Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Archive for December, 2009

Can we stop the reconstruction of St Vincent de Paul?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 30/12/2009

(that's the kind of picture u get at 3 o'clock in the morning)

I learnt  from a friend four days ago that the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul planned to restore their church in downtown Beirut. I was totally shocked by the news. I realised that I always hoped that the society would never come up with the funds to rebuild it. I wished this church would become Beirut’s Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche. You’ve certainly heard of this church in the center of former West-Berlin. All that remains of this neo-romanesque building bombed by the allies in November 1943 is its damaged tower. It stands today as a reminder of the destruction of war and the symbol of the city’s resolve to rebuild itself after the war.
In Beirut, there is no strong reminder of the war and the city’s resolve to rebuild itself. Solidere has erased all traces of the war and added to the destruction of the old to make way for the new, the expensive, the profitable. The semi destroyed St Vincent the Paul church is a strong symbol that is worth preserving. I wonder if I will be able to convince many people of this. Is there any reader ready to help me

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Posted in Civil Society, Culture, History, Lebanon, Memory, Personal, Speculation, Values, Violence | 2 Comments »

Discovering the missing cultural link: the Umayyad Mosque

Posted by worriedlebanese on 28/12/2009

View of the Umayyad Mosque

Damascus caught me off guard. I didn’t expect to be so easily seduced by a city with such a dull geomorphology and bland urban landscape.

The new neighbourhoods were completely uneventful… though I did find a couple of good books there. But it’s the old town that cast a spell on me. Its architecture surprised me. I didn’t expect to find this type of construction less than 130 km from my hometown.

Sure I was impressed  by the Souks, especially Souk al-Hamidiyeh which starts with a roman structure and ends with a 19th century ottoman one. But it’s the small streets behind it, with their wooden structures and fascinating windows that struck me the most.

What completely blew my mind  was the Umayyade Mosque. I  had seen a picture or two of this building before, and had always thought that the building had originally been a church, that of Saint John the Baptist. What I learned before getting to Damascus was that the church had been totally destroyed and the whole structure was actually islamic. So I expected to see a structure similar to that of Anjar, the summer residence of the Umayad situated in Lebanon, within a roman urban structure and a blend of arabic and roman architecture. What I saw was an extremely harmonious structure that blends roman and byzantine elements while reinterpreting them to suit the new prevailing culture and developing islamic components to them. This reminded me of some Churches in Rome where the roman elements are still visible and yet reinterpreted to suit a burgeoning christian civilisation. I think that the byzantine and roman roots of Islam are nowhere more visible than in this impressive building that wouldn’t have shocked the eye were it situated in Rome.

Posted in Culture, Identity, Islam, Personal, Religion, Syria | Leave a Comment »

On book fairs and naked bodies in Beirut

Posted by worriedlebanese on 27/12/2009

Less than two months separate the Francophone book fair (Octobre 23 – Novembre 1st) from the Arab book fair (December 11 – December 24) at the Beirut International Exhibition and Leisure Center (BIEL), yet the two events are truly worlds apart.

(Ramzi HAIDAR/AFP/Getty Images)

The Francophone book fair is at its 16th edition. Launched and sponsored by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in Beirut as “Lire en Français et en Musique”, it meant to sponsor the French language at a time when French language was seen as increasingly threatened by the spread of English in Lebanon. In 2008, the organisation of the salon was handed to the Lebanese Syndicat of Importers of Books and was rechristened  “Salon du Livre Francophone”. This move was meant to have a dual effect: give the book fair a more local and global aspect by securing its Lebanese anchorage and opening it to the Francophonie. Withstanding these moves, the fair is still centered around France and its cultural production. It attracts a large Lebanese francophone public for which it represents an annuel rendez-vous, an important cultural event thanks to the presence of prominent french authors and the celebration of the local francophone production (mostly journalistic, but increasingly literary). Francophone books are expensive, most of them are printed in France… so it’s no wonder the public is mostly upper class, and unsurprisingly it hails from the Mission Laïque schools (that underwent  an importent expansion in the 1990s, and enjoys an increasingly muslim audience). The middle-class sectors of Lebanese society are also represented through young student groups that are brought by catholic schools.

