It is the Saudis and the Lebanese This Time
28 April 2015
By Diana Moukalled
In addition to wars and direct confrontations, the Lebanese have grown used
to witnessing in the public sphere a spate of verbal confrontations and a
state of collective misunderstanding dominated by insults and feelings of
hatred and aversion.
This has been the case among Lebanon's Christians and Muslims, on the one
hand, and its Sunnis and Shi'ites on the other.
The Lebanese Civil War, which marked its 40th anniversary a few days ago, has
shown us that we Lebanese are still embedded firmly within our own sects and
factions and are a mere collection of groupings, constantly confronting and
fighting each other and exchanging accusations. Thus, it has become clear to
us, before others, that our sectarian makeup directs our feelings, of both
hatred and love, towards each other and towards those from other
countries—from Israel to Syria and from Iran to Turkey, as well as the Arab
and Gulf states.
Arabs have often criticized the Lebanese for their fierce loyalty to the
sect, which is true; the Lebanese are indeed simply a group of sects. I am
not saying this out of admiration but rather as an admission of reality. The
problem is that many Arab states, after 2011, have realized that they too are
made up of sects whose relations with each other exploded into civil wars and
infighting, something which they have long reproached us for and claimed
Lebanon has never been isolated from its surroundings or the world; rather,
it has always wide open to outside influences, be they positive or negative.
But the country's sectarian balance has never quite been able to sap the
power of division that somehow manifested itself in Lebanese culture, art and
We Lebanese, as groups of sects, used to be more powerful than the state.
Therefore, when the state fragmented and weakened, the country did not
completely collapse. It remained resistant to complete downfall despite all
the factors which might have aided this process. Meanwhile, the situation in
neighboring countries—like Iraq and Syria, for example—has shown that the
collapse of the state can mean the complete disintegration of a country.
Once again, this is not to praise or express admiration towards Lebanon's
sectarian makeup. It is an admission of fact as a first step towards
establishing understanding and calling for a public and frank debate aimed at
containing the fires around us and perhaps one day establishing a state based
on the concept of citizenship, and not sectarianism.
As before, misunderstandings and confrontations are being repeated in
Lebanon, whether on a domestic or Arab level. The Lebanese–Palestinian
problem is as old as the Lebanese Civil War. There is also the
Lebanese–Syrian problem, always renewing itself and still far from coming to
an end. Meanwhile, the centenary of the Armenian Genocide committed by
Ottoman soldiers has sparked a fresh debate in Lebanon.
The list goes on and on and the crisis in Yemen has added to the
tensions—though this time between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.
I am not talking about official or partisan positions in both countries but
rather a recent trend among Saudi and Lebanese commentators and writers of
using the rhetoric of hatred, peppered liberally with sweeping
generalizations and seething contempt.
Within the context of exchanging accusations with Iran, one Lebanese
commentator attacked the Saudi Bedouin culture, while a Saudi writer respond
by making note of the current Lebanese political malaise. Users of Twitter
and Facebook have fanned these flames by manipulating and perpetuating the
differences between the two countries. This rhetoric has also been frequently
employed by several figures in different media outlets.
As a Lebanese person who opposes Hezbollah and its domestic and regional
roles, as well as its domestic projects, which do not represent my national
ambitions, I feel insulted by the broad generalizations directed at the
Lebanese. But this is also exactly how I felt when I hear the same vulgar and
frankly racist language being directed against the Saudis.
Maybe we should all just take a long, deep breath before we give free rein to
our acidic tongues, especially since there seems to be no end in sight to the
ongoing regional crises—which will certainly not be solved while we are
hurling insults and launching ridiculous, populist attacks against one
This is not a call to bury our heads in the sand or to avoid pointing out
responsibilities and mistakes. But it would be shameful to adopt this low
level of rhetoric in a bid to satisfy populist instincts, an approach which
aims not to contain or confront current problems so much as to capitalize on
On the other hand, while gratuitous insults express a crisis on the part of
the person who hurls them, unwarranted praise is no less hypocritical and
I hope one day we will be able to discuss our disputes with each other in a
manner free from insults and hypocrisy.
Diana Moukalled is a prominent and well-respected TV journalist in the
Arab world thanks to her phenomenal show Bil Ayn Al-Mojarada (By The Naked
Eye), a series of documentaries on controversial areas and topics which airs
on Lebanon's leading local and satelite channel, Future Television. Diana
also is a veteran war correspondent, having covered both the wars in Iraq and
in Afghanistan, as well as the Isreali "Grapes of Wrath" massacre in southern
Lebanon. Ms. Moukalled has gained world wide recognition and was named one of
the most influential women in a special feature that ran in Time Magazine in