Lebanon is a complicated country. For a foreigner who comes for tourism to the land of the cedar tree, it could be a secular country because it has everything to look like a western country. In fact, Lebanon makes the advanced aspect at the social level cohabit with the backward aspect of a country where religion occupies a large space.
Very briefly here is what I am going to say at Oslo on the occasion of this meeting which gathers so many important people in the world of secularism and which is held for the purpose to set up the International Association of the Free Thought which has become I
agree, an absolute necessity in this world where the danger of religious divisions and religious fanaticism becomes more serious than all the missiles. .
Firstly, just a few words on “confessionalism” in Lebanon.
As you know, Lebanon is a country made up with religious communities. Contrary to
European countries, which have evolved toward more secularism within the State and Civil Society, Lebanon remains marked with the spiritual issue which dominates nearly all social and political relations. Every Lebanese belongs, above all, to a religious community and he legally needs one to get married, divorced or even “to die”. Those who want to have a secular wedding ceremony (and there are more and more secular weddings) go to a nearby place, Cyprus. And by the way, paradoxically, the Lebanese law admits the impact of secular marriage in Lebanon.
Very briefly, here are the communities officially established in Lebanon:
- Christian communities related to Rome: the Maronite Church (which draws its name from John Maron, a monk of the 9th century, who lived in the North of Syria), the Greek Catholic Church, the Armenian Catholic Church, the Syrian Catholic Church, the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Latin Church.
- Christian communities that are not related to Rome: The Greek Orthodox Church, the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Georgian Armenian Church, the Nestorian Church, the Evangelical Church.
- Muslim communities; the Sunni community, the Shiite community, the Druze community.
- There is also the Jewish community and the Copt community.
Besides these communities organised by laws and decrees, there are also two more communities officially recognised but not organised because of their small number: Ismaelis and Alawis
Article 9 in our Lebanese constitution grants to the people, whatever their religions, respect for their personal status and their religious interests. In the same manner Article 10 prohibits any violation of the right of communities to have their own schools, provided the general requirements on public education issued by the State are met. Finally, the heads of the religious communities can appeal directly to the Constitutional Court on any issue concerning personal status, freedom of belief, freedom of worship and freedom of religious education (but this possibility is still waiting for adoption of laws concerning those issues by Parliament, which Parliament has not done yet since the Constitutional article is ahead of reality). Finally, each community has its own religious courts of justice: primary trial,
Thus indeed, Lebanon is a country made up with religious communities. However, more
and more voices are heard claiming to adopt optional secular marriage, but all in vain.
A paradox: everything in Lebanon indicates a secular climate: broad opening to western
models, freedom of expression, mixed marriage, freedom of lifestyles, etc. Despite all that,
as soon as it comes to the necessity to establish, not secular marriage made compulsory
in common law, but at least optional secular marriage, voices from religious (Muslim as
well as Christian) authorities are heard to ward off such a terrible thing.
Understanding that would require the virtues of a clear analysis: the Muslim-Arab environment, which is far from secularism, surrounding a very small country like Lebanon,
scared to death the Lebanese Christians who find in religion the only weapon to
strengthen the Christian community in front of the fear of absorption by the Muslims when Muslim fanaticism is growing. That is why the Christians are proposing complete secularism or nothing at all. They are afraid of intermediary solutions; this understandable position is also a good excuse.
Concerning the status of women, they are seriously suffering from the legal influence in a religious background: supremacy of men over women. Divorce is whether prohibited (on the Christian side with men’s certain supremacy) or too unfairly permitted (on the Muslim side with a more marked male supremacy).
I am sure the audience is waiting impatiently for my position on the recent demonstrations which took place in Lebanon and which demanded the repeal of confessionalism in Lebanon. Those demonstrations were enthusiastically welcome by European secularists, especially French. Indeed those demonstrations demanded above all the repeal of political confessionalism which means that public and political positions should not be appointed according to religious denomination. But there is a terrible hidden danger: a lot of fanatic Lebanese Muslims, who reject any secular marriage even optional, are in favour of the repeal of political confessionalism and they massively took part in those demonstrations.
The repeal of political confessionalism leads to a majority of Muslims being appointed in public positions but as long as those people (at least a majority among them) are still fundamentally religious, it is highly probable that they’ll demand an Islamic Republic later on.
It was necessary to launch the slogan of the repeal of confessionalism only and the establishment of secular marriage through an amendment to the Constitution but that is not accepted by a lot of participants in those demonstrations. Those demonstrators were therefore betrayed by their own positions and words.
The solution remains in the change in the cultural background of the country and especially of the youth. The Lebanese Association of Philosophy of Law is trying to work in this field. The literature of the French Libre Pensée is a great help for us (La Raison, L’Idée Libre, books by authors such as the great thinker and activist Christian Eyschen).