Lebanon’s Christians are missing the point

It is ironic to find people with an extremist ISIS-like mentality among the Lebanese Christians.
Saturday 03/08/2019
A demonstrator holds a placard during a gathering in support of Lebanese indie band Mashrou’ Leila in Beirut, July 29.  (AFP)
Standing up to the church. A demonstrator holds a placard during a gathering in support of Lebanese indie band Mashrou’ Leila in Beirut, July 29. (AFP)

There is a farcical side and a tragic side to the opposition shown by some Christians in Lebanon to the scheduled concert in Byblos by Lebanon’s best-known rock band Mashrou’ Leila.

The farcical side resides in the fact that none of those who opposed the concert really knew the band or its importance in Lebanon. Mashrou’ Leila had previously performed in Byblos, an ancient city that gave us the writing alphabet. So, obviously, these censors do not know — or could not care less about — why Byblos deserves every honour, including having Mashrou’ Leila perform at its festival.

The reasons advanced by the “rejectionists” had nothing to do with the truth of the matter. Not only did they represent an insult to Byblos, they were an insult to all Christians in Lebanon and everything related to the Maronite  Church and to the value of openness on all that is civilised.

It is ironic to find people with an extremist Islamic State-like mentality among the Lebanese Christians. Those who objected to Mashrou’ Leila’s concert in Byblos, for the reasons they advanced, could only be said to belong to the Islamic State in thought and conduct.

Sadly, the objection to the band and its songs could very well fit within the context of the Lebanese Christians’ downfall spiral that began in the post-1967 war period, when Christian base instincts came to the fore encouraged by the impression that the Nasserite project of pan-Arab nationalism had been defeated in the region.

At that time, a tripartite Christian alliance was formed to counter the Shehabist current in Lebanon. The all-important Lebanese Phalanges Party made the monumental mistake of leaving the Shehabist ranks and joining the tripartite alliance that included President Camille Chamoun, Sheikh Pierre Gemayel and General Raymond Edde.

Edde was a man of great insight into Lebanese affairs and regional and international conditions but he had old scores to settle with the legacy of Fuad Shehab. So, he fell into the Christian trap into which he wouldn’t have fallen were it not for his personal sensitivities because he was a man who placed Lebanon’s higher interests above anything else.

At that time, Lebanon had to deal with new realities created by the Arab defeat in the 1967 war with Israel, a defeat that had affected Lebanon negatively. Later, Edde, who represented the district of Byblos, redeemed himself and his reputation by being the only Christian leader to oppose the Cairo agreement, abandoning the presidency complex that other Maronite leaders could not overcome.

What is even more tragic these days is when Lebanon’s Christians divert their attention from the country’s major problems and focus on Mashrou’ Leila. Will the band perform in Byblos?  That was the major existential question confronting them.

Lebanon’s Christians have had a historic role in the region at every level. They played a major role in preserving the Arabic language by introducing the first printing presses into the region and in the monasteries of Lebanon.

However, the stirring of religious instincts has never served the Lebanese Christians well. Each time they resorted to them, they suffered a setback. What has worked was their openness on Lebanon’s other communities and on their Arab surroundings. Instead of getting caught up in Mashrou’ Leila’s concert, they should have remembered that the minority alliance that Iran wants to drag them into is the shortest way to disaster.

The Lebanese Christians must realise they cannot regain any supposed rights by relying on Hezbollah’s weapons. Only the Taif Agreement, which secured their equal power quota, can save them from the illusions they fell victim to when Suleiman Frangieh became president of the republic in 1970. Frangieh was a strong president and no one can doubt his integrity and his patriotism.

Every time Lebanon had to think about how to protect itself, someone or some party came along and stirred sectarian instincts, especially among Christians hoping to drag them into a dangerous game that brought nothing but disaster to them.

This is not the time for stirring instincts or the time for objecting to a Mashrou’ Leila concert. Rather, this is a time for serious reflection on the economic crisis facing the country, a crisis that threatens to bring down all of Lebanon and its banks.

We need to hear rational Christian voices point out the danger inherent in objecting to a cultural performance such as Mashrou’ Leila’s concert at Byblos. The base and vile language used to object to the band reveals the rot that has infected the Christian situation in Lebanon. Above all, it reveals the Christian inability to rise to the level of the challenges facing all of Lebanon with its Christians and Muslims.

At the top of the list of those challenges we find the illegal weapons that are at Iran’s service. We find also the extreme deterioration of living conditions among Muslims and Christians. The major ambition of young Christians in Lebanon is to emigrate.

Then again, what can be expected of a country where there is no longer a Christian voice that can call for a pause and wonder: Where were we and where did we get to when we started demanding our rights by relying on Hezbollah’s weapons? How was it possible for Lebanon to let go of the opportunity to elect someone such as Nassib Lahoud as president? Could Lebanon’s luck be this bad?