Two months ago, I packed my bags, and twenty eight years of my life, and hopped on an Emirates Airlines flight to Los Angeles, California. The reason behind this decision, at the age of a few months short of 37, was the fact that I had had enough of the frustration I felt with the situation of my beloved country. And why the U.S.? Well, because let’s face it: everyone wants to live in the U.S., even our brothers and sisters who say that the U.S. is the Great Evil (I witnessed the huge numbers of applicants during the interview at the embassy, so please don’t argue).
And this Wednesday morning (Wednesday evening in Lebanon), I woke up to several posts on Facebook about the events that took place in one of the prestigious universities back home – one where only la crème de la crème have a chance of educating themselves. A few days ago, I also woke up to video posts about the confrontation between the customs security members and a number of civilians and journalists, who were calling against the corruption within the customs (a fact no one can refute… hell, corruption is the middle name of each and every individual in our government – no exceptions).
I will not delve into the details of either incident; I am not aware of the facts (and neither is any living civilian for that matter), and truthfully I do not care to know. Why? Not because of lack of interest; had I been indifferent to what’s going on, I would have not bothered myself early in the morning to follow up on Lebanon’s news. On the contrary, I do care. It is my country, the one each political circus of a party claims it as their own; the one that is divided into so many parts and sects and neighborhoods, the one that has been filled with so much hatred, the one whose parents teach their kids the the “others” of their own nationality are the enemy. I care because it is a shame!
The funny thing about the Lebanese is that we are doing it wrong. What is it? Our attempts at being civilized; our constant longing to imitate the west (the U.S. to be exact) in the concept of freedom and democracy. “It” is the continuous denial of the “cancer” cells that have infiltrated us and made us extremely sick. “It” is the marching for refugees’ and domestic workers rights, when we ourselves have none. “It” is the blind, robot-like worship of a political leader and the willingness to die for that leader (and mind you, they are all oblivious to their followers and do not even help them). “It” is the lack of patriotism… Whoops, excuse me. I meant to say: the lack of understanding of the meaning of patriotism.. and democracy.. and freedom.
Being in the U.S., 11,000-something kilometers far from the Lebanese status quo, and looking in on them from the outside, has not yet changed my perception of anything related to the Lebanese. I had thought that getting away would or might make me appreciate where I was. And it did actually, in minor things like the family ties we still have, and the remaining hospitality we pride ourselves with, to name a few. However, my convictions that we are like an individual who has cancer in its late stages, and trying to deny it and conceal it with make-up and jewelry has not changed a bit.
Our biggest problem in Lebanon is that we are always trying to separate ourselves from the rest if the Arab countries by imitating the west. Now if we look closely at the history of Lebanon, you will be able to see that it has always been different from all the other Arab countries. However, we are doing it wrong, oh so wrong. How? I’ll tell you.
To be clear, I’m not discussing politics and do not wish to discuss politics. My aim here is pure social, and an attempt at clarifying what the terms freedom, democracy and patriotism mean.
So what is freedom? I have read the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution and I think it is a good definition of it. It says: “The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievance”. Self explanatory I believe.
What is wrong in Lebanon? Well, frankly of what I’ve seen, our government does not allow us any kind of freedom, especially not the freedom of speech or the freedom to peaceably assembling or petitioning for a governmental redress. When a few journalists tried to expose the corruption in a public institute, they were assaulted and arrested. Where is the freedom in that? The people have a right to know where their tax money is going. They have a right to hold the government accountable; after all, government officials are civil servants, not civil lords.
And what is democracy? The Merriam Webster dictionary defines it as “a government in which the supreme power is in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation”. You might tell me that this is the case in Lebanon. We hold elections and choose those we want to represent us. But is that really true? I have been around political discussions for as long as I can remember, and it has always been the same names – the same war lords of the civil war govern us. Heck, one name has been around for so long it is starting to feel like a monarchy in that specific government position. And funniest thing is: us Lebanese keep “electing” the same faces and names. There is a reason behind that; it’s called fanaticism. Yes, don’t try to adjust your screen.
Fanaticism, a religious one for that matter, is what drives us. Forget about the reasons why we elect certain individuals, and just take a look at how the neighborhoods are divided. A Sunni neighborhood, a Shiite neighborhood, a Christian one, a Druze one. Is that normal? We are all Lebanese (omitting at this moment the fact that most of us are abroad and that the country has more “foreign” nationals than it does domestic). We all have our roots in Lebanon. Which brings me to the issue of patriotism. Patriotism is the love and allegiance to one’s homeland. Please read it again: homeland. It isn’t the blind following of a leader or a religion. The operative word is homeland. And this seems not to be the case for us Lebanese. Our allegiance is to the leaders unfortunately, proof of this is the incident that took place in that prestigious university. I bet if you try to dig deeper into what happened, you will find traces of an accelerant called fanatic political affiliation.
So please people, stop claiming you love Lebanon. News flash: you don’t! You love your political leader. Stop telling the world what a civilized people you are; the sunflower seeds on the corniche, the mountains of garbage in Burj Hammoud, the lack of water and electricity, the disrespect for traffic lights all prove you wrong. Quit taking the worst of the west and implementing it in our country. Quit fighting for the “foreign” people’s rights and, for once, unite for your rights as a human being.
I’m not being righteous. I am Lebanese, and proud of it. I love all of my country, from North to South, although I admit that there are times when I don’t feel at ease in certain areas because of all of the things I have heard. But still, I love my country, and I cannot bear to watch you ruin it with your blind ignorance and the constant denying of reality. You know, someone I once knew told me: “just ignore it all and go with the flow, you’ll be happy”. Well you know what? I cannot ignore the cancer cells that have infiltrated my land and my people. I cannot ignore the wrongs. I love my country too much. So why did I leave? Because apparently no one wants to do anything to make it better, and I have a life I want to live – I want my basic human rights, and will never settle for less. And I do hope that we get to a point where we can stop drowning ourselves in booze just to forget, and sober up for the sake of our future and our children’s future.
Apologies to anyone I might have offended with this. But I cannot shut up to the truth.