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In the Land of Cedars

One of the oldest trees of the famous Cedars of Lebanon, circa 1955. Three Lions/Getty Images
One of the oldest trees of the famous Cedars of Lebanon, circa 1955. Three Lions/Getty Images

Thousands of images rush through my head when I think about living in Lebanon. It is incredible how fresh the memories are—how painful the events are to recall. Indeed, it is euphemism to call them “events.” They are perhaps more accurately described in stronger terms: “wars,” “atrocities,” “massacres,” “kidnappings,” “hijackings,” “plots” and even “gross treason.”

There have been so many of these events in Lebanon. When I stopped to think about what to say about life in Lebanon when writing this piece, all these memories came into my mind at once, and the sounds of war rang in my ears. Each person probably remembers these events differently, depending on their region and religion. But what the events have in common is that they destroyed our beloved country—the country of the cedars and honey and of the old townhouses filled with the warmth and hospitality of its people, and with its beautiful wild flowers of all colors and scents, hundreds of bountiful fruit trees, and all four seasons.

And, of course, Lebanon is the country of the eighteen sects. These eighteen communities are not the problem in themselves: the issue has always been how to find a balance between this diversity and respect for the unity of Lebanon.

These events in modern Lebanon are characterized by brutality. From the early years of the civil war in the mid-1970s, each of these eighteen communities sought external support to help ouster the others. This led to more hatred; millions were displaced, killed or simply went missing. Many generations fled the country during the cyclical violence that lasted over fifteen years.

But the violence did not end with the civil war: it continued between 2005 and 2008, and then erupted again this year. The Lebanese Shi’ite and Sunni communities have both recently admitted their involvement in the civil war in neighboring Syria. Has there not been enough violence? The Lebanese people have already lived through years of fierce fighting: broadly between Christians and Muslims in the 1970s and 1980s, and then between Christians in the 1990s, and then again between Muslim Sunnis and Shi’ites in the last decade.

Have we not had enough of the shelling, assassinations, car bombs and political deadlocks? There have been so many such events; I do not know which to mention and which to pass over. The same event could be a dear memory to one person and unbearably painful to someone else. In Lebanon, memories collide, history is fluid, discord is spreading, and the turmoil continues. The suffering is caused by and for all, and no-one seems to realize that the loss of Lebanon would affect everyone.

There is nothing like diversity to build a country, and there is nothing but the law to protect that diversity and keep the country safe from conflict. Diversity should be framed by the rule of law: each individual can have his or her religion, but the country itself is for all Lebanese people.

Everything that has been going on in Lebanon in recent weeks—including the Abra clashes in south Lebanon—is not only the result of heightened sectarianism, but also of the weakened rule of law and the breakdown of democracy. These events are proof that we have not learned the lessons of the past thirty years.

Those lessons teach that patriotism should be our only slogan, and conflicts over faith should not prevail over practicing our patriotism. We need to remember that nobody else will build our country if we do not do it for ourselves—we should not rely on the existence of an alternative country to escape to. Our country is the home of our ancestors, and should remain a home for our children. Instead of begging Lebanese expats to return, we should do our best to avoid exporting our children and skilled young professionals. We must do our utmost to have them stay and work in their homeland and develop its economy. Securing regional and international political and economic interests will always carry risks, since these interests vary from one major player to another, but securing our country’s interests cannot be anything but stabilizing and a benefit to us all.

Last, but not least, we need to remember these lessons before we fall.

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Diana Rhayem
Diana Rhayem is a Lebanese generalist attorney and the founder of her own law firm, which is based in Beirut. She has expertise as a corporate in-house legal counsel and in general civil litigation, and in the laws of business, banking, insurance, telecommunications, IT, intellectual property, inheritance and real estate.

1 Comment

  1. Diana: good job. Keep it up and do not give up.
    We need many people to read this and discuss among each other on this basis.
    I look forward to seeing/reading you soon.
    Your friend in Italy.
    Roberto

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