The Lebanese are fed up. Their banking system sucks. So does their government. It’s time for a revolution.
Lina Mounzer wrote in the New York Times about the straw that broke the camel’s back. She states that at Lebanese banks, only big depositors can withdraw as much money as they like. It is so because capital in Lebanon is not used to improve economic productivity but to provide a stable dollar peg. Furthermore, Lebanon’s confessional political system is still in use because the government believes it’s the only way to preserve peace and order.
Lebanese Christians and Muslims are fighting to fix their government. What does that mean for the Lebanese abroad and their descendants? What does that mean for the Lebanese abroad who still care about their country? Revenge. Sweet, sweet revenge.
I am a descendant of the Syro-Lebanese of Egypt. The Lebanese part comes from my mother’s side of the family. I grew up in Laval and spent a lot of time in the Cartierville and Saint-Laurent boroughs in Montreal, areas in which there are a lot of Lebanese immigrants. I have also worked with Brazilians of Syro-Lebanese descent. While I was studying Middle Eastern politics and history in university and learning about the Lebanese Diaspora in Quebec, there was one recurring theme: a humiliation that just won’t go away.
Wave of Immigration of the Late 19th and Early 20th Century
In the late 19th century and early 20th century, Syrians and Lebanese, mainly Christians and Jews, fled the Ottoman occupied Levant for Khedivate Egypt, New York or Brazil. Regardless of if I searched for answers in books or by asking my relatives, the answer was the same: Syrians and Lebanese were leaving for economic opportunities. I also suppose the Ottoman Empire was oppressive towards Christians and Jews. Joseph A. D. Sutton mentions in his Aleppo Chronicles that some Syro-Lebanese were leaving to avoid conscription in the Ottoman army.
The Syro-Lebanese of Egypt prospered for a while. The Taqla brothers founded “Al-Ahram”, a famous Egyptian newspaper and Farid Al-Atrash became a movie star and dazzled the Arabic-speaking world by shredding on his oud. Then came Nasser and the Syro-Lebanese of Egypt fled for Western Europe and the Americas.
Lebanese Civil War: Another Wave of Immigration
In 1975, the Lebanese Civil War began. It began for various reasons depending on who you ask. Extreme right Christian groups such as the Phalangists blame it all on the Palestinians and the spillover of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict into Lebanon. Others will say the confessional system (i.e. only people of a certain religion can hold certain positions within the government) implemented by the French is no doubt one of the root causes. The negative influence of European colonialism cannot be denied. Europeans favoured Jews and Christians over Muslims in an attempt to divide society and weaken the Ottoman Empire. The Lebanese were either unable or unwilling to see through France’s plan and Christians, Jews and Muslims fought against each other to control the country.
The Lebanese Civil War, based on what books, people who fought in the civil war as teenagers and professors have told me, was a big idiotic mess full of misunderstandings and skirmishes. Among these sources, no one could give a definite explanation to the war either because they couldn’t understand it, because of political correctness or because they cared more about defending their indoctrination.
That would explain why some many Lebanese Christians and Armenians who fought in the civil war as teens told me with a blank stare and a robotic voice, “We … were … defending our … country … religion and … interests … by … joining the… Phalangists…”.
Regardless of whatever people think is the root cause of the Lebanese Civil War, it caused another big wave of Lebanese immigration to the Americas.
Lebanese Immigration to Quebec After the Civil War
The Lebanese who came to Quebec mainly settled in boroughs in the North of Montreal such as Cartierville and Saint-Laurent. Some then moved north to neighbourhoods such as Chomedey, in Laval. Growing up in these neighbourhoods, I was surrounded by Lebanese people. A lot of the Lebanese boys and girls at my school were either popular, bullies or both. I was taught by Lebanese adults and the Lebanese school bullies that Lebanese were arrogant, full of themselves, shallow, boastful and despite always showing off their knowledge of Arabic, only knew how to swear and make fun of others in Arabic. Luckily, by working with Lebanese people who have recently immigrated to Canada in adulthood; having Lebanese professors in university; being a Sunday School teacher in a Coptic Catholic church and teaching English in a Japanese high school, I realized that the bullies’ bad behaviour was not a trait of Lebanese people but of immature teenagers.
These experiences with teenagers did not explain the Lebanese adults’ bad behaviour. Mounzer article gives some insight into why so many Lebanese people I grew up with boasted about being rich while being, in reality, poor. She states, “For years I felt a sense of shame when I remembered that conversation with the bank manager — being told that a person was worth exactly what was in their bank account, that my financial struggles were a question of individual failure rather than systemic forces.” So many Lebanese adults around me boasted about how smart, wise and wily they were for taking advantage of the Canadian system. An example of this would be this CBC/Radio-Canada (French only) report about Lebanese-Canadians committing citizenship fraud to live in Lebanon while taking advantage of Canada’s services.
Whenever I, in my youth, would express my sadness and anger to Lebanese adults about the Lebanese civil war, they would smirk at me, adopt a patronizing tone and boast, “I’ve been through so much. You, who was born here in Canada, don’t know what suffering is. You can never comprehend it. You have everything here in Canada. Now, run along.”
Is boasting about pain and humiliation really something to boast about?
What this Lebanese Revolution may mean (to me and others)
My experience of the Lebanese Diaspora was one that revolved around humiliation. Hide your humiliation by boasting, flee to Western countries, boast some more about how tough you had it and critique how life is easy for people in the West.
These days may be gone for good.
The Lebanese who remain in Lebanon are showing that they’ve had enough of governments that don’t do their job. They’re showing that they’re done fleeing abroad.
I remember the ugly faces of the Lebanese who smirked at me for wanting to spend time in the Near East. I remember the faces of the Lebanese who shrugged their shoulder with indifference when I expressed my sadness over Lebanon’s history. I remember the Lebanese who, with dopey looks on their faces said, “Mark, why should you care about Lebanon? Your citizenship is in Heaven.” The hand that is hope will slap the stupid looks off their faces.
There is a lot to be hopeful for. A successful revolution means the effects of the Lebanese Civil War will be nullified. Christians and Muslims will permanently reconcile. The negative heritage of European colonialism will be forgotten.
Come on Lebanon! Your time is now! Change your country for the better! Don’t let anyone stop you! Savour your sweet, sweet revenge.