On Independence Day, Lebanon too becomes 'hypernormalised'

On Independence Day, Lebanon too becomes 'hypernormalised'
There are no real solutions to Lebanon's many problems. But developing a delusional kind of patriotic fervor could help with the pain, blogs Karim Traboulsi
2 min read
22 Nov, 2016
Lebanese flags are everywhere in the country these days, managing perceptions [AFP]
Patriotism is the last refuge of the Lebanese.

Drive around in Lebanon today and you'll notice something quite pecular: giant flags. In downtown Beirut, along the coastal highway, and on top of hills and buildings. 

Most likely, those in charge in this tiny country could find no real unifying symbols for their people to put up on display in public spaces. The Lebanese would never agree on liking any figure, dead or alive, which might explain why there are so few statues on display. Hence: flags. Cheap, uncontroversial, and (arguably) pretty.

Today is Lebanon's Independence Day. But in a hyper-normalised sort of way, there was no real struggle for independence in the country. What happened on that day, many agree, was a charade. A staged founding myth, after which Lebanon was never independent.

Still, people want to believe. The post-truth era has come and no one is interested in "facts".

Facts like: Lebanon's debt is 140 percent of its GDP. The country's infrastucture and services were last reliable in the 1950s. Lebanon has two million Syrian refugees it has no idea how to provide for or manage. Lebanon has a heavily armed state within a state, with a transnational agenda that precludes any progress. Lebanon's divisions are intractable, and its system of government makes one wish for dictatorship. 

But like America and Britain, Lebanon is discovering that self-working patriotism is the cheapest way to deal with complex issues. Trump, Brexit, giant flags and silly parades are the collective-psyche equivalent of anti-depressants.

Of course, no patriotism can be said to be real without abusing foreigners. Britain wants to rid itself of immigrants, America wants to ban/register Muslims and build a wall to keep Mexicans out, and Lebanon has plenty of Syrians and Palestinians to humiliate so it can feel better about itself.

Since the country elected a president last month, there has been an alarming increase in patriotic fanfare. The president now holds rallies in his palace, honours 'flag day', and is keen to hold a military parade on Tuesday despite the fact that running the army's antiquated equipment on Beirut's streets and in Beirut's skies poses real public safety risks.

In the absence of any real solutions to the country's problems, "managing perceptions" is the only tactic politicians are left with. But everyone is happy to play along, because reality is just depressing.

Karim Traboulsi is a writer and translator for The New Arab. Follow him on Twitter@kareemios