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The Perils of Our Fears – Thoughts on the Orthodox Law and our Failures as a Nation

The Perils of Our Fears – Thoughts on the Orthodox Law and our Failures as a Nation

* Find my original Facebook post here.
* Illustration and drawings by Sara El-Yafi  

If there is anything that the Orthodox Law and its backing has shown me, it is not necessarily how sectarianism is a lot more entrenched in our country than we originally thought, but how much we have insofar collectively failed at alleviating intolerance and fear from each other’s communities despite our years of coexistence.

Founded in 1920, Lebanon was a product of Quai d’Orsay rather than national aspirations whereby 16 different communities were joined together by the Frenchman’s drawing skills. Living in a fake state, it was the fear of being dominated by the ‘foreign other’ coupled with the proactive haste of wanting to dominate the ‘foreign other’ that drove the Lebanese minorities to the front line against each other over and over again. A strong, central government was thus never allowed to emerge, instead, disjoined strong tribal leaders empowered by their religious men, benefiting from mutually reinforcing positions, ruled the country and nourished the fears and differences of their respective peoples. All the communities of this land thus became distrustful and distrusting, working and turning against one another at the drop of a hat as they all believed that their continued existence and ultimate fate depended solely upon their own determination and resources…

93 years after the creation of our beloved fake state, sectarianism still hasn’t budged as factions of the Lebanese society are now lobbying to entrench it further within the legal system with an electoral law, “The Orthodox Law”, that allows each voter to only vote and elect MPs from his/her same confession taking Lebanon as a single district. Although the President and some Christian lawmakers oppose it, a big majority of Christians support it (and recently the Shiites of March 8 for anti-Sunni reasons), the main motive of the law is to secure Christian seats via Christian voices and vice versa.

Now I contest this law, and my reasons are the same as the ones being stated by others all over the news and social media: it is a discriminatory law, it sediments and institutionalizes the already entrenched sectarian divisions, it gives power to political confessionalism, it is unconstitutional, and it forces the Lebanese to adhere to sects regardless of their political beliefs. But I am not here to condemn the Orthodox Law, I am here to condemn the underlying death-dealing sediment at the bottom of all our problems, the illness that is eating away at the bones of our people and feeding our conflicts, the same illness that bred the Orthodox Law, and that illness is Fear.

Lebanon is ruled by a culture of fear interlinked with ignorance pervaded by our sectarian system and sectarian leaders. Perceptions of danger, ideas about self-preservation of fake identities bound to religious artifacts are top-down manufactured manipulations brought about by the feudal politicians whose grasp over a society can only be maintained as long as it remains divided and its people don’t communicate with one another. They use fear to mobilize the public on behalf of policies they want to pursue. Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions and hinders all development by demonizing change and the unknown. Fear distorts the other: the mystical Druze savage, the bloodthirsty armed bearded Shiite, the dishonest colluding Sunni, the oversexed Jesus-flesh-eating backstabbing Christian… Those illusory fears of “the other Lebanese” promise to keep us divided, and divided we have stayed…

The Orthodox Law is a symptom of this fear my friends, created, defended and contested by the use of fear. The Christians are afraid.

Let’s take a couple of steps in their shoes..

You see, the Christians have lost considerable political capital to power contenders along the years, eventually reaped by the Sunnis and later the Shiites, both of whom are rising in extremism by the day. Having also lost a large share of their population to exodus, the Lebanese Christians realistically expect that it is only a matter of time before their stronghold over Lebanon would clearly dwindle once and for all. If the oldest Christian communities of the world have been ousted from the Arab world in neighboring countries, what prevents the Lebanese Christians from suffering the same fate in due time? The only prevention would be through a consolidated law, and thus, they desire today to legislate Christian power and Christian votes while they still can, and not have any other community tamper with their voices should the worst ever come to happen.

