Whenever in my childhood I had to change my name in a game, I usually used the pseudonym of Youssef Bey Karam.
That’s what a friend told me, a couple of weeks ago. Youssef Bey Karam is a paragon. He is considered by many to have led the struggle against the Turks. He is by far an independence symbol, and was always viewed as the defender of the Christians in the events of 1860.
If you go back in time, back to 1861, and ask the people of Zahleh what they think of this hero, the answer will be trenchant and limpid: He sold us out. In fact, you will hardly find the city of Zahleh in 1861, as it was burned that year, because of the actions of that man. After that the besieged city of Zahleh asked Karam to send his troops to help them repel the Druze fighters off the city, the latter promised to help them, but procrastinated. He didn’t send his army to defend Zahleh, and one of the neighbouring Druze sheikhs, after noticing that Karam won’t send his army, sent his own men carrying Christian flags to the city of Zahleh. the people of Zahleh thought that they were Karam’s army, and left certain baricades. You can imagine what happened next. And the battle of Zahleh is nothing, considered the fact that Karam was one of the men that incited the Christians of the Southern Districts against the Druze, promising, along with Tanios Chahin, the support “of their army of 50000 men that will march in their support on the southern districts once the war starts”. When the war ended, no more than 10% of this number was involved in the battles, or in the battle, to be more precise, because there was only one, and it was lost in Aindara, while the 300 men that entered Baabda only to retreat from it incited the Druze men to attack the town, without even coming back to defend it.
But the decision that Karam took to stay away from the battles was justified with his selfisheness: The Love Of Power. The French Consulate in Beirut promised him the post of Kaymkam (Prince) of the North, provided he manages to keep a neutral position in the events. After the system of the double principalities was removed and replaced with the one of Mutasarrifiya (Which couldn’t be headed by Karam because he was Lebanese), he decided after holding a certain administrative post within The Autonomous Sandjak to start a rebellion against the Turks to liberate the country. “Liberate the country from the Turks”, said the man who betrayed everything only to serve as a Prince under Turkish supervision some time earlier.
Hilariously, the person I quoted before comes from a region that suffered from Karam’s selfishness. The man who was indirectly responsible for burning Zahleh is praised by its citizens, the man that sold the Christians out is praised by them, the man that took orders from the French consulate is viewed as patriotic and the man that did anything to be the representative of the Turkish authorities ended up being an Independence Hero.
Tanios Chahin, the man who kept taunting the Druze and inciting the Christian population of the south on them while reassuring the Christians of the southern districts that he will be their buttress in the upcoming war finally watched them get slaughtered in the Mountains of the Chouf and Wadi El-Taym, without sending one regiment to support them or save them.
150 years from now, Michel Aoun will be remembered in the same way Youssef Bey Karam is, an independence hero, even though both of them are actually men who did anything to reach power, including selling out, allying with foreigners, colluding with the occupation and going on exile. 150 years from now, Samir Geagea will be remembered in the same way Tanios Chahin is, a revolutionary and a war hero, even though both of them are actually men who incited, taunted, created useless wars, fought previously lost battles, didn’t engage in combat when they should’ve engaged, and nevertheless never stopped inciting.
The Lebanese will always remember whoever they want the way they want them to be remembered, the way they are tought to remember them. There is and will be always a burnished version that shall prevail.
Fiction gives us a second chance that life denies us. – Paul Theroux