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Religious ideologies, struggle for identity, and the Arabic language in Lebanon

Discuss about the Arabic Language and Power Identity in Lebanon for Education Sector.

Over 200 million people speak the Arabic language in the modern world as their sole mother tongue language with great dominance in the Middle East as well as North Africa. The Arabic language has been officially adopted in these countries as the principal language in all operations of the nation such as in education and administration. After the Islamic conquests and resettlement of the Arab tribes during the 7th Century, the Arabic language was established. The Arabic language does not only serve as a symbol of national identity but also as a revered language in the Christianity and Islamic religion. Therefore, it has become a unifying denominator of the religious, cultural, and political identity. Lebanon commonly known as the Lebanese Republic is a state in Western Asia whereby the influence of Arabic shaped their history, cultural identity, political, ethnic, and religious diversity. This paper, therefore, discusses the linguistic construction of national identity in Lebanon and the political, social-cultural, and religious conflicts regarding Arabic language in Lebanon. The issue of politics of identity in Lebanon has been influenced greatly by Arabic and the introduction of other languages such as French and English.

The debate on Arabic language and the identity for the Lebanon people has been going on for many years now. The issue has been going on from mid-19th Century to date especially in the Middle East region. The Christians, for instance, in mid-19th Century, played a significant role in bringing out what is now known as the Arab renaissance (nahda). Majorly, nahda was cultural and literary, but it influenced the development of Arabic greatly as a bond of national identity over any religion. At the time, Arabic was linked exclusively to Islam and, therefore, it resulted into a lot of political unrest between the different groups. As such, the concept of nahda was able to bring this contention into a rest.

Arabic is the mother tongue of Lebanese and, therefore, it was supposed to bring unity rather than conflicts. Due to such issues and power for identity, these groups went ahead in resisting the Turkification policies introduced by the Ottoman authorities in the administration and education sector. The bone of contention was the power of identity and self-definition between religion and Arabic language. Some elite Christians discovered that for unity to be brought forth, then, the Arabic had to loosen ties with Islam and thereby allow Christians more association with the language. By doing so, the Arabic became a marker or a sign of identity for both of the groups. It is important to note that there were other languages besides Arabic before the modern era. For instance, there was Turkish, English, Russian, and French especially in the education systems that was expanding mainly at the time. But there was segregation between these languages and various groups of people. Linguistic identity battle ensued between these groups where they fought for the Arabic language to be the marker of their identity since it was their native language from the beginning. Arabic acted as an identity for the Muslims where they took pride in the fulfillment of their religious duties.  Language acts as a strong symbol of ethnicity and, therefore, it represents people’s identity especially for those that are politically separated.

Politics of identity and the Arabic language in Lebanon

When French assumed power in Lebanon, it announced that Arabic was the official language for the Lebanese people but, in the year 1926, it amended the constitution declaring French to be an additional official language alongside Arabic. It was implemented in the public and private schools especially in the teaching of science subjects, social studies, and mathematics. On the other hand, English could be used in the field of technology, business, and science and could not be used to give a particular group identity nor was it a culture language. The French mandate ended in the year 1943 after Lebanon achieved its independence. However, up-to-date, the French language competes with the Arabic language in the determination of cultural identity for the Lebanese people. The competition is pronounced in the education sector and the arena of the national self-definition. The political and civil war in Lebanon during the period between 1975-1989, was as a result of Lebanon’s split identity that was known as bilingualism. The hostility intensified especially regards linguistic and cultural terms. The war ended in 1989 when the various political parties and Lebanese parties came to an agreement that Lebanon was Arabic in identity. The struggle in Lebanon continues over the national and language identity. The Lebanese linguistic politics, therefore, fight for the realignment of power regarding French and Arabic for the economic development of the country. Right now, Lebanon has embraced multilingualism whereby Arabic is no longer the symbol of identity, but French, as well as, English have taken hold of the cultural and language identity.

During the last half a century, the language situation in Lebanon and the struggle for identity remains to be an issue up-to-date. The socio-cultural ideologies surrounding this issue is of uttermost importance for the socio-linguistics especially in understanding the colonialism and national identity. In the whole region of the Middle East, there has been an undying issue on the role that social, cultural, and political ideologies play in the struggle of the power of language and national identity. There are four languages in Lebanon that make up the Lebanese social and cultural scene. Two of these languages (English and Armenian), does not play a significant role in the conceptualization of Lebanon’s national identity. The English language became known in Lebanon in the 19th Century where it was adopted as a global language in international relations and business. Armenian language, on the other hand, is only used by the Armenian community in line with keeping their social and cultural identity alive.

