By: Maher Al Junaidy المقالة بالعربية
This question is not so foolish when posed by someone whose vision may have been obstructed, as he searches for the features of the Other or has discovered this Other rather late. But when the question is transformed into “where have you been?” it becomes a polite expression, richly saturated with the wonder of discovery and the amazement of love.
“Where have you been?”
In repeating this question in her touching article published in Nawafez (Sunday 31/3/2013), Andira Mattar foretells of the ongoing near rhapsodic meetings between Syrians and the Lebanese – be it on Facebook, other social networks, or even face-to-face. Of how the brothers of “sins and misdeeds” of the past have been rediscovering each other since the start of the revolution, and how they continue to do so far from the foolishness and racism of politicians and from the neurotic, arrogant and empty rhetoric of nationalism.
They meet and they engulf each other in a barrage of emotions, like pent-up chronic longings for a brother or perhaps a beloved, respected and affable neighbouring country that seems to have been absent for far too long.
Is this new?
Hazem Saghieh wrote in his article Discovering Syria and the Syrians (2004): “Anyone reading Lebanese press, and the statements issued by humanitarian and democratic organizations, will undoubtedly note the names of dozens of Syrian authors, intellectuals and activists who were unknown to us five years ago. With the exception of historical opposition figures such as Riad Al Turk, these names represented a discovery of the Syrians, or at least a discovery of a certain class of Syrian who, until recently, we engulfed by a fog of ignorance and ambiguity”.
The discovery continues even today. In fact, it promises even more discoveries that will go beyond the fervour of a revolution that pledges to change a regime that has wronged its people. Discoveries that will soar toward dreams so bright they will shine on both nations, bringing them together in bonds stronger than mutual respect, good-neighbourliness, brotherhood or a friendship between two independent countries. A time when “trusteeship” becomes a grim symbol of tyranny in the history of the two countries
Was the term “trusteeship” limited to governmental, political and diplomatic practices that distorted relationships of the past? A time when many Lebanese, not to mention Palestinians in Lebanon, and their mutual organizations, intellectuals and political figures, witnessed practices totally inconsistent with the ideologies of “deterrence” and “maintaining security”, and other similar missions promoted to Syrians as being vested in their army?
If the answer is no, then what should we call all the mistrust, suspicion, embarrassment and collision that characterized public meetings – at home and abroad – between Syrians and the Lebanese in the past?
Tarnishing the image of Syrians by the Lebanese, who have themselves tasted torture, persecution and abuse in its various forms, was nothing more than an abusive aspect of the relationship between the two peoples. Over the past era, Syrians have also been subjected to persistent attempts to psychologically squeeze themselves into a narrow Syrianism cocoon. A cocoon that not only targeted Lebanon, and not only found expression in songs such as “I’m Syrian Oh lucky I am” or the slogan “God protects Syria”, but which went on to promote a culture of phobia of the Other, any and all Others.
The media also played a role in portraying the Lebanese Other. When an expatriate Lebanese tries hard to explain that Lebanon is not two indivisible camps: Star Academy and beauty queen contests on the one hand, and operation truthful promise and the speeches of divine victory on the other, his expatriate Syrian neighbour stares vaguely into the distance. The Syrian is unable to ascertain the existence of a real Lebanese, one that lives under a stubborn sectarian regime, that he suffers the same, and dreams the same small dreams: renting a home, building a family, build a promising career, and living in a free and beautiful democratic country with a thriving economy where individuals enjoy a dignified life and the true values of nationalism.
Some Syrian TV series and movies also contributed to perpetuating that image, portraying Lebanese as rascals, seductresses girls in miniskirts, morally decadent hairdressers, or opportunist contractors.
Lebanese poet Yahya Jaber pondered on Facebook one day on the nature of this nation that neither gets tired nor gives in to boredom, “Syrian people are made of gold; knock on wood.” He swore that this is a great nation. And no sooner did he post another status on Facebook, “nothing new under the sun except the Syrian people who make the sun to spin in surprise at their courage and the earth hold still in amazement at their tears”, than an expatriate Lebanese woman – thousands of kilometres from Beirut – scrambled to ask his permission to paste this post on her page.
Traditional media no longer dominates the shaping of the Other. We now have daily, instant, very human interaction, even in its virtual form.
Yes, there is something new under the sun. But this will not excuse us from facing the flood of questions that are bond to increase with the coming days, on the moment of the big fall: “where have we been?”
Published in Al Mustaqbal newspaper on 7 April 2013. Click here to read the article on Al Mustaqbal’s website.