The Road to Secularism – Part II

As someone who believes that one must judge others not only by their words, but also by their actions, and for the sake of my credibility and convictions, I woke up on Sunday, March 20, 2011 with the intention of ‘putting my money where my mouth is.’ And so I joined what turned out to be the largest demonstration to date, of tens of thousands of fellow citizens, calling for the downfall of the confessional regime in Lebanon. 

What started as a fact-finding mission of sorts ended in my full engagement in the protest, gladly marching for over two hours, reiterating a myriad of slogans blaring out of loudspeakers, and feeling that peculiar rush that hits you during any instance you feel you are part of something big, part of the change…

From Sassine Square to Sanayeh Gardens, I marched with people from all walks of life, men and women, young and old; with (and although I’m not supposed to know it) Christians, Muslims, Agnostics and Atheists; with people who demand the end of confessionalism as a principle and those who want change given what they have suffered as a result of the system; those that call for civil marriage and not civil war along with others calling for all confessional leaders (albeit one by proxy) to take a bow and get lost, thank you very much.

Is this enough to bring the downfall of the confessional regime? No.  Will the process take time? Yes.  Is there one best way to tackle the problem?  No.  Do we have to work on inculcating secularism in people’s hearts and minds before implementing change on the ground? That process must be started, but we can’t wait for it to be done to start implementing.  Will demonstrations and increased awareness expedite the process of reform?  They will but can’t be depended upon on their own.  It is thanks to such grassroots movements that these questions have come to the forefront and that is a good thing.  And as much as the road to secularism is long and winding, the fight for it has begun, the genie is definitely out of the bottle, and that, makes me even more hopeful.

But in the meantime, this is a battle, peaceful of course, the rules of engagement of which should be clearly defined and publicized. A clear strategy to achieve a secular society, non-confessional system must be specified, goals set, tactics defined, priorities explained.  The anxieties of every piece of the Lebanese confessional mosaic should be appeased somehow: it isn’t by coincidence that while the march made its way through Achrafieh and Sodeco, residents stayed put in their kitchens and living rooms, while residents cheered and threw rice from their balconies as the march reached Basta, Karakol Druze, and Zarif.

If anything, these demonstrations should be taken as a national census (the first in almost 80 years!), attesting to the system the Lebanese want to adopt for their country. If a clear strategy and tactics are clearly defined, it would take more than a couple of kilometers to fit everyone that would march to call for secularism. Of this I am certain…

I cannot but mention one of the most memorable moments of last week’s march: Syrian construction workers cheering us along as we passed by their building on our way to Sodeco.  Our enthusiasm made it to each floor in which three to four of them gathered, waving to us in encouragement with the ubiquitous punching fist in the air. Although we were calling for the downfall of our confessional regime, I wonder which regime they were calling for the fall of.  I guess their calls have started to be heard though.  I’m certainly keeping an eye on that, as I hereby salute the courageous people of Deraa…

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