Don’t hang out with a writer. One day, he will write about you.
I had a brief encounter today with the adviser of the Prime Minister during the condolences of a Greek-Catholic bishop. He happened to sit next to me and we had to make some conversation in order not to let that awkward silence last too long. We all pretend not to notice those awkward silences between strangers when in the subway, the elevator, or common tables on which we don’t know anyone.
At first, I didn’t know who he was. But his face seemed familiar. So I told him: “Your face seems familiar.” I don’t remember how we engaged in mutual introductions, but we did. I heard his name, then asked: “Were you not the adviser of the Prime Minister?” At this point, I knew he still is his advisor, but I faked ignorance in order not to look too interested. “I am, he replied, you seem to follow up politics.” “Sort of, I said, I am writing a dissertation about it.”
The sir asked for my dissertation topic, which I told him: The emergence and evolution of the Federal projects in Lebanon since the 1970s. The sir was not pleased. According to him, this is a subject of minor interest. Especially when he learned that my intention was to write the “objective” history of such claims, the aspirations and motives of their proponents and opponents. He suspected, like all before him did, that mine was a feasibility study. I claimed that it was not, and it is not. I deal with facts, I don’t indulge in personal opinions. Too many of you are waiting to know my position: I have none, I don’t care. I allow myself to be clear.
The issue of federalism, of little interest? I begged to differ. Everybody has an opinion on federalism in Lebanon, yet nobody knows a thing about it. Only passions, preconceived ideas and judgments. Why wouldn’t I be the first one to write a dissertation about it? I don’t like taboos and hidden things. I hope you consider this is legit’.
The sir would rather that I concentrate more on the current situation and that I forget “old things.” Federalism is a dead idea, he thinks. Does this mean that I have to write a dissertation on the March 8/14 antagonism? Too many journalists and analysts have had their say on that. I am not a scholar serving the interests of any party or any movement.
Dead or not, the Lebanese federalist ideology deserves to be studied sociologically and historically, I think. I am convinced of what I doing. This is what matters to me. I remember evoking my dissertation topic in front of Shiite fellow-citizens (staunchly anti-federalism, goes without saying) once. They tried to suggest that I prove, in my thesis, that federalism is bad for Lebanon. A thesis does not consist in proving a personal political point of view, it’s proving a claim based on historical or sociological assumptions, not personal ones.
Anyway, back to our story: the sir didn’t want to lose his time. He thought he has figured it all out. He resumed his speech and said in French, with a condescending pat on the leg and a look meaning “I get it, I’m intelligent enough to guess”–which made all the difference for me: “Vous êtes un militant fédéraliste.” I promptly denied the statement. I told him I was not, and I am not. If I were, I would have proclaimed it. I have always been too politically incorrect to hide my opinions anyway. Besides, I’m too narcissistic to be ashamed of them. That’s two good reasons.
Please, do not define me, Sir, and do not categorize me. You don’t know me; which right do you have to define me? I am not defining you. I define myself and you define yourself. I should have told him that, but the Greek-Catholic Patriarch was a few seats away, talking about social vanities and trying to take credit for the lamented Bishop’s courage and bravery. I had never felt so “un-Greek-Catholic” until then.