Secularism: Lebanon's salvation
Ghassan Karam
It is ironic that one of the greatest Moslem philosophers of the 12th century has left an indelible mark on what has become a fundamental inviolable principle of modernity and democracy but the concept of the separation of state and religion is no where to be found in the Arab World, not even in Lebanon.

Some might argue that it is not very judicious, when the very existence of the state is in peril, to devote precious time and energy to a seemingly less urgent issue such as the abolition of sectarianism. Obviously we beg to differ. We are of the opinion that a certain outcome is always predicated on the basic structure that underlies the system in question. Furthermore, tinkering with peripheral issues will not result in a radically different result unless the underlying architecture is changed. The human tendency to concentrate on finding a remedy for symptoms rather than addressing the root causes of an issue has not served us well. The best that can be expected from a remedy that avoids the pain associated with adjustments to a new set of fundamentally different paradigm is to whitewash the problems for a while and to slow down the speed at which the abyss is being approached. Yet the inevitability of the crash is still there. On the other hand a radical redesign that addresses the major shortcomings and flaws in the current architecture will deal with the real problem at its root and will provide for a meaningful relief based on sound foundations.

A seminal structural flaw in the current Lebanese political system is the insistence that sectarian affiliation is the main qualification to fill electoral positions as well as appointed ones. Unless one happens to have been born of a certain sectarian belief then many positions are automatically considered to be out of reach for that individual. That is discrimination at its worst. This system essentially places an obstacle that an individual has no way of compensating for and it is also important to add that this so called characteristic that prevents the many from being considered for certain jobs is not related by the furthest stretch of the imagination to ones ability to perform that job well. In fact religious affiliation is as unrelated to job performance as the applicant's color of eyes, the number of cavities in their molars or the make of car that they drive. The mere act of requesting an individual to reveal ones sectarian observances is best viewed as an intrusion on ones right to privacy.

A political system that is built on this flawed concept enshrines the notion of religious discrimination, robs the state of the most qualified for various posts, results in unjust and inefficient decisions and winds up in generating a legacy of tensions and recriminations between the members of the same community.

Luckily enough for us in Lebanon, an agreement has been reached15 years ago which stipulates the dire need to create a just and sustainable political system in Lebanon by eliminating sectarianism at all levels. Let us start by electing to the presidency the person that has a deep abiding belief in Lebanon as a sovereign, democratic and modern state, a person who has a platform to initiate and help implement policies that will encourage the promotion of economic prosperity, individual freedoms, social justice and environmental sustainability.

None of these attributes is the monopoly of one sect and thus there ought to be no sectarian restraint on who is qualified to seek that office. It is imperative to build the new Lebanon on solid foundations. Nothing is more basic than the removal of the criteria of sectarian affiliation for those that want to seek the Lebanese presidency. To have a list of female and male candidates that belong to all religious affiliations in Lebanon will be the best demonstration of our love and commitment to this state.

And since demography is destiny the strongest advocate of secularism ought to be the Maronite Church whose followers will be totally marginalized politically over the next seventy five years under the current sectarian system. By adopting secularism the Christians would be in the enviable position of "hitting two birds with one stone": transform Lebanon to a modern democratic state and yet protect the future prospects of their fellow believers. Major historic decisions are taken by the wise and the courageous, does Bkirki has these qualities. The survival of Lebanon may depend on its response.