The research fellowship I hold at Georgetown’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies has given me the chance to test Hani’s argument to assess whether or not there has been something peculiar about Druze environmental history. In what sense do the Druze have a special relationship with nature? Understandings of Druze history generally highlight one defining historical characteristic: a commitment to maintaining autonomy and resisting outside authority. Druze bravery on the battlefield is a corollary to this understanding of the group’s identity. What enabled the Druze to resist the imposition of outside authority? Was it the fact that they had a particular relationship with the environment that distinguished it from the rest of the population of Mount Lebanon? While it is clear that the Druze have consistently been able to resist outside authority since the early modern period, we cannot assume—in a scholarly context—that the ability to maintain autonomy results from some kind of innate cultural or (much less) racial proclivity for freedom. What the historical conditions enabled successive the Druze to maintain relative autonomy?
In that regard, I found some evidence to corroborate Hani’s idea that there is something distinctive about the Druze relationship with the environment. Recent events, especially the inability of Druze militias to stand up to Hezbollah in 2008, suggest that Druze ecological autonomy--at least in the military sense--may be a thing of the past.
Today, Lebanon’s religious communities face an uncertain future together. If anything, the system that links political representation with sectarian identity in Lebanon has been a major source of corruption. Bad government is the major obstacle to the preservation of Lebanon’s rich environmental heritage. Pollution is a major factor stirring the current unrest in the country. Air quality in Lebanon is poor. Cancer rates are high. While the macro trends of the global environment, especially climate change, are far out of anyone in Lebanon’s control, local adaptations will be key in dictating the country’s future direction. Projects such as the Shouf Biosphere offer hope that the political will to cultivate a sustainable relationship with the environment exists and the current protests suggest that there is fertile soil for an environmental movement to flourish.
Barnard, Anne. “Climate Change Is Killing the Cedars of Lebanon.” The New York Times 18 July 2018.
Cheddadi, R. and C. Khater. "Climate Change Since the Last Glacial Period in Lebanon and the Persistence of Mediterranean Species." Quaternary Science Reviews 150 (2016): 146-157.
Firro, Kais. A History of the Druzes. Leiden: Brill, 1992.
Pitts, Graham Auman. “The Ecology of Migration: Remittances in World War I Mount Lebanon.” Arab Studies Journal 26, no. 2 (Fall 2018): 100-127.
“Fallow Fields: Famine and the Making of Lebanon.” PhD dissertation, Georgetown University, 2016.