Disclaimer: This is a guest post written by one of my readers who wishes to remain anonymous.
Initially, I set out to write a post about WHY Lebanon should move towards a secular state. Yet, as I was writing, I struggled to get a hold of the opposing view. That is, the view which is opposite to mine, not the view of the opposition in Lebanon.
Failing to get a sense of the opposing view myself, I decided to ask friends their opinion on the matter. At first, I asked those who I knew were of the same viewpoint as I, hoping that they had discussed the topic with at least one other person who is against a secular Lebanon.
The responses I received were sub-par at best. I asked my most conservative and religious friends, hoping that one of them would give me a debate worthy of mention. The only response worth discussing is the following:
Y = me
X = my friend
Y: Secular or non-secular?
Y: Where do you stand on the issue? Are you for or against a secular Lebanon?
X: Not against
X: But I am not secular either
Y: Shou ya3neh you are not secular either? (What do you mean you are not secular either?)
X: I respect religion and respect the free will of people to chose
Y: Eh (Yes)..and how does that make you not for a secular state? Killo hayda deikhil bil secular state (this is all included under a secular state)
Y: In a secular state, everyone has the right to do whatever they want in terms of religion and faith. Fa it doesn’t oppose religion (so it doesn’t oppose religion)
X: Kaffeh (Keep going)
Y: kaffeh? (Keep going?)
X: Where are you going with this?
Y: I’m still trying to understand why you said you are not secular??
X: Define secular.
Y: A secular state is where there is separation of government and religion. Ya3neh religion is not involved in the process of government
X: I’m for a secular Lebanon. Religion shouldn’t be involved in the process of government.
This friend is an intelligent person, when it comes to most things. English though, is not his strong suit, at least in my opinion. And what I got out of the conversation, is that the problem was not in ideology or theory, but in the definition of a word, which happens to be an English word. And if any of you were French educated in Lebanon, you would understand that this is common. English teachers in Lebanon are laughable. The best one I had was a person who lived and was educated in Canada.
Many times I was forced to interrupt most if not all of my teachers in the middle of the class and give my friends the correct definition of a word. Not because I was trying to look cool or disrupt the class (I did that too, on other occasions), but because I cared about my friends and understood the value of communication, and the important role that languages and words play. Bref, 7aslo, anyway, point being there is confusion over the definition of ‘Secular State’ which is resulting in confusion over whether or not Lebanon should become a secular state.
This reminds me of anecdote from my childhood. I have an uncle who is very religious and highly conservative. And out of everyone I know (and I mention those I know because I cannot speak for those I do not), he would probably be rivaled, in terms of religiosity, only by a sheikh or a priest. Throughout my childhood. I would watch my uncle drive his car with a sticker on the back that read ‘لا للطائفية’ or ‘No to Sectarianism’. And at that time, the whole thing struck me as odd. “How could someone so religious drive around with that sticker on the back of his car?” I thought. It was only when I got older that I understood that the two aren’t mutually exclusive.
Which brings me to the next person who I spoke to regarding his opinion on the matter.
This person is pro-Hariri to the bone and anti-Hizballah deeper than to the bone, if that is possible. I waited for him to come online, hoping that he would finally give me the opposing viewpoint I needed. I had written about a 1,000 words at this point and was waiting for the ‘if we go secular, then Hizballah will take over and we will become like Iran” response.
Low and behold, I got the following: “I am for a secular state for religious reasons.” Say what? I will not go into details about his reasoning, but the gist of it was about freedom. That’s right..freedom. A secular state would give people religious freedom.
But that was going to be MY argument! DAMMIT!
To those out there who are still unconvinced, I am going to give you one argument why Lebanon would be served better under a secular system and then move on. Put in a simple way, a secular state does not take away any rights or freedoms from religious people, but gives rights to those who would otherwise not have any rights under a sectarian system. Using an analogy that I think all of us can appreciate, if we were all a bunch of people who love brownies, and a sectarian system was a plate of brownies, moving towards a secular state does not remove any brownies from the plate but in fact adds more to it so that more people can enjoy the moist chocolate piece of heaven.
Convinced? If not, please open up a Wikipedia page, google the subject, or post a comment.
So why is Lebanon still under a sectarian constitution? The easy answer is because of the corrupt, greedy, and power hungry politicians who are served by this system and who won’t let go of it. Yeah, ok, sure. It’s all the Italians’ fault! (btw, I only found out this is a saying in Lebanon in college. 18 years in Lebanon and not once had I heard of it until moving to college in the US!)
Obviously there is a continual political power struggle in Lebanon. But corruption aside… people on the streets are not chanting for and supporting the politician whose corruption style they believe in most, but for the one with the right foreign allegiance. Something more along the lines of “Yes to America, No to Iran!” vs “Yes to Iran, no to America”, right? Along with those who are desperately hanging on to their rights, i.e. “We, the Maronites, are a minority and we do not want to change the system or else we won’t have any representatives in the government”.
