Crawling Out from Under the Rubble: On Becoming Iconoclasts

How and why did we let ourselves be continuously buried under the rubble? Without implicating ourselves in entrenching the Orientalist caricatures of Southwestern Asian societies as incapable of self-government, there are questions to be asked about quietist and conformist tendencies, about the ostrich-like behavior, and the zombie attitude. These questions do not lend themselves to easy answers. But engaging with them may facilitate critical assessment of the prospects for sustainable change.
According to Patricio Aylwin Azocar: “Ordinary men and women may often feel unmotivated to exert their citizenship, either because they cannot tell the difference between the different alternatives, or because they have lost faith in the political classes, or because they feel that the really important issues are not in their power to decide”. As for the well-known poet Adonis, he reproaches the deification of the political party, the ideology, and the community – Adonis opposes the sacralization that colors and creeps into politics, turning parliamentarians, ministers, and other public servants into demi-gods, their ideologies into gospels and political parties into quasi-sects.
Indeed, over the past decades, the legacy of multiple wars in Lebanon, including hypermnesia, and paradoxically the tabula rasa mentality and strategy, have produced in the minds of a good many Lebanese the illusion that somehow “somebody” – the warlord, the zaim, the political party, the sectarian community/belonging – but not the State (or the embodiment of the common management of our diversity), can provide for ALL needs, so why make much effort to fulfill what used to be considered in practice (or are considered in the Constitution) the responsibilities of any citizen?
As Larbi Sadiki describes Adonis in The Search for Arab Democracy, he is in all of this “an iconoclast”. “His predilection is for fluidity, plurality, and provisionalism”. The icons of Lebanese politics have all cultivated and entrenched political iconolatry, and that iconolatry has been internalized by many Lebanese, thus has weakened the case for citizenship. Adonis’s iconoclasm (desacralization) seems therefore justified, but in my opinion, when it comes to the Lebanese case, iconoclasm is not a generalized rebellion which will not take place given local divisions – and let us not forget the chaotic outcome of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ in most countries where it occurred -, but a change-making process located in multiple local and diasporic social-political struggles already taking place.
Agents of dialogue, non-governmental organizations, academics, and activists have been trying their best, especially since the 1990s (and before), to raise awareness about the necessity of reforming the social-political system and of finding solutions to numerous crises such as the economic, environmental, cultural,…; crises of paradigms, identities, difference, indifference, intolerance, belligerence, ignorance, oppression, fanaticism, and of missionary zeal. However, if we want to shift from subjection, autocracy, blind faith, absolutism, fixity, non-participatory polity, and “denizenship” to citizenship and good governance, we will have to crawl out from under the rubble, we will have to desacralize, we will have to become iconoclasts, and by that I mean: we will have to start making use of the energy and creativity of all these agents and encourage new initiatives, to serve our society (and continue on serving) even from afar (Lebanese living in diaspora) while continuing our primary missions, to pull up the stories of people who have been silenced, to harness solidarity into forms of actions that would contribute to the change-making process in an efficient manner, and to redirect the substantial energy of our frustration – when our streets and lives are vanishing under piles of glass, debris and garbage – and turn it into positive, effective, unstoppable determination.
“If beyond hopelessness there is hope, I am hopeful” (Elias Khoury). And I am calling on my fellow academics and artists to further publicize/disseminate their knowledge as a catalyst for social-political change, to share and continue to share the myriad ways they use their expertise to expand public discourse and promote social justice, human rights, peacebuilding, and alternative diversity management approaches. Intellectual activism or public sociology – or social justice education/ peace education – is an important form of activism that should accompany street protests, boycotts, and demonstrations. It is about the democratization of knowledge, about facilitating other forms of activism by giving people data, symbols, and paradigms they can reference to back up their positions on social and political issues (as Popkewitz and others have noted, “Knowledge provides the principles through which options are made available, problems defined, and solutions considered as acceptable and effective”), by fostering dialogue and constructive criticism. It is about stepping out of the office and putting the accumulated research to use. It is about ‘being academic and artist’ as a social role, not just a job, especially when the silence of many maintains injustice, which it frequently does.
True that academia and the arts do more than influence society, they are also shaped by it, they reflect the antagonisms and reproduce them, they are contested sites where various agendas and desires are promoted and through which power circulates to produce and legitimate certain kinds of knowledge, experience and ways of knowing, but academia — and some aspects of artistic production — in Lebanon is also inherently an elitist hierarchical structure and most academics/artists are worried about keeping their jobs, getting tenure and selling their artworks. Furthermore, as Henry Giroux notes, “Neoliberalism assaulted all things public, sabotaged the basic contradiction between democratic values and market fundamentalism (…), it also weakened any viable notion of political agency by offering no language capable of connecting private considerations to public issues…As democratic values give way to commercial values, intellectual ambitions are often reduced to an instrument of the entrepreneurial self, and social visions are dismissed as hopelessly out of date”.

