Europe only succeeded in transitioning from the Dark Ages to the Renaissance after it separated religion from the state. The United States did not become a great power, then a super power, except because its constitution had separated the church and the state, since the first day of its founding. But we, three or four centuries after the start of the modern era, have elected religious parties, including some that are hardline and others that are extremists, to govern us.
God will judge us all, and I ask for his mercy and forgiveness for myself and my family. From the days of my adolescence, I remember a popular slogan in Lebanon which was “Religion is for God, but the homeland is for everyone.” I lived to see religion being exploited, abused, and misinterpreted, and to see the homeland become the subject of conflict among its people, each claiming to be the only true patriot.
Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan died for his country. But I want a country that people live for, and I find no solace in the fact that Wissam al-Hassan was buried next to the other martyr, Rafik Hariri.
When I heard that Brig. Gen. Hassan was killed in the Ashrafieh bombing, or that eight people were killed and eighty were wounded for the sake of killing him, I did not think too much about the side or the many sides that perpetrated the crime. Instead, I just went back to what I knew about his work and the crimes and criminals he exposed in recent months, in order to make my conclusion about who was behind the bombing.
This is a country where the hero dies and the scoundrel lives. Does it deserve to be even called a country? What has every Lebanese reaped in – and from – his homeland? They reaped nothing but a journey of torment, from the cradle to the grave. We are all Jabr, of the [Arabic] saying “Jabr, from his mother’s womb to the tomb.”
A thousand years ago, Ibn Zaidoun concluded that we are a savage nation that can never benefit from the rewards of reigning. This was a thousand years ago, and the whole world has since moved forward.
We did not remain in our place, but actually moved backward. Indeed, a thousand years ago a person would be killed with a sword or a spear, but now, there are a thousand ways to kill a person, including bombing a whole street to kill one man.
We have fallen behind at every level, and progressed in one area only: killing.
I have been in diaspora for 35 years, without asking for it. I lived in other people’s countries longer than I lived in Lebanon. My children were born abroad and will remain abroad, and I am still waiting to return, and I fear that I may never do so.
I am not bemoaning this for myself. All I have lost being abroad is my homeland, but I bemoan the state of affairs for people who did not have my luck – people without money, a job or a hope.
God help people, especially if they are Lebanese. When I think about them, I sometimes become delirious. I am thinking of a gage that measures how much one loves one’s homeland.
Each citizen can put it in his mouth, or wherever he wishes, and if the device measures anything less than 41 degrees, which represents the fever of patriotism, this citizen of a different allegiance is then sent to wherever he likes.
Perhaps this delirium is the solution. The truth is bitter, and living with it is a living nightmare. On the other hand, I may in my delirium find a homeland that loves its people, and whose people place loving it above all else.
I am from the generation of the independence, and I did not know colonialism or live during its era. Nevertheless, I know everything there is to know about it, from my grandfather, father and uncle, and from school.
I used to believe that the stories about the colonial era were scary, but I lived to see much scarier things in the post-independence era. Would a person be blaspheming if he said that colonialism was more merciful with us than we were with one another? Indeed it was so, so I expect a party to one day emerge to call for a return to colonialism. Raise your head, brother, the colonial era has returned.
I admit that the Arab uprisings were not disasters, but opportunities; that is, opportunities for new disasters.
I write in desperation. I write waiting for the next bombing. Will it happen in a nun school? Or maybe in a mosque? “Whosoever kills a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind.”
Once, we were the children of life. But today? We are a people who know how to take a life, but not how to revive one. Or perhaps I am being delirious again.
I'm at the station waiting for a train to go home. But there is no train. There is only the delirium of my two autumns, the autumn of this year, and the autumn of life.
(Jihad al-Khazen is a writer for the London-based Dar al-Hayat where this article was published on Oct. 24, 2012)