(Marwan Tahtah)

The Arab book fair is at its 53rd edition. It’s organized by the Arab Cultural Club with the collaboration of the Lebanese Publisher’s Union. It’s not only older, but much larger than its francophone counterpart. It brings together some 176 Lebanese publishing houses (and slightly more than 20 foreign publishing houses). Most of the books you’ll find here are printed in Lebanon, a country that still remains one of the bigest publishing centers in the Arabic speaking region even though other centers have emerged and are now quite competitive. The prices are quite low, so it is no wonder the fair attracts a much large audience. You’re not likely to have a wine tasting contest over here or have a book stand offer you a glass of wine during the signing of a book (two things that are expected in the Francophone book fair). The organisers and the audience are mainly muslim and rather conservative. The number of veiled women seems to be constantly on the rise, year after year. And in the midst of all this, what did I stumble upon? Al-Jasad magazine.

(picture taken on my kilim)

Now this was quite a surprising find. Al-Jasad describes itself as a cultural magazine in arabic specialised in the body’s arts, sciences and literatures. Launched a year ago, this quarterly has just issued its fourth number.

Check its website to have a clearer picture of this unexpected magazine. I have mixed feelings about it. It is certainly groundbreaking for a local magazine. In a region where bodies, especially female ones, are increasingly hit, this quarterly doesn’t shy from showing full frontal nudity, a woman holding a man’s erect penis, antique erotic art, a pierced clitoris. But all this seems rather tame compared to what you can find on the net with a simple google search in Beirut, Dubai, Cairo or Algiers. There’s a strange gap about it, don’t u think?

Posted in Civil Society, Communication, Culture, Diversity, Journalism, Lebanon, Values | Leave a Comment »

Mu3arada + Mualêt = Mu3amalêt

Posted by worriedlebanese on 25/12/2009

I was astounded to see how many people still referring to the country’s two coalitions allied within the same government as mu3arada (“Opposition®”) and mualêt (“Loyalist®”). I’ve already stated how absurd and nonsensical these two trademarks or “controlled term of origin” are. But with our present “national union”/”national partnership” government, and the increasingly consensualist discourse it has generated, sticking to these labels seems particularly anachronistic.

So I thought that something should be done about it and a new term should be invented… an amalgam of both terms. So I came up with Mu3amalêt, a word that means “red tape” or public procedures, but that everyone understands as a burdensome administrative formality that can be much facilitated and hastened through corruption and an efficient patron. Doesn’t this word fit perfectly for our service oriented government?

Posted in Lebanon, Personal, Political behaviour, Politics, Prejudice, Propositions, Semantics | 3 Comments »

Have another cookie

Posted by worriedlebanese on 24/12/2009

Work in progress

Yes, Christmas time is by far the biggest commercial scam on earth meant to bust your piggy bank and burden you with useless gifts. In many Mediterranean countries where extended families are still vibrantly alive, it eats up your time and drains you of all energy by forcing you to run all over town for weeks with a three page “present list” full of names that you do not know how to spell and can hardly put a face on because they belong to family member that you only see for the holidays.
But when the season’s sprit grabs you, sleep becomes an enemy and you come up with new tricks to fight it ruthlessly. In my family, this trick has customary been cookie making! Ginger breads that at first tend to look rather traditional but that morph into something quite different.

Posted in Personal | Leave a Comment »

Presse, positionnement et clientélisme

Posted by worriedlebanese on 23/12/2009

Pour faire bonne mesure avec l’entrée précédente, je vais partager avec vous un article paru aujourd’hui dans L’Orient-Le Jour. Si j’avais une demi-journée à perdre, j’aurai entrepris une petite analyse du discours en le convertissant en données quantitatives. Mais bon… les temps sont durs, nous nous contenterons donc d’une simple lecture de cette brève qui nous mènera aux même conclusions.

D’abord le titre: La « Cité de la justice » dont rêvait Rafic Hariri va enfin voir le jour, promet Najjar”. Le titre cite un ministre. Il n’est donc pas question de ce qu’il a fait, mais de ce qu’il a dit. Les paroles du ministres correspondent à une “promesse”, un projet qui n’est pas encore abouti (il est à l’état de “travaux préparatifs” et “d’études préliminaires”) et qui n’a pas encore reçu les crédits et les engagements nécessaires. Et enfin le ponpon, au lieu de nous apprendre quelque chose sur ce projet (ex: son utilité et sa fonction), le titre comme l’article nous “informe” (sans aucun appui) que ce projet correspond au “rêve” de Rafic Hariri et de son fils, héritier au poste.

