02/24/2016, 18.50
LEBANON – SAUDI ARABIA
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Open letter to the Saudi King Salman about Lebanon’s fate

by Fady Noun

The decision not to pay US$ 4 billion to the Lebanese military, the travel warning for Saudis, Bahrainis and Emiratis, and the likely expulsion of 400,000 Lebanese nationals from the Gulf States are part of King Salman’s vendetta after Lebanon failed to stand with Riyadh against Tehran. Lebanon is a place of reconciliation between Sunnis and Shias and where modernity can exist without atheism. Fady Noun, deputy editor of L’Orient-Le Jour and our collaborator, offers an analysis and makes an appeal.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – We present an open letter to King Salman of Saudi Arabia, written by the deputy editor of L’Orient-Le Jour, Lebanon’s most respected newspaper.

To understand better its significance, we must mention recent events. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) issued a warning for their citizens from travelling to Lebanon, a traditional destination for tourists from these countries. Riyadh took the decision yesterday, followed by the other two, citing “security” concerns.

This comes after Saudi Arabia decided last week to halt a US$ 4 billion grant to Lebanon’s military and security forces. At the same time, reports indicate that the Sunni Gulf States are planning to expel some 400,000 Lebanese nationals, mostly from Saudi Arabia. Other reports suggest that the same countries might withdraw their deposits from Lebanese banks, causing Lebanon to plunge into an economic and social disaster.

These steps against Lebanon follow Lebanese Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil’s decision not to support Saudi resolutions against Iran at two recent meetings of Arab and Muslim foreign ministers. Mr Bassil heads the Free Patriotic Movement that is allied with Hizbullah.

In his letter, Fady Noun asks Saudi King to understand the special role Lebanon plays in the Middle East and to meet the Mufti and the Maronite Patriarch, who can explain how Lebanon can help the Middle East dialogue with modernity and a divided Islam find reconciliation.

There is so much to say, but let us start with the most immediate, an open letter to the king Salman. "Your Majesty, with respect, you are making a mistake. The three billion dollars are not for you to take back. They are ours. His Majesty King Abdullah donated them, as President Michel Sleiman said, attested and witnessed. We believe that one never takes back a gift, and we ask for something that is ours. You felt you had to take it back, but we believe that in doing so the giver’s intention is not respected nor is the friendship between our two peoples upheld. You were offended, but overlooking an affront is all to the honour of the offended party. That is the real crown, the royal "keffiyeh". In addition, we have a weapon that nobody can take from us or sell us: our blood. Without the three billion, it will be used more efficiently, that's all. All the strategists will tell you that an army gains victory first with its morale."

That said; let us turn to the most urgent. The most urgent thing now are the divisions within the Islamic world. With no false modesty, let us not hesitate to say that the answer to this division is (also) in Lebanon. The Maronite Church has given Lebanon an openness to true modernity, one that was its treasure and now is a shared treasure. Such openness has allowed the Lebanese to play a unifying role that honours them, throughout the genesis of what became the Lebanese state.

The Maronites played this unifying role at the ecclesial level. Hence, there are no Maronite Catholics nor Maronite Orthodox. They then transposed this at the national level, which allowed the emergence of Lebanon as an independent Arab country. This partnership is what we value the most. The Patriarch invited us a few days ago to continue this mission "of building build bridges and links between communities."

The regional crisis is a golden opportunity for the Church and Lebanon to act in accordance with their spirit, not to exacerbate the feelings of identity and affiliation of the various communities, but to bring together and reconcile. Secondary issues aside, we must think about the long-term development of theocracies like Iran and Saudi Arabia, reflect upon the hidden eschatological gnosis that inspires the Islamic Republic and about the return to basics of the Wahhabi doctrine developed in the early 20th century. We must realise that both are forms of a return to a repressed spirituality or transcendentalism, which was done in the West, and was offered to them as a future, and which, rightly, they did not want and still do not want.

We must realise that we face a civilisational question that concerns everyone, the West included, the atheist West of the death of God, of colonial and imperial conquests, unequal exchanges, overt or covert racism and ethical relativism. The American philosopher Eric Voegelin, who reflected on millenarianisms, described this relativism as "a deification of society by itself."

How in our dangerous times we miss the vigorous debate on civilisational relations that allowed us to play our role as cultural brokers for peace and truth. How we miss thinking about the 20th century we inherited. How we miss the in-depth reflection on Islam to understand what has led to the cultural and political aberration called "Islamic State."

Where are the funds for basic research? Where are the Michel Hayeks and Yuakim Mubaraks today? Where are the Mohamad Hussein Fadlallahs and Mohammed Mahdi Shamseddines today? Hatred has covered everything. Instead of calling on the prime minister to visit Saudi Arabia, let us send the Mufti and the Patriarch; let us send one of the heirs of the founding fathers of the Lebanese people’s profound unity, a deep unity that holds back – consciously or not – the flood of violence that is often hidden by political speeches. In doing so, we would be first doing a service to Lebanon, in particular to the Maronite Church, which is a school of fairness that would not ask from others what it would be unwilling to do itself.

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