It’s yet another Sunday in Lebanon and another opportunity for the Maronite Patriarch to offer his words of wisdom, in his weekly sermon, to the ears that would listen. It’s also yet another Sunday in a Lebanon of presidential void, security chaos and with more people listening in to the likes of Raï for possible hints at what to expect in the next few weeks when it comes to political development, the patriarch new quite well the stakes of his sermon. Here’s an excerpt, translated by yours truly, of Raï’s sermon today:
“In this occasion, we cannot forget that the Lebanese family is made up of two components: Christian and Muslim, and it has become a model for today’s societies, eastern and western, threatened by two extreme and opposite movements: religious regimes that aim to eliminate those that are different and to enforce their own faith and teachings onto others, and secular atheist systems which exclude God from society, legislating what they please without any regards of the natural laws of God. We are seeing signs of both these movements in Lebanon…. we demand the government and concerned ministries to issue decrees that stop such practices as is stated in article 9 of the constitution: freedom of belief is absolute.”
Color me confused but I was under the impression that it wasn’t non-religious people that took over Iraq recently, killed people just because they prayed differently. I was also under the impression that it wasn’t the acts of those non-religious people that led to many terrorist attacks, a few years ago, whose repercussions we still live today. Spreading across the Middle East today, and now in Lebanon, is a clear attempt to equate lack of religiosity with the terrorists threatening the fabrics of our society.
I have always been under the assumption as well that the root of Lebanese problems is our twisted understanding of religion. We have always been taught to fear that who is different: Muslims, Christians, Jews and now atheists – who are becoming a more vocal part of society, albeit still squashed by the thunderous voices of religious men whose influence spreads much deeper than to be challenged anytime soon. Secularism wasn’t what built our country, it wasn’t what ignited both our civil wars, it wasn’t what perpetuated the status quo from 1990 till 2005 and it’s not what’s bringing about the Lebanon of 2014.
Today, Lebanon is without a president, without a decent legislating body, without a decently functioning government, without security and without a functioning labor force. Who’s the cause for the mayhem and anarchy that Lebanon is living today? I’ll go on a limb and say, not those very horrifying nonbelievers, but our deeply sectarian system that empowers what Raï is championing. “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it” is the saying. But this is deeply, irrevocably broken.
Religious men of Lebanon like to spread fear. It is what puts food on their table at the end of the day. Patriarch Raï is no exception. By lumping ISIS, Al Qaeda or whatever terrorist group fits the bill with non-believers in one basket, he is doing just that: be afraid of those killing you… and be afraid of those that can challenge your well-rooted beliefs that have been enforced in you for such a long time by your families, by your schools, by your communities and by the likes of Mr. Rai.
What’s threatening the fabrics of Lebanese society isn’t lack of belief. It’s the blind attachment to belief and taking those beliefs to a point where they become maimed, mutilated and unrecognizably wrong. What’s threatening the fabrics of Lebanese society today is people, like Raï, still making people fear the premise of a secular system where people are treated based on their merits, not sect, where their worth is contingent upon who they are as people not on which region or religion they were born in, where equality is assured to everyone and isn’t relative to the inner rules of the sect your parents happened to belong to.
What’s threatening the fabrics of Lebanese societies aren’t some of Lebanon’s citizens becoming more liberal, supporting laws that their parents or parish priests wouldn’t approve of, it’s the fact that the absolute majority of Lebanese don’t challenge their parents’ beliefs or what they’ve been taught at school for so many years or what they’re being told by the head of their sect during a Sunday sermon.
Article 9 of the Lebanese constitution asserts freedom of belief, as Raï pointed out. Freedom of belief also extends to the freedom of not believing in any god and in having a country protect your right of not believing. Raï is afraid of the influence the increasing number of Christian nonbelievers has on his power. Perhaps he shouldn’t as it’ll be a long time before his influence budges. But I’ll let him know this: once upon a time, Mr Raï, I was one of those people that belonged to the flock that calls you their shepherd. I’m so glad I’m not part of that Maronite herd anymore that is susceptible to every word you say. I’m one of those you don’t have power over anymore, and it’s been extremely liberating.