration policy for refugees, ranging from political externalities (electing a new people) to culture clash. Here’s what Wikipedia’s page on the Lebanese Civil War states (footnotes and hyperlinks removed):

The Lebanese Civil War (Arabic: الحرب الأهلية اللبنانية‎) was a multifaceted civil war in Lebanon, lasting from 1975 to 1990 and resulting in an estimated 120,000 fatalities. Today approximately 76,000 people remain displaced within Lebanon. There was also a mass exodus of almost one million people from Lebanon.

The government of Lebanon had been dominated by Maronite Christians since the state was created as a safe haven for them by the French colonial powers. However, the country had a large Muslim population and many pan-Arabist and Left Wing groups which opposed the pro-western government. The establishment of the state of Israel and the displacement of a hundred thousand Palestinian refugees to Lebanon (around 10% of the total population of the country) changed the demographic balance in favour of the Muslim population. The Cold War had a powerful disintegrative effect on Lebanon, which was closely linked to the polarization that preceded the 1958 political crisis, since Maronites sided with the West while Left Wing and pan-Arab groups sided with Soviet aligned Arab countries.

The militarization of the Palestinian refugee population, with the arrival of the PLO forces after their expulsion from Jordan during Black September, sparked an arms race amongst the different Lebanese political factions and provided a foundation for the long-term involvement of Lebanon in regional conflicts. Fighting between Maronite and Palestinian forces began in 1975, and Left Wing, pan-Arabist and Muslim Lebanese groups later allied with the Palestinians. During the course of the fighting, alliances shifted rapidly and unpredictably: by the end of the war, nearly every party had allied with and subsequently betrayed every other party at least once. Furthermore, foreign powers meddled in the war, such as Israel and Syria which supported and fought alongside different factions. Peace keeping forces, such as the Multinational Force in Lebanon and UNIFIL, were also stationed in Lebanon.

So, Lebanon first let in lots of Maronite Christian refugees (under French colonial rule), leading to a Christian-dominated government. Then, they let in lots of Palestinian (mostly Muslim) refugees (in the wake of the creation of Israel and subsequent hostilities) leading to the tipping of the population scales in favor of Muslim domination. Net result: 15 years of civil war.

Bleg for anybody interested:

  1. What lessons, if any, does the story of Lebanon hold for migration policy worldwide?
  2. What other parts of the world, current or historical, resemble the pre-civil war situation in Lebanon?
  3. What parts of the world might resemble Lebanon if they moved to considerably more liberal immigration policies, particularly policies that approximate “open borders” as discussed on this site?

UPDATE 1: I discovered a lengthy article by Steve Sailer titled Diversity Is Strength! It’s Also … Lebanonization. Choice excerpts (hyperlinks removed):

Although many in our ahistorical punditariat had declared that Iraq was going to be “the first Arab democracy”, Lebanon was a successful democracy beginning in 1943, when it gained independence from France. It enjoyed a free press, women’s suffrage (from 1953), and a booming economy centered on banks, trade, and tourism.

And then it all came tumbling down. A hellish civil war erupted in 1975 and flared on and off into the early 1990s, with 100 different militias pounding each other with artillery duels inside Beirut.

Although it’s hard now to remember, during its three decades of stability and prosperity, Beirut was known as the “Paris of the Arab World”.

The more serious problem: Lebanon’s demographics shifted. The constitution was based on the 1932 census, when Christians comprised 54 percent of the population. Regrettably, but predictably, the best educated ethnicity, the Christians, had the lowest birthrate and were most likely to emigrate. In contrast, the poor and backward Shi’ites proliferated—and stayed put.

As the demographics changed, the original distribution of power among the groups became increasingly contentious. The Shi’ites demanded a new census. The Christians, who predominated in the cushiest government jobs and were guaranteed half the seats in the legislature, resisted.

Then, immigration became the straw that broke the fragile Lebanese camel’s back. David Lamb, the Los Angeles Times correspondent in the Middle East, wrote in his 1988 book The Arabs:

“Lebanon worked, however artificially, then because one group, the Christians, were clearly in control, lesser minorities were given freedom to maneuver as long as they didn’t get too uppity and everyone who mattered was making money. Tensions and hostilities festered only beneath the surface. But in 1970 Lebanon’s delicate balance was upset.”

