What should we do with November 22 (now that it has lost its meaning)?
Posted by worriedlebanese on 22/11/2010
For as long as I remember, I’ve always been uncomfortable with the celebration of November 22 as “Independence day”. I just couldn’t understand why a country that was recognised as autonomous in 1861, that was officially recognised as a State in 1920, that proclaimed its first and only constitution in 1926… would choose to commemorate its founding myth a day in which a bunch of politicians outpaced another group of politicians by declaring the country’s independence.
The most absurd element in this celebration is that its title is actually a misnomer. If you listen to the official speeches, if you look into what is actually celebrated, you realise quite quickly that on that day, the Lebanese are not celebrating “independence”, but the “national pact”: an unwritten agreement that allegedly laid the foundations of Lebanon as a multi-confessional state. It’s quite easy to understand why the focus drifts from “independence” to “national pact”. After all, all sides had agreed in 1943 to the principle of Lebanese independence… and this independence wasn’t directly effective (with the British troops occupying the country at that time and the French troops staying on for another 3 years).
But why bring forth our “founding myth” to 1943, when our existence as a state is much older? Why try to celebrate as new what had already existed (the multi-confessional character of the state)? Why consider Bechara el-Khoury, our country’s 6th President as our country’s first? Why transform a group of petty (and mostly corrupt) politicians into founding fathers?
The March XIV® coalition unwittingly answered some of these questions when it replicated the “independence narrative” on the events of the winter of 2005 and dubbed them “the second independence”. Were it not for the Quadripartite alliance, the March XIV® coalition would have officially replaced November 22 with March 14, as our “independence day”. For the past 4 years, it has somewhat replaced it symbolically, as least in the head of our intelligentia. This shift reflects the ambivalence and unease we have toward our system. We want it to be multi-confessional but we don’t want it to be confessional, we want politicians to be representative of their confessional communities even if the institutions deny them this quality (this was certainly true to the so-called founding fathers Bechara el-Khoury and Riyad el-Solh, but still holds today), we want a pact to be “multi-confessional” but we don’t want people to be confessional… This shift between november 22 and march 14 translates the general ambivalence and unease with our system and its shaky principles.
What should we replace November 22 with?
For some time, I’ve been thinking that September 1st could be a good date for a commemoration, because it is the legal starting point of the Lebanese Republic. It’s after all with the proclamation of the State of Greater Lebanon that our legal and political order was established. And truth to tell, I’m particularly attracted to the flag that was chosen soon after to represent Lebanon (imaginé par Naoum Moukarzel). I particularly appreciate the blend between the oldest symbol associated with Lebanon (one that goes back to the Bible) and the symbol of the French revolution with its universalist and progressive ambitions. But the problem with September 1st 1920 is that it was made by a Frenchman. So why not go a bit further, and opt for May 20 1919, the date in which the members of Mount Lebanon’s representative council approved of the enlargement of Lebanon. And we could actually go farther than that and commemorate the establishment of Mount Lebanon as an autonomous entity guaranteed by International law! that will take us back to 1860.