Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

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?

2 Responses to “Confused, Dazzling and Misleading: anti-confessionalism advertised”

  1. Simple . You have missed the main message . Most of these other countries might have a variety of identities as it should be but they do not have a political structure that allocates many civil service jobs and other elective offices on the basis of religion. We have beaten this horse to death but I couldn’t help but respond lol.

    • Come on GK!!!
      Is this the main message of the ad? Is the advert about allocation of the allocation of service jobs and elective offices? This is not beating the horse to death, it’s simply arguing for argument’s sake! Nowhere in the ad is there any reference to allocations of seats and offices.
      The advert is about identification! This is its simple and simplistic message: الطائفية في الذهون، And it opposes communal with national identification with an underlying message (the flag falling and gun shots being heard) that communal identification is lethal!! One doesn’t have to be a semiologist see the obvious!

      And you’re not going to tell me that our intellectuals and cultural producers don’t believe that الطائفية في الذهون،
      How many countries in the world do you know that for years refused to create characters who have names reflecting its diversity? Do you remember the trend of Fadi, Hadi and Shadi in advertisement (these are still the most common name of fictional characters) in school books, in plays and in TV productions? Up to a couple of years, you really had to look hard to find a Fatme, a Marie, a Tony, an Ahmad, a François, a Mohammad, an Elie… the most common names in Lebanon!

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