Jetons maintenant un coup d’oeil sur le contenu… sur l’information qui est jugée utile et intéressante par la rédaction du journal (et sa correspondante Claudette Sarkis). Que voit-on?

  • Quatre informations sur le projet : coût (60 millions de dollars), superficie (33 000 mètres),  soutien (assistance technique et informatique française) et localisation (la présente “cité de la Justice” avec une extension). Deux lignes… Rien de plus!
  • Une liste des participants à la réunion d’information dirigée par le Ministre de la Justice. Plus de la moitié de l’article.
  • Des homages à la France, à Paris, à la ministre française de la justice (cité chacun deux fois). En fait, dans cette brève, la seule information qui a trait à la France est répété deux fois…
  • Des superlatifs: “ambitieux projets”, “oasis de justice”, projet dont “rêvait Rafic Hariri” et qu’il “tenait à coeur”.

A-t-on besoin d’une correspondante pour obtenir ce genre d’information!? Que nous renseigne cet article autre que sur la structure d’allégeance du journal et sur ce qu’il considère comme information pértinente?

Il faudrait à tout prix convaincre un(e) étudiant(e) ou chercheur de se travailler sur la les médias, agents de l’inféodisation.

Posted in Culture, Discourse, Lebanon, Political behaviour, Semantics, Version Francophone | Leave a Comment »

Christmas, elections and territorial conquests

Posted by worriedlebanese on 23/12/2009

MP Kanaan (with his elves) speaking to the children

I stumbled on an interesting news item today on Tayyar.org that says more about Lebanese affairs and our current political culture than the season’s celebrations. Here is what it had to say:

“The secretariat of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) organised a huge christmas celebration for the children of the Norther Metn district. The event took place at the Miche Murr Sports facilities under the patronage of Michel Aoun and brought together Ibrahim Kanaan and Salim Salhab, clerics and FPM coordinators, mayors and mukhtars”.
These extremely descriptive and conventional sentences actually inform us on the many changes that underwent in the Metn region. The FPM is now a local political force. It is able to mobilise people on Michel Murr’s (its former ally and current rival) home “turf” and use the public facilities and agents that were part of his patronage network. All these are good indicators that the FPM is very likely to conquer many municipalities in the coming municipal elections.

The brief news report ended with an amusing (and embarrassing) quote by MP Ibrahim Kanaan. He spoke to the children with these words : “We would like to extend our wishes to “Jeddo” (grandpa) Michel Aoun who watches over you, over peace, over understanding, over tolerance… all those values that Santa Claus spoke to us about and that are the true meaning of Christmas” [my translation from arabic].

Do I need to comment it?!

Posted in Communication, Culture, Entertainment, Lebanon, Political behaviour, Politics, Religion, Values | 1 Comment »

A particularly misleading and disfiguring map

Posted by worriedlebanese on 22/12/2009

Lebanon through a sectarian lens

Most people interested in Lebanese affairs must have run across a map such as this one. There is actually no way of avoiding it. One of the main features of this country is its communal composition and people are interested in seing how this translates “on the ground”…  And by this expression, they mean territorially. But what does that really mean? And how useful is it to understanding the country and its society?

I personally believe that such maps are extremely misleading. Not only do they distort reality, but they reinforce erroneous mental representations.

Here is a short list of the distortions:

– it reduces Lebanon’s diversity to a limited number of categories. In this map, you find six of the largest communities, but what about the Armenian communities, and the smaller communities such as the Alawites and 8 smaller christian communities) ?

– it draws middle-sized communal territories and gives the impression that they are homogenous while they are almost all mixed. Should minority communities be show?

