There is a dispute between the Lebanese as old as the country itself. It can be summed up in two opposing approaches to understanding things and making sense of them.
The first approach prioritizes the homeland over the idea, while the second puts the idea before the homeland.
The first approach was developed by Maronite intellectuals and was later adopted by politicians and the masses of this same sect. This is because the Maronites were the first sect to realize the importance of the existence of a nation in itself and the importance of it having a state. For them, the Ottoman era had become a thing of the past that would not return in a different form or under a different label.
The homeland, in simple terms, is a series of concrete factors, such as its inhabitants, its territory and its interests. It is telling that one of the presidents mentioned the size of the country (10,452 square kilometers), which are only numbers, as the slogan of a vast political program.
Thus, the major preoccupation of the proponents of the primacy of the fatherland has always been to know how to manage it: relations are built around the improvement of the financial, health and educational conditions of the inhabitants; as for peace and stability, these are two basic conditions to achieve it. Of course, over the decades this course has deviated many times, and it has been marred by corruption, injustice and disparities, but what was achieved was more than a little substantial. This is undoubtedly what made pre-war nostalgia a kind of national word sport played by the older generations, who aspire to the “politicians of that time” and whose photo albums are full of images showing the “Lebanon of yesteryear”. . “This is our golden age.
Evidence suggests that the Shiite sect attempted, through Moussa al Sadr, between the early 1960s and early 1970s, to join this project and this vision. The same thing happened for the Sunni sect, but on a larger scale, with Rafic Hariri in the 90s. From then on, the theory favoring “the homeland over the idea” was no longer limited to the Maronites, although each sect continued to paint this theory in the particular colors of its community. Later, with the collapse of ideologies and the exposure of brotherly “tutelage”, in addition to revelations about the nature of resistance, more and more people became convinced of this theory.
However, this does not mean that there was no relationship between the ideas and the project to “put the homeland before the idea”. We have seen an abundance of morbid and folkloric ideas about the “land of the message”, “the land of letters” and “the center where civilizations meet”. Numerous accounts of Lebanon as an idea swept through this milieu, while limited time and an abundance of challenges prevented the development of more serious ideas on democracy, justice and tolerance, as well as on bigotry and racism.
In any case, the numbers were stronger than the ideas. The first is solid achievement, and the second is comfort and entertainment. Fortunately, the prevailing ideas seemed too miserable and frivolous to turn into a form of Lebanese nationalism or for us to become Lebanese nationalists.
As for the approach that prioritizes the idea over the homeland, its supporters endorsed it because of their dissatisfaction with the existing country. They leaned for a vision of some sort of empire, and with each failure to turn that vision into reality, the idea grew closer to that of an alternate homeland. They approved Syrian unity, then Arab unity, then the liberation of Palestine, then the Islamic struggle, and resistance has always been one of those ideas. The country here is a trivial detail. With or without it, the cause continues. Things would be better without her because her territory would then become an arena of war, and people would become fighters and corpses. Nothing expresses this thought better than the strange and negative definition of the term “patriotic”: the one who fights colonialism and Zionism!
Indeed, prioritizing ideas strikes at least three foundations of a nation, any nation. It is a blow to security and stability because we are constantly resisting, and it is a blow to pluralism because this resistance is sacred and does not accept any partner, which would necessarily be profane, and it strikes the interests of the inhabitants. because she befriends those who supply weapons. rather than those who provide goods or capital.
The theory which privileges the ideas thus inevitably comes up against the life, the prosperity and the freedom of the inhabitants. In the end, it only promises them death, even though that death is painted with a lot of “glory, pride and dignity”. Nostalgia, in this case, takes them back to a time when the notion of country came before idea and achievements before poems. It is worth considering that it is impossible to see locals leading a stable life and enjoying some degree of prosperity, longing for the times when they resisted and fought. They can honor these days as a time when they did what needed to be done, but the urge to endure them again is limited to those who struggle to function in ordinary times.
This is not the case for Lebanon alone, but it applies to all the places where the ideas came first, leaving the inhabitants and their lives last, struck by the hardships of life, freedom and wealth.
Therefore, if the homeland is specific, then the idea is flexible, so that those responsible for it can strive to make it something purely functional. In today’s Lebanon, we can see how an idea described as carrying tons of blood, martyrdom and holiness turns into a tool for expanding Iranian influence. Syria presents another eloquent example: the idea of “unity, freedom and socialism” has evolved into a regional role that lives on the oppression and crushing of the country’s population. Those looking for economic, health and education news will not find anything. Current events in Syria concern firmness, obtaining weapons, destroying projects, building strategic alliances and confronting attacks which are no less strategic …
East Germany was perhaps the most important example in our time of the implementation of an idea protected by a wall. However, less than half a century seemed enough to turn that wall into a heap of bricks and memories.
The Lebanese, if the idea does not wipe out the country, could one day become collectors of bricks and souvenirs.