Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Walid Junblat publicly opposes fellowship on Druze and Arab minority studies

Lebanon's Druze leader Walid Junblat surprised many some weeks ago when he publicly declared his objection against a new post-doc fellowship at Georgetown University (Washington DC) in Druze and Arab Minority Studies. This comes at a surprise, not only because the fellowship is granted by the American Druze Foundation, but also because Junblat is known to have in general a positive attitude towards researchers, an attitude which is not that common among Lebanese politicians. Junblat's medial opposition to an academic fellowship for one person a year working mostly on the publication of his/her PhD thesis may sound ridiculous (it certainly is) but it reflects the wider fear of Junblat and parts of the Druze society in the face of rising militant Sunni extremism in Syria and also Lebanon. The recent bombing on February 3, which targeted the Lebanese Shia population, went off in the predominantly Druze town of Chouaifat. This act clearly indicates, that mixed areas in Lebanon are seen as valid targets by groups like Jabhat an-Nusra, which endangers also the Druze. This, along with the precarious situation of the Druze in Syria, who are fighting against Islamist forces and have already experienced the regime of ISIS in Idllib province, may have contributed to an extreme sensitivity of Junblat regarding Druze identity. Everything which could question the belonging of the Druze to Islam or underlines a particularistic minority status, is therefore seen as a possible threat.
According to YaLibnan:
The PSP leader criticized the program’s classification of Druze as a minority, saying that his co-religionists played out their “national and Islamic role” and struggled to achieve “integration into their wider environment.”
Junblat's statement is of course both, uncommon (when was the last time you have heard a politician objecting a post-doc fellowship?) and out of proportion, but it clearly illustrates how sensitive the question of Druze identity is at the moment for the most important Druze leader.

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