Lebanon’s Shiite and Sunni ‘Sushi’
Last month Lebanon celebrated the birth of the first baby to carry an I.D. card that doesn’t stipulate his sect
A young, modern, married couple sits calmly on a couch with their baby between them. The father holds a piece of paper that says “I am Shiite” while the mother holds one that says “I am Sunni.” The child sitting between them holds a paper saying “I am Sushi.” Many people in Lebanon tried to market this photo after the twin suicide bombings that targeted the Iranian Embassy in Beirut. The attack has inaugurated the era of suicide bombers in Lebanon in a manner that befits al-Qaeda. Sectarian hatred surfaced following the explosions as the worst of sectarian emotions were mobilized. Many cheered for the attack via social networking websites and many others engaged in virtual confrontation. Threats flooded internet pages and thus displayed all identity crises. Sectarianism appeared at its worst. The “Sushi” baby however emerged amidst all this.
Many circulated the photo but there was more concern over the sectarian insults and threats made following the bombings. Some sadly commented saying that the photo is beautiful but it has no place in our Arab world today.
The couple and their child’s situation is not unique and it’s certainly not the first. Last month in Lebanon, we celebrated the birth of the first baby to carry an identity card that doesn’t stipulate his sect. The child was the fruit of the first civil marriage in Lebanon. But a tempting challenge lies in this “Sushi” principle today even if some consider the term a shallow cliché. It’s a tempting challenge because as identity crises deepen, discussing or marketing openness towards others becomes more difficult.
We’ve heard several judges at sharia courts say that the percentage of mixed marriages between Shiite and Sunnis have decreasedDiana Moukalled
The first time I heard the term “Sushi” in such a context was two years ago in the U.S. when I met with some nieces and relatives who introduced themselves as “Sushi” - i.e. they are the product of a Sunni-Shiite marriage. I realized back then that the term was sort of popular among Muslim youths in America and the West. My niece smiled at me and said: “We are a new sect and the future is ours.”
But when I saw the photo of the couple and their “Sushi” child, I remembered my niece’s statement and felt dispirited. The future she had hopes on appears to be a mirage these days. I felt like the “Sushi” reality is rare, although it’s been popular previously.
We’ve heard several judges at sharia courts say that the percentage of mixed marriages between Shiite and Sunnis have decreased and that the divorce percentage between these married couples have increased. This reflects the deep rift that’s struck the core of our lives as individuals and families and as a society as a whole. This lethal division currently has a new carrier which is social media. In this case, the latter is used as a means to reproduce sectarianism. This reveals that modernity becomes a tool of death and not progress if it’s misused. Isn’t this exactly what happened when terrorists decided to use civilian aircrafts to kill civilians?
The photo of the “Sushi” child is certainly pleasant. Unfortunately, it will not alter the extent of Sunni-Shiite hatred.
This article was first published by Asharq al-Awsat on Nov. 25, 2013.
Diana Moukalled is the Web Editor at the Lebanon-based Future Television and was the Production & Programming Manager with at the channel. Previously, she worked there as Editor in Chief, Producer and Presenter of “Bilayan al Mujaradah,” a documentary that covers hot zones in the Arab world and elsewhere, News and war correspondent and Local news correspondent. She currently writes a regular column in Asharq al-Awsat. She also wrote for Al-Hayat Newspaper and Al-Wasat Magazine, besides producing news bulletins and documentaries for Reuters TV. She can be found on Twitter: @dianamoukalled.