Another Lebanese Farce, Brought to Us by the Snowman
By: Pierre Abisaab
Published Monday, January 28, 2013
It was a holiday. The weather was fine. The air was wonderful in snow-covered Faraya, and the ski resort was packed with sons and daughters of the bourgeoisie enjoying their winter break.
That was when Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir thought it would be nice to arrange an excursion for his righteous flock. The trip was preceded by a media campaign, as one cannot fully enjoy Lebanon’s beautiful sights without being watched by everyone from Wadi-Khaled to Ras al-Naqoura, from to Doha to Tel Aviv. The sheikh’s followers duly boarded their buses and made for the wilds of Keserwan.
Then all hell broke loose. The mayor of Kfar Zebian, a town along the convoy’s route, rallied the locals against the outsider who was bringing his evil, fundamentalist ways to the village, and some of them resolved to bodily bar his way.
It took a military deployment to enable the band of tourists to reach their destination.
Panic-stricken by the sight of worshippers on their snow, they abandoned their skis and fled for their chalets, bolting the doors behind them.
Without elaborating too much, it all ended up being a storm in a teacup. The sheikh turned out to be the same gentle Salafi we’d seen before: whether slow-dancing with middle-of-the-road interior minister Marwan Charbel in Freedom-2005 Square; fulminating from his pulpit while brandishing a plastic machine-gun (an anti-sectarian one, of course); exuding confidence on al-Jadid TV like any other statesman or guru; or having white doves released on his behalf.
So, with his pure heart and unsullied hands, why shouldn’t he come to commune with the pristine snows of Lebanon? What’s the crime in that? Doesn’t the imam of the Bilal Bin Rabah mosque have the right to tour his homeland or organize a day-trip? Or do you mean to say that Keserwan’s gleaming snow is too good for him and his lot? Do you think they should spend their day off in, say, Haifa? Isn’t this kind of domestic tourism better than the picnic they once held at the entrance to Saida?
Also, this initiative is evidence in itself that the man is not a religious bigot, and that he likes Christians – as he told them when he said in one of his famous sermons that “we will not enter your homes.” So here he is, entering your areas, in search of fresh air.
Where are you traditions of hospitality, people? Have you forgotten that you are supposed to host a stranger for three days before asking them why they have come here? But some concerned local citizens, God forgive them, thought the excursion was cover for an exploratory stake-out to prepare for the day of reckoning – when the Salafis sneak up on them and Islam devours Keserwan.
But most infuriating of all is that nobody gave any credit to the sheikh for making a real effort to venture over to the other side. His move was a reach-out across the country’s divides, worth being adopted as a strategy at the National Dialogue. It failed to cross the mind of any observer, commentator, TV script-writer, or inhabitant of planet Facebook that this initiative could be a formative step in building sustainable civil peace in Lebanon and restoring communal harmony and love to this benighted country.
Imagine: Samir Geagea and his crew could picnic in Hermel; Sheikh Saad Hariri could recite a poem by Mahmoud Darwish at Fatimah Gate, with Fayez Karam prompting him whenever he slips up; a Progressive Socialist nudist beach in Batroun headed by Walid Jumblatt; a wild rave hosted by the Free Patriotic Movement in Abra, with snacks provided by the Miqdad family; an Amal carnival in Bikfaya; a Hezbollah heritage village in Maarab, designed by engineer and heritage aficionado Gaby Layoun; Fouad Siniora as guest of honor at a Lebanese Communist Party gala held in Beirut’s southern suburbs. One could go on and on.
Sheikh Assir may not know how to ski, but he is known for his love of nature, so the whole affair shouldn’t have been surprising. Does that warrant a street-battle just because some people dislike long beards or disapprove of black cloaks?
Any Lebanese citizen is entitled to travel freely throughout Lebanese territory. It’s the only position that can be taken by a sophisticated people with an ancient and deeply democratic culture that eschews bigotry and destructive prejudices. We could never object to anyone moving about or expressing themselves freely just because we don’t approve of them or their looks, so long as they act within the law.
And Sheikh Assir, like Shadi al-Mawlawi and others, acts within the law. As we noted, he has rendered great services to democracy, the rule of law, national unity, and civil peace.
In this respect, he resembles Okab Sakr. The pair have much in common, even if the latter is clean-shaven and prefers to vacation in Anatolia. They are both signs of the times and heralds of the coming renaissance. Both are acoustic phenomena, who cannot live without publicity. And both exhibit the best traits of the Lebanese people on every occasion.
Assir came to test you, and show you all up for what you are. Every TV channel, group, Facebook pundit, citizen, and Twitter user has been exposed as being what they never really tried to conceal in the first place. A paranoid, bigoted, and prejudiced people.
The snowman will not remain with you long. Once he has performed his function, he will melt under the rays of the sun. But the Lebanese people are here to stay. That’s the real calamity.
Pierre Abisaab is Vice-Editor of Al-Akhbar.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.