A Broken Compass…

800px-Kompas_Sofia

Hello there, my name is Nicholas Maalouf.

I am 21 years old and recently graduated from the Lebanese American University with a bachelor degree in International Affairs. I was born in Lebanon and lived here for most of my life. “I am proud to be Lebanese” is a banal statement that has lost all meaning yet I used to say it. I used to say it with full knowledge of my government’s failures and shortcomings as well as my fellow citizens’ dissatisfaction.

I am a firm believer that my people have a lot of potential that they still do not realize. I only realized this untapped potential when I went to live abroad for six months and realized that comments that fuelled the Lebanese inferiority complex (The country’s citizens pretend to be “Western” because they consider themselves to be inferior) such as “Germany is so organized, In France the government actually enforces its laws, the government actually takes care of its citizens in Britain” had no base, I failed to see why my country can’t be or do all of those things.

Living abroad made me realize that they are no different than us! So I asked myself why don’t my countrymen and countrywomen work to make our country a better place? I found part of the answer to my question when I met Salma from Tunis and Eva from the Netherlands. Both girls came from different backgrounds, were raised in different societies that had different values, and different mentalities. I enjoyed conversing with both of these amazing and highly insightful women. As I was conversing with them I noticed something odd happening when we started talking about different topics. I often found myself siding with Eva at times and then siding with Salma at other times. Then it hit me, I as a person raised in this country am neither “Eastern”-minded nor “Western”-minded. That is when I realized that part of the problem as to why we do not know how to direct our potential is because we do not know who we are!

What does being Lebanese mean? Does it have a meaning deeper than Dabke, Taboule, and Hummus? So I looked at my country’s past and saw that ever since the establishment of the Lebanese entity under Prince Fakhreddine II, Lebanon had been a country rooted in its “eastern” culture and traditions and nevertheless (and the only one) looking towards  the “west” to learn from it! The “west” however, long before the establishment of the Lebanese entity had taken its ideas from the “east” and had placed them as the basis for their own philosophies. After knowing that my country played a vital role in bringing about the Arab enlightenment, I had a mix of pride and dread since the problem that I had noticed when I met these two girls was intensifying! It gets even weirder when I see U.S State Department officials talking about helping a “new democracy” like Lebanon when the fact is that Municipal elections were held in the Lebanese entity in 1840 only a few years after “Operation Native American Freedom”(!) and the founding of the United States of America. Knowing all of this I fell into an identity crisis and the statement “I am proud to be Lebanese” truly no longer had any meaning because I ceased to know what being “Lebanese” meant…

Nicholas Maalouf is a regional intern at the World Youth Alliance Middle East.