Thursday, June 23, 2005

We are Lebanese. That is the answer to all my questions.

We are Lebanese
Adib Samara

With car bombings and civil unrest in the news these days, what does it mean to be Lebanese? The same it always has, says Adib Samara: You have hope.

I often find myself comparing everything in my life to Lebanon. When watching TV, I point out big Hollywood stars that were originally Lebanese. When talking about business, I point out various Lebanese CEOs who have made some great contributions to our world. When chatting with friends and colleagues, many conversations end up with "oh, we have that in Lebanon" or start with "In Lebanon...." I often wonder how annoying it is to others that I constantly change the topic to Lebanon. It's as though I'm trying to prove something to the world; trying to put Lebanon on the map; trying to make it seem as though it s the greatest place on the planet.

For me, it is the greatest place on the planet. It is part of my identity. It is what has shaped the way I think, and how I feel about many issues. I hate war because of Lebanon. I hate war because as a young boy I had to experience sitting in the comfort of my home, and having it invaded by an artillery shell. It is Lebanon that has destroyed my image of religion. To watch Christians and Muslims fighting over everything because of their religion was something I could never understand. Why are there Christian basketball teams and Muslim soccer teams? Why does a mosque have to be bigger and louder than the church next door? Why does our president have to be a Christian? What does religion have to do with sports? Or television? Or politics? Or anything?

Many of my thoughts and emotions have been influenced by my being Lebanese. Some of them are not so positive, but how can I shun a nation that has played a great part in creating me? I can't. For me, Lebanon is a symbol of hope. It has gone through the worst, but it always seems to dig itself right out. It represents the journey of life. Lebanon isn't afraid to live life, and though doing so has cost many lives, it still portrays a romantic struggle with a magnetic power, pulling its people towards it every time they try to run away. You ask many Lebanese about their identity or their feelings, and they will tell you: "I'm Lebanese," and they will say it with such conviction, and even arrogance. And they will go through the trouble of glorifying Lebanon and what it means to be Lebanese.

For most of the world particularly for the many people who have never been to the Lebanon or the Middle East, and do not have the courage or the audacity to take the journey into the heart of the Fertile Crescent it is a symbol of violence and destruction, terrorism and secularism. Stereotypes and generalizations undermine the image of Arabs and Muslims alike. You're probably wondering if I m Muslim. What does it matter? Perhaps it is these stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims that I'm trying to break down. By making Lebanon seem as though it is everywhere and everything, I can get people to forget about what has been socially constructed in their mindsets. I want people to think that Lebanon is great. I show them pictures of the white tipped mountains and the golden beaches, of the incredible nightlife and its beautiful people. I just want them to realize that it's not just a war-torn country with backwards people, but a vibrant and energetic nation filled with vibrant and energetic and loving people.

And then it happens: Lebanon is in the news again, and something terrible is happening. The whole world is watching as Lebanon is in the spotlight for yet another world political disaster. A car bomb. Seven hundred pounds of explosives wipe out part of the city. All that remains is a crater. Our former Prime Minister is dead. The people are in the streets protesting. But I can't be there to witness it all. Instead, I'm across the world in Costa Rica, and surrounded by questioning faces. What's going on? Do you think the civil war will start again? Who was behind it? What do you think will happen? How do you feel?

As I answer the questions with "I don't knows" and "we'll sees", I am stunned. I feel shivers running down my spine. My body is weak; I don't know what to say. Since the end of the civil war Lebanon has been moving towards this spotlight, but dazzlingly, proudly, flaunting its success. It was one of the only democracies in the Middle East. It was developing rapidly. National reconciliation was successful. Tourism was beginning to boom. Television stations across the globe portrayed all the images that Lebanon had to offer the Roman Temple of Jupiter, the Crusader castles, the ancient Phoenician cities that line its coast, and the world class ski resorts and health clubs. Everything seemed like it was on the way to taking back the title of the Paris of the Middle East and the centre of culture, music, poetry, and cuisine.

When I found out about the assassination of Rafik Harrir, I cried. I have to admit, however, that I didn't cry for him. Sure I mourned him, for he was part of Lebanon's climb to the top. He was responsible for the Taif Accords after the 16-year civil war, and responsible for the country's development ever since, rebuilding the city and attracting foreign investment. But when I cried, I cried for Lebanon. I cried because I couldn't believe that there were still people out there who were willing to destroy Lebanon, and what it meant to be Lebanese. And before my tears could empty, the world witnessed what it really meant to be Lebanese.

