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    The “Laïque Pride”

    Many considerations dominated the approach of most political parties to the debate regarding secularism in Lebanon over the past years. This issue is, thus, being stifled by attempts to exploit it for reasons that have nothing to do with its original purpose, concepts and requirements.

    Some are brandishing secularism as a slogan and using it as a criterion for political categorization in the country in order to avoid expressing a clear position on the key issues at hand, namely their relation to the Syrian regime, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, Hezbollah’s weapons, the shape of the conflict with Israel and the conditions of regional repositioning. These are all issues on which the partisans and opponents of secularism may equally agree or disagree.

    Others have used secularism as a counterargument to discussing the abolition of political sectarianism, which they reject, because they know that some of those calling for the abolition of political sectarianism do not accept the role that would be theirs in that case. They thus agree on impeding secularism and the abolition of sectarianism indiscriminately. 
    Some were forced to call for the adoption of secularism merely as a means of gentle reproof or because of who they are, only to shun later all of the consequences and requirements of laicism for fear of embarrassing and angering their allies. 
    Others, still, thought that cursing sectarianism and lampooning its partisans would be enough to picture them as partisans of secularism who are entrusted with implementing the principle of separation of religion and state, not to mention the ensuing consequences in the country of “consensual democracy” with its 18 religious communities and 15 different civil status laws.

    Hence, secularism has been taken out of its political context and literature, exposed to overbidding or blackmail or used as an escape route to avoid confronting other issues. It was also targeted by several campaigns that very nearly neutralized it, diverted it of its many significant dimensions or used it as a criminal slogan or a means of intimidation. 
    This being said, secularism is all about a battle of complex wills starting with the promulgation of unified civil status laws, whereby all Lebanese (women and men alike) would be equal, and the adoption of public education curricula under which religion would be a subject taught as part of the philosophy and history programs. The administration would then be freed from sectarianism all the way to the highest political positions, albeit while preserving the structure of sectarian institutions and endowments. Conditions would be set for the foreign financing of religious activities and programs, and the number of official holidays on religious occasions would be reduced, as is the case in the most democratic of countries, where institutions are separated from the citizens’ religion(s).These states allow their citizens the freedom to choose their beliefs and practice their faith in return for respecting the constitutions and positive laws promulgated by the legislative bodies, be they legal or elected entities.

    Secularism in Lebanon should no longer be used as a political weapon, as it has become a patriotic demand brandished by people who have grown sick of the sectarian culture and discriminatory practices. Indeed, it has become the banner of a march bringing together individuals from different – sometimes conflicting – political choices and positions. Laicism has, thus, started to recover some of its former luster as a demand brandished by Lebanese citizens who do not necessarily see eye to eye on the political level. None of them can claim exclusive possession of secularism or pretend to be able to achieve its requirements in the near future (accordingly, the illusion of quick success cannot be construed as a pretext to justify the call for laicism) … 

    May the “Laïque Pride” to be organized on April 25 – with all its symbolism, its timing and the autonomy of those who called for it and those who are organizing it – be the prelude for restoring such a healthy atmosphere, paving the way for broader activities that move from one region to another. In any case, the upcoming march can take pride in the fact that it is launching a dynamic with a certain growth potential, which would be a novelty on the sociopolitical stage in Lebanon. Nevertheless, this novelty does not exclude the fact that its partisans are divided over many other issues and that efforts are still being made to defend those same issues…

    Ziad MAJED
    NOW Lebanon

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