Lebanon: A State of Identityphobia

Over the course of this past weekend, I thought I was living – at least for a fleeting moment – in Ireland. The weather was sunny, albeit chilly. It was very green outside, ironically fitting for the occasion to be celebrated, and everyone was excited about St. Patrick’s Day. But then I realized that, contrary to the input I was getting from my senses, I was in fact thousands of kilometers away from Ireland, in a Middle Eastern country called Lebanon.

But this drift in my sensory perception had happened once before. Back in November, many of the Lebanese I knew were excited about Thanksgiving. What do they know about Thanksgiving? Not much, obviously. It was featured in some Hollywood movie and that was sufficient to make it important enough to be imported into their celebratory calendar. “Come join us for our Thanksgiving dinner! We sure got a lot to be thankful for.” The pilgrims and the natives of Lebanon would be very proud, I bet.

If God forbid you asked someone about their plans for Drunk Thursday, you get ridiculed. “You still celebrate that day! Man, it’s so passé!” Or if you ask someone about their plans for “A7ad el Marfa3″ [Mardi Gras applies], the same answer follows. The Lebanese “version” of Thanksgiving and St. Patrick’s day has become beneath us, apparently.

Of the many things I do not understand about Lebanese society perhaps the following is the most puzzling. Why is it that we disregard the customs and traditions of our own culture and are so vehemently adopting the traditions of others?

I heard there’s a tomato festival in Spain that happens every year. Why does Madrid get to have all the fun? Beirut could use some non-clubbing entertainment as well!

There’s also this awesome Samba festival in Rio. Why not bring it here? Lebanese women can definitely shake their hips.

It seems that our fascination with Lebanon being the crossroads of many cultures has reached the next level. Instead of embracing the fact that years of our country being a fusion of cultures has led to one that is inherently our own, we’ve started to go on a collection frenzy of anything “hip” that we may find in other cultures and importing it. We’ve got a reputation to keep, after all. What good is a Lebanese “identity” without many non-Lebanese toppings added to it?

We, as a country, suffer from a case of identityphobia. We are so afraid of who we are that we search for anything that could fleetingly satisfy our need for firmness. And then our feet lose ground again before we find something else to cling to. We’re so afraid of our identity that we can rationalize the destruction of ancient monuments that have created who we are as Lebanese.

We are so afraid of our own identity that we also feel the need to become part of a grander scheme: are you Arab or non-Arab? No I’m Phoenician. No I’m Roman. No I’m Canaanite. No, I’m everything but simply Lebanese.

Today is St. Patrick’s Day. Who knows what celebration from which country will become in soon.

There’s nothing wrong with going out for drinks on a Saturday. There’s nothing wrong with having dinner with your family on a Thursday.

What’s wrong is going for drinks on a Saturday because it is St. Patrick’s day. What’s wrong is having dinner with your family on a Thursday because it’s Thanksgiving day.

What’s wrong is us being Ireland one day, the US another, then France, followed by Italy, maybe even Egypt sometimes. Perhaps the sign welcoming tourists to Lebanon outside Beirut’s airport shouldn’t read: Welcome to Lebanon. Maybe the appropriate description should have been: Welcome to the Fragmented Colors of Lebanon – we can offer you anything you want because we have no clue who we are.

Or this can be simply considered a melodramatic rant and St. Patrick’s Day celebrations took place because the clover was mistaken for a cedar. It happens you know.