Sunday, January 3, 2021

On that "their" cedar video, and patriotism in Lebanon

Today a can of worms has been opened. A video is heavily circulating of two young men, putting their (deceased Iranian major general in the revolutionary Guard Corps - who was assassinated in Iraq exactly a year ago) Qasem Soleimani's photo in the heart of the Cedar which represents the Lebanese flag (the video is not clear where this happens) but what is clear is that - apart from one of the men saying whose photo it is - the other man says "yes, plaster it on their cedar" - emphasis mine (see video here).

Which naturally brings the "their" to the forefront. It might seem shocking that these two men - or at least one of them - does not feel any belonging to the symbol present on his country's flag (and that the other does neither as he also tends to think it is fine to put such a photo there). But - and here is the big but - the cedar has been mentioned 103 times in the bible. And whereas yes, Lebanon is indeed known for its Cedrus libani species, and for its forest trees (which were much more numerous than they are now), put yourself in the shoes of the Moslem MPs when the first Lebanese flag was drawn.

In 2009, and within the realm of me teaching a class on current events I asked my students (about 35 of them) about what makes us Lebanese. What these youth, which came from different backgrounds and places and faiths, agreed upon in the end were two things "tabboule and Fairouz". The rest which included the flag, national anthem, dabke, Rawche, etc... did not make the cut.

Once more, oddly I am neither surprised nor angered about the "their" cedar reaction (presumably, that of the Christians). One should place things in their contexts. And by the way, please let us not file this (the flag, the presence of the cedar in the bible) as something "from the past" (and ergo no longer up for debate or opinions at this stage).

Nothing is from the past. When Abbas al-Moussawi was assassinated on February 16, 1992, there was an Egyptian ad during the news for Lord Shave (a brand of disposable razors) which aired on (Lebanese TV channel) LBC and which ended with "na3iman ya Abbas" (hope you had a good shave/cut Abbas). The ad showed barely a few minutes after the report on al-Moussawi's blown car (and his assassination) in one of those innocent mistakes that happen without premeditation. The sentence "na3iman ya Abbas" became a catchphrase among certain Lebanese (of course, the Christian part). Please watch the ad here.

When Lebanese politician Gibran Tueni was himself assassinated on December 12, 2005, there were at the time heavily manifestations in downtown Beirut (among which certain manifestations of shiia demonstrators) and on one of those large banners was written "na3iman ya Gibran".

As I said, nothing is in the past. All is today and nothing is forgotten. Or to better quote William Faulkner, "The past isn't dead. It isn't even past".

Just to be clear again, "patriotism" is incredibly complicated in Lebanon. And the more you live here, the more you understand how nuanced it is.