Shakira, Salma Hayek, Vince Vaughn, Amal Clooney, Gibran Khalil Gibran and last but not least, Mia Khalifa (yes, the one and only Mia Khalifa) are all people who you have heard of, but probably didn’t know share one important commonality: they are all of Lebanese descent. Their parents emigrated from this tiny country in the Middle East, which was once called ‘the Switzerland of the East’ to other countries, in the hope of bigger and better opportunities. So what is the matter with Lebanon?
The land of the Phoenicians who invented the alphabet, a small Mediterranean country with Beirut as its capital, the Republic of Lebanon represents the only state in the Middle East with significant religious diversity. Whereas this diversity enriched Lebanese culture, it also caused a major fight for power. Before the 70s, the Christian Maronites were in charge. At that time, Lebanon was called the “Switzerland of the East” and its capital city of Beirut was the “Paris of the East”. In fact, so much development occurred in all industrial sectors that Lebanon was viewed as one of the most advanced countries in the Middle East. Lebanon was so rich that it was lending money to India.
Unfortunately, the avidity of its Syrian and Palestinian neighbors made Lebanon a target for taking over. Thus, civil war erupted in the mid-70s, causing a division in the country. The majority of the Muslims of Lebanon (pan-Arab) sided with the Palestinian and Syrian invaders against the state of Lebanon that was predominantly backed by the Lebanese Christians. As a result, the state was weakened, Christians were forced to bear arms to defend themselves, and the state of Lebanon went reeling into chaos.
The civil war ended in the 90s when the US made a deal with the Saudis and the Syrians to gain control over Lebanon. The Christian population was severely weakened and its power diminished. Consequently, many Lebanese decided to leave the country and immigrate to western countries where they integrated very well, becoming some of the most successful immigrants in the world.
Today, Lebanon is the most indebted country in the Middle East, and with the control of Hezbollah over its political system, freedom of speech is limited, the economy is suffering, and the dream of many Lebanese Christian youths is to leave the country because it no longer represents freedom, one of the fundamental foundations of Christianity. Many western leaders believe that Christians no longer belong in this land, clearly exemplified in 2011 when former French President Nicolas Sarkozy told the Lebanese Maronite Patriarch:
“Given that there are 1.3 million Christians in Lebanon, why don’t Christians move to Europe, since Europe has absorbed 2 million Christian immigrants from Iraq?”
The fight over power still exists, with the Christians trying to recuperate some of their lost political influence. However, with the increasing number of Muslims, and the slow birth rate in the Christian population, Christians are in a weak negotiating position. So why did multiculturalism become a curse? What are the solutions that can protect it?
When visiting Lebanon these days, you will notice that there are two distinct regions, one is Muslim Arab and the other is Christian, with high-quality westernized universities, hospitals, nightlife, etc.
Hence, two separate cultures exist within a single country, demonstrating that the idea of “multiculturalism” and “living together” is an absurd concept. Contrarily, the idea of ‘coexistence’ is possible. One extreme solution which would be to divide the country into two regions, following the Cypriot concept of having two countries on a single island. Another solution would be to apply extreme secularism, as Ataturk did when he transformed Turkey from an Islamic state into a developed non-religious westernized one. The latter solution proposed by Nicolar Sarkozy (as well by Henry Kissinger during the civil war) would mean the removal of all Christians out of Lebanon, transplanting them into developed countries in Europe and North America. Perhaps, the most reasonable solution would be federalism, as is the case of Switzerland. In this case, the country would be kept together but each religious group would maintain its fundamental rights, in addition to an adequate share of power and representation. In this way, each religious group would be able to better serve the needs of its own people and the corresponding region.
Hence, it is clear that multiculturalism is fiction in Lebanon. Regardless of which solution is adopted, it should be based on mutual agreement and respect, acknowledging differences while attempting to reach a win-win for all Lebanese. Thankfully, the Lebanese people have learned important lessons from their recent history. They are no longer intent on wars that lead to nowhere, that result in death and casualties. They understand that only dialogue can lead to long-standing peace.
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