Well I don’t blame them. Why expect them to stop holding on to their cross when all that the Muslims are doing is intensifying their extremism and their Sunni and Shiite identities? Why expect them to be team players in a country where “teams” are set along sectarian lines who do not allow intra-team games? Why shouldn’t they consolidate their Christian power in a country where they are not interested in being anything other than Christian since the Muslims are not interested in being anything else but Muslim and the Druze are not interested in being anything but Druze?

Fear.

I don’t mean to open cans of worms, but have you seen how the Islamic world has been treating the Christians in the past decade and especially with the emergence of the Arab Spring? In Iraq, the Christian community (one of the world’s oldest) has decreased by two thirds since 2003 because of their persecution by Muslims notwithstanding bombings of churches and assassinations of priests. In Egypt where the 8 million Christians live between 70 million Muslims, Coptic Christians have suffered from years of church burnings and murders at the hand of radical Muslims who want an Islamic state cleansed from religious minorities. And now recently with the Arab spring, the new military regime refuses to make arrests linked to attacks on Christians. In Tunisia, since the fall of Ben Ali, there has been growing threats of restrictions on the Christian communities’ rights by Ennahda. In Iran, where constitutionally Christians have a right to practice their faith and eat non-halal meat, a pastor may receive a death sentence for evangelizing Muslims and not recanting Christianity, notwithstanding the arrest of all pastors who are blamed for having anti-Muslim behavior. In Syria, Christians have been subjected to rape, murder and kidnappings without even knowing if they are pro-regime or not, their religion is enough. The mere fact that they are Christian is insulting enough because they are “traitors” who believe that they are safer under a butcher than under the Muslims. And we are offended.

I don’t blame them I tell you. Why should the Lebanese Christians believe that their Lebanese compatriots will be any different from the rest of the Arab world? Where are the clues that show that Lebanon is a much more understanding, loving, compassionate country than the above mentioned ones? In this segregated climate, HOW can they get the clues? Why should the Lebanese Christians think that their story will be any different? With the fear-inducing sectarian climate, they would be crazy NOT to think so. History has shown us that regime change is almost always followed by a descent into sectarian hell, and the Arab Spring which is entrenching sectarianism as a response to all those toppled “secular dictatorships” has not been kind to the Christians. And so the Lebanese Christians, the “luckier” Christians of the Arab world, decided they wanted to be more than spectators to events reshaping a place they once helped create. And so they would not be bystanders.

This is not a defense of the Christians, this a defense of the truth of our society. If the Orthodox law must prove to us one thing it is how much we have insofar collectively failed at replacing intolerance, provincialism and fear with love, respect and liberal coexistence. I blame us, our history, and I blame our responsibility in having sown the fears of the Christians, the same way I blame us for the way WE have sown the extremism in Hezbollah, an extremism rooted in frustration, anger and the fear described above. Fear.

Do you see what the system and its leaders have done to us as a nation? We are divided and afraid, secluded in our fearful temples and our fearful ballots and our fearful shelters.

A nation cannot be built when its people are afraid of each other. A successful nation is a product of one people, and one people only. People who know their compatriots, who love and know their nation, who create incentives, reward innovation, allow everyone to participate in economic opportunities, who create governments that become accountable and responsive to its citizens because we know that it is the MAN-MADE political and economic institutions that underlie success, not weather, not culture, not geography, not divine destiny. This is a FACT.

Contesting the “Orthodox Law” because it is “sectarian” is expletive nonsense. We are sectarian by definition with or without this law and this law will change absolutely nothing nor make it worse. So when life throws us challenges like the Orthodox Law, we should take them as an opportunity to have a grown-up discussion at the grassroots level about nationbuilding based on a reasoned evaluation and available evidence rather than on irrational fears and sectarian emotions. History shows that oppression and conflict thrive in societies where the government can scare its people, but freedom and development thrive in societies where the people can scare their government. Let’s stop being afraid of each other. Let’s end the oppression of fear, only then can we become a respectful nation with respectful nationbuilding debates.

