In Defense of Lebanon: The Unraveling of the Kata'ib Party's Globalist Logic and Foreign Infiltration Narrative in the 1958 War

Friday, January 4, 2019: 8:50 AM
Crystal Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Dylan Baun, University of Alabama in Huntsville
In the literature on the 1958 War in Lebanon, the Kata’ib Party is framed as a steadfast supporter of the state and its defense of Lebanon against anti-government forces and their regional supporters, notably Egypt and Syria. This characterization is a product of the overarching narrative of the Kata’ib in Lebanese history; that is as an ultranationalist, Christian party, the Kata’ib was always with the Christian-led government, including in 1958. However, the Kata’ib surprisingly did not enter the war until July 1958, two months after fighting began. Accordingly, something more than fixed, unwavering government support mobilized the Kata’ib towards war.

Using the cultural productions of the Kata’ib, government documents, and U.S. and U.K. reports, this paper situates the Kata’ib’s shift regarding the war and argues that it was based on two factors: the growing irrelevance of its foreign infiltration narrative and the unraveling of its globalist logic. While the Kata’ib refused to fight alongside Lebanese security forces when the war started in May, it used its newspaper and press conferences in an attempt to prove that Syrians and Egyptians were interfering with Lebanese affairs. At this juncture, the group actively chose the sidelines, believing that exposing this plot would lead to global action in the form of UN intervention. Therefore, the Kata’ib’s globalist claim was central to its inaction. In turn, when it became clear that the UN would not intervene, leaving the Kata’ib to fend for itself, the group moved towards justifying, arming and training for war.

Collectively, this paper seeks to rethink the 1958 War in Lebanon, beyond entrenched sectarian-based narratives and towards unfolding positions and discursive transformations. With this approach, one finds that parties to 1958 conflicts saw their claims as of global importance, and thus their local violence was part of a global fight over sovereignty.