In addition to wars and direct confrontations, the Lebanese have grown used to witnessing in the public sphere a spate of verbal confrontations and a state of collective misunderstanding dominated by insults and feelings of hatred and aversion.
This has been the case among Lebanon’s Christians and Muslims, on the one hand, and its Sunnis and Shi’ites on the other.
The Lebanese Civil War, which marked its 40th anniversary a few days ago, has shown us that we Lebanese are still embedded firmly within our own sects and factions and are a mere collection of groupings, constantly confronting and fighting each other and exchanging accusations. Thus, it has become clear to us, before others, that our sectarian makeup directs our feelings, of both hatred and love, towards each other and towards those from other countries—from Israel to Syria and from Iran to Turkey, as well as the Arab and Gulf states.
Arabs have often criticized the Lebanese for their fierce loyalty to the sect, which is true; the Lebanese are indeed simply a group of sects. I am not saying this out of admiration but rather as an admission of reality. The problem is that many Arab states, after 2011, have realized that they too are made up of sects whose relations with each other exploded into civil wars and infighting, something which they have long reproached us for and claimed innocence of.
Lebanon has never been isolated from its surroundings or the world; rather, it has always wide open to outside influences, be they positive or negative. But the country’s sectarian balance has never quite been able to sap the power of division that somehow manifested itself in Lebanese culture, art and politics.
We Lebanese, as groups of sects, used to be more powerful than the state. Therefore, when the state fragmented and weakened, the country did not completely collapse. It remained resistant to complete downfall despite all the factors which might have aided this process. Meanwhile, the situation in neighboring countries—like Iraq and Syria, for example—has shown that the collapse of the state can mean the complete disintegration of a country.
Once again, this is not to praise or express admiration towards Lebanon’s sectarian makeup. It is an admission of fact as a first step towards establishing understanding and calling for a public and frank debate aimed at containing the fires around us and perhaps one day establishing a state based on the concept of citizenship, and not sectarianism.
As before, misunderstandings and confrontations are being repeated in Lebanon, whether on a domestic or Arab level. The Lebanese–Palestinian problem is as old as the Lebanese Civil War. There is also the Lebanese–Syrian problem, always renewing itself and still far from coming to an end. Meanwhile, the centenary of the Armenian Genocide committed by Ottoman soldiers has sparked a fresh debate in Lebanon.
The list goes on and on and the crisis in Yemen has added to the tensions—though this time between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.
I am not talking about official or partisan positions in both countries but rather a recent trend among Saudi and Lebanese commentators and writers of using the rhetoric of hatred, peppered liberally with sweeping generalizations and seething contempt.
Within the context of exchanging accusations with Iran, one Lebanese commentator attacked the Saudi Bedouin culture, while a Saudi writer respond by making note of the current Lebanese political malaise. Users of Twitter and Facebook have fanned these flames by manipulating and perpetuating the differences between the two countries. This rhetoric has also been frequently employed by several figures in different media outlets.
As a Lebanese person who opposes Hezbollah and its domestic and regional roles, as well as its domestic projects, which do not represent my national ambitions, I feel insulted by the broad generalizations directed at the Lebanese. But this is also exactly how I felt when I hear the same vulgar and frankly racist language being directed against the Saudis.
Maybe we should all just take a long, deep breath before we give free rein to our acidic tongues, especially since there seems to be no end in sight to the ongoing regional crises—which will certainly not be solved while we are hurling insults and launching ridiculous, populist attacks against one another.
This is not a call to bury our heads in the sand or to avoid pointing out responsibilities and mistakes. But it would be shameful to adopt this low level of rhetoric in a bid to satisfy populist instincts, an approach which aims not to contain or confront current problems so much as to capitalize on them.
On the other hand, while gratuitous insults express a crisis on the part of the person who hurls them, unwarranted praise is no less hypocritical and vulgar.
I hope one day we will be able to discuss our disputes with each other in a manner free from insults and hypocrisy.