By Muyiwa Adetiba
Once upon a time, Lebanon was a beautiful country. Such a beautiful country. The weather was as warm as the people. It soon became the pride of the Arabs in general and a hunting ground for the Arab rich in particular – I remember those houses on the hills in Beirut with mists hovering around them where the rich loved to play.
It used to be said that Lebanon was where the West met the East for warm hugs and vibrant handshakes. But it was not only for hugs and kisses that they met. It was also a place the West felt comfortable doing business in. It helped that Lebanon stayed largely away from the Arab/Jew conflict.
Lebanon became the center of commerce for the Middle-East and older Nigerians will remember the gold of Beirut among many other goods that traders brought home from there. The Lebanese, like the Nigerian, is a natural entrepreneur and business minded person. Lebanon then was much like what Dubai is today. Except that Lebanon was populated by Christianity and Dubai is largely Islam.
Historians will be able to pinpoint when things started to go wrong. For me and many casual observers however, it was when it got involved in the politics of the Middle-East and opened its heart and doors to the Palestinians – my hurriedly botched interview with PLO’s Yasser Arafat was to take place in Lebanon. Terrorists or Liberation Fighters, whatever their cause or causes, have a way of despoiling anything they touch as we are finding out in Nigeria. Lebanon was not an exception.
It soon became a launching pad for an unwinnable war with Israel. The Palestinians and some Islamic faithful felt the Christian leadership was not doing enough for the Palestinian cause. Religion crept into the conflict. It didn’t help that Muslims had increased exponentially while Christians had dwindled. The pattern is familiar to us. Muslims were procreating rapidly. Christians were not.
In addition, Muslims were migrating into Lebanon from war torn neighborhoods at the time Christians were fleeing the country because of worsening situations. This resulted in a change in the demographic balance of both religions. It is not peculiar to Lebanon alone. It happened in Turkey. It happened in Nigeria. It is even happening in parts of Europe.
Unfortunately, mindless breeding coupled with mindless religious injunctions can lead to an economic chaos. In the case of Lebanon, a once warm, accommodating country became a bitter, cold, intolerant country. But nobody noticed. They were too busy fighting a supremacy war under the guise of religion. The economy began to groan and suffer. Nobody noticed. The branch of the god they serve was more important.
Corruption reared its head and took over governance. Nobody noticed. A more self-righteous war was being fought. This is what happens when insecure and incompetent people hide under the name of God to destroy their country. This is what happens when leaders love their brand of religion more than their country. The model that has worked for prosperous nations is the model that takes religion out of economic and political affairs of the country. Like I pointed out elsewhere, nobody is asking which religion Tobi Amusan, the athlete who broke the world record in hurdles belongs to. Or the religion of her coach.
A couple of leading Northern Christian politicians recently led an amorphous and ill-defined group of Northern Christians to reject their party’s Muslim/Muslim Presidential tickets. These same politicians were very vocal in their support of Tinubu before the primaries. Knowing how ineffectual the position of the VP is in the scheme of things in Nigeria, they should have supported a Christian candidate during the primaries if they were that concerned. After all, APC had Christians, including a pastor, as strong contenders.
But a Southern Christian candidate will not suit their political calculation. So it was about self-interest camouflaged as Northern Christian interest. And when one of them was indicted and removed for corruption, where was the interest of the poor Christians in his calculation as he allegedly made away with ‘grass-cutter funds’?
It is a reflection of the sorry state of the nation that we look at tribe and religion before we look at the competence of a person for the job for which they are vying or in which they are engaged. We see the result of having square pegs in round holes staring us in the face today yet we are not taking any cue. What we should avoid is a misfit/misfit ticket to quote my friend Sonala Olumhense, or a corruption/corruption ticket.
Last week, I spent some time with a Lebanese friend who has been my neighbor in the work place for over a decade. He had just come back from Lebanon and we spent some time discussing the sorry state of affairs there. He had nothing but sad stories to tell. Stories of how people lost life savings because the banks had no money to give them; of how your money was discounted by over 80% if you were desperate for money; of the unavailability of goods and services; of how people, Muslims and Christians alike, are fleeing the country in droves.
At this point in the lives of those leaving, it is their personal economy and well-being over religion. Which is why Muslims risk life and limbs to get to Christian Europe and Christians troop to Saudi Arabia. You see, at the end of the day, religious sentiments have very little place in the harsh economic world of supply and demand. We have to learn to give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what belongs to God.
We have economic and religious crises on our hands. I believe we can reduce the latter if we put the former on the front burner. But we would solve neither if we got our priorities wrong and put undue emphasis on religion. Instead, they would both become worse. Put bluntly, we need leaders – irrespective of tribe and religion – in 2023 or before, who can take the hard, dispassionate economic decisions necessary to get us out of the woods.
All those playing the religious card including so called enlightened Christians and Muslims, are basically igniting fires in the minds of unenlightened, impressionable and therefore potentially volatile people. The result could be conflagration. This is a route that can only lead us into destruction.