Saturday, 27 March 2010
In May of last year, I commented on the Lebanese parliament's dedicated the 25th of March every year as a Muslim-Christian feast celebrating the Annunciation and dignify the Virgin Mary. In my post, I forwarded a commentary by Lebanese visual artist Nada Sehnaoui published in An-Nahar on 8 May 2009.
Back then, the question was a feminist one. The question back then was whether or not the Virgin Mary, whose Annunciation appeared to unite Lebanon's Muslim and Christian peoples, be proud and happy to be a guest or citizen in modern Lebanon given the prominence of patriarchal mentalities and male-dominated confessional courts over the country's family and personal law.
This year, I'm in Lebanon to witness the first cross-faith feast of the Annunciation in person. Having been here, and in light of my reflections from my six-month stay in Lebanon between 2009 and 2010, the Marian Feast gave rise of a whole new question in my head about the psychology of the Lebanese people - if I may make such an essential generalisation.
Officially and across state institutions of all sorts, Thursday was a holiday for all of Lebanon. However, for most, Thursday was a normal working day in the middle of a normal working week. If the Marian Feast is an occasion of moderate and modest celebration for both Muslims and Christians, and if it's neither a cause or necessity for taking time off work or bringing economic activity to a halt even amongst the country's observant Christian communities - then why did the Lebanese Parliament see it necessary or beneficial to dedicate March 25th as a "unified, inter-faith celebration of the Annunciation"?
An easy and simple answer is that the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary is one of the few religious events upon whose narrative Muslims and Christians agree almost entirely.
But why did the feast receive a stamp of officialdom and parliamentary recognition? Why did some Muslim (especially Sunni) clerics deliver Friday sermons on disowning the celebration (in line with their stance towards some Muslims' celebration of the birth of Christ)?
To me, it appears that the Lebanese parliament followed what a "radical colleague" (as Angry Arab refers to him) called "the Lebanese mentality of living to show the world they can live" as opposed to "living to enjoy life". Ahmed's comments came as part of a conversation on the way down to Beirut from Broumana where many Lebanese continued to party and club overlooking the Israeli carpet bombing of Beirut's Southern Suburbs.
The conversation was triggered by Wassim's drunken recollection of memories from the heated summer of 2006. Wassim is a young patriotic Lebanese Maronite from Beirut's north-eastern suburb of Dekwaneh and is of South Lebanese origins. Like many voices which surfaced during the war and after it, Wassim - a self-professed, devout and zealous Aounist - "the ability of Lebanese people to celebrate, live, party and drink under the bombs is the essence of Lebanon's uniqueness."
Wassim shared some of his memories from 2006 with us: "we used to sit up here [on the Broumana corniche] overlooking Dahiyeh [...] with the fall of each bomb and rocket upon Dahiyeh, we lamented the destruction and loss of life, but we knew we'd brush it all off and rebuild Lebanon as we've always done."
Other friends of mine who are aligned to political parties with less sympathy towards the country's Shi'ites, they shared the same corniche. Instead of this belief in the resurrection or renaissance of Lebanon after the 2006 war, they celebrated the destruction and perceived weakening of their "Shi'ite counterparts."
The latter bunch aside though, Wassim and like-minded voices see "Lebanese-ness" unique in its peoples ability to "live it up no matter what". For them, "we know how to live and enjoy life, even under the bombs." This, to them, is the secret behind Lebanon's repeated resurrection from the various devastating civil and international wars that have dominated the 70 year old country's history.
For many outside observers like Ahmed, as well as critical Lebanese eyes and minds, this mentality is a mythical gesture. "The problem with Lebanese people is that they live to show the world, not to enjoy life. They live to show-off this gesture or the other, but they bury their heads in the sand and run away from their troubles."
The dedication of March 25 as a cross-faith, cross-sect and national celebration of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary by the Lebanese Parliament strikes me as a similar gesture - a gesture to show the world that Lebanon is celebrating the Virgin Mary in unity with no distinction or difference between the various denominational and confessional communities who live in a peace, harmonious lovey-duffy country on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean as if these communities aren't severely divided into two, severely divided camps whose political and sectarian ideologies seem irreconcilable.
This Lebanese mentality seems to prove the wisdom of the old, modest, saj-making farmer lady in a small Christian village in the Bekaa Valley who once told me "Lebanon is like a hollow Easter egg - colourful from the outside, but so soft and vulnerable."