Lebanese Leaders Continue to Rally for a Secular Lebanon

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Last week, on January 16, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon investigating the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri held its first trial. The truth is nigh. The billboard in Beirut, which features a digital ticker counting the days till the trial, has been renovated. It now displays a banner announcing that the era of justice has come.

A truth seems close, even though the concept of truth in Lebanon remains quite inaccessible. I am so consumed by the idea of the need to remain neutral, in opinion and in action, that I feel the need for a disclaimer to lubricate the questions that will follow. In essence, this is not about taking sides; if anything, all visible sides must be taken very far away.

After at least 40 years of being institutionally asked to turn a blind eye toward truth for the sake of national reconstruction, comes a petition to finally take in a truth for the sake of national justice. I, like many, have still not absorbed the 2005 assassination of Hariri, which brought to Lebanon the routine of bombings. We float in a sea of post-traumatic numbness making everything OK. Assassination after assassination, everything in three days time becomes very OK. Last Thursday, a car exploded in Hermel, a Lebanese town not in Beirut, killing five people. It was OK to an extent that not even Twitter cared, but the truth remains near. Is it too blasphemous to wonder who deserves that truth?

Our civil war was diverted through a document of national accord that allocated parliamentary seats and quotas to participants of said war. That truth still seems unworthy of discussion for the sake of the nation, as “we need to move on.” I look around. I invite you to do the same. Nothing, right? It’s not just me looking around misinterpreting a forgiving nation that has resolved its issues with its past. There’s a joke I like to tell, a personal anecdote, actually: In 2008, I interned at an architecture office in Achrafieh, part of the formerly dubbed ‘East Beirut.’ A colleague of mine, in her 40s, told me on my first day of work that she would call me Joe, short for Joseph, because it was easier for her, short for a Christian name. We got along just fine, her and me and a couple other ID-certified Joes in the office.

Nothing, right? A lot of Lebanese families are still looking for relatives abducted and missing during our infamous war. As I wonder how they would feel about this new obsession with the truth, I reconsider the facts. A major assassination happened in 2005. I experienced it first hand, having heard it on my way to class. It was my first real encounter with such aggression, and such was the case for a lot of my classmates. We stood paralyzed in class and heard the news on the radio. A lot of us cried. I was too shocked to cry.

Time passed. I wanted to know the truth. I learned that protests and ‘the street’ are powerful tools. I later learned that I was fooled. Things seem to just happen, and I have yet to find out what tools are indeed powerful.

We’re inching closer to an alleged truth. Some are in favor of how this truth is being procured, and some aren’t. I, for one, am interested in another truth, one that is nonnegotiable and does not require trials and/or errors: We, the Lebanese people, have no civil rights. Even if it sounds luxurious to fight for rights while dodging exploding cars, and in some cases, falling rockets from neighboring countries, we want them. Before I am capable of discussing how I think any other truth should be attained, I want them. It could be argued that unless we clear the bigger picture, civil rights cannot be achieved.

This argument was born to be dismissed, because ladies and gents of parliament, and ladies and gents renegotiating entry points back into the parliament, for decades, what truth were we waiting for while stalling the approval of some of the most basic civil rights? Protection against domestic violence, access to proper healthcare, education and infrastructure, civil marriage, decriminalizing non-hetero normativity, transparent accessibility to employment and retirement pensions. It sounds like a lot of work only because it is.

Add to that: Civil rights are the bigger picture. Without investing in creating a sustainable citizenry, a bigger picture is not applicable. We have a lot of work to do. I want to live in a country where a headline such as “Lebanese Leaders Continue to Rally for a Secular Lebanon” is not funny or cynical. The trial has begun, and the truth is nigh, but before we are treated as human, how are we expected to offer our trust? And how are we expected to deal with any form of truth?


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