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"Top blog/Renato Obeid's World/Today's pick: This rambling weblog is worth reading not so much for its satirical posts but more for its insight into the minutiae of life in Lebanon, including the etiquette of road accidents and how to hire a taxi.”
-Jane Perrone, The Guardian
Monday, April 25, 2005
What kind of future is there for a people who can’t even agree on their history?
I’m not a historian nor an anthropologist, but what I’m about to discourse on does not require such advanced knowledge; on the contrary, these are facts that every schoolchild in this country knows but facts that the adults in this country can’t agree on.
What are those facts?
First, lets define the parameters, the two bookends of the Lebanese continuum.
Present: this is the Republic of Lebanon, an independent founding member of the United Nations.
Past: the earliest know inhabitants of this land were the Phoenicians.
Thus, we are Lebanese descendants of the Phoenicians.
Just like people in France are French descendants of the Gauls.
In the interim, this land has been a palimpsest of invaders – from the Greeks to the Romans to the Arabs etc but that does not make us Arabs, just as it doesn’t make us Greeks or Romans.
Just like the French are neither English nor German or any of the other invaders they’ve encountered.
Sounds straightforward enough so far – except for a small matter of cultural and historic genocide committed and still being committed by certain “Lebanese” who for religious and political reasons claim that we are Arab citizens of Arab descent and that our history and even our very existence began when the Arabs invaded (shades of the Khmer Rouge’s Year Zero).
They would have us believe that prior to the Arab invasion there was only bacteria here, the primordial soup.
The same arrogant assumption of “terra nullius” that the first white settlers to Australia operated under but have since renounced in these more civilized times.
We didn’t just go from bacteria to bin Arab in one fell swoop – evolution just doesn’t work that way.
It suits them to delude themselves in this way and if it were just an academic matter, I would have no issue with them believing this (or in the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny or any other fantasy they want to believe in for that matter), but its implications are not just academic.
Its implications have been the past ruin of our country and could possibly be the ruin of our future.
The tragedy is that just when the older vanguard of “secular” Arab nationalism are disabusing themselves of this Arab fantasy that has blighted the Arab world’s recent history, young people (who in this part of the world are these days often more backward and retrograde then their parents – a perverted inversion of human nature*) have picked it up for purely religious reasons – stripping it of the flimsy secular veneer their parents disguised it with.
An Italian can proudly claim descent from the Romans, an indigenous Mexican can proudly claim descent from the Aztecs, etc but woe betide the poor Lebanese who dares claim descent from the Phoenicians.
He will first be mocked and then, if that doesn’t work, he will be outright abused and attacked.
The very thing that has happened to me on countless occasions – most recently in an instant message exchange with someone who ought to know better whose last words to me before I deleted her were “you’re a ****ing racist”.
This person is meant to be an educated young Lebanese and is a cofounder of a Lebanese blogger forum.
If educated writers are to behave like this then what hope is there for the rest of the citizenry?
Just as one has to crawl before one can walk, I recommend that she do a little bit more reading before she starts writing.
If she were to do that reading, she would learn that, anthropologically speaking, there is no such thing as an Arab race and that we Lebanese are actually a part of the Caucasian race (as are most “Arabs”).
There is also no nation or continent called Arabia.
She would also learn that the term “Arab” is a modern construct even amongst so-called “Arabs” and that historically an Arab was (logically enough) a person from Arabia or a Bedouin.
Arab as an all-encompassing identity was created as flag of convenience during the anti-colonial struggle of the early Twentieth Century – chiefly to differentiate us from the Ottoman Turk occupiers.
Anyway, Arabism was mainly the brainchild of Orthodox Christians who wanted to establish a secular common cause with their compatriots that wasn’t based on religion and independent of the majority religion, Islam, which treated them and other minorities as second class citizens (Jews were the main proponents of Communism in Europe for similar reasons).
In the West, the term Arab is used as a practical shorthand term to identify the people of this region.
Some of the cultural and historic genocidists are willing to concede that we are Phoenicians but only as a prelude to an ambush – they will then claim that the Phoenicians existed but came from Yemen.
I.e. that we’re Arabs after all.
Of course – the seafaring Phoenicians “sailed” across the desert - it was an ancient version of Australia’s Henley-on-Todd regatta (a novelty “boat” race run by carrying the hulls of boats across a dry desert river bed).
The Out of Yemen “theory” has no factual basis but that doesn’t seem to discourage people who are desperately clutching at straws to “prove” that we’re anything (any Arabs will do!) other than Lebanese.
I once asked a proponent of the Out of Yemen “theory” to actually prove that and his reply was “can you prove that we didn’t come from Yemen?
Prove a negative.
The onus isn’t on us to prove that we didn’t come from Yemen but, as they’re the one’s who have introduced this “theory”, on them to prove that we did.