Written by Sara El-Yafi

30 Comments

  1. Elie Awad · February 25, 2013

    Great write-up about the politics of fear.
    I would add a bit more about the hatred part: they say “Hatred is the anger of the weak”… It is sad and depressing to see this wave of hatred and fear sweeping through our society. Its roots go back to the lack of reconciliation after the end of the civil war in 1990. The Lebanese society in all its sects was fed up of militias back then and of radical politics (particularly the Christians). However, instead of reconciliation and under Syrian patronage: government policies including election laws marginalized the Christians and sowed fear and anger. Slogans that had been buried with the civil war were resurrected…
    And if that wasn’t enough, the Lebanese didn’t learn. Fast forward till today: Ahmad el Assir’s hatred-loaded speech is but another exact replica of the same problem. The Sunnis have been feeling weak and angry after the events of 2005…
    It is the strong who have to make concessions and deal fairly with the weaker group. Strength and weakness are only temporary in Lebanon…

    • Sara El-Yafi · February 27, 2013

      Elie: You’re right. The lack of reconciliation or even discussion of the gruesome events of the war only built up disappointment and further entrenchment in people’s hearts, the laws were not on the nation’s side, and therefore parties and religions became more interchangeable. How sad to know that we belong to a country where a religion bullies another religion through public policy and public manipulation in order to make political gains, gains that almost always uniquely belong to a handful of corrupt politicians.

  2. Jonathan Daou · February 25, 2013

    When the Shiites as a sect have only one political figurehead (hezbollah) and the sunnis have one (moustakbal) , the Druze have one (PSP)and the christians have 4-5 or more (marada, LF, FPM, Kataeb, Ahrar, Murr etc), then how do you expect them to play this game. There is no question that the Christians fear a ploitical arena where their opponents are single party structures that are only getting more and more radicalized (save jumblatt of course). The idea that the christians have to subject themselves to playing in a field where their opponents are sectarian dictatorships while they are practicing the closest version of democracy, is laughable. While I oppose the orthodox law for the fact that it differentiates between Lebanese by religion, I am all for the christians keeping a liberal , democratic identity and infusing Lebanon with it. We have witnessed nothing but the rise of radical islam and the collapse of Lebanon since christians lost power. I certainly believe that the correlation is crystal clear.

    • Sara El-Yafi · February 27, 2013

      Jonathan: Thanks for your comment. I agree that the Christians are obviously not as united as a political front as the Shiites and the Sunnis are. However, while there is a positive correlation between the rise of radical Islam and the ‘collapse of Lebanon since the Christians lost power’, I don’t agree that there is direct causation. Christian radicalism has taken Lebanon to the fire and back, and has alienated all players for years as they monopolized power over several decades. Radical Islam in Lebanon (Hezbollah mainly) has risen as a result of utter frustration on behalf of the Shiites whose lands were taken by the Israelis, and there was no state army to defend them as brethren of a nation. In fact the opposite happened, in their eyes, the Christians went and allied themselves with the very enemy that was occupying their homes, and the Sunnis would never be counted as allies because they have marginalized the Shiites over many years. Thus, frustrated and angry, they rose in their radicalism and took matters into their own hands with the help of the only source of power that was willing to help them (Iran), and they finally got some “respect” when people started fearing them, at which point it was too late to stop them. Radical Islam in Lebanon is a product of our failures as a people unable to fuse as one nation. Radicalism in all its forms is the preamble to failure. So in my opinion, the collapse of Lebanon is caused by the utter lack of nationalism on behalf of all citizens. There are not national sentiments, no real national pride (just individual pride), and there is no national identity that is shared by all. The system has segregated us and we shall remain segregated until we put an end to the farce that is sectarianism and the meddling of religion with politics and social life. Only then will we emerge as a developed, solid nation that will finally put its valuable resources (people like you and I) to use.

  3. Karim Seikaly · February 25, 2013

    soyons désinvoltes, n’ayons l’air de rien.

  4. Romaissa Bennacer · February 25, 2013

    It s so sad what the arab world became today, religions are here to educate people to live together , in respect and in harmony not in wars.. And its worse when they share the same culture,country..identity.. i hope we will have a new generation that will understand all that someday!