– it mixes three elements without making them explicit : the demographic element (the demographic weight of the community), the administrative element (how the territory is divided into districts) and a spacial element (how the territory is used). To make my point more explicit, let’s take a couple of examples. ex1: The country is very mountainous and over half of the land is either uninhabited or cultivated. How come this land is attributed to such or such community?!  This is particularly true for the “shiite attributed territory of the Beqaa-Mount Lebanon range. About 80% of the area covered is uninhabited… How can it be attributed to the Shiite community?! ex2: A region like the Chouf underwent ethnic cleansing in the 1980s loosing for the third time in two centuries most of its Christian population. But the land property hasn’t shifted much and Christians still own a lot of property there? How does this translate on the map? On the other hand, the Sunni population has grow a lot, and it has the same demographical weight at the Druze even if it is less spread out territorially. How does this translate on the map?!

through another sectarian lens... notice the differences between the two maps that work with the same data?

– it doesn’t take into account the mobility and mental representations. People move around and their movements are conditioned by infrastructure. These elements have an effect on the way they represent to themselves and to others the space they live in. A friend of mine worked on a small sunni neighbourhood in Beirut. This neighbourhood is considered by its christian inhabitants and its christian neighbours as a muslim enclave within a larger “christian” neighbourhood. Its muslims inhabitants consider it as an appendice of a larger “sunni” neighbourhood.

– it has no political significance because the country is on one hand extremely centralised, and on the other split up by numerous patronage networks that cut across administrative bodies and carve up their own territories. This map certainly does not show that.

Posted in Blogosphere, Lebanon, Pluralism, Prejudice, Semantics | 2 Comments »

Quelques réflexions sur la francophonie

Posted by worriedlebanese on 19/12/2009

J’écoutais ce matin les nouvelles sur RFI et un commentaire insipide sur la francophonie a remué en moi des interrogations et des constats qui remontent à la surface périodiquement. Quel est le sens de la francophonie?

  • Une langue en partage?
  • Une culture en partage?
  • Une histoire en partage?
  • Des intérêts en commun?

Chaque question-réponse suit sa propre trajectoire et donne au mot “francophonie” une dimension différente.

Une langue, ou une aire linguistique? Est-ce le Français tel qu’il est parlé (ou écrit) en France, ou est-ce qu’il comprend les expressions différenciées, nées du métissage, du contact avec d’autre langues, de la créativité, de la vitalité de la langue telle qu’elle est parlée ou écrite en Afrique, en Asie, au Canada, dans les Alpes, dans les banlieues des villes française, dans le quartier latin de Paris… Cette question me rappelle deux éléments que l’on trouve sur le site de  l’Orient Le Jour:  la mention “Quotidien Libanais d’expression française” (et non pas francophone), et la rubrique “Libanisme” (expliqué en ces termes amusés et gentiment condescendants : “Les puristes parleront de fautes de français, mais il s’agit d’abord de « libanismes » : ces mots et expressions inventés et utilisés par les Libanais francophones donnent à la langue une couleur orientale qu’on ne retrouve pas dans les livres de grammaire). Ce n’est pas un hasard que ce journal ait été autant célébré à Rambouillet, il y a deux semaines. Il représente parfaitement la manière dont la francophonie est comprise par une certaine élite française: instrument narcissique, miroir qui reflète une certaine image de la France, d’une culture qui rayonne depuis Paris et qui nourris avec son universalisme les esprits aux quatre coins du globe terrestre.

Lorsqu’on parle de culture, on pense automatiquement au patrimoine… au passé. Que comprend ce patrimoine? Est-ce qu’il ne recouvre que le patrimoine linguistique, ou en langue française, ou est-ce le patrimoine culturel de cette aire francophone? Les cultures bretonne, niçoise, corse ou alsacienne ont bien été intégrées au patrimoine culturel français et francophone en dépit de leur francisation linguistique récente… Peut-on faire de même avec la culture arabe qui tisse des liens intimes avec la France depuis le XIXe siècle (que ce soit au Levant, en Egypte ou dans le Maghreb).

Lorsqu’on évoque l’histoire, celle de la francophonie, on ne peut que oublier l’histoire coloniale, mais aussi l’histoire diplomatique, le Français en tant que langue de domination des élites royales en Europe, le Français langue de la République et de son unification centralisatrice des provinces et des populations de France. C’est sans doute à travers cette approche de la francophonie que l’on perçoit de la manière la plus claire le caractère asymétrique de la relation entre un Etat, la France, et le reste de cette aire géo-culturelle.

