Here is an exchange I had with Friends of Lebanon, UK . They sent me their September Newsletter, and I have sent back a few comments. Friends of LebanonMessage 1 of 1 , Oct 18, 2007View Source
Here is an exchange I had with “Friends of Lebanon, UK”. They sent me their September Newsletter, and I have sent back a few comments.
Friends of Lebanon Newsletter: September 2007
It has been a busy month. We finished off the summer with a panel discussion entitled “Lebanon One Year On.” Hosted by Arab Media Watch, Friends of Lebanon, the Centre for Lebanese Studies and the Council for Arab-British Understanding, the discussion packed a full house. The consensus at the end of the evening was that the current political stalemate has been brought about by many historical and social factors, and that it is only through an informed understanding of these factors that we can hope to bring the stalemate to a positive conclusion.
Friends of Lebanon was a proud supporter of the Arab Media Watch Fundraiser Dinner. With so much emotional mis-information feeding the actions of the Western World in the Middle East, it is more important than ever that there is a guardian of objective media coverage. The highlight of the evening was the presentation of the 2007 AMW Award for Excellence in Journalism to BBC Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston. Mr. Johnston exemplifies quality in journalism: neither embellishing nor politicising, but simply reporting the real story.
Friends of Lebanon has recently participated in televised panel discussions—on the presidential elections crisis and on the cluster bomb issue. The elections issue is of course the natural result of nearly a year of grinding distrust on the political scene. We would encourage all of the Lebanese people to respect their differences and work together for the common good. We would encourage citizens of other countries to respect the will of the Lebanese people. We would encourage the Lebanese leaders to listen less to foreign governments and more to the citizens of Lebanon. It is time to move forward to a better and more peaceful Lebanon.
Cluster bomb explosions have claimed yet more casualties in Lebanon. But there is international momentum to ban these hideous weapons. Last week the UN issued a statement endorsing the Oslo process for an international treaty banning cluster munitions. Friends of Lebanon is now a member of the Cluster Munition Coalition (http://www.stopclustermunitions.org/). We are working toward a Global Day of Action Against Cluster Bombs on 5 November. We will be sending out details soon. If you would like to get involved, please contact us. And again, if you have not yet done so, please go to http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/M85submunitions/ and sign your support. It only takes a minute and every signature counts. Even the UK Foreign Affairs Committee has challenged the House of Commons to explain how it justifies continuing to permit UK armed forces to hold such munitions, given that the failure rate of 'smart' cluster munitions could be as high as 10%. Please join us in the demand for an explanation.
The October calendar of events has been posted on the website. As always, if you know of an activity/event that you don’t see listed, do drop us a line so we can include it. And again, if you would like to become more involved in the day to day work of Friends of Lebanon, or if you have suggestions or comments, please send us an email.
Friends of Lebanon
Phone: (44) 1923 772494
Fax: (44) 1923 772494
For a better and more peaceful Lebanon
Dear Friends of Lebanon,
Thank you for sending me your September Newsletter. Your call for a better and more peaceful Lebanon can hardly be objected to by any friend of Lebanon. What I find difficult is to translate that wish into action. You write:
We would encourage all of the Lebanese people to respect their differences and work together for the common good. We would encourage citizens of other countries to respect the will of the Lebanese people. We would encourage the Lebanese leaders to listen less to foreign governments and more to the citizens of Lebanon. It is time to move forward to a better and more peaceful Lebanon.
You recognize at the same time that the Lebanese problem is complex:
The consensus at the end of the evening was that the current political stalemate has been brought about by many historical and social factors, and that it is only through an informed understanding of these factors that we can hope to bring the stalemate to a positive conclusion.
One of your correspondents was more specific in his description of the problem. He wrote on 16/10/07:
“Without fundamental political reform, Lebanon’s political system – based on power sharing between sectarian factions – inevitably will encourage cyclic crises, governmental deadlock, unaccountability and sectarianism. More importantly, the country’s future is intricately tied to the regional confrontation that plunged it into armed conflict with Israel, paralysed its politics and brought it to the brink of renewed civil war.” The International Crisis Group—an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation—works through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict. The Crisis Group filed this report on “Hizbollah and the Lebanese Crisis” on 10 October 2007. http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=5113&l=1
The above-mentioned article on Hizbollah is very interesting. It describes very well how Hizbollah adjusted to the changing situation. But I find the recommendations of that article disappointing. They do not go beyond platitudes and wishful thinking. It is easy to recommend peace. But most of the times, recommendations of this nature remain, as we say in Lebanon, “ink on paper”.
Even those who call for “fundamental political reform” do not agree on the specifics of the reform, and have no realistic program of implementation. In a country that is deeply divided, it is impossible to reach any agreement on what needs to be changed. Our ideological differences are so big that it will be foolish to try and overcome them. The only thing we can do is take notice of them and respect them.
Instead of fighting sectarianism, I propose to learn to live with it. I base this approach on the fact that we cannot eliminate the sectarian views of the Lebanese factions. Instead of calling for what cannot be done in the present situation, I call for a more realistic approach. In the same way as we do not have to overcome our religious differences in order to create a modern and viable State, so also it is not necessary to overcome our ideological differences in order to create a viable democracy. In the same way as we contain our religious differences within the confines of our communities, so also we can use our community system in order to contain our ideological differences (pro-West/pro-East). What is absurd is to allow what should be contained at the community level to invade the national level and ravage it.
The Lebanese problem has two basic dimensions. One affects the people and the other one concerns the institutions. We tend to concentrate our attention on the political scene, that is to say what takes place on the surface. I call that the stormy agitation of the waters. This is what reporters report about. They say more or less objectively what the people are doing in the middle of the stormy waters. We tend to neglect the institutional problem.
When a plane crashes, the cause can be either a personal mistake or a mechanical failure. In Lebanon, we tend to explain everything as personal. We do not recognize the mechanical failures and huge defects of our constitutional system. There is a mortal flaw in the way the Lebanese State has been designed. We must redesign the way we govern ourselves so that we respect our ideological differences instead of being contemptuous of them. Those who give the baby a bath in their stormy waters end up drowning it.
Lebanon is like a house that was built on sand and without adequate foundations. We keep rebuilding if after each storm without thinking about the foundations. We are obsessed with what is visible. What is below the surface remains, as it were, beyond our reach.
It is very hard to free ourselves from all the prejudiced views that are part of our culture. What we consider true in our political culture can be misleading. Without a critical approach to our traditions, we will remain the innocent and unconscious victims of our cultural heritage.
I invite those who are prepared to rethink their “truth” to look for ways of introducing change for themselves. Let’s stop complaining and blaming the others for our fate. Partial solutions are better than no solutions at all. Besides, partial solutions are likely to show the way for more comprehensive solutions.
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