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This past week, various friends of mine have sent me the link to a viral video from MEMRI TV. It features a sultry Lebanese TV anchor cutting the microphone of a London-based ‘Imam’ after he arrogantly seeks to insert his sexual-religious authority into the conversation.
I’m not as impressed by this as others seem to be. That is because I have never truly considered Lebanon a part of the barbaric construct we call the ‘Islamic World’. Indeed, after the State of Israel, Lebanon seems to me the most civilised and modern country in the greater Middle East.
While it’s true that Muslims now make up a slight majority in the country, the civilising effects of Lebanon’s Christian elite extend deeply into its social and educational fabric. As a consequence, Lebanese Muslims tend to be more ‘secular’ than Syrians or Jordanians, and arguably for reasons directly attributable to Lebanon’s cultural diversity (one of the very time that phrase can be used positively).
If you look through an album of photographs taken in modern Beirut, you might find it difficult to distinguish the streets and piazzas from parts of Portugal, Spain or southern Italy. Despite the ancient mosques and grungy madrassas, one will also notice billboard advertisements for premium wines and Heineken Lager, bare-armed women in tight jeans and sunglasses, as well as gaudy bars and upmarket pubs catering to American and English tourists respectively.
The Lebanese Christians are proudly aware of this geo-cultural strangeness and view any comparison with other Arab states like Saudi Arabia or Jordan as wholly derogatory. Biology plays a role in this. Though all Arabs are a mixture of ancient ancestries, the Lebanese are known to be especially diverse. Genetic investigation of the Christian community has revealed a mixture of Greek, Arab and Western European genetic markers, the last being a hangover from the time when Lebanon functioned as a base for the Crusaders, some of whom remained, intermarried and got lost in the biological stew.
Though we in the West might look down on sectarian attitudes, it is surely easier to sympathise in this case. Imagine for a moment that we in England belonged to a modern, affluent and liberal(ish) country neighboured to the North and East by lands of hellish confusion. We would all eventually come to rely on sheer hostility to prevent the damaging integration of outside elements, especially if defensive alliances seem unavailable.
Only a few miles from the wine bars of Lebanon, the sub-humans of ISIS cut the heads off people accused of summoning demons or practicing witchcraft. Just a short drive from a Beirut Miss Universe pageant is a tent-city where women cannot even leave their homes.
It is hard to think of a more terrifying fragility or a more perfect misery than that of the Christian Lebanese.