This division is independent of sect and religious affiliation, but the current system encourages the rift along those lines when, in fact, the real concerns regarding a sectarian vs a secular state revolve around representation in the gov’t. I will go over these concerns, albeit in a brief manner and let the arguments take place in the comments.
Under a secular constitution, parliamentary seats and positions of power will no longer be designated to a particular sect. Instead, power will be given to those who get the popular votes, and proportionally represent those who have elected them. Ergo, if the majority of the country wants to go left, the country goes left, and if the majority of the country wants to go right, the country goes right. That is how democracy works.
If you are Maronite, Druze, Shi’a, Armenian, Black, Gay or whatever, and think you have a strong representation in the government, you are delusional. The position of president is worthless (debate and arguments against this point are welcomed). The position of speaker of the parliament is equally so. As for the Sunnis, we have one side that claims monopoly over the representation of the Sunni population. If that is true, and then taking into account the current situation of that party not holding the office of prime minister, then the Sunnis are fucked. If that is not true, then the Sunnis have been getting fucked all along. So what are people really holding on to?
So it would seem to me, that the current system does not serve the purpose of guaranteed representation for each sectarian group, in order to maintain peace and harmony. Under ideal circumstances, a representative in the government is supposed to be representing ALL the Lebanese independently of religion and background. This may still be too ideal at the moment, but moving towards that direction requires effort and iterative change.
What is the Difference?
One good question that may come up is about the Lebanese mentality itself. Wouldn’t people still vote along sectarian lines? How would it be different? Good question, but honestly I am not concerned. I am not naive, and I do not think that we can rewire the Lebanese population to become a ‘secular’ mentality. Hell! You can’t even get the freakin’ Americans to think in a secular way and they claim to have separation of church and state! So the people may continue voting according to their own sectarian association, but at least they will get who they vote for and it will be a representation of the people’s will. “Be careful what you wish for”. Which leads to another question or concern:
“Why would the minorities ever want to move towards a secular state, if they won’t be represented in the government? If there were democratic elections, there is no chance in hell a Maronite Christian would be elected to any position in the government. And even though the President is a figure head, perhaps his symbolic role is all they are really interested in?” I’ll start from the back, if all the Maronites are really interested in is a symbolic position inthe government, which has no real political power within the country, then there are other bigger concerns (namely the shortsightedness of the mentality in Lebanon) which will forever prevent Lebanon from becoming a secular state.
Back to the first point. Parts of it I answered earlier, but another part is worth mentioning. No one is going to ban Maronites from the election polls, no one is going to ban Maronites from running for office, and no one is going to force a redistribution of the population in order to dilute the Maronite constituency. At least not I, nor any of the people in support of a secular state. So the areas with a Christian majority will still be able to vote for their Christian leaders, areas with a Sunni majority will still be able to vote for their Sunni leaders and so on.
Or, they can choose not to. That’s the beauty of it – you can vote for whomever you choose and not be forced to support a Maronite leader if you prefer the Sunni one and vice versa. So the Maronites will still get their representatives, not as many as they do now, but it will be a more proportional and fair representation. The whole point is to put an end to this “sectarian mentality” and move toward becoming a unified people under one nation (“one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all”, yes the Americans did get something right).
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
Yes, under a secular system people will be forced to actually make decisions. They will be forced to exercise their democratic duties. The first thing I ever learned about democracy is that each and every citizen under such a system has both rights and duties, and if a person chooses not to fulfill their duties they will lose their rights. “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for you country” type of shit. But it won’t all be work and duties and responsibilities. Moving towards a secular state comes with its perks as well.
Buy 1 get 1 FREE!
And what do you get with this amazing offer? The one and only CIVIL MARRIAGE!
Think of all of the weddings that could happen in Lebanon. More Lebanese would be able to have weddings in their own country, and people from other countries might just come to Lebanon like we go to Cyprus. More tourism, more money, more partying! Isn’t that the Lebanese dream?
Civil marriage is the poster child of the secular movement. Obviously there are plenty of other benefits. I have alluded to some..
- A movement towards identifying ourselves and each other as Lebanese first, and everything else a distant second.
- The ability to elect someone who will actually represent US, as in ALL OF US and not just a small group of people who, on the surface, are ‘alike’.
- Women’s rights!
I won’t go into detail about any of these issues. I will let you discover the possibilities on your own. As they say, the joy is in the chase (chase for knowledge in this case).
This topic is huge, and I could tackle every single point and every single concern of every single person. Not today. This means follow up posts are possible. Today, I will leave you with this final note:
The time is NOW! Take back your country for it is your sweat, blood, and tears that soak the earth beneath your feet.