To demonstrate for human rights, that’s necessary. To protest against torture, injustice and discrimination, that’s exactly why most of us support the Arab Spring. To rally for freedom of speech and religious rights, that’s more than essential. However, to hold a protest and force a shop to close just because it sells flip-flops with tiny images of the cross on them is nothing close to civil engagement.
The flip-flops were Halloween-themed, and were decorated with an image of a Dracula mansion surrounded by graves that had crosses on top. The only thing anyone saw was the crosses, because that’s all they wanted to see. It was a huge opportunity to make a victory.
The store happened to be located in the Christian residential area of Furn al-Chebbek. The owner, Ali Fakih, happened to be a Shia. It looked to the mob that demonstrated in front of the store two weeks ago like Hezbollah was humiliating the Christian community and their religion right in the middle of their own neighborhood. Closing the store and forcing the owner to apologize was not enough. Fakih got arrested and is reportedly still being detained at the Baabda Justice Palace, along with the manager of the store, for “instigating sectarian strife.”
This is one of Lebanon’s scariest problems: We always want to blame others, to feel that we are superior and that Lebanon would be alright if it wasn’t for Hezbollah’s arms. But no. This ignorance has nothing to do with Hezbollah or its arms.
It is us, and only us. Our ignorance and fear of each other have given Hezbollah and others something to take advantage of and harness.
Back in 2006, when Islamists torched the Danish Embassy over cartoons mocking the prophet Mohammad, we all criticized them, calling them medieval extremists. But then we acted like extremists by arresting Fakih, who probably had no idea the flip-flops were even being sold in his store. Very few people called this what it really is: imprudence, backwardness and irrationality.
The Christians have valid fears, with Hezbollah buying up their land (and everyone else’s), with their numbers dwindling, and with their co-religionists elsewhere in the region being targeted. But thinking of themselves as an endangered minority will keep the Christians divided and weak.
Other than Hezbollah, no one wants to reduce the Christians’ political presence in the parliament or in state institutions. No one wants to marginalize them or devalue any of them. But their fears are growing beyond any reason, and it is being used by their leaders.
FPM leader Michel Aoun has long used the “fear of the Sunnis” to rally Christians around him, while the other Christians are most afraid of the Shia. As for the Shia, they’ve been either pulled in by Hezbollah or pushed by other sects into Hezbollah’s lap.
The Christians are so worried about their existence and their rights as a minority that they forgot about the rights and fears of others. What about my right as a secular non-Christian to feel secure and unthreatened in Christian areas in my own country? Will they only see me as a Shia, who, as long as she complies with everything, will be OK? What if I react differently?
It is not about the Christians, the Sunnis, the Shia or the Druze. It is about Lebanon. Do we belong here? Is this a country or a bunch of sectarian platforms where insults and revenge are the main things driving people to demonstrate?
No one asked if Ali Fakih was a Hezbollah supporter. No one bothered to look beyond his name. It doesn’t matter anyway, not for the mob that rallied against him or for Hezbollah, which did not jump to help him as it helped the party member who shot down a Lebanese army helicopter in August 2008, killing pilot Lieutenant Samer Hanna. He spent a few months in detention and was then released.
Ali Fakih is just a victim of petty sectarianism and fear. It doesn’t matter who he is or what his intentions were. He just happened to have been selling the wrong thing in the wrong place.
The funny thing is that Lebanon has always been considered a beacon of freedom of speech, modernity and liberal thought in the region. Today, the Arabs around us are progressing toward democracy, while we are obsessed with tiny crosses on cheap flip-flops. Shame on all of us.
Hanin Ghaddar is the Managing Editor of NOW Lebanon