Au delà de la langue et de la culture, y aurait-il des intérêts en commun? Et quels seraient-ils?

Le reste demain… je dois me mettre au travail!

Posted in Civil Society, Culture, Identity, Version Francophone | Leave a Comment »

Civil mariage… a Lebanese discussion

Posted by worriedlebanese on 16/12/2009

Does that include same sex mariages? multiple spouse mariages? what about inheritance law? Have you read the proposition you are defending and that makes reference to God?!

The Unesco club of Saint Joseph University organised this year a discussion on Civil mariage, inviting two clergymen (a sunni and a catholic), two laymen (a judge and an actor) and two laywomen. Yes, it was quite a large pannel that included a great deal of different perspectives. But unfortunately, the discussion wasn’t very interesting. The speakers were quite interesting and made their best to infuse as many ideas in the debate as possible. But the problem isn’t there, it is in the issue of civil mariage is debated in Lebanon. So one can hardly blame them for confusing political, legal, administrative and normative arguments.

As I sat listening to Yorgo Shalhoub, I caught myself humming Moonage Daydream with its lyrics running through my mind: “don’t fake it baby… lay the real thing on me… the church of man, love… is such a holy place to be…”. But I kept listening to this relatively young Lebanese actor make the worst defense possible for the introduction of civil mariage in our legislation; he based his argument on an odd mix of 19th century positivism and new age spirituality. He spoke of man’s liberation, of religious freedoms, shared with us his spiritual coming of age story, and threw himself in a lengthy presentation of how he perceives the relationship between God, “church” and man to be. His intervention was closer to a sermon than the one that preceded him (and believe me, it was hard to outbid the preachy carmelite father who held up the Bible three or four times during his sermon speech).

With “progressives” like these, who needs “conservatives”?! What exactly is their battle?

Deja vu... all over again

  • Provide the Lebanese with a liberal legislation on mariage that guarantees identical rights to men and women, and a possibility to dissolve their union whenever either of them chooses?
  • Provide the legal framework that would allow or encourage interfaith mariage and bring about the physical fusion of all the Lebanese into one national community?
  • Provide a legal framework that allows people to opt out of a religiously determined identity?
  • Provide a legal framework that allows people to opt out of a religious determined legislation?
  • Change the relationship between individuals and clerics?
  • Provide a space for atheists, agnostics and new agers?

These are very different battles. And the proposed civil mariage law hardly meets any of these aims. What I find pitiful is the fact that no one has ever discussed the problems that such a civil mariage legislation could bring about in our particular system (multiple religious legislations and neutrality of the state with regards to religion) and try to see how they could be prevented or solved!

Posted in Civil Society, Culture, Discourse, Diversity, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Secularism, Values | Leave a Comment »

Cross border Political-socialisation

Posted by worriedlebanese on 10/12/2009

Une fois n'est pas coutume, mais deux fois?

One year ago, almost to the day, Michel Aoun visited Syria and shared a meal with its President Bachar el Asad. I wasn’t very comfortable with the visit because of my dislike of the Syrian regime (what it represents and what it did in Lebanon) and the fact that I do not understand why a Lebanese MP makes an “official” visit to a foreign country and is received by its President quite officially too.

But at that time, I found that the contextual elements and the positive effect the visit had on intercommunal relations in Syria and cross-national relations between the two countries kind of outweighed its drawbacks. However, this is not what I felt when I learnt that FPM leader, MP Michel Aoun flew to Damascus on President Assad Jr’s private jet for a private meeting with him to “discuss what is in the interest of the two countries”. The Syrian state-run news agency, SANA, added that “the two leaders also discussed the latest regional and international developments and the importance of coordination among the neighboring countries of the region in order to safeguard the Arab rights”.

As usual, the news agencies and news outlets didn’t report anything really worth reporting. And the news outlets formerly know as the “March XIV spokespersons” couldn’t resist implying that this visit was proof of Aoun’s submission to Syrian will and interests, while the Tayyar sympathisers spoke of it as if it were the most natural thing on earth!

