Lebanese don’t know their national anthem, poll finds

But many don’t care, saying it fails to express country’s true identity

By DAVID E. MILLER / THE MEDIA LINE
April 27, 2011 20:45
A Lebanese supporter of the March 14 alliance.

lebanese flag beirut_311 reuters. (photo credit: Jamal Saidi / Reuters)

Imagine 10,000 fans standing up at the start of a soccer match in Beirut to sing the national anthem. Statistically speaking, however, most of them – some 9, 500 – will be faking it, because they don’t know the words.

That’s what a survey released this week by the National Campaign to Memorize the Lebanese Anthem, a group devoted to instilling their countrymen with patriotic spirit, says. It found that only 5 percent of a countrywide sample group of 2,000 people could recite the words of "All Together for the Country" by heart.   

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The survey's findings came as a surprise to many, but – like much else in Lebanon – they disagreed on what kind of surprise it was.

"I would have thought more people would know it," Jad Aoun, a Maronite Christian who blogs at Lebanon News: Under the Rug Swept, told The Media Line. "It’s quite alarming."

But Hilal Khashan, a political scientist at the American University of Beirut, was surprised that even 5% knew the lyrics. "We used to make fun of the anthem in the Sunni school I attended," Khashan said. "We were taught that Lebanese identity meant nothing, that it was an artificial European creation."

Lebanon is a famously divided country, split along sectarian lines that dictate not only politics but living arrangements and standards of living. The Lebanese fought a 15-year civil war that left a quarter of a million casualties. Even today, many are mindful of how tenuous social peace remains.

The song “Kulluna lil Watan “ in Arabic was adopted as Lebanon's national anthem in 1927, seven years after Greater Lebanon was proclaimed by the French, who administered the territories of current-day Syria and Lebanon. Its lyrics of about 170 words (see below) celebrate the country’s mountainous geography and legendary cedars and allude to a history stretching back to the seafaring Phoenicians.

Khashan faults the anthem for exalting Lebanese nationalism and for its allusions to the Phoenicians, believed by Lebanese nationalists to be their forefathers. The words deliberately erase the Arab Muslim history of Lebanon, he said.

"The idea of the anthem, created in the spirit of European nationalism in the 1930s, was not of integration but of exclusion," Khashan said. "It tries to separate Lebanon from its Arab surroundings."

Lebanese Christians try to emphasize Lebanon's unique identity, but Muslims, such as himself, viewed the country as part of the wider Arab world, Khashan said. "I belong to the 95% of Lebanese who don’t know the anthem," he proudly told The Media Line. "The campaign won't work. Even if kids learn the anthem, its contents will ring hollow to them."

Words like that alarm Muhammad Dib, who launched the anthem memorization campaign. “The national anthem is a symbol for the nation," he told Lebanon's Daily Star. “The reason so few people know it in Lebanon is weak faith in the nation … a lack of attachment to the country and a lack of belonging and awareness."

Dib decided to tackle the issue in a staged campaign. Starting with a Facebook page, which garnered 2,400 supporters, he next set up what he calls "love roadblocks" across the country where the words of the anthem are distributed to passing drivers.
It is also is aimed at the young, who are the best candidates for getting "All Together for the Country" permanently imprinted on their brains, via educational campaigns in schools and universities.

Imad Bazzi, who advocates an end to Lebanon's sectarian system on his popular blog Trella, said he finds it hard to believe that a mere 5% of Lebanese know the national anthem as Dib's survey found. Lebanese are regularly exposed to the anthem in school, on national holidays and at the start and finish of the daily broadcast on national television., he said.

"What really worries me is the fact that a huge number of Lebanese don’t have the sense of belonging to their country," he told The Media Line. "This may explain why they say they don't know the national anthem [when they actually do]."

Bazzi said that decades of political and social instability in Lebanon caused a massive flight of Lebanese out of the country, weakening the remainders' sense of belonging. "They lost hope of change and reform," he said. "Even worse, we have no common understanding of our national identity. Phoenician? Arab? Middle Eastern?"

Aoun, the Maronite blogger, said teaching the national anthem in all Lebanese schools would greatly reduce the problem. “I know that in private schools it’s not done. Reciting the national anthem in school every morning should be made obligatory,” he said. “My primary school education was in the U.S. and although I'm not an American citizen, I know their national anthem by heart."   
    
"All Together for the Country" is usually thought to have been composed by the Lebanese Wadi Sabra, founder of the National Higher Conservatory of Music, with lyrics by  Rashid Nakhle. But a recent documentary aired on Al-Jadeed television station claimed that the tune was plagiarized from a song written in honor of a Moroccan-independence leader.

The expose set off a flurry of Facebook pages demanding to change the anthem. Al-Jadeed reported that Culture Minister Salim Wardeh has set up a committee to examine the allegations.

"Maybe we can create a more meaningful anthem," a page titled "The People Want to Change the Lebanese National Anthem" declared.

All Together for the Country

All Together, For the Country, for the Glory and the Flag!
Our valor and our writings are the envy of the ages.
Our mountains and our valleys, they bring forth stalwart men.
And to Perfection we devote our words and labor.
All Together, For the Country, for the Glory and the Flag!
All Together, For the Country
Our Elders and our children, they await our Country's call,
And on the Day of Crisis they are as Lions of the Jungle.
The heart of our East is ever Lebanon,
May God preserve it until the end of time.
All Together, For the Country, for the Glory and the Flag!
All Together, For the Country
The Gems of the East are its land and its sea.
Throughout the world its good deeds flow from pole to pole.
And its name is its glory since time began.
The cedars are its pride, its immortality's symbol.
All Together, For the Country, for the Glory and Flag!
All Together, For the Country


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