On March 14, 2005, a million Lebanese took to the streets. This wasn't some form of proletariat revolution foreseen by Marx. This was different. For the first time, it didn't matter what religion you were, or to what political party you belonged to. For the first time, your economic background and social status, and the socio-cultural habitus in which you were raised had no value. Construction workers, garbage men, business men and women, doctors, lawyers, engineers, everyone - they went out to demand freedom, sovereignty, independence, liberty and justice. They went out as Lebanese, for Lebanon. This was not just about nationalistic, emotional euphoria, where people were lulled by selective amnesia. It was not promoted by economic or political elites manipulating the chaos to promote their own agenda through the rhetoric of national liberation and cultural reconstruction. This was simply about the people. This was about the Lebanese for Lebanon. It was about finally realizing the potential behind the dot on the map. The world finally had a chance to witness the strength of a people that for so many years was concealed by labels and social constructs.

Now, with the first democratic elections taking place, the future of Lebanon is vague, but there is much hope. I cannot explain what s going in Lebanon right now, because I do not have the privilege of being there. When I ask my Lebanese contacts there about the situation, they say they are waiting anxiously for the outcome. Some are sceptical. Others are confident that it s a new era in Lebanon. We are finally free, they say victoriously. When I ask my friends and family about the situation, and the car bombs that continue, they say, "Don't worry, they are nothing. Car bombs will not stop us from accomplishing what we are destined to bring about. It's just people who are trying to scare us. Don't worry," they say, "we are Lebanese." When I ask about the nightlife, they reply, "Yeah, it has calmed a little, but everyone is still partying. We are Lebanese."

We are Lebanese. That is the answer to all my questions. It's what I would have answered if someone had asked me a similar question. It's a powerful answer that shows what we have been through. We are Lebanese. We are survivors. We are warriors. We have lived through endless civil war and occupation. We have seen it all. We are not afraid anymore. We will have barriers and obstacles, but we will break them down. We will live and enjoy life regardless of what may come our way. Who knows what will happen, but it doesn't matter: we are Lebanese.

Adib Samara is a Masters candidate at the University for Peace, studying International Law and Settlement of Disputes. He is from Lebanon


Raja said...

Firas, thanks for bringing this great piece to our attention.

Adib, I missed you wle! Hope you're doing great and that all is well. Your piece was extremely heart-felt. What's more, I felt that you were speaking for me as well. Yes. It did feel that way! You've managed to articulate what brings all of us together. In a time like this, I can't thank you more for such a service.

ThinkingMan said...

Very nice piece indeed. We can all relate to it very well.
One of the advantages of being outside Lebanon is that we constantly compare and contrast, and we know there is a better Lebanon around the corner.

It's great to be Lebanese, but are we "happy Lebanese"? Surely not. We are not satisfied with what's being done to our country. And that is the unfortunate thing.

Anonymous said...

Yes and since we are Lebanese, brilliant, smart and hardworking..if we stick to this sectarian system and system of Troika the country is doomed....

Why does no one ever bring this up?

The Troika is a failure, why not change it? The Syrians have changed our constitution enough. Now its our turn. And we should concoct something brilliant, something foolproof and something that represents everyone equally.

Thats the issue at hand. Thats what we should call for. There should be drafts, suggestions and debates about what system is the best for us.
There should be a Lebanon for all, the poor should get richer and it wouldn't hurt if the rich could get a bit poorer. A thriving middle class should exists etc...

Economic reforms will accompany political reforms. Political reforms do not come about solely by putting different people in the same old positions.
Is the Taif Accord what is best for the country? A bunch of old guys elected in the early 70's drafted that accord. The Lebanese people should be able to choose their system. Would it be a good idea to create a Senate or a Lower House in order to get people used to the idea of desectarianization. Or maybe allocate a few "wild card" seats in parliament which a are open to all sects....So many possibilites and so much potential..

But if people are like donkeys and gang up behind one sectarian leader then maybe the best of systems will not help...

We should come up with a new political system.
There are different ideas...a temporary one could be one in which there are rotations one year the Sunni is president, the Shia PM, the Maronite is Speaker.
Then the next time it shifts up (or down, whatever sequence we choose) the Shia is Pres, the Maronite PM and the Sunni speaker...that would be a good solution for the time being...

The best solution would be to abolish those positions and have a Cabinet of maybe 10 ppl (all major sects included) and have a new president every year and the other 9 will occupy the important Cabinet decisions. (These are the Swiss and Bosnian models. After their war the Bosnians took over the Swiss model and voila it worked out fine for them)

Since Switzerland is a country divided in half between Protestants and Catholics this model was devised early on to just make it unimportant to who's president or not. The Cabinet positions are way more important. And that's how it should be

In conclusion, I am very disappointed that all Lebanese are too busy "hating" other people and fabricating false alliances instead of hatching out a new political landscape which should include new a system, new institutions and new positions and leaving behind the old system which resulted in wars and tensions all the way since 1943.

Lebanon is not all about "partying" and having good ski resorts....there should be hard work and sweat invested in something we can build on...and thats not happening