The Lebanonization of Canada
The sign above is from Lebanon. We have all read about how difficult life has become in Lebanon, a country where its capital Beirut in the 1950s was known as “The Paris of the Middle East”. A few months ago an article entitled “ The ‘Lebanonization of America’ caught my attention.. In the article it is stated:
“While Lebanon’s struggle is a regional tragedy, America’s internal chaos could signal the death of an entire empire. The United States is becoming like Lebanon and other Middle East countries in two respects. First, our political differences are becoming so deep that our two parties now resemble religious sects in a zero-sum contest for power. They call theirs ‘Shiites and Sunnis and Maronites’ or ‘Israelis and Palestinians.’ We call ours ‘Democrats and Republicans,’ but ours now behave just like rival tribes who believe they must rule or die. Second, as in the Middle East, so increasingly in America: Everything is now politics – even the climate, even energy, even face masks in a pandemic.”
In the article the author makes the case that the evident lack of national unity and lack of unifying story is why the whole population has no buy in to a shared vision, resulting in the same social dysfunction in the USA as Lebanon. Here is a description by a Protestant missionary from America in the 1870’s: “The various religions and sects live together, and practice their conflicting superstitions in close proximity, but the people do not coalesce into one homogenous community, nor do they regard each other with fraternal feelings …They can never form one united people, never combine for any important religious or political purpose.” Certainly sounds like the USA today.
When I read the article I, being a typical smug and superior feeling Canadian, thought to myself: “Well thank goodness I live in Canada and not the US. Things are not like that here.” But then, a few days later, as I reflected upon my thinking I realized two things. One: We usually follow the cultural lead of the US, but it takes 10+ years to happen here, although we do at least dull what the Americans do and make it less extreme. Second: I see people more divisions between ‘us’ and ‘them’ happening at all levels. For example, the revisionist history we are undergoing which is literally toppling statues of Sir John A – the man who made our country possible – is, from this way of looking at this, just another dismantling of a common vision and shared sense that we are one people. Now, I am not saying he was perfect, far from it, but the fact is without a sense that we are all on the same side we risk reverting to the tribalism now gaining strength around the world.
Here, using historical examples, is why I think when people from various cultures and languages come together they must become one new “people” to survive the strains and stresses of History. A note here about Canada currently: clearly all is well, on the surface, with regards to this Lebanonization process – the fractures are not clearly visible. If my thesis held any water more visible strains should be visible. I propose that only when life gets tough will this issue become apparent – when the economy shrinks, when there are disaster and there is no aid coming from the federal government, when there is no money to give to people when they are in need – in other words, we can all pretend to be nice and neighbourly when the times are good. This means we will not know if we are really good neighbours until things get tough. Here is my first case for the need to forge many peoples into one new “people”. The Roman Empire was a polyglot empire of many diverse people who we admire – but the fact is that it did not last that long and was under constant stress from misgovernance. When the Eastern Empire morphed into the Byzantine Empire with one language – Greek – and one religion – Orthodox Christianity – it had the unity it needed to last 1000 years. In other words, social cohesion works.
Here is another historical example to show the power of unity and sense of belonging being the best way for diverse people to feel happy being a part of a new “folk”. It is well documented that when European settlers were abducted by Indigenous tribes along the Eastern seaboard of what is now the USA they were very unhappy when they were forced to return to their white “families” in prisoner exchanges. Furthermore, there are many documented cases of Europeans “going native” and being accepted within the Indigenous culture but not visa versa. It seems that the Indigenous cultures were better able to integrate different peoples into feeling that they belonged and were family [having not concept of race helped]. A wonderful fictional story [based upon a lot of research] about such an event was written in the 1953: ‘The Light in the Forest’ by U.S. author Conrad Richter. Though it is a work of fiction and primarily features fictional characters, the novel incorporates historic figures and is based in historical fact related to the late eighteenth century and period of the American Revolutionary War. In this tale the young boy is abducted and forced to return to his biological family but is unsuccessful in his attempts to become European again. If you prefer a more historically accurate tale read ‘Kidnapped and Sold By Indians: True Story of a 7-Year-Old Settler Child’. In this true story the young boy did finally unite with many of his natural family, he never stopped identifying with Native Americans, and he was forced to leave an Indian wife and child behind. Once again, social cohesion is what makes us happier and more content than individual gratification of needs that seem to think is all important in our highly individual rights obsessed society.
So what can we do? You do? I think the trick is in the last line above; the 7 year old abducted had an Indian wife and child. In other words, to prevent the Lebanonization of Canada we need to follow the example of what Alexander the Great did: have different groups marry each other. [in his case he had his Greek general marry Persian princesses and Greek soldiers marry the daughters of Afghan warlords] Then, the different people become, literally, one new people. Unity. Belonging. And with it an increased probability we will support each other when times get tough – as they are sure to be as Climate Change and Ecosystem Destruction dominates our lives. So let’s not succumb to the current American Lebanonization process where a vital determinant in who a person marries is whether they are Democract or Republican. Who cares. We are one people forged from many. One tribe. The tribe called Canadians.