  5. Fadi Michael Nassar · February 25, 2013

    يسلم تمك يا سارا . We need more people like you

  6. Nay Rouhban El-Yafi · February 25, 2013

    Tu fais preuve de Bcp de recul, embracing like you do different points of views. We lack your kind of leadership.. Orthodox or unorthodox law, I vote Sara 🙂

  7. Maha Dimachki · February 25, 2013

    Go on Sarah! So many young Lebanese your age do not know theses facts nor enough history to help a real good change take place!

  8. Farid Abdulrahman Al Azem · February 25, 2013

    Very enlightening I enjoyed reading it and it gives me hope in the future when I see such promising young people

    • Sara El-Yafi · February 26, 2013

      Farid: Thank you so much for such encouraging words. The nicest part of writing is knowing that it resonates well with people. So thank you.

  9. Mansour Fahmy · February 25, 2013

    interesting read…

  10. Rami Harawi · February 26, 2013

    The link below is of a book definitely worth reading. This book was written as a compilation of hundreds of years of Ottoman archives focused on “Lebanon”. Some great insights about the deep-rooted origin of our sectarianism… Sadly we can’t blame its existence solely on our current politicians, nor can we put all the blame on being colonized by the Ottomans, French, Syrians, Israelis, Iranians or anyone else. However, we can blame ourselves, as the Lebanese people, for perpetuating this social rift in an era where it should be completely abolished. http://cdn.preterhuman.net/texts/religion.occult.new_age/occult.conspiracy.and.related/Akarli,%20Engin%20-%20The%20Long%20Peace-Ottoman%20Lebanon%201861-1920.pdf

    • Sara El-Yafi · February 27, 2013

      Thanks Rami. I will certainly read it. Let’s hope that history is not destiny. Things can evolve and change.

  11. Ramzi Rat Tyan · February 26, 2013

    organized religion is here to keep people ignorant and divided and to control the masses, the sooner we are done with that bullshit the sooner we can put an end to ignorance and sectarianism, men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest…if you really believe religion preaches understanding and coexistence and peace then you really need to wake the fuck up because you are part of the problem not the solution…

    • Sara El-Yafi · February 26, 2013

      Ramzi: I agree with you. Religion has historically divided and hurt people a lot more than it has contributed to the good of society. In fact, only when a country is successful at separating the church from the state do development and innovation actually happen. The only point I would like to make is that there are many people who are believers and attached to their creed in our country and who do not agree that religion is evil, it is thus necessary for us to be able to reassure them that by crossing over to the secular side, they will still remain safe and secure and able to practice their religion free from any judgment or persecution. That is the precursor to any civilized society: freedom. And when we are all equally free will we be able to live and coexist at peace with one another.

  12. Tania Farah · February 26, 2013

    “Founded in 1920, Lebanon was a product of Quai d’Orsay rather than national aspirations whereby 16 different communities were joined together by the Frenchman’s drawing skills.” –> Some lebanese were fighting to get a nation recognized, let us give them some credit. No I don’t agree that it was an artificial and fake french creation…

    That being said I totally agree with the rest of the article. No matter how successful each Lebanese is, We as a group have failed to build a State… But people like you make us really want to give it another shot. Thank you Sara! 🙂

    • Sara El-Yafi · February 26, 2013

      Tania: Thank you for your beautiful words, and thank you for weighing in. We have indeed failed as a nation, and that is due to the socio-political system in place, but we can really change that and we must before the system itself crumbles on its own over our heads. Concerning your historic remark, I will go back and re-read about Lebanon in 1920 to double check, but in 1920 the majority of the new inhabitants of Lebanon didn’t appreciate the new state. The Druze wanted to join their Druze brothers and sisters in Syria and led a revolt, the Sunnis (the most vocal opponents) wanted to merge back with Greater Syria and formed their lobby, the Orthodox were not happy with the religious equilibrium of the Maronites and did not want the state in place, the only ones who appreciate the new order of the state of affairs were the Maronites because they benefited most from the new system in place as they formed an alliance with the French. That’s why I gave credit to the Frenchman’s drawing, not our national aspirations. The Lebanese, however, started fighting ‘together’ 20 years later for the first time in the face of the French, which is how we got our independence in 1943… but then we were divided once again 9 years later when Gamal Abdulnasser’s Pan-Arabism soared.. and we remained divided along those lines until today. We need to find a meaning to the word “national” and adhere to it. It’s a word that has simply never existed in Lebanon. The word “national” will then win over the word “sectarian”. Thank you for being my reader Tania, I look forward to more of your comments.

