By Louay Khraish
The Protestant missionary W. M. Thomson wrote that the people of Lebanon “do not coalesce into one homogeneous community, nor do they regard each other with fraternal feelings. The Sunnites excommunicate the Shiites; both hate the Druse, and all three detest the Nusairiyeh. The Maronites have no particular love for anybody and, in turn, are disliked by all. The Greeks cannot endure the Greek Catholics—all despise the Jews….”
He also wrote, “No other country in the world . . . has such a multiplicity of antagonistic races; and herein lies the greatest obstacle to any general and permanent amelioration and improvement of their condition, character, and prospects. They can never form one united people, never combine for any important religious or political purpose; and will therefore remain weak, incapable of self-government, and exposed to the invasions and oppressions of foreigners. Thus it has been, is now, and must long continue to be a people divided, meted out, and trodden down.”
Few Lebanese would disagree with Thomson. What’s surprising is that he did not write this in 2012, nor in 1975, but in 1870, 142 years ago when Lebanon’s population was less than half a million.
It may seem, especially to the pessimists amongst us, that sectarianism, division, and hatred are hereditary. They are not. They are taught. One generation after the other is spoon-fed a concoction of bigotry and animosity, which are often justified by manipulating so-called words of God. Politicians across the political spectrum nurture this prejudice and hate, at times keeping them dormant, and at times letting them simmer on a low fire until the time is right to cue us, like masterful conductors, to unleash the madness, surprising even ourselves with the intolerance that is hidden within. Thus, once again, we gullibly serve the political agendas and allow the politicians to fence us like cattle into sectarian cantons so that they can remain in power.
There is a proverb in English that says, “The old ox plows a straight furrow.” A similar proverb exists in Lebanon although it is reversed. When translated, the Lebanese proverb reads, “Blame the crooked furrow on the big ox.” If one is to consider the German proverb that “a country can be judged by its proverbs,” then what does the above-mentioned Lebanese proverb say about Lebanon? Seeing that an ox is a symbol of leadership, one can conclude that it alludes to crooked leadership. And so, we continue, from one generation to another, to follow the oxen and sow the seeds in the crooked furrows they plough for us.
The Taif Accord stipulates that political sectarianism must be abolished. Many politicians claim to be supporters of a non-sectarian, merit-based system of governance, but since 1989, no one has seriously acted on changing the law. The reason for this negligence is that a nonsectarian system will require national leadership not narrow-minded sectarian leaders like the ones we have today. A secular system will require leaders who appeal across the religious divides and very few, if any, do these days. The politicians, who are at each other’s throats, want to maintain the status quo to stay in power.
Is there an end to this self-destructive cycle? Is it possible for the Lebanese to coalesce into one homogeneous community and get out of these crooked furrows that are now so deep we risk being buried in them?
We cannot be a united, strong people who are capable of self-government with the sectarian system intact. The sectarian system is the crooked furrow that must be straightened. Many Lebanese realize that a secular, merit-based system is the only salvation. Yet, very few of us act or do anything about it.
Now is the chance.
Let’s join the secular organizations in Lebanon such as Laïque Pride or Take Back Parliament, which is “a new independent secular political movement.” Let’s join the White March in Martyr’s Square on Thursday, October 25 at 6pm and show our numbers.
Let’s show that there is a substantial portion of the population that is secular. Let’s no longer remain silent even if we are a minority. Perhaps, we can prove W. M. Thomson wrong.
Let the events of the past week be a wake up call, not a call to war, or a wake for the nation.
*Quote from The Land and the Book by W. M. Thomson