Yemen – yeah right!
Although to them it’s all about religion, to us it’s not – we Maronites are no more Phoenician than our Muslim brothers but we have become more Phoenician in spirit because we at least recognize it.
There’s no need for all this Maronites are From Phoenicia, Muslims Are From Arabia polarization – we’re Lebanese pure and simple!
There’s an Arabic** quote that sums it all up – he that renounces his heritage has none.
So, seeing that this is so contentious and controversial and that Arabism has played such a big part in our ruin and is so fraught with connotations, why can’t we just agree on the A and Z of our existence – A=Phoenician and Z= the Republic of Lebanon and not worry about all the letters in-between?
Not calling ourselves Arabs is not hostility to the “Arabs”, nor “****ing racism” nor does it preclude our having the best relations with our neighbors and our region (just like not calling ourselves Finns, for example, does not mean hostility to Finns, nor “****ing racism” towards Finns, nor does it preclude our having the best relations with Finland).
Regardless of what we call ourselves, we are peaceful country who has the best intentions towards all our neighbors but our relationship with them should be the diplomatic equivalent of “I like you a lot but let’s just be friends”.
With such a stupidly divided population and such dangerous neighbors, Lebanon, of all countries, should be strictly neutral and nonaligned – anything else has been and will be our ruin.
Here’s to such a future and to a future where a sizeable part of our population doesn’t consider Phoenician a ph-word.
In reply to those who say that the Phoenicians weren’t just in what is now modern-day Lebanon (Syria, Palestine, etc), okay, they were Phoenician too – it’s just that we were the capital of Phoenicia and have chosen to recognize and honor our heritage.
Does London stop being in the United Kingdom because Birmingham and Liverpool are also in the United Kingdom?
What kind of logic is that?
We’re not claiming Phoenician exclusivity; we’re just claiming Phoenician.
My reply to the genocidist’s rhetorical question of (the Phoenicians were here but) “where did they go?” is quite simple – they didn’t go anywhere.
Just because we don’t go around wearing pointy hats and inventing alphabets (been there done that), it doesn’t mean that we are not modern-day Phoenicians just as the fact that French people don’t go around wearing hats with horns and fighting Romans doesn’t mean that they are not modern-day Gauls.
Another tactic of the genocidists is the non sequitur: “anyway, you Maronites are originally Syrian”.
To say that Lebanese Maronites are Syrian because Saint Maroun originally came from Syria is like saying that a South Korean Protestant is German because Martin Luther came from Germany.Anyway, just because we’re followers of Saint Maroun, who fled with his followers to Lebanon from persecution in Syria, it doesn’t mean that we are literally his descendants – monks are celibate Einstein!
Lebanon and Arabism are mutually exclusive – it’s one or the other.
Is it any wonder that a reporter on BBC World Service Radio once referred to our population as “Christian Lebanese and Muslim Arabs” in a report on Lebanon?
If a sizeable part of our population insists on calling themselves Arabs, it will stick but it will stick to them, not us.
This is the only country that I know of where a majority of the population doesn’t even know where they are, let alone who they are.
I’ll help them – you are here, this is the Republic of Lebanon and you are Lebanese.Capisce?
And why shouldn’t we recognize and be proud of our heritage?
People whose heritage consists solely of dancing around banging pots and pans are proud of their heritage yet we invented the alphabet (and thus by extension alphabet soup) and are being pressured into to renouncing ours.
Nothing gets a Lebanese Muslim angrier than the word Phoenician.Use it at your own risk
*A Christian lady I know marvels at this and observes that she can’t even get her kids to go to church.
Unlike Christianity’s gerontocracy, Islam today is a youth driven religion as are all militant religions and ideologies by sheer necessity.
In fact it would appear that young militants have hijacked this venerable religion and that there is even a schism between these Young Turks (so to speak) and the older more philosophical generation of Muslims.
I’ve heard many of these young born again Muslims say that their parents didn’t know and didn’t practice the real Islam.
Funny that – the real Islam compels you to respect your parents and elders and I can’t see how dismissing them as heathens is respectful.
I say born again because most of them appear to have been born into one religion (the old more tolerant form of Islam) and have adopted this ‘’modern’’ more radical form of Islam often as a last alternative after spending all those intervening years in decadence.
Stop sinning only when you can sin no more.
The greater the saint the greater the sinner.
Quite handy – sow your wild oats and then grow a beard and sow sedition and hypocritically turn around and condemn your erstwhile cohorts in so-called sin as decadent and lecture them against everything that were not too long ago revelling in with such relish.
Find religion and lose tolerance.
**Yes we speak Arabic but that doesn’t make us Arabs just like Indians whose official language is English are not Englishmen.