Joined in jubilance

FILE - People shop for sweets ahead of Eid al-Adha in Sidon. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

On the occasion of Eid al-Adha, it is perhaps an appropriate time for Lebanese politicians to look back to celebrations of the past, when Lebanon truly was the symbol of coexistence it still claims to be.

Until the mid-1970s, any religious holiday was a cause for celebration for all Lebanese. Eid al-Adha was marked by the stringing up of lights throughout Beirut, not just in Hamra as it is today. At Christmas, Muslim families too would put up Christmas trees in their living rooms, and the approach of each holiday was marked by a change in the atmosphere, of the smells and sights of the city.

There was no “East” or “West” Beirut, but there was a city which would be united in celebrating Eid al-Adha together, joint festivities being a manifestation of the spirit of the country at the time.

In the streets, people would wish each other a happy Christmas, or a joyous Eid, regardless of their faith. But now, people are more inclined to first check from which religious background someone else comes, before spreading good tidings.

The virus of polarization seems to be spreading: Muslims and Christians are rarely united in their celebrations of religious events, let alone the various denominations of a single faith.

And regardless of the pervasive dangers of this insular trend of celebrating holidays, which is indicative of a much wider problem, no major political or religious leader has tried in earnest to bring back what once was – and politicians must be mentioned here, for this polarization has stemmed from political considerations.

While a discussion of what best constitutes a truly national government is undoubtedly important, maybe first the leaders of this country should rise to the occasion, looking back at the work and the messages of their forefathers – in many cases literally their fathers and relatives – to see how coexistence once was a reality. Politicians of every ilk must make a concerted effort to prove that this is not a mission impossible, and that this was once in fact the norm.

The spirit of yesteryear must be emulated if this country is to move past this cycle of fiery political rhetoric and sectarian clashes. The overwhelming majority of such problems would vanish, or at least be greatly reduced, were the Lebanese to once again interact on the best days, on the holidays, and on the worst days, the saddest days. That is what makes a nation.

The differences between people should be respected and applauded, for the diversity which they afford this country is what makes it special. They must not be manipulated by those with political agendas, to use against the population, to sow strife and create divisions where there once were none. Today’s leaders must look to their forefathers for inspiration. When Beirut was the Paris of the Middle East, the religious holidays of the country were celebrated by one and all.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 26, 2012, on page 7.




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