Friday, March 22, 2019
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Beyond Politics, The Consequences of Taif

Beyond the obvious political facade of the Taif accord and its subsequent developments, which have been a subject of much debate, lies a more subtle, but much more dangerous dimension that has gone virtually unmentioned.

The Cultural and human dimension.

The real tragedy of Taif is not the political make-up of the Government, but the potential loss of nationhood to so many who have been officially locked out of the country Taif aims to create.

The rest of the world is diligently digging into the ancient history of the region, specifically that of the "Others of Antiquity" (the Phoenicians of Lebanon,) to determine their own cultural roots and the origins of their civilization. This knowledge revered the world over is being submerged and denied to the people of whose ancestors it speaks.

Throughout history Lebanon has been the home of a multitude of peoples who have collectively contributed to the present Lebanese characteristics and culture. No one group, however old or new, can claim a monopoly over Lebanese heritage. None has totally replaced the others.

Today's Lebanese Culture is truly the product of thousands of years of cultural interaction, assimilation and adaptation of all the people who came to settle in Lebanon.

Thus, to fully understand Lebanon in its present state, its complete history with all its aspects must be presented. By concealing some elements of its historical development, Lebanon begins to look like - as many wish to claim - an aberration.

Taif and its by-products are doing just that, eliminating crucial elements from the official Lebanese national heritage.

To begin with, Taif added an introductory phrase to the Lebanese constitution that Lebanon is "Arabic by orientation and identity.." On the surface this may seem as a harmless political statement. However, upon closer analysis this simple phrase carries with it ominous implications to a great many Lebanese.

Sure there is an Arab facet to the Lebanese identity. And sure there are many Lebanese who are purely Arabic. But, this is not the whole of Lebanon. And if we proclaim Lebanon as Arabic, what becomes of those who are not Arabs.

Descendants of Greeks, Armenians, Assyrians, Syriacs, Mardinis, Turks, Persians, Kurds and many others alone make up more than a quarter of the population. Not to mention the Phoenicians whose descendants must make up a substantial portion of the population, since common sense tells us they could not have vanished into thin air, and many of their characteristics and traditions remain omnipresent in today's Lebanon. Will these be denied Lebanese nationhood on account of there not being Arabs, or will they be forced to renounce their heritage to be accepted as Lebanese.

To these people and others, that simple phrase creates an acute identity crisis, since they are Lebanese but not Arabs. It also instills fears and doubts regarding their future in a country that discounts them as outsiders to Lebanese national fabric.

Yet, some argue that this was simply intended appease those who could not relate to Lebanon without a specific Arab designation, even though the Arabic character was considered a main element of the Lebanese identity. We would have believed this, had it not been for the subsequent developments, laws and rules implemented by the Taif Government.

The most dangerous of those is the official separation of the "new" Lebanon from its history by phasing out any references to non-Arabic aspects and developments.

The official history taught in schools is re-written to start with the Arabic/Islamic conquest, which will be depicted as a liberation. The four centuries of Autonomy under Ottoman rule which are the basis upon which modern Lebanon was formed will presented as a foreign interference with no local foundations, which produced the existing aberration that must be corrected. Lebanese heritage will focus on Arabic characteristics, dismissing others as those of outsiders whose remnant "minorities" are proof of the Arab tolerance and generosity.

The Government has already began downsizing the official count of the non-Arabic "minorities" - as is customary in most other Arab countries, where the official count of non-Arabs is but a fraction of the actual number. A point in case, is the discounting of Lebanese citizens presently residing abroad from the official census. Another is that even though the official resident voters list produced by the Taif Government showed more Christians than Muslims, the same Government insists that less than a third are Christians.

Media sources eluding to Lebanon's cultural diversity are permanently shut down. Publicly speaking on the subject could result in arrest and imprisonment. Even cultural activities not conforming to official policy are banned. Thus, further distancing the people from their heritage.

Simply put, an environment is emerging in which if you are not an Arab you do not belong in Lebanon. You will either have to accept a second class status, leave or denounce your heritage, identity and descendance in exchange for acceptance.

Furthermore the integration of Lebanon into a larger Arab entity serves to dilute the non-Arab element, turning it into a true minority incapable of reasserting its rightful place in the national fabric.

This is to name a few of the developments that will downgrade a large segment, if not the majority, of the Lebanese people from equal partners in the making of Lebanon's national fabric and identity to mere outsiders owing their existence in Lebanon to the generosity of their Arab hosts.

These and many other developments, too numerous to list, are behind the fears of many Lebanese. They fear losing their god given right to simply be who they are. They fear becoming strangers in their own homeland. They fear being denied the right to teach their children about their own history and ancestors.

When the whole world has begun to recognize the ancient Middle East as the cradle of civilization and the root of all material and spiritual developments, we find some people of the region rejecting this history, and preventing others from taking pride in being the descendants of such a glorious civilization.

It will be a sad day when others get to know more about our history than we do.

Seven thousand years of history cannot be erased, no matter how powerful are those who try. The attempt to do so will only inflict hardship and misery on all concerned.

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