Social-cultural ideologies and the Arabic language

The other two languages which significantly influences Lebanon’s social and cultural identity is the Arabic and French. The Arabic language is usually supported by the Muslims and is associated with the Pan-Arab cultural identity. The role of the French language in Lebanese cultural scene propels it into the outside of the Arab orbit as well as lodging it in the inside sphere of Western and non-Islamic Mediterranean culture. The introduction of French, therefore, rejuvenated the long-established multilingual tradition which was there during the times of Phoenicians. French was accepted in Lebanon on the pragmatic grounds. It was to act as a medium for cultural and spiritual expression in enabling the Christians such as the Maronite’s to keep in touch with their fellow Christians in the West such as French. The French language was not only accepted and used by the Maronite but also by the Muslims and other Christian denominations members in their social and cultural interchange. On the cultural grounds, French denotes the literary hybridity and linguistic of the Lebanese through replacing mono-literary and mono-linguistic articulations of the national identity. When two or more languages interact, there usually a probability of three linguistic phenomena occurring; interference, borrowing, and codeswitching. The Arabic language, as such, was faced with these challenges where it experienced interference and codeswitching from the other languages.

Contrary to the belief of many, especially Christians, Arabism does not pose any political threat on the identity of Lebanese people. In fact, Arabism was culturally adopted and promoted in the 19th Century by Christians who fought for Arabic to be a unifying factor between the two groups. The Arabism, therefore, is not a tool for Islam promotion. Otherwise, Arabic proponents would have forged links and created bonds with other non-Arabic speaking countries. However, it was meant to fulfill its cultural role as well as facilitate its civilization mission to other Arabic nations. Language remains typically to be a strong marker of identity for nations. When a country begins to acquire and adopt foreign languages as well when there is an increase in literacy levels in native languages, then the citizen’s sense of self-identity and community develops. Therefore, the competency of the students in literary Arabic, English, or French impacted significantly in their political, religious, and cultural formation. Most of the European philosophers during the 19th Century identify the language as a common unifying factor for citizens as it acts as a national identity factor. In other parts of the Middle East language as well signaled cultural heritage, intellectual development, spiritual afflictions, and social status.

The Arabic Language and Lebanese national identity

Both Muslims and Christians understood the significance of language and the role it can play in the formation of either personal or communal identity. The Christians and Maronite’s took French as their primary marker of Theo-political self-identification while Muslims treated Arabic as an anchor of culture and religion. Due to the power of language and the power of identity that it carries, there was a spur of rivalry especially between the Christians and Muslims as well as between the Protestant and Catholic institutions. The language identity as well created a significant gap between men and women and girls and boys. Many elite families, for instance, prevented their daughters from learning literary Arabic such as the fusha but encouraged them to learn other foreign languages. Fusha was typically seen as a language to be used in the public affairs or to be mastered by the men. Women by learning such a language would act as a means of improving their political and social status which was contrary to the Lebanese cultural and social setting. Radical changes that occurred in the social and religious settings led to various outcomes such as bilingualism within the families, mental dependency specifically on the foreign languages, emigration, and religious conversion.

Many people have accused the Arabic of being a language of Islam and, therefore, this impacts the societal outlook on this language as well as other languages. Interesting, the non-Arabic speakers believe the Arabic language is a unifying factor and increases the Islamic faith. Arabic remains to be the most preferred language in Lebanon and a potent symbol of Arab-Islamic culture. It is used as the primary language in several of the primary and secondary schools and, therefore, it gives the students an attachment with the Islamic principles. The Arabized students offer significant support to the Islamist movement and also colossal mistrust toward the West. It has been shown that Arabic and Islam are usually complimentary as well as mutually reinforcing. For instance, Arabized individuals are more familiar with the Islamic symbols, cultural referents, and linguistic styles which they find to be more persuasive. Many Arabic countries use the power of the Arabic language to drive national identity, modernization, uniformity, and authentication. As the Arabic aims to enhance linguistic and cultural national identity, other languages as well such as French seeks to create a sense of identity as well. Therefore, the conflict for language power and identity between these groups keeps on widening within the borders of Liberia as well in other Middle East countries.

Conclusion

Due to embracement of other languages such as French and English in schools and administrative work, it has caused the Arabic language to lose much popularity in Lebanon. The fact that the political force such as Pan-Arabism was not active anymore in fighting for the Arabic sociopolitical identity, it then meant that the Arabic language was losing its grip in Lebanon. Political, social, and religious conflicts played a significant role in shaping linguistic identities in Lebanon as well as the larger Middle East. It is clear that social-cultural, political, and religious ideologies influence the struggle that has been in Lebanon for many years over power and language identity. Usually, language is a powerful force behind any identity formation in a country. Introduction of other languages in schools such as French and English influenced the intellectual horizons and the wider economic aspect of Lebanese students.

Reference List

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Womack, D., 'Lubnani, Libanais, Lebanese: Missionary education, language policy and identity formation in modern Lebanon', Studies in World Christianity, vol. 18, no. 1, 2012, pp. 4-20.

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