The Lebanese Minister of Defense has recently announced plans to reinstate mandatory military service 13 years after its abolition in 2007. More details are expected to follow in the coming few weeks.
Once considered essential to bring together a deeply torn society after 15 years of civil war, mandatory service, also known as conscription or flag service, consisted of one year of military training that only young Lebanese men meeting specific criteria undertook.
The Minister’s announcement on Twitter was received with both enthusiasm and skepticism as some citizens invoked the national cohesion and unity that mandatory service can induce while others questioned the government’s ability to organize such a large-scale program or its right to force citizens to serve.
Amidst the rapidly shifting pieces and impulsive decision-making in Lebanon these days, it is refreshing to know that some form of nation-wide longer-term planning is still taking place. In times of crises, firefighters and first responders are essential, but ensuring longer term systemic health and safety requires architects and structural engineers.
If properly thought through and rolled out, the reintroduction of a revolutionized flag service may present a foundational bloc for the rebirth of a nation that has continuously suffered from socio-economic, cultural and religious fragmentation.
An even better outcome would consist of toning down the ‘military’ in ‘military service’ to design and implement a secular youth program grounded in civics and national belonging.
As alternatives to their military programs, countries such as Switzerland and Austria have introduced civilian service programs decades ago where conscientious objectors can engage in activities spanning areas such as social work or environmental protection.
A combination of basic military service, civil service, and civics could be the perfect mix for Lebanon at this point in time.
Why Mandatory Service Is a Good Idea
Chaos, corruption, kleptocracy and economic stagnation have created a culture of despair, prompted mass immigration and significantly hampered political participation rates because of a fundamental lack of trust in government and politics.
When the current storm passes – and it eventually will – Lebanon will need to heal its wounds and address the disconnect between who we are and who we want to be as a country. This will entail rebuilding a tolerant, just and tight-knit society.
Compulsory service presents a great opportunity to do just that by allowing us to rethink the meaning of being Lebanese, enhance civic engagement and strengthen national identity among young citizens.
It comes as no surprise that the Lebanese Army is the natural figurehead of such an undertaking. For the last decade – and probably long before that – the Army has been the one national institution that citizens respect and have faith in.
According to Arab Barometer Data, four out of every five Lebanese trust the Armed Forces to a great or at the very least medium extent, compared to roughly one in five (and often fewer) in the case of the main executive, legislative or judicial institutions.
The lack of trust in the latter has had a bleak snowball effect on the relationship between citizens and the state. The less trust people have, the more cynical they are about any public initiative or program (this one included), the less they are willing to engage politically, the less trust they have…Read full article at Annahar