One year ago, I wrote a note that I entitled “Bashir Gemayel: You Love Him, We Hate Him.” My argument, then, was very simple; as a matter of fact, it was more the observation of an obvious fact that I wanted to draw the reader’s attention to, by way of reminder; my miniature thesis was that Bashir Gemayel crystallized the hopes and dreams of an important part of the Lebanese (mainly Christians, it is true), and still crystallizes them after his death–and will continue to for a long, long time; on the other hand, he is loathed and despised by another important part of the Lebanese (mainly Muslims, one has to admit). “Mainly,” in both cases, but not exclusively. The Lebanese are characterized by a cleaved collective memory, or more precisely: cleaved collective memories. Just stating a fact.
I read in today’s Safîr (Thurs., Sept. 16th) an article by Nasri Sayegh, entitled “Bashir Gemayel… Won’t Come Back Again.” Bashir is dead and buried, and so is his project, says he. The man and his project were doomed from the beginning; one cannot survive when standing at odds with the whole Arab-Muslim world, especially when one hails from an Arab-Muslim country. That’s the substance of the author’s point.
He has a point indeed, and it is not irrelevant. However, the article does not tell the Lebanese anything new at all; both sides know that, it’s déjà vu, a billet d’humeur, an opinion piece. I would rather he published it on his blog–that’s a common practice. But he chose to publish it in the press, perhaps just to please the important part of the Lebanese who, he knew, agrees with him, and to piss off the other part who, he knew, utterly disagrees. Fair enough, that’s what the press is for, sometimes.
Everyone is entitled to having his own opinions, assuredly, but expressing them ought to be a pondered act. What is the benefit of reviving such a polemic? What is the benefit of exploiting Lebanese antagonisms? We have diverging views over our past. Lebanon’s heroes are not every Lebanese’s heroes. Consider Fakhreddin II, Emir Bashir II, Kamal Junblat, Bashir, to name just a few. Lebanon’s martyrs are not every Lebanese’s martyrs, etc. Long story made short: Lebanon is a textbook case of divided collective memories. (Rousseau would add: Je l’ai déjà dit mais il n’est pas inutile de le répéter.)
This is not a criticism directed towards the article, nor its author. Again, I am extremely liberal (read: indifferent). But I wouldn’t have written it. I accept the fact that we are a house of many mansions, that we constantly struggle over our perceived history. Knowing that, it’s high time we moved on from our inept byzantine discussions and started engaging in a scientific and academic path. Only further research can be constructive. Even the detractors of the Maronites know that the Maronite-Israeli connection is much more complex than that. History and sociology will be useful to determine the volitions underlying the Maronites’ acts, and the contexts in which the power struggles took place. Alternatively, one would be led to believe that the Maronites behaved in such a way because they are innately traitors and rogue elements in the Arab world–find the explanation you like: genes, religion, whatever. I remember this not-so-old article by As’ad Abukhalil on the treacherousness of the Maronites, also published in the Safîr–a simplistic and hateful analysis, that one, trying to impress its readers by a display of academic sources (but hey, he’s the Angry Arab, no wonder he’s a hater). The thread of the real story lies off the beaten track, not in square one.
It is pointless to express one’s affection or lack of affection for Lebanon’s historical figures. And who is to say “you’re stupid” to his fellow-citizen for believing in a certain cause? Would we grow up?…
I might as well feel flattered that this article was written, for it could mean that I was correct: Bashir Gemayel… you love him, we hate him.