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The Obsessions of Lebanon’s Christians

The Obsessions of Lebanon’s Christians

Wednesday, 26 August, 2020 - 10:15

Before the horrifying crime at the Port of Beirut, a Lebanese Christian lady named Jocelyne Khoueiry passed away after a long battle with illness. In the Christian milieu, it seemed an event whose ramifications few had been prepared for.

Suddenly, on a wide scale, they were reminded that Khoueiry had been a Kataeb fighter during the “Two-Year War.” Old photos of her holding guns and fighting battles were shared. One after the other, the stories customarily told about those whom their parties call martyrs followed. The stories mixed fiction with reality, as is usually the case on such occasions. The faithfulness and religiosity in Khoueiry’s story poured mystical incense on old guns.

The event and vociferousness with which it was received point to two indications: the Christians also have, in this forest where martyrs grow, their own martyrs, and they are overtaken with nostalgia for the days of guns, when women would fight alongside men.

With the explosion at the port, which was particularly damaging to Christian-majority areas, another overwhelming sentiment was added to those sentiments: we are helpless from the day we are born until the day we die. Despite the Christian central role in Lebanon’s foundation, partnership is the last thing to concern their partners in the nation. Whoever of those partners wishes to carry arms to fight Israel, or any other power, will do so, totally ignoring their Christian partners. This is reason enough for the latter to feel, regardless of ideological claims, as though those arms are in fact raised against them.

All the Lebanese are indeed devastated and overwhelmed, but the Christians’ helplessness is more combined in its present and more rooted in its past. As for the state of the region, it only adds salt to the open wound.

Furthermore, they are not a political or ideological minority, such that the majority’s opinion could be imposed on them through elections or perhaps civil war. They are a religious and sectarian minority in the same way Kurds are an ethnic minority. The two groups have subcultures from which they derive a different sense of meaning from that which prevails amongst the majority. Instead, they carry collective imaginations that are not completely in line with the familiar imaginations of struggle. The Kurds, for example, gifted the Arabs Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi, and the Christians subsequently gifted them Michel Aflaq and George Habash.

Nevertheless, nations cannot be built, given a desire to build them, as these minorities are ignored and made into unwelcome guests in their own countries. This disregard has a long history in the region; “Juhush” were conjured up in pre-2003 Iraq to represent the Kurds, and during the era of Syrian tutelage over Lebanon, some Christian figures were inflated with hot air by the Syrian authorities who promised that the former would represent the Christian community.

The fact is, the majority/minority binary is not purely a matter of numbers; rather, the degree of power a group holds and the influence it has on decision making also determine it. Sunnis in Syria are a numerical majority, but they are a minority in that sense. And, before 2003, the Shiites of Iraq, who are a numerical majority, were also a minority in terms of the degree of power they held and their ability to shape decisions.

However, in whichever way we frame the issue, today, there remains a desire for session brewing for the Christians of Lebanon, who lost all hope in “coexistence.” The first resistance imposed on them led to the loss of land and turned civil contradictions into a civil war; then, a second resistance exacerbated the civil war’s causes by entrenching an unprecedented preponderance and disparity in armaments. At any time, a faction might spring up and make of sectarian discontent a reason to take up arms and raise the “liberation of Palestine” banner.

Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rai’s persistent and intensifying campaign for neutrality, the erosion of the Aounist environment, which is seen now as “collaborators” with Hezbollah, and the “Lebanese Forces” call for the Christian President of the Republic’s resignation, breaking a traditional political taboo, all point to the fact that Christians are now somewhere else. They have paid dearly for policies that they had not once been consulted about. They tried perusing honorable political pursuits, such as standing by the rest of the Lebanese in 2005 and 2019. They also tried foolish policies, such as sympathizing with the “alliance of minorities”, the Aoun-Basil-Assad approach. Neither did this help nor did the other.

This experience brings to mind, albeit on a smaller scale, a bitter experience that all efforts must be made to avoid: the French Revolution, with all of its achievements, did not succeed in preventing the punishment known as the “Dreyfus affair” from being inflicted on the Jews of Europe, nor did the Bolshevik Revolution and Communism’s promises exempt them from confronting Stalinism and its tyranny. These disappointments came before European anti-Semitism was crowned by the victory of Nazism and filling the crematoria with Jews’ corpses during the Holocaust. Thus, the chances of raising the solution proposed by the Zionists increased: let us have a state of our own.

Many of Lebanon’s Christians now have this desire. However, they do not have the means to actualize it, never mind the country’s geographical and demographic realities that complicate such a division of the population. But one thing remains certain; Lebanon, as an Arab window into modernity, is dying, and the region declares its resounding failure to accommodate an experiment founded on freedom and pluralism.

But in any case, for some, this is not of importance. What does matter is that Hezbollah continues in its resistance!

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