  13. Joumana El-Yafi · February 26, 2013

    I love you my Sara,I love you much more than a daughter,much more than one of my off springs of which I am so proud!I love your brilliant mind,I love your pure soul,I love your way of thinking,I love the way you express it,I love your devotion,I love your true honesty,I love how much you CARE and exercise that care into actions,I love how you are made of love and tolerance and compassion and understanding,I love how you truly love your country and never lose an opportunity to shed light on how to make it a better place for your people…!I love your devotion and how you spend hours(while other people of your tender age are having fun!) researching and reading and thinking then writing about issues that matter to all of us(Although I love much less and worry to the bones how sometimes you spend sleepless nights writing,and rewriting and exhaust yourself in making the sacred message pass because you care:)))I love how you never give up on ethics and everything ethical.I love how much you respect who you are,where you come from and your people,I love how you respect others even in their wrong…!I love your dignity and such maturity for such a young lady,I love your drawings and the genius behind them,I love you inside out BEAUTIFUL young lady, but more, much more I LOVE you so much God because you blessed me with such a wonderful noble gorgeous creature!THANK YOU.

    • Sara El-Yafi · February 27, 2013

      You spoil me. You fill my heart with joy and love and security, thank you. Everything you see in me, you are that x 1,000,000.

  14. Fouad Dajani · February 27, 2013

    a perfect response Sara… beautifully put

  15. Tina Jarrous Faucon · February 27, 2013

    What we sometimes fail to put into words…

  16. Sam Wahab · March 3, 2013

    I wish our politicians would read this. Maybe they can learn a thing or two… Ok maybe “two” is a bit much.

  17. Khalil Tayara · March 4, 2013

    Beautifully said! Well done addressing such a contentious issue head on… But most of all, nice drawing (assuming you drew it of course)!

  18. Dina Sarkis · March 5, 2013

    I agree with you Sara, we have built a fragile nation on ignorant fear. However, for some it is as you describe it “the fear of the other” yet for a considerable portion of Lebanese it is the fear of loosing “the lifestyle” & the “liberal cosmopolitan identity” that has characterised Lebanon since its inception.
    Contrary to the fear of domination by the “foreign other” the fear for the lifestyle could be a healthy syndrome because it is a fear shared by members of each & every one of the 16 different communities, therefore it can unify not divide them.
    In reality Lebanon (& for that matter the Arab “spring”) is not really suffering from sectarian divisions nor Christian Muslim differences, I belive the real “war” is between moderation & extremism.
    Unfortunately this war portrays: modernity, liberalism & freedom of choice as anti muslim. In their war against moderation, extremists have consistently used & abused democracy to control then rule autocraticaly transforming the lifestyles of the regions they control; enforcing (in some cases attempting to enforce) rigid, extreme, non tolerent communities.
    This militant extremism exists & is equaly dangerous among both Shiites & Sunnis alike, I acknowledge that there are a number of very courages political as well as non political voices that are speaking out (just like you are doing in this blog Sara). Nevertheless, it seems as though moderate Muslims have typically relied on Christians to secure the liberal lifestyle in Lebanon. In the face of fundamentalism & extremism, Christians are bound to fail if they stand alone. To save Lebanon (or what is left of it) the moderates of all Muslim factions must unite & take a strong stand to protect this lifestyle that we all fear for.
    For starters, it would help if Muslims start by refering to themselves as Muslims, not Shiites & Sunnis, for here we are asking Christians to conquer their fear and belong to “one united” Lebanese population while Muslims are as yet unable to even speak of a united Muslim community!

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