Thursday, June 15, 2017

My father is not Hummus

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My father is not Hummus and my mother is neither Tabboulé nor Man2ouché. I’m not made of chickpeas, parsley or zaatar. I’m a person, not a dish. I’m made of flesh, blood and bones. And a Fairuz song doesn’t say more about me than one from David Bowie, Edith Piaf or Leonard Cohen.

I was born in Lebanon but lived abroad for over twenty years. I lived in several countries and travelled to many others. I have more in common with likeminded people I've met in London, Amsterdam, Cairo, Cape Town or Kuala Lumpur than with 100% homegrown Lebanese trigger-happy thugs, crooked politicians and corrupt officials.

I don’t love Lebanon because it’s the country I was born in. I’m not a patriot out of misplaced narcissism. I love Lebanon because it’s an idea. A beautiful and powerful idea. The idea that people from different faiths can live together in perfect harmony.

So please, enough with the hummus-tabboulé-ma2ouché-Fairuz-songs nonsense. Folklore doesn’t define me. Ideals define me. Principles define me. As do experiences I’ve lived, choices I’ve made, people I’ve loved, movies I’ve watched, books I’ve read, words I wrote and causes I’ve defended.

A country is not just great food, emotional songs, endearing memories and beautiful sceneries. A country is a people, a quality of life, a political system and a social structure. If quality of life in Lebanon is fading away, if the political system is rotten to the core, if the social structure is broken beyond repair, if the people are selfish, egotistical and superficial, why should anyone want to stay?

When someone I know decides to leave, searching for the decent life every one of us deserves, I can only wish him or her good luck. I surely wouldn't pretend to be one of these holier-than-thou Lebanese that invokes the cedar on the flag, the Raouché rock or the Jeita grotto because they have nothing real to offer.

Lebanon has become a place where anyone can be randomly shot by armed thugs, where tons of garbage are dumped into the sea, where the air, the water and the land are poisoned, where the happy ruling few live above the law, where unemployment has reached an unprecedented high, where more and more families are going hungry.

It has become a place where people care more about being in the Guinness Book than about standing up for their rights, where lying and cheating has become a way of life, where everyone moans and groans but almost no one lifts a finger to change things for the better.

When I moved back to Lebanon, many years ago, I promised myself I’d never leave again. But today, I’m no longer sure I can keep this promise.

© Claude El Khal, 2017