By Farah K. Yachoui
April 23, 2016
What do politicians mean when they call for national unity? It is unclear whether the Lebanese politicians are asking the people to reunite or are lecturing themselves on creating national unity, but let us assume they are reaching out to the people and asking them to come together to reunite. It seems that our leaders do not fully understand the depth of this phenomenon and rather expect an automatic response to this demand, like shivering when a chill goes down your spine! To unite the people of a nation, they must first and foremost identify with the same national identity.
Former President of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic said, “The loss of national identity is the greatest defeat a nation can know, and it is inevitable under the contemporary form of colonization.” What is national identity? People often mistake their cultural identity for their natural identity. Sharing the language, traditional dishes, folkloric dance, national flag and anthem are all great treasures but are not enough to create a strong national identity.
Territorial, religious and cultural identities are sadly much stronger today than our national one because we simply do not affiliate with the same history. A national identity is a little more than speaking the same language and sharing the same culture. It is identifying with the same descent and history and more importantly, believing in it!
Former prime minister of the United Kingdom, Margaret Thatcher said, “Europe was created by history. America was created by philosophy”. A unified history is not our only hope for redemption, but it is a step closer to legitimizing our claim of being a true Lebanese nation! Studying it from a secular perspective creates a sense of pride in our Lebanese roots rather than in our religious ones.
James Madison, the fourth U.S. president, said, “the purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries.” The Lebanese people are divided into three main groups – Christians, Muslims and Druze – that are in turn subdivided into two or more groups some of which are Maronite Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Protestant, Shia Islam, Sunni Islam, Alawit and Ismaili. If each of these groups identifies with a different history based on the adoption or conversion of their ancestors from one religion to the other and where they migrated from then a national unity is less likely to be formed.
When politicians call for national unity, they must be aware that what they are actually calling for is rewriting our history under one Lebanese identity. We are not born Lebanese. It is not inherent. It is learned.