Yet despite these limitations and that of self-enclosure of the Ivory Tower, there are already engaged Lebanese academics and artists, iconoclasts, and they are making a difference, but more need to engage beyond their classrooms, books and academic journals, and ‘ateliers’, to be in the act of researching people, themselves, the dynamics of oppression and the politics of social interactions and injustices, to become aware of the people’s often unknowingly complicit in the process of oppression, to create knowledge in and through meaningful participation and action with others, to bring people together and contribute to finding reasons of solidarity, to transform boundaries into spaces where lives and pedagogies are constructed together in ways that work for social justice and lead to powerful possibilities, and where dialogic and open-ended praxis based on more collaborative and caring relationships is promoted.

*A text by Dr. Pamela Chrabieh — published on August 16, 2020, republished on April 13, 2021.

Towards Building New Models in Lebanon?

The Ring – Beirut, January 14, 2020

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Buckminster Fuller

Fuller’s quote somehow makes sense. Indeed, should we work against establishments? Or should we help them transform for the better?According to Fuller, the second option is the best. I couldn’t agree more, but replacing existing models such as socio-political and economic systems of management as well as cultural norms with new systems and norms, requires a transformational journey – – both individual and collective, and therefore, deconstruction before reconstruction. Fuller went through such a journey before coming up with his famous quote.

It is clear there have been well thought and practiced alternative models on small scales (in classrooms and workshops, through activities organized by NGOs, in academic writings and artistic works, to name just a few of the many channels used in the last two to three decades), and that there is indeed a need for new large-scale models, but many Lebanese are not ready for them, or are simply not ready for change. And when people aren’t ready, they feel victimized, and they respond negatively. This behavior is called “resistance to change”. This resistance is the result of decades of wars and conflicts with their load of change which was inflicted on people, keeping them on the edge, nurturing their traumas. Many Lebanese lost trust in change, which makes it harder to think of and implement change in the present time.

In other words, changing existing entrenched and coercive models requires we all have to go through fighting/deconstructing them even if at different paces, in order to understand individually and collectively that the next step, whether tomorrow or in a few years, would be to build new models that are so desirable and so successful that most people will clamor for them.

For those of us who are unhappy with the way our country is managed now and has been managed for the last decades, and particularly for those of us who ache to see how much Lebanon is mired in painful poverty, inequalities and ignorance: let the deconstruction dynamics take place as they need to, and start working — if we want to and are ready to do it – – on the next phase, which is to build something new together. Nevertheless, before rebuilding systems of management, let us remind ourselves that we need to deconstruct then reconstruct the fundamental infrastructures of our systems of knowledge and mentalities that enable the different peoples living in Lebanon to become self-governing, empowered and ready to embrace change.

I don’t know exactly how we’re going to pull that off. I don’t know how long it will take. It might be our children or grandchildren who complete whatever we’re laying the foundation for, as coercive states, warlords and mafias aren’t going to suddenly go away, nor regional conflicts, but I know it’s worth it, because the future of our country depends on it.

