A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

“the unity of Lebanon”: celebrating St. Maroun’s Day in Basta

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 12, 2008

Last Friday I noticed an intriguing billboard on the highway up to Jounieh.

The unity of Lebanon, it said, is from the unity of the Christians.

I read it twice and tried not to feel nauseous. Of course, the nausea might have come from the car ride (I do get a bit carsick in Lebanon’s stop and go traffic), but … what Christian unity?

And, my secular self asks, why should Christians be united, anyway? Aren’t we all children of the same God? And aren’t we all human, i.e., highly likely to disagree with one another from time to time, regardless of blood, ethnic, religious, national or any other ties?

With all these “Ands”, it took me a while to climb down off my Soapbox of Self-Righteousness – approximately 30 hours, in fact.

Those are fireworks, H said to me on Saturday evening, a slight question in his voice.

Yes of course, I said, silently wishing that my neighborhood didn’t get quite so “festive” on weekend nights.

Those are not fireworks, H said a few minutes later. Is this normal?

Yes and no. I do hear guns going off in my neighborhood from time to time (although much less often now than last summer). And there were fireworks – we could see the light reflecting off nearby buildings.

But the massive volleys of gunfire, the echoes of rifle fire and the unmistakable staccatos of machine guns were not so normal. We heard four massive shooting sessions in two hours; by the end the air itself smelled militarized. And then we heard Lebanese Army personnel carriers on the move.

You know, we have this in my neighborhood too, H said to me after the first volley. And it is St. Maroun’s Day – I bet its the Christians celebrating.

I looked at him. I raised my eyebrows.

My neighborhood does not celebrate Maronite holidays. My neighborhood celebrates the Hajj. Even if each Christian in my neighborhood owned ten weapons and could fire them all at once, it would not make the kind of noise we were hearing.

According to news reports later that night and on Sunday, the shooting came from Mustaqbal party supporters, “cheering” with their weapons as Saad Hariri gave an interview on his family’s television channel, Future (Mustaqbal) TV. The International Herald Tribune described it as “celebratory gunfire“.

The gunfire we heard did not sound celebratory. It sounded loud, sustained, and very powerful. It sounded like a message, although that might be a bit strong.

Yesterday I think I heard another message. In the past five days, two friends have told me that they have been approached by journalists from major US news organizations, looking to rent office space in their buildings.

Office space sounds suspiciously like a mini-bureau. And today’s American news outlets are not known for their interest in investing money in international news – unless the news is likely to be big.

Good news is no news when it comes to news media, so big news is likely to be bad news for Lebanon. Ugh.

I hope these office leases turn out to be terrible investments for the US media – we need some good news here.

One Response to ““the unity of Lebanon”: celebrating St. Maroun’s Day in Basta”

  1. M. said

    Yes, quite sad, isn’t it. I’ve always found the quest for political / social / etc. unity in one sect very odd, as if dreams, aspirations, hopes, hatreds, etc. can be defined by my religion.

    And this “celebratory gunfire” frustrates me. Another called them a “bullets-of-joy show,” but I guess they aren’t so joyful or celebratory for the people they hit.

    Anyways, I also hope it’s a bad investment, but if I was in their position, I would have probably done the same …

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