* 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?
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.