Thursday, September 3, 2009

The "I can't stand Lebanon" phase

Explaining my love-hate relationship with Lebanon

I wonder if this is endemic among other Lebanese, particularly those of us who have been able to break the sectarian shackles and make sense of the situation.

As an editor once told me, I am Australian but my heart is in Lebanon. There is no denying that, but throughout the time I have spent writing, analysing, commenting and reading about Lebanon, many moments arise when I've put the pen down and said enough. Enough, I can't write anymore, I can't read anymore.

The repetitive cycle of corruption, tribalism and sectarianism that has engulfed Lebanon for its entire 66 year existence often makes one question whether his/her efforts are really worth the trouble. Despite a growing voice and an emerging Lebanese civil society - both domestic and abroad - criticising this deeply ingrained cycle, we are still confronted with the same garbage.

After several months of my latest "I can't stand Lebanon" phase, which saw my blog dry up, my tweets halt, and my freelance work evaporate, I decided to peak through the latest Lebanese news. The first thing I read was a threat by Nasrallah against, more or less, the entire country should Hizballah be implicated in the Hariri assassination. I closed the screen, and returned to my self-imposed "I can't stand Lebanon" state.

Regardless of my attempts to distance myself from this unfortunate country, however, Lebanon always finds a way to remind me of why it remains an integral part of who I am - and why I can't simply abandon my heritage.

This week my parents return to their homeland after 32 years in an emotional reunion with past loved ones, and a reconciliation with forgotten - and often painful - memories. It's a step many Lebanese emigrants have taken since the war ended in 1990. For my parents, it took a lot longer. I was brought up with their love, and hate, for Lebanon, which perhaps explains my own love-hate relationship with the country.

Being part of the post-civil war generation exposed me to the reeling tension, pain and anger that those who experienced the war have carried on. For much of my childhood, I was more or less incorporated into this cycle of anger:

"You must hate this faction, they killed your family"
"You must hate that faction, they betrayed your country"
"You must love this leader, he is the champion of our cause"
"You must hate, you must love, you must hate, you must love"
"You are Lebanese, never forget that"
"We love Lebanon"

It wasn't until my mid-teens where I began to question this cycle of love-hate and wartime anger, and began to ask why. Why should I hate them? Why should I love you? How are they different from us? Did we not all kill? Did we not all suffer?

Now I began to hate Lebanon for different reasons. I hated Lebanon because it refused to break with the past and start anew. I hated Lebanon for poisoning my generation with its war venom, and instilling hate in a young generation that has no recollection of the war. I hated Lebanon because it didn't want to learn from its mistakes, but instead felt comfortable to repeat the same errors over and over.

For a time, it seemed the love-hate relationship significantly swayed towards hate. All the more reason why my parents return to the country this week has been so important, because for the first time in a long time, I have been reminded of the reasons why I love Lebanon.

After three decades in a foreign country, creating a new life with a new family, my parents have demonstrated that the love for their homeland, for their past, far outweighed the pain the war brought. Although it seemed at times that Lebanon was a distant memory to them, they never forgot who they were, and where they came from. Wars and massacres aside, there was enough beauty in Lebanon to lure them back.

Perhaps there's enough beauty in the country to keep me tied to Lebanon as well. One can only hope.


Jennine said...

I can't stand Lebanon at times due to their mistreatment of the Palestinians.

Antoun said...

I can't argue with you there, Jennine.