Religion as the Basis of Identity in The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing
The journey of life is made up of obstacles and beliefs that help us form our identity. An identity is a way of classifying ourselves and conforming into a social unit, or in Darina’s case, rebelling against it. Darina El Joundi, author of her own memoir, The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing, struggles with her identity because she is unwilling to conform to any classification of people. In a country like Lebanon where there are seventeen different religious affiliations, and a government that determines its positions based on religion, it is important for an individual to identify with a religion in order to be accepted in the social regime. The cause of her struggle lies in her father’s rejection of religion of any form, which leads to her own refusal of religion. Religion has for many years been encouraging towards group identity, contributing towards the development and management of a government, and giving us an identity. Without religion in her life, Darina has no role models apart from her father, a shallow support system, and difficulty identifying herself within the war effort.
Religion, in the simplest of definitions, gives people a name with which to classify themselves. It represents our beliefs, reasoning for our actions and traditions, and guidelines for how we should live our lives. Without religion, one is without guidance. Darina’s father is her lone role model, because of their shared rejection of religion. The average individual has influences from his or her mother, father, teachers, religious parties, political parties, etc. Darina is unable to look to her mother, because she is in support of the general image of women, and does not believe in the liberated lifestyle Darina is trying to exhibit, “I controlled myself. I shouldn’t scream, shouldn’t raise my voice: it is important to give the impression that I had been permanently tamed. My mother was smiling” (page 135). The Lebanese belief is that women are supposedly the shadows of their men. As displayed by a conversation between Darina and Nabil, a man who had previously raped her: ““Leave me alone, I’m a free woman.” He didn’t take me seriously, “You poor thing, only men are free”” (page 101). Without guidance, and a father who taught her nothing of the conventional right and wrong of the general public, she does not behave in an acceptable way according to her peers. Additionally, the ideals that her father taught her were not the ideals encouraged by the fathers of other women her age living in the religious community.
My father was an odd bird. He was born in 1933 in Salamiyeh, a town in northern Syria where poets, writers, and Communists lived. Most of its inhabitants are Ismailites, a Neoplatonic sect for whom reason takes precedence over faith. The Ismailites have a temple where they pray to Aristotle and Plato instead of Jesus and Mohammed. (page 11)
Furthermore, religion provides the believer with purpose. Darina’s sister found her purpose in imitating the beliefs of her lover, who was a Muslim. “In her passion she imitated everything he did and began to say her prayers and observe Ramadan” (page 88). The Christians have the purpose to glorify Jesus Christ for having spared them, “they would throw themselves so covetously on Christ’s statue. They’d grasp his hips and cover him with noisy kisses from his knees to his chest” (page 16). Darina has no belief in a higher being, and only knows what she experiences with her own senses, which is obvious from her love for living on the edge. “My philosophy of life was very simple. I was convinced that I was going to die at any moment, so, hungry for everything, for sex, drugs, and alcohol, I doubled my efforts” (page 100). Her craving for risk taking is apparent in her description of her brush with death during the game “Russian Roulette,” as she displays no fear when she pulls the trigger, or even when she sees her friend die at the shot of the gun.
He pulled. His brain spurted out on my hair. Crumpled in his corner, Hussein was shrieking at the top of his lungs. I picked up the song where Ramzi had left off…I opened his left hand, I took his dose, and kept on. As he had said, the most important thing is to keep playing. “The his is more important than death.”
Religion can be found in the core of love, as well as war. In the memoir The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing, the conflict between the Christian Phalangists and the Palestinians lead to a war, “Actually, the war had been brewing for years, for a century.” (page 27). For twenty years the Phalangists fight the invading Israelis with one offense leading to a retaliation from the other.
Gunshots were fired, men were dashing toward the orchards. My mother came running home from work holding a box of pastries…she’d seen the Phalangists block a bus full of Palestinians, make them get off, and then slaughter them one by one. (page 24)
During the night Palestinian militiamen had taken over the Christian village of Damour and decapitated more than seven hundred people—women, children, and elderly citizens—in retaliation for a massacre the Christian Phalangists had committed in a Palestinian camp. (page 29)
As the war drags on, Darina is no longer able to identify with her prewar state. At the end of the twenty years of fighting, when the Israelis finally evacuated Lebanon, she struggles with her self, because war is the foundation to the identity that she tries to develop throughout her childhood and emerging adulthood. Without the war, she has to regress to the foundation of her identity, of the values instilled in her far before she can even remember, which proves near impossible. “I wasn’t able to live without the war anymore, my body had be programmed for it ever since childhood.” (page 118) After the war ended, the identity of the individuals that roam the ruins of Beruit are skewed as they try to erase the identity they were forced, or willing, to conform to in the war effort.
In the street, as I watched other people, I was constantly wondering which of them had killed and which of them hadn’t, who had raped and who hadn’t…after the war they all put on the same mask, executioners and victims mingling.” (pages 119-120)
The war not only forced the participants to reevaluate their identities, comparing each other’s prewar, war, and postwar identities, but disabled the citizens to openly identify with their religious affiliation. Movies and television were no longer allowed to stream religious movies or shows, and even the names of the characters could not have any religious background, “it was illegal to allude to any religions or religious denominations.” (page 120)
Religion is one of the strongest contributors to the base of our identity. Darina lacked religion, which made the base of her identity rocky. Therefore, she felt the need to experiment with sex, drugs, alcohol, and risk taking, to try to either make up for her lack of identity, or to force a certain identity onto her, only to find it was not suitable. The war, which evolved through conflicts concerning religion, was the foundation of her identity. The rocky identity she had tried to conform to throughout the war could not survive in a world without war. Religion is at the basis of the identity of an individual, and influences the lives of a society.