Against Sectarianism

When you’ve finished with Christine Odone’s little tirade, you might want to check out a slightly more worthwhile campaign against sectarianism.

From the WaPo:

The evening was tense, as most are these days in Beirut, its Maronite Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Sunni and Shiite Muslims and Druze perched imprecisely between war and peace. Malak Beydoun, a young woman, pulled her car into a parking lot in the Christian neighborhood of Ashrafiyeh. She peered at a billboard overhead, alarmed and then indignant.

“Parking for Maronites only,” it read.

Beydoun recoiled. “How did they know that I was a Shiite?” she remembered asking herself.

Part provocation, part appeal — with a dose of farce that doesn’t feel all that farcical —
advertisements went up this month on 300 billboards across the Lebanese capital and appeared in virtually every newspaper in the country. Thousands of e-mails carried the ads across the Internet to expatriates. Each offered its take on what one of the campaign’s creative directors called a country on the verge of “absurdistan” — cooking lessons by Greek Orthodox, building for sale to Druze, hairstyling by an Armenian Catholic, a fashion agency looking for “a beautiful Shiite face.” At the bottom, the ads read in English, “Stop sectarianism before it stops us,” or, more bluntly in Arabic, “Citizenship is not sectarianism.

One is a doctor’s plate: “Dr. Mohamed Chatila, Muslim Sunni.” Another is a three-story banner that reads, “For Druzes, Building for Sale.” A license plate is pictured: “A Shiite car,” it says in
Arabic, “Shiite” in English. And an ad for a car: “2000 model, in near perfect condition. Owned and maintained by a Maronite. Never driven by non-Maronites.”


Sadly, not everyone bothered reading the posters all the way down. According to one Fouad Haraki, the consequences of sticking up the billboards in his neighbourhood was “a sectarian clamor.

[W]hen the billboards went up, 50 were defaced or torn down. Some residents stopped them from going up in the first place. In Lebanon and abroad, e-mails flitted back and forth, some of their authors believing the messages were real.

“People were seriously panicked,” Andraos [05Amam activist] recalled. “Are there really signs like that in Lebanon now? The mere fact that people think it’s possible, that there might be signs like that in Lebanon now, means we’re not really that far off.”

Read it all.

Hat-tip to The Lebanese Bloggers who highlight a passage from the end of the article:

At a cafe near downtown, Randy Nahle, a 21-year-old student, wondered about the way out. His father is Shiite, his mother Maronite Catholic. The neighborhood he sits in, like virtually every one in Beirut, has its markers: the posters and religious symbols on walls, the muezzin or the church bells that identify its affiliation.

For once, he said, something organized spoke to his rejection of being “categorized or

He smiled at his favorite ads, the ones that identified doctors by their sect. “It has infiltrated our fabric so much, almost indelibly,” Nahle said. “If I have an earache, an Orthodox doctor will understand it better. It’s an Orthodox ear.”

He recalled sitting with a Shiite woman at a cafe near the American University in Beirut. She treated him as a fellow Shiite until he revealed his mixed background. She looked at him disapprovingly. It’s bad for the children, she said. “They’re going to come out confused,” she told him.

“I said, ‘You know, the problem of this country is we don’t have enough confused people. The problem is we have too many people blindly convinced by their political orientation, by their religion, by their community’s superiority.'”

Funny how over two thousand miles away, Sunny Hundal is writing essentially the same thing:

[T]he primary point of the New Generation Network agenda was to say we need to go back to the basics of anti-prejudice – pushing universal progressive values instead of getting caught up in identity politics.

That meant not tolerating prejudice against black or white people; not accepting the demonisation of Muslims en-masse, and not turning a blind eye to the demonisation of Christians, Hindus or homosexuals; standing up against violence against women regardless of their race or religion.

People who want to oppose this agenda, on the left funnily enough, do so because they are so caught up in identity politics that they only want to promote their ‘tribe’ at the expense of others. The others don’t matter, only their own personal agendas do.

Let’s all celebrate multiple identities. But we should not let them limit the extent of our compassion.