Article written by Mohammad Khair Nahhas, member of “Mouwatinoun wa Mouwatinat fi Dawla” and published on June 29 2020
The household, the neighborhood, the quarter, the city, the region, the continent, the globe! Where does the community start and stop?
We are a specie that lives and strives in communities for its survival and prosperity. We managed to survive till the 21st century and hopefully longer, impressive! How did we do that, was it through vicious competition and wars, or through exchange, compassion, and collaboration?
Throughout history, human beings have moved from one place to another and settled in different places. Each of these environments where human beings have settled in had specific characteristics such as the weather, the food it produced, and its terrain. These characteristics have shaped how human beings deal with one another in the economic, political, and societal realms prompting the formation of different identities.
What is an identity?
It is a construct of human relations which generations pass from one to the other, it is neither static nor eternal. Rather, it is a dynamic construct influenced by the environment, and the accumulated knowledge and experiences. The latest episode of human innovation in identity construction has led to the formation of the Nation. Issam Nassar noted that, “Nations are connected with political imagination… still uses, selectively facts to root itself in history… Nationalism is a product of socio-economic, political and intellectual condition, grounded in particular movements of the past.”  During this episode, unfettered Capitalism – holding exploitation and discrimination at its heart – coupled itself to the nation state to expand and to maintain specific power structures. For capitalism’s brokers to survive and to maintain their control, they must always find new markets and create new products to be traded for profit generation. As tradable materialistic commodities were being exhausted, the market place ideology expanded -under the slogan of neo-liberalism- into non-materialistic realms of the society such as, health, education, and shelter. All of this was done simply to generate profit [2, 3]. The aforementioned introduction invites us to reflect on how our latest episode of human civilization – dominated by the market place – affected the society and the individual.
Firstly, it has alienated human beings from one another and from nature. Also, it has reduced human beings and nature to commodities – numbers on lists – that can be traded and disposed of through sanctions, house evictions, incarceration, and wars. Wars that only enriched the power brokers on the backs of society and nature. The power brokers took advantage of identities and national constructs to force fragile and illusioned individuals to fight their wars.
How can we disillusion ourselves?
Karen Armstrong a British religion scholar urges all human beings and communities, – regardless if one is religious or not – to seek compassion to one another and observe the golden rule that is at the heart of all traditions. The golden rule states that, one should treat others the way one wants to be treated [4, 5]. This asks us to reflect on our actions – even the small ones such as buying a can of beans – how they affect others, ourselves, and nature. She has demonstrated that religious traditions have evolved with time due to interaction of different communities and traditions with each other and with the environment. Our minute human life span of 60-80 years makes the task of observing this beautiful and natural evolution of norms and traditions that happens over generations difficult, nonetheless, it is an inherent process of our civilization. This begs us to question the idea of static identities.
Each individual and each community at any moment is the outcome of accumulated knowledge, acquired experiences, and the dialectical interaction with the outside. Also, every generation faces its own struggles and challenges, one of this generation’s challenges is to construct an inclusive humane identity to allow life to prosper again. This identity must be forged from our collective knowledge and past experiences, that takes into consideration the present reality we live in and the future we want to create. Our job as societies is not to indoctrinate our children, rather, it is to make sure that they are well prepared to deal with life’s uncertainties and interconnectedness.
Where does our society stand regarding this process?
Our society is not an exception, our society is suffocating; suffering from lack of freedom, lack of cohesion, and intolerance. We acknowledge that these problems are the results of foundational defects and political incompetency. We also recognize that there is no easy fix to our problems, no one will come with a magic wand and with a blink of an eye everything will be fixed.
So, what can we do?
First, we need to take responsibility of our lives and our environment and accept that the way we used to live and consume – that shaped our identity – is now part of history. Such process requires a conscious decision to mourn that identity, because it is gone. We also need to accept that the society has changed drastically, and it will never be the same. This requires form us to stop romanticizing about a “Lebanese way of life” – that prompted a fake sense of development – and to stop using the phrase “it was better.” In addition, this invites us to think of the model of governance we want to have.
We must forge a model that transcends the established national/ethnic/tribal structures of governance to a 21st century model of citizens, whom are politically active and continuously questioning and inspecting the established power structures.Citizens who are free to always dream a different world than the one they live in. We need not to copy-paste models others have developed, rather, we have to learn from them. Societies all over the world are struggling to adapt to rapid changes taking place, the whole world is in the same ship. The US is struggling with systematic racism, the EU is having an identity crisis, and China is struggling to adapt its norms to the 21st century globalized world. All of this is neither to say that one is better than the other, nor to say that we have the truth; no one has the monopoly on truth. These models of governance had a purpose within a certain historical context and currently undergoing internal transformation. This is an opportunity for us all -the whole world- to figure out how we want to live in an interconnected globalized world. An essential step to seize this opportunity it to restart looking at the world with a multi-dimensional mindset, to understand life’s interconnectedness on the environmental, societal, political, and economical levels.
MwMfD reiterates its call that our suffering is not our fate, it is just one episode of our human experience that we will surpass by taking responsibility of our lives, our society, and our globalized family. This is possible by first building a Civil State that is just and strong, where all its citizens are politically active affecting their surroundings. We also must work with our neighbor society, Syria, and acknowledge that our salvation as a society, as a region, and as a specie can only happen through genuine collaboration and open exchange between politically active citizens working towards a world of equality, justice, and freedom.