Lilliputians parading as giants

I personally see this visit as yet another example of our political class’ odious behaviour, its psychological disorder; Politician mixe international matters with local matters to boost his ego and to parade as an “international player”, a stature which he obviously lack.

When will the President of the Republic or the Minister of Foreign Affairs make clear to the embassies that their visits to politicians are unwelcome and make clear to the politicians that their “official” visits abroad are frowned upon? This cross-national socialisation is truly sickening.

Michel Aoun used to criticize his political opponents for this behaviour… but I guess he caught the virus. Can you think of a vaccination?! Anyone?!

Posted in Idiosyncrasy 961, Lebanon, Political behaviour | 4 Comments »

The Archipelago of Eastern Palestine

Posted by worriedlebanese on 09/12/2009

Julien Bousac's very telling map of Palestine

Mahmoud Abbas’s visit to Lebanon reminded me of an interesting map I stumbled upon a couple of weeks ago while flicking through Challenge (don’t worry, i haven’t succumbed to the corporate world yet… still resisting. The magazine was offered to me by a pretty flight attendant).

I personally believe that maps are misleading. But this specific one says more than a thousand words.

Posted in Israel, Palestinian territories, Palestinians | 4 Comments »

Après la Suisse du P-O, le Liban des Alpes

Posted by worriedlebanese on 08/12/2009

Pas exactement politiquement correct, ni particulièrement fin, mais j’adore. C’est lorsqu’on se permet de rire de la différence sans que ça ne dégénère en guerre civile que l’on sait que le système fonctionne bien et que tout le monde est plutôt satisfait et n’éprouve pas de rancoeurs.

Posted in Communication, Culture, Discourse, Diversity, Entertainment, Intercommunal affairs, Prejudice, Version Francophone | Leave a Comment »

Confused, Dazzling and Misleading: anti-confessionalism advertised

Posted by worriedlebanese on 08/12/2009

I stumbled on this advert yesterday while checking out what was new on Laïque Pride, and I think a short comment on it would sums up my position on this issue perfectly. I’m sure most of you are familiar with it. And you’ve probably heard me on this topic too. Two years ago, I reacted quite violently to a campaign by Amam05. A couple of months ago, I discussed the paradoxes of anti-confessionalism, its ambiguities, the consensus and state support it enjoys as an ideology and its side effects. So I’m sorry to repeat myself. But I think it will enable me to sum up my rants and clarify the point I’m trying to make.

The ad you’ve just watched is clearly intended to shame the Lebanese for identifying with a specific community. Everyone in this clip identifies himself/herself according to his/her nationality, except for the Lebanese, who bow their heads in shame after declining their communal identity (with firearms shots to add to the dramatic effect).

This scenario is quite unlikely. When asked about their identity, most Lebanese refuse to tell you what community they belong to. This is a taboo subject, and in all statistics, it’s the most troublesome data to collect. So why shame people for something that is taboo?!

The underlying idea is that our political system because of its recognition of communities, quota system and multiple personal laws, prevents people from identifying as Lebanese. If this is the case, the choice of countries in the sample we just saw is mind-boggling.

  • Oman: Not only the State is clearly divided according to religious lines (Ibadi, Sunni, Shiite), but islam is the official religion and the law is based on the Coran.
  • Serbia: The Serbian identity revolves around Christian Orthodoxy, just as the Croatian identity revolves around Catholicism (withstanding the extensive secularisation of both societies). Moreover, the country had recognises a special status to two ethnic minorities: Albanians (who are now independent) and Hungarians.
  • South Africa: The country still maintains quota systems (in the private sector!!!) and considers itself as a rainbow country, respecting people’s choice to identify as Afrikaans, Zulu, Indians (etc) and seeing no contradiction with being South African.
  • Palestine: Interestingly enough, Palestine isn’t a sate yet, but it shares two elements with us. It has a quota system for christians and also multiple legislations in matters of personal status, and religious tribunals.
  • India: Now this country is probably the most diverse country in the world. And believe it or not, they have a system of personal laws quite similar to our own. An Indian would identify herself as Indian to a foreigner. But in India she is likely to put forward her communal or state identity (Punjabi, Bengali, Kashmiri, Tamul, Sikh, Hindu…). What language is this Indian going to use to identify herself to start with? This in itself is the marker of a distinct identity. The only way out is to use English, and not Hindu (which by the way is the sister language of Urdu, the original difference is purely religious).
  • America: It is quite common for Americans to refer to themselves as African-American, Jewish-American, Italian-American, Cuban-American, Scandinavian-American… Few people find a problem with that. Just pick any American TV serie and see how the characters in it identify themselves or are portrayed.

