In Lebanon, Christians are traditionally francophone. But the future of the French language now rests upon Shiites, who make up a much larger group.
Nabatiyeh, a town of 100,000 inhabitants in south east Lebanon, does not hide its ties with the Shiite Hezbollah group. Across the town there are signs and symbols of this collective sympathy for the “party of God.” But there’s another remarkable presence in Nabatiyeh: the French language.
It’s a tradition reinforced by mass immigration from former French colonies in West Africa.
Mahmoud Daher is Shiite. He was born in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Daher lives with his wife and three children in an apartment block in downtown Nabatiyeh. Every morning before taking the kids to school, it’s the same ritual: The Marseillaise – the French national anthem – followed by coffee in the living room.
According to Daher, there is no antagonism between Hezbollah – known simply as “the resistance” in this town – and the French language. For him, the resistance is first and foremost cultural: “Without education, without culture, you can not resist and fight the aggressors, above all for our children’s future,” he says.
Nabatiyeh Mayor Mustapha Badredine, a man with close Hezbollah links, studied medicine in Montpellier, France. The French language, to him, is a matter of history, of values. “It’s not because the British, the Americans, are the enemies that we do not want to learn their language. We will learn their language. But the French language offers other things,” he explains.
French is a ticket out of Lebanon, a tiny country wedged between Israel and Syria. Daher’s daughter, Haya, understands this well. “For me, French is very important,” she says. “It enables me to be in contact with the outside world.”
Without knowing it, Haya symbolises a revival of French speakers in Lebanon. Today there are many more Shiite than Christians, who are traditionally francophone. What happens to the French language in Lebanon in the future rests largely with them.
Date created : 2008-10-17