When I spent a month in France, back in August of 2012, I was somewhat surprised to find most people there had some gross misconceptions about Lebanon. I had thought that French people out of everyone would at least know slightly more than your average info about this country in the Middle East. But it was the same thing all over again: desert, camels, tents, oil, everyone is rich, etc…
It was grating at first. Then it became amusing. There was really nothing I could do to change what those people thought of me or my country or everyone who had my passport. It’s not only the French, it’s basically everywhere else as well. And we try to pretend as if the stereotype isn’t there but kidding ourselves is all we do.
I’ve been pondering for a while over why is it that the Lebanese candidate Anthony Touma on France’s The Voice managed to instill a sense of nationalism among us, one that doesn’t necessarily reflect the same way by the French over the French candidates on the show.
In more general terms, because Anthony Touma isn’t a lone example, why is it that we cannot not be proud of the Anthony Toumas of Lebanon, no matter how hard we try and knowing that they may not be the absolute best at what they do? Why do we feel wronged when they get wronged? Why do we, as Lebanese, feel involved in what they do and what they accomplish fully knowing that the benefits they reap don’t reflect on us in any way?
I am not the type of Lebanese people who gush over the Shakiras and Salma Hayeks who never set foot here and yet some people feel obliged to try and get them to identify with us.
But when I look at Anthony Touma, Amin Maalouf and others, I see people who are like me, who lived my life, who probably went to schools similar to mine, who walked the same streets that I walk everyday and who are doing the best they could with the talent they have.
The Anthony Toumas of Lebanon are the people who, with each word they write or each note they sing, give a better image of our country than we could ever do. And some might believe we don’t need that. But we do. We terribly do.
Our sense of nationalism as Lebanese kicks in often because we have something to prove. We want to prove that we can do better, that we can be better. We want to prove that this small nation can give the world great gifts. We want to prove that the confines of the 10452 km2 don’t limit us. We want to prove that war and violence and absurd politics don’t bring us down. We want to prove that we can rise above the terrible hands we are dealt on daily basis. We want to prove that this small Middle Eastern country has something to give and give well.
For many, those prospects are never self-fulfilled, which is okay. We are not all given the same chances in life. But when we look at Touma, Maalouf, Gebran, Nadine Labaki, etc… We see people who are trying to make it or have made it. And they give us hope. And those people who walk and talk and think like us make us proud.
There will come a time, hopefully, when we no longer feel we have something to prove to the world. Perhaps our sense of nationalism towards the Anthony Toumas of Lebanon lessens when that time comes. But until then, there’s nothing wrong with feeling proud of our countrymen who represent us despite everything and represent us well.
Or you can hate on them because feeling proud of someone because they’re Lebanese is just too non-scientific and mainstream.