Hazem Saghieh

The Dominant Culture of a New Lebanon!

A week ago, a Lebanese newspaper published this piece of news in its culture section: The Cultural Councilorship of the Islamic Republic of Iran invites you to attend a seminar entitled “Desecration of Sanctities and The Perpetuation of Confrontation,” and the opening of an exhibition of caricature works entitled “The Struggle between Fire and Light.” The piece then lists the names of the participants, besides the Iranian Cultural Advisor and Lebanon’s Minister of Culture Mohammad Wissam Al-Murtada, it includes a bishop, a priest, and a Sunni Sheikh.

Two days later, the same newspaper published another news story, about a Durzi organization holding an event entitled “The Cultural Invasion’s Impact on the Lebanese Family.” As for the seminar of this event, it seeks to “consolidate social and family values amid the foreign cultural invasion supported by multiple media and non-media institutions, and to raise awareness about its threats and the repercussions of its activities on Lebanese society and Lebanon’s social environment.”

After another damned day passed, the same newspaper informed us that “Dar Al Maaref Alhikmah” (Wisdom Knowledge Publishing House) was organizing a session on “The Divine Caliphate Between The Secretive And The Revealed: The Story of the Divine Revolution Between The Time of Adam and The End of Times.” While two “researchers” will speak at this event, the book that will be debated is “a narrative, doctrinal, and Quranic study” that deals with the “story of humanity, and addresses the struggle between truth and falsehood since Creation.”

The first observation that comes is that all three deal with the opposite ends of existential extremes: desecration and consecration, fire and light, incursion and resistance, the dangers of unrestraint versus awareness and family values, secrecy and the revealed, truth and falsehood since Creation.

In fact, this is precisely what anti-culture is. That is, what we call culture could be moral and religious and it could not be, but it is always a realm independent of morality and religion.

Culture, in the end, is the creative formulation of ordeals and predicaments, not the formulation of solutions for them. It formulates the question, not the answer. Hesitance replaces certainty, the freedom to choose replaces steering from above, transformation and plurality of phases replace consistency and rigidity, and contrast replaces harmony and sameness, which do not produce literature or art.

Leo Tolstoy starts his novel "Anna Karenina" with an ominous statement. “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Art and literature look away from happy families, where there are no predicaments, questions, dilemmas, or transformative shifts - families that, as the great Russian writer states, are overwhelmingly similar.

This uniformity equally applies to those who are confident in their truth and happy with it, and who struggle relentlessly to uphold it and have not the slightest doubt in their cause, whereby they never stop preaching the righteous path (that only they know) nor accusing others of treachery and apostasy if they do not accept their teachings ...

Therefore, it is the brothers and sisters behind such events who are making a cultural invasion, or rather, an anti-cultural one - they invade culture from without, theologizing and politicizing it with the bleak militant essence that has come to define politics.

That is where the debate lies, not in culture nor the “cultural invasion,” which is always welcome, whether it comes to us through cinema, theater, or books...

Here, the first thing one notices is that no brothers from Hezbollah are taking part in the events organized by the brothers at the Iranian embassy in Beirut. We find the Lebanese Minister of Culture, a couple of Christians, a Sunni, and Druze brothers, but not a single Lebanese Shiite brother.

The reason for this is that the Iranian brothers, assured of the abundance of brothers among the Lebanese Shiites, are looking for Christian, Sunni, and Druze brothers to join them in theologizing and politicizing culture. They also want them to join their endeavor to alert us to the implications of the cultural invasion on the Lebanese family, and turn our attention to the need for cementing our values, whereby we retaliate to the desecration of sanctities by perpetuating confrontation.

That is why we, to give one of many examples, conceptually alter the caricature, which had originally arisen as an artistic tool for self-depreciation, and make it about the struggle between fire and light - the fire of enemy invaders and our light.

The light thus pours candescent epic paintings on us. They awaken the truth within us, which is nothing to play around with or joke about. And so, we do not mock, in the caricature, anyone but the devil and his imperialist and Zionist henchmen. How could things be otherwise at a time when they are invading us? Indeed, we have no choice but to be on full alert, living in the trench, describing in the trench, and drawing the trench that had first been dug immediately after “Creation.”

We should not be left to our ignorance, because the soul, as we know, can lead us to wickedness. That is especially the case at a time when this cultural invasion is insidiously creeping in, thereby wreaking havoc on individuals and families. Currently, movies, as the culture minister sees it, are relentlessly pursuing our destruction, and as soon as the omnipresent conspiracy snoozes, it is reawakened by international media and non-media organizations. And of course, the Jews, at the end of the day, stand behind everything.

Why do the Iranian brothers and the brothers imitating them in Lebanon want us to transform and become part of this bland and bleak brotherhood, which is likely to expand to become our culture - culture executed by some censored brother?