Lebanon isn’t as “unique” as we would like to admit. We have multiple identities, and the State recognises this diversity. This isn’t very rare around the world, and certainly not in the sample chosen in this advert! Some of us are attached to their communal identity while others are not… This trait is equally shared by many societies. So to make its point clear, this ad not only misrepresents the social reality in Lebanon, but social reality in other countries as well. So how do you explain all the praise it received?

Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Blogosphere, Civil Society, Culture, Discourse, Diversity, Identity, Idiosyncrasy 961, Pluralism, Prejudice, Religion, Secularism | 2 Comments »

Laïque pride… can this civil initiative be saved?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 07/12/2009

In an earlier post, I alluded to this new civil initiative that made quite a buzz on the Lebanese blogosphere a couple of weeks ago. And the general excitement surrounding it doesn’t seem to be abating. You can find “Laïque Pride” on facebook, twitter, over-blog.

The version you see here was rewritten on December 9th. I found the original draft too aggressive and pontifical and couldn’t leave it that way (If you’re feeling masochistic enough or miss your preacher, you can check it out in the comment section).

Anyway, let’s get back to our business. What seems to be a growing number of Lebanese citizens are getting ready to hit the streets on April 25th 2010. They intend to march for the establishment of a secular state in Lebanon. That’s pretty nice, but there’s something that doesn’t seem too right with this initiative.

The whole approach is very dogmatic. What do they mean by secularism? How can they translate that in practical terms. A quick look at their declaration of intent shows that several of their demands already  exist and others are so extremely abstract that one wonders if they are little more than abstract principles or ideological slogans.

To paraphrase Elvis, I’d say a little bit less ideology, a little more pragmatism please. Forget about the anti-confessionalist rhetoric that we’ve been brought up with and look at the dynamics of our political and legal system. If you want change, target specific goals! It’s only by pinpointing specific problems in our system that we can solve them, putting ideology on the shelf and tackling one issue at a time (or at least separately). Each target needs a different strategy. Let’s be realistic! With such a declaration, what could the outcome of the march possibly be? collective unwinding and a public release of pressure… is it worth working for months and mobilising so many for a simple فشت خلق ?

Here are a couple of targets that I would work on:

  • Fight State censorship. Why not rally for the abolishment of the censorship committee within the Interior Ministry? Why not replace it by a rating system like in the US? Sure Tareq Mitri mentioned this once or twice (when he was minister of culture), and Ziad Baroud did too… But is that enough? Come on! Wouldn’t it be more profitable to march for the abolishment of this censorship committee (in which the religious establishment participates without any habilitation to do so). Shouldn’t we be telling our politicians that we refuse any kind of “tutelage”. Couldn’t we actually contravene systematically to this law? Obviously we can. But people seem to lack the courage to do so. It’s much more comfortable to uphold abstract ideals than actually fight for specific rights.
  • Respond to the religious establishment’s interference in public affairs and criticize politicians who seek backing from the religious establishment. Why not meet with politicians and clergymen to discuss these issues. Why not protest when their behaviour shocks you? Why didn’t anyone do anything when the Prime Minister asked the Maronite Patriarche to nominate candidates to the Lebanese presidency? Why doesn’t anyone remind the State authorities (Baroud, Hariri and Najjar) that Sunni and Shiite preachers are not allowed by law to give a political opinion when they preach because they are civil servants…
  • March to pressure the State into adopting a legislation for the Secular community (Communauté de droit commun). People tend to forget that the very law that recognised the different communities also recognised the existence of a secular community (communauté de droit commun). The legal provision already exists. This community is already recognised! All that is needed is to establish its legislation (and why not, its institutions, if you want it to be independent from the conservative thugs that are in parliament)! So why not pressure the government and the parliament to finally enact the laws that were promised over 70 years ago?!

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