I like to compare living in Lebanon to standing on quicksand. The longer you stay, the faster you sink in the bundle of developments, traditions, expressions and customs, slowly losing the precious perspective needed to be able to see things for what they truly are.
Back when I was still a Lebanese expatriate, looking at things from afar with a critical eye was easy, though that precious perspective slowly dissolved the longer my summer vacation lasted in the motherland. After resettling back for good, or so I say, I’ve held tight to every foreign gateaway and random wakeup call to remind me that what is considered normal here, isn’t necessarily normal in the normally recognized normative sense of the term…
My latest wakeup call came from a Lebanese-Mexican guest blogger on eyeontheeast.org . In his insightful Cry from Mexico he shed light on something simple yet very meaningful, the titles given to government officials and political leaders in Lebanon:
In Mexico, we call our president “Señor Presidente” or Mr. President and our ministers “Señor Ministro” or Mr. Minister so long as they are in power, after which all titles disappear. We are thus surprised to hear bizarre terms used to call people in power [in Lebanon]: fakhame [your luxury], dawle [your state], ma’aale [your highness], beyk [a title of Turkish origin traditionally given to leaders of tribal groups] and others.
After being here for a while, or never having known the difference, you don’t think twice about this. Indeed, theses terms are funny, but fundamentally sad. They are surprising, but ridiculous. Amazing they are used at all and truly shameful. Those being called fakhame or beyk would never let go once they’ve acquired the title. Those calling them so have either grown used to these titles or scare at the thought of addressing them otherwise, even though they curse those who hold these titles day in and day out.
Of course what is worse is that this is only the tip of the iceberg. If you only keep your eyes, ears and minds open enough, you discover that our political and social lexicon is filled with terms and expressions that couldn’t better describe the absurdity of our reality and the depth of our hopelessness in trying to resolve our problems. A list that is by no means exhaustive and in no particular order:
* the project of government مشروع الدولة
Saying that the government is still a ‘work in progress’ just goes to show what many people know for a fact anyway, our government is sometimes more of a dream than a reality. Continual use of this term doesn’t make the task of completing this exotic ‘project’ any more of a reality.
* smoothing the edges تدوير الزوايا
This is one strategy to deal with a mild crisis when random parties hastily gather to smooth the edges, in other words, pretend nothing happened and just get on with life. Think about it, if your table’s legs are about to collapse, will smoothing the edges of its surface make the table sturdier and able to last longer?
* maintain civil peace الحفاظ على السلم الأهلي
Maintaining civil peace is good in times of trouble. But is anything being done in times of peace to build the foundations for this civil peace to be sustained on its own (infrastructure, jobs, a decent life for all) and not artificially?
* maintain national unity الحفاظ على الوحدة الوطنية
Maintaining national unity is also good, but isn’t something that should be maintained, it should come as default; you either have what it takes amongst people to be united and not stand in the way of their unity (through a common language, history or dare I say “identity”) or you don’t. Just like civil peace, you cannot maintain it artificially.
* putting Lebanon on the map وضع لبنان على الخريطة
Lebanese leaders, usually presidents and prime ministers, believe they have the power to re-introduce Lebanon onto the world map, by which they mean bring it back to the world scene from the obscurity of war, or highlighting it as a destination worth tourists’ time and money. I believe that is better done through instilling long-term stability and ensuring safe roads and uninterrupted electricity supply, rather than preaching to “put Lebanon on the world map.”
* policy of dissociation النأي بالنفس
A lot has been said about this mysterious term, only recently introduced into our already rich political lexicon, courtesy of the sad developments in Syria. Suffice it to say that it only highlights how rooted our policies and politicians still are to the rotting Syrian regime and how naïve it is to believe that dissociation is a way to save their miserable selves and what they presumably believe in.
* dialogue table طاولة حوار
We Lebanese are good at setting any table, especially one that involves food, so why shouldn’t we do the same with dialogue tables? Well we do. Dialogue “matches” come very handy in times of extreme crisis, but dialogue should have happened to avoid such crisis in the first place. In short, a useless show of folklore showing the degree of collusion amongst politicians from all sides, and thus the stupidity of the people who fight each other in politicians’ name.
* cleansing of hearts غسل القلوب
See “smoothing the edges.” Another strategy to deal with a mild crisis when random parties hastily gather to cleanse opposing factions’ hearts, or rather, pretend nothing happened and just get on with life. How can you cleanse the hearts of those who have loved and hated each other for years or even tried to kill each other time and again? Why waste our time doing that, I say let them all go hand in hand to hell and forget about their hearts.
* security by consent الأمن بالتراضي
So if warring factions don’t agree on keeping the peace, there’s no peace. If they want to fight until the country is on the verge of a civil war, then so be it. To say that sometimes it is safer to agree on keeping the peace than enforcing peace is sad indeed, but sadly that is the reality in which we live in.
* the “events” (in reference to 1975-1990 war) الأحداث
An all-time classic term that has survived throughout the years. This ignores that what happened during those dark years was a war, a civil war, and a war by proxy all in one. By doing so, we have kept ourselves in denial of many of our society’s fundamental problems and thus very far from any deep-rooted solution.
Indeed, each expression could be treated in a post by itself, even a book, used to explain the source of our failures and the bigger failure in trying to deal with them. These expression are more than simple words, but mirror the false sense of hope we give ourselves, believing anything is being done to change our society for the better. Each time these, and many other similar expressions, are uttered, it is as if we breathe greater life into them, a life they do not deserve, so complicit they are in contributing to the misery, despair, immigration, corruption and failure this country has witnessed.
If we start by learning not to take such absurdities for granted, breaking the vicious cycle of the vocabulary of failure officials and politicians try to sell us on a daily basis, that is a start in itself. Holding officials and politicians accountable for their words would be the best second step…