lebanese secularism demonstration

(Joseph Eid / AFP/Getty Images / April 25, 2010)

Good news from a region that has seen its share of troubles, largely because of religious strife. Few people over the age of 40 can forget all the years of trauma endured by the ancient city of Beirut, once revered as the “Paris of the Middle East.” After years of war instigated by Islamists, Beirut was largely left in ruins. In the 20 years since the civil war ended, life has sprung back with a new generation sick and tired of religious battling and calling for “separation between religion and politics” or, as Americans might call it, “separation of church and state.”

This past weekend, a “Secular Pride” demonstration was held in Beirut, with several thousand people turning out due to publicity generated through Facebook and other internet sites. Once again, we can thank the power of FREE SPEECH for helping individuals overcome oppression. Let us cheer on those courageous souls rallying for secularism in their governing bodies.

Lebanese demonstrators march for secularism

As many as 5,000 people turn out in a grass-roots effort to demand the separation of religion from politics.

They had no blessing from the government. No politician in a big black SUV bankrolled them. None of the television stations controlled by political parties publicized their efforts.

And no cleric preached their cause at the pulpit.

Yet on Sunday morning, thousands of Lebanese, drawn by a largely informal campaign on Facebook and other Internet sites, marched through the heart of Beirut to demand that religion be excised from politics, a rare assertion of secularism in a region increasingly defined by religious identity.

“I don’t believe religion and politics should be mixed,” said Amer Saidi, 28, a student of political science at Lebanese American University, who joined as many as 5,000 people beneath a gleaming blue sky for what many considered the nation’s first “secular pride” demonstration. “Religion should not be used as a political tool.”

Saidi said he was born a Shiite Muslim but considers himself agnostic. He vowed to strike his religion from his national identity card, an option recently permitted by Interior Minister Ziad Baroud, a champion of nonprofit organizations and other civil groups that organized the march….