Palestinian refugees had started arriving in 1948 and sped up after the 1967 Six Day War. Then, in the “Black September” of 1970, King Hussein of Jordan turned on Yassir Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization and booted them out of his country. They relocated to Lebanon.

By 1973, Palestinians made up one tenth of Lebanon’s population, and were radicalizing. They forged alliances with the other outsiders, the Druze. And PLO attacks on Israel brought retribution raining down on Lebanon as a whole, outraging the ruling Maronites.

On April 13, 1975, four Christians were killed in a drive-by shooting of a church. Later that day, a Maronite Phalangist militia massacred 27 Palestinians on a bus. The country descended into civil war, polarizing along Christian-Muslim lines, but with many strange alliances and rapid betrayals.

UPDATE 2: Here’s an EconLog comment by Ali about Lebanon (emphasis mine):

Mr. Econotarian, what race/ethnicity is ILLEGAL? And why on earth should Americans embrace people of any race/ethnicity who do not respect us or our laws? Yeah, you’re libertarian, but government does provide services other than welfare and THAT depends on the cooperation of the members of society. If someone makes their first act here breaking the law, and they’re rewarded for it, why on earth would they think they have to follow ANY laws? Moreover, as for “diversity” doing away with welfare, it may well do that–and with the nation itself. My grandparents, Arab Christians, left Lebanon because that country became so diverse it fell apart.

UPDATE 3: Bryan Caplan’s post Does Conflict Immigrate? is tangentially related.

UPDATE 4: A lengthy response article (in German) to Steve Sailer’s claims about Lebanon.

5 thoughts on “Lebanon and political externalities bleg”

  1. This is a great topic. I can’t think of any other country off the top of my head that has had an experience similar to Lebanon’s. Maybe Israel? In that case the newcomers didn’t so much throw the country into turmoil as they did turn the tables, oppress the former residents and then throw the whole region into turmoil.

    Historically, it seems like massive waves of immigration have also been accompanied by war, as with the various tribes that entered Europe (and China) in successive waves, or the groups that invaded the British Isles.

    I suspect that there are some examples in Africa, but I am not sufficiently familiar with the history of that continent.

    Also, it should probably be pointed out that immigration can not really be pinpointed as the main culprit in Lebanon’s conflict. The region has been ethnically and religiously diverse for a very long time, and conflict has occurred off and on throughout its history. The civil war that broke out in the 70’s was also a result of the waning influence of colonial power, the conflicts set in motion by the creation of Israel, and powerful latent tensions. Importantly, the national boundaries drawn by the colonial powers in the first place contained the seeds for conflict. Immigration and refugees surely played a role, but we shouldn’t overstate that role.

    In any case, an important question has been brought up: what factors determine whether immigration will contribute to social collapse? Lebanon is an example of a country that seemed prosperous for a few decades, but was seething below the surface. Are we that fragile?

    One factor that may be important is that France wrote Lebanon’s constitution to balance the power of Christian’s and Muslim’s. Its political system was based on religious identity. Changing demographics may be more upsetting to countries who depend on a particular balance (or homogeneity).

  2. Not sure I have too much to say with this situation except it’s worth considering Lebanon within the wider context of it’s neighbors. In the Middle East and North Africa, Lebanon is tied for the third most developed non-oil producing country in the region (behind Israel and Cyprus, and tied with Georgia, though whether Georgia is really a part of the Middle East may be up for debate while including Turkey actually wouldn’t place Lebanon any lower on the list). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_Human_Development_Index#Middle_East_and_North_Africa). Considering that more religiously uniform countries like Libya and Syria have still managed to have civil wars in recent years, we can even begin to question how safe avoiding immigration makes a country from violence. Indeed having more non-muslims in a non-oil producing country seems to help development (though this is just eyeballing the list and there may not be a statistically significant effect involved).

Leave a Reply to Chris Hendrix Cancel reply