06 08 17 - LETTERS FROM LEBANON (Nš 6)
|Beirut, August 16, 2006
Today, August 16, 2006 has been the closest day to normal since July 12, the day when hostilities started. Many Haigazian University students and faculty called or visited the campus, inquiring about the fate of the Summer Semester thatwas interrupted. A few prospective students submitted their financial aid applications, and the staff felt like working efficiently. It feels good and I thank God for His
The UNSC resolution #1701, with all its limitations, shortcomings, and potentials for misinterpretation and misapplication, has intervened.
As soon as the ceasefire came into effect on August 14, a day after the heaviest bombing on the southern suburbs of Beirut, dozens of thousands of displaced people headed back home. In thousands of cases,
this meant driving on dirt roads to reach the rubbles once called houses and apartment buildings, where countless unidentified corpses have long lost count of the days since they were overcome by bombs and
Our own community feels an undeserved privilege. It suffered much less than many others. Yet, in more genuine ways than ever before, all communities in Lebanon succeeded in reaching out to the displaced in effective and practical ways.
It took more than a month for the sanctimonious powers of this world to allow for and negotiate a fragile ceasefire in a region that has become even more brittle than before. In the meantime, at least 1,150
civilians were killed in Lebanon, more than 4,000 were injured and so much was destroyed. The whole Middle East and indeed many people around the globe were traumatized as a chapter in this "Crisis in the
Middle East" seems to have tentatively closed. And now, every party has claimed a "historic" victory in an "existential" war. No one has apologized, no one has admitted they were wrong, no party has promised
to work for peace, and probably no ethical discussion will be allowed to consider the war crimes committed. Psychologists often divide cultures between those that are shame-oriented and others that are guilt-oriented. What about a third category, a self-distancing majority that has an arrested or suspended feeling of both shame and guilt?
On day one of the crisis, I had an engaging conversation with a number of Haigazian University students on campus. The Israeli planes were hovering above us, the population fleeing the South, the war escalating. Some of the students were blaming Hizbullah for disrupting the tourist season in the country and upset about having an abrupt disruption of their summer semester. One of them said, "All I care about is getting a degree and leaving the country, and I want no one to interrupt my plans." Another student, offended with what he heard, tried to explain that the question was deeper than tourism or university studies. There was a just cause that required sacrifice and resistance on every level. "The fate of the whole region is at stake," he said, "and all you talk about is your own lives?" The answer was:
"Yes, but I want to be left alone to work for my future." And I agreed with both!
Today, 35 five days later, I met four of the same five students. The "just cause" student hurriedly congratulated me for the "great victory", and joined me in a re-visitation of the same old discussion.
Only this time, there was more humor, sarcasm, disdain and reflection in the conversation among them. One asked me to promise to continue normal studies no matter how bad the situation gets anytime in the
future. Another shared his plans to leave Lebanon as soon as he graduated. A fourth one expressed his fear that the Lebanese politicians' daily television debates would ultimately lead to a civil war, a prospect Israel would immediately endorse if not propagate to start with, he thought. Then it was my turn to share stories and lessons of the 1975-1990 civil war: endurance, meaning-making, courage, and the like.
Lebanon is under political and diplomatic pressure now while the Israeli blockade of sorts continues and my questions get more complicated: How will the country handle the pressures, continue in its divided ways, and at the same time rebuild all that was ruined and
shattered? While the South of Lebanon is promised days of caution and tension, can Lebanon go back to normal life in one part and be insecure in another? Will the one-month unexpected Hizbullah survival
encourage and boost other radical resistance movements in the world to use similar guerilla methods? Will the Israeli carte blanche to use state violence as a means of national existence further lower the
barely ethical standards of the international community? Will the current global unintelligent and uneducated "war on terror" use the fear of the world population as a means for greater control of minds,
policies and governments? Will the definition of mainline religion, i.e. Christianity, Islam and Judaism, continue shifting into intolerance, violence, neo-totalitarianism and uncritical living?
During the past month, numerous Armenians in our community have repeated the following disappointment: "We always thought the Ottoman
Empire was not deterred in its Genocide of Armenians during WW1 because there were no television crews then, but now we see that the media are not only a source of information but also part of the war
machine." True, Lebanon has made the news for long weeks, but I do not think that most international viewers have become more educated or sensitized in relation to what is fair and just in this region or in
this crisis. Still, I am grateful that most networks did not leave us behind. Some truth was heard some of the time by some people. What more could be possible?
I had ended my very first letter on July 19, 2006 with a set of conclusions and questions. Some answers have begun to emerge. A high percentage of youth in church, university, and market have become really hopeless. Those who were either economically or emotionally vulnerable have received a heavy blow during the past month. The most common and unfair conclusion I hear now is that a Lebanese of value is
the one who also owns the citizenship of a Western country. Those countries could evacuate your family, pay for the trip, put pressure on Israel for your safety, etc. It may be temporarily pragmatic, but
certainly sad and exaggerated.
As in every letter, I see reasons for being hopeful and encouraged.
In my previous letter, I had mourned the fact that bridges were destroyed before anything else. Now, since the very first hours of the ceasefire, a dozen Lebanese businessmen and banks have pledged that the first they will build are the bridges. As we always expect of the Lebanese, even within 48 hours, some make-shift roads and bridges are already functioning and thousands of returning cars are hitting the road, not bombing them. I have no doubt that the world will be surprised, again, at the speed of reconstruction of the country.
This morning, we announced that the Summer Semester of Haigazian University will be resumed on August 23. To my knowledge, that is the earliest date for any university to reopen after the crisis. As
students of various backgrounds and ideologies re-gather at Haigazian, we will re-capture our opportunity to create an atmosphere of dialogue
among them; we will hopefully re-kindle their zest for education; we will attempt to re-configure their hopelessness into creativity; we will re-treat their disappointment in God and humanity with examples
and messages of faithful service; we will try to re-create all the positive and beautiful that Lebanon has been known by. It is a prayer that will hopefully turn into a plan of action.
In this politically volcanic region of the world, and amidst the uncertainties of the present and the future, I celebrate our faith in a God who sustains us in everything. This is our belief, our experience, and our hope for the future.
Whether the future will bring further violence or not or how soon, we do not know. In fact, globalization of all sorts of processes and realities in the world will also and increasingly mean that the insecurity of one is the insecurity of all, a lesson we should have learnt from our Christian faith but failed to do so.
What we know here is that we can bring our share in peacemaking among and through those who enter our gates at Haigazian University: an institution whose foundations go deep into the history of the perseverance of the Armenian people, into the Christian sacrificial message of forgiveness, and into the deep roots of the magnificent cedars.
This letter has the tone of a closure but it is not! I am sure the conversation will go on: the resourcefulness of one will be the strength of the other, and the message of one will be the story of
Rev. Paul Haidostian, Ph.D.
Riad El Solh 1107 2090
Paris via Beirut
Rev. Paul Haidostian, Ph.D.