I came back from Lebanon with a new belief engrained in my head. That belief is that changing Lebanese living in Lebanon is an impossible task. The people living in Lebanon will basically remain sectarian until Kingdom come.
Let me put it this way: if I was a "reformer" going to Lebanon to attempt to resolve this issue of sectarianism, and I had to list all the barriers I saw in my path, I would list the following:
- Lebanese are financially encouraged to remain sectarian
- Lebanese are emotionally bribed to remain sectarian
- Lebanese are spiritually cajoled to remain sectarian
Financial, emotional and spiritual reasons to maintain the status quo. Of course, juxtapose these incentives with the excommunication that one would experience if he or she decided to take the unthinkable path of (for example) marrying an individual from another sect.
Now you tell me how it is possible for any one in Lebanon NOT to be sectarian!
The notion of a third path is nonexistent. The third path, of course, is your own - your individual path. That route, in Manichean Lebanon, where you are either "with us or with them," is simply laughable. In our wonderful Lebanon, you are either an "insider" or an "outsider," there is no other way.
What is discussed at home is, at the best of circumstances, a mix of rational discourse with irrational sectarian jumble. The irrational jumble is the most prominent portion of the discussion in almost every occasion. It is during these grueling sessions where you begin to realize that political disagreements and conflicts are used to reinforce the long-established sectarian divisions within society - not the other way around. In other words, sectarianism would not go away if, somehow, Jumblatt, Aoun, Future, Hizballah, Amal, LF and the rest were best of buddies!
Generalizations about the "characteristics" of Mwarni, Shi'a, Druze and Sunna are thrown out there to reinforce sectarian bonds and fissures. Usually, nothing else unites the people in the room except familial and sectarian ties, so they are most comfortable when nonsense about other sects starts spewing out of someone's mouth. If you interject and try to infuse some sanity into the discourse, you will be ostracized, because you threaten the cohesion within the group and the cordial atmosphere that this insane sectarian discourse is fostering (ironic, isn't it?).
In summation, I have come back to the United States with a staggering weight on my chest. Even my desire to blog has diminished somewhat because I have come to realize the futility of this exercise. My innate desire has always been to somehow try to foment change for the better in Lebanon. Now, I believe that I need to reconcile myself with something a close relative of mine has told me over and over again:
If you want people to acknowledge that they cannot change you, your own thoughts and the choices that you have made in your life, then you must accept that you cannot change them, their own thoughts, or the choices that they have made in their own lives.
Well... there goes Lebanon!