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Violence and values in the Middle East: Lebanon survey
December 31, 2009
As fighting continues in Gaza, a University of Michigan survey of nearby Lebanon illuminates some of the values underlying the use of violence in the Middle East.
The findings are part of the World Values Surveys conducted by the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR).
ISR sociologist Mansoor Moaddel conducted the survey in collaboration with Lebanese and Swedish colleagues. The research team conducted face-to-face interviews with a nationally representative sample of 3,039 adults drawn from all sizable segments of Lebanese society from April through September 2008.
The sample included Shi'ites, Sunnis, Druze, and various Christian groups in numbers roughly proportionate to their presence in the population.
Some of the findings have implications for U.S. policy in the region, according to Moaddel, who is also a professor at Eastern Michigan University. "Lebanese Muslims are much more liberal and secular than other Muslims in the Middle East," said Moaddel, who has conducted similar surveys in Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Islamic countries.
Asked which political party they would vote for if national elections were held in the near future, by far the largest group—28 percent—said they would not vote at all.
"This group of disenfranchised Lebanese are more liberal and egalitarian than either those who would vote for Hezbollah or those who would vote for other political parties," Moaddel said. "They are less likely to say that religion is very important to them, and they are more likely to support gender equality, favor individual choice in the selection of spouse, and adhere to national identity."
Hezbollah supporters were the least likely to favor secular politics and a democratic political system, compared to those who supported other political parties or those who did not plan to vote at all.
Still, just 6 percent of Lebanese Hezbollah supporters believed that clerical absolutism is a good form of government. Hezbollah supporters are predominantly Shi'i Muslims, Moaddel noted, and they have strong cultural and religious ties with Iranian Shi'ites, where clerical rule is well established.
This insight is important for U.S. policymakers, Moaddel said, since it reveals that at least some Hezbollah supporters have views that are closer to U.S. positions than to the positions of fundamentalist Islamic nations. "Treating all Hezbollah supporters as enemies may be unnecessary at best and counterproductive at worst," Moaddel said.
The survey also provided insight into Lebanese attitudes toward Palestinians. Despite strong sympathy expressed for Palestinians in public demonstrations in Lebanon and other Arab nations, more Lebanese surveyed said they would prefer having Saudis, Syrians, and Americans as their neighbors than Palestinians. "Demonstrations for the Palestinians really are demonstrations against the Israelis," Moaddel said.
Moaddel and colleagues also probed moral values by asking participants which of the following three types of behavior they considered the most immoral: stealing other people's property; violence against others; or premarital sex.
Overall, nearly half—48 percent—said that stealing was the most immoral, followed by 31 percent who said violence was the worst, and 21 percent who picked premarital sex as the most serious moral offense of the three.
"I've used this test with my students in large introductory sociology class recently," Moaddel said. "And at least 90 percent of my students agree that violence against other human beings is the most immoral. But in Lebanon and in Iran, which I surveyed in 2005, stealing is seen as the most immoral. It's hard to say why. It may be that all the violence has desensitized people to it, or it might be that the reason there is so much violence is that people don't view it as that bad. Or it could be that the attitude toward violence is fall-out from a patriarchal culture in which brute strength and physical force are seen as natural, normal ways to obtain your rights."Read survey