Policy, Global Citizens and World Peace. Case studies: Lebanon, Canada and the UAE

Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern Studies Dr. Pamela Chrabieh was invited as a special guest speaker to give a lecture entitled “Policy, Global Citizens and World Peace: How can Governments influence policy to create better Global citizens and work towards World Peace? Case studies: Lebanon, Canada and the United Arab Emirates”.

Dr. Chrabieh introduced first her audience to the concepts of policy, glocal citizen instead of global citizen and the peace process as she defined it based on four interdependent dynamics: peacekeeping, peacemaking, peacebuilding and inner peace. She then identified the major core values that drive or should drive Lebanese and Canadian foreign policies such as interreligious dialogue, democracy, human rights and interculturalism. She also tackled the issue of internal policy while focusing on the social-political diversity management systems in Lebanon, Canada and the United Arab Emirates. Dr. Chrabieh concluded with the UAE Ministry of Tolerance as an important example of how peace can be adopted as the organizing frame for governments’ policies.

“Tolerance is one of the major pillars in preserving and expanding peace. Definitely, citizens and expatriates are called to be agents of peace, peace builders, and to help the government in its task, first internally, and second, in exporting the model outside of the Emirati boundaries. Dubai in particular, where hundreds of ethnicities, religious and cultural identities are learning to coexist and more, to live with one another – just like we are trying to do at the American University in Dubai -, where glocal identities are reshaping their belongings and relationships, promises to offer this model to the region, and to the world.”

The Harvard College in Asia Program (HCAP) is an initiative in which Harvard University partners with higher education institutions in Asia to tackle key issues relevant to today’s world of increasing challenges, while simultaneously expanding the cultural and educational horizons of participating student delegates. This year’s Conference theme organized by the HCAP at the American University in Dubai is “Equality, Tolerance and Freedom: the Effect of Culture and Policy on a Globalized World.”

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SOURCE:

AMERICAN UNIVERSITY IN DUBAI NEWS: http://www.aud.edu/news_events/en/view/1164/current_upcoming/policy-global-citizens-and-world-peace

Harvard College Asia Program Conference

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Dr. Pamela Chrabieh

Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern Studies Dr. Pamela Chrabieh was invited as a special guest speaker to give a lecture entitled “Policy, Global Citizens and World Peace: How can Governments influence policy to create better Global citizens and work towards World Peace? Case studies: Lebanon, Canada and the United Arab Emirates” on March 14, 2016 at the American University in Dubai.

The Conference was organized by the Harvard College Asia Program (HCAP) – an initiative in which Harvard University partners with higher education institutions in Asia to tackle key issues relevant to today’s world of increasing challenges, while simultaneously expanding the cultural and educational horizons of participating student delegates. This year’s Conference theme organized by the HCAP at the American University in Dubai is “Equality, Tolerance and Freedom: the Effect of Culture and Policy on a Globalized World”.

Dr. Chrabieh introduced first her audience to the concepts of policy, glocal citizen instead of global citizen and the peace process as she defined it based on four interdependent dynamics: peacekeeping, peacemaking, peacebuilding and inner peace. She then identified the major core values that drive or should drive Lebanese and Canadian foreign policies such as interreligious dialogue, democracy, human rights and interculturalism. She also tackled the issue of internal policy while focusing on the social-political diversity management systems in Lebanon, Canada and the United Arab Emirates. Dr. Chrabieh concluded with the UAE Ministry of Tolerance as an important example of how peace can be adopted as the organizing frame for governments’ policies.

“Tolerance is one of the major pillars in preserving and expanding peace. Definitely, citizens and expatriates are called to be agents of peace, peace builders, and to help the government in its task, first internally, and second, in exporting the model outside of the Emirati boundaries. Dubai in particular, where hundreds of ethnicities, religious and cultural identities are learning to coexist and more, to live with one another – just like we are trying to do at the American University in Dubai -, where glocal identities are reshaping their belongings and relationships, promises to offer this model to the region, and to the world”.

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