Towards Inclusive Societies in the Middle East Conference Full Report

Our conference’s full report (“Towards Inclusive Societies in the Middle East”
Ayia Napa, Cyprus, October 31 – November 2, 2019) by Karis Ailabouni:
“Inclusive societies based on equal rights remain at a distance as the Middle East continues to face radicalized religious and political movements. In light of this, Dar al-Kalima University College of Arts and Culture and the Christian Academic Forum for Citizenship in the Arab World (CAFCAW) organized its fifth international conference entitled, “Towards Inclusive Societies in the Middle East”, held in Cyprus from October 31 to November 2, 2019. The conference gathered 47 scholars, activists, and experts from around the world with the aim of stimulating critical dialogue on the factors that hinder equitable societies in the region. In an effort to practice inclusion, 29 (61%) of the conference participants were women, while 9 (19%) were youth under the age of 35. In addition, participants came from diverse national backgrounds. The majority hailed from the region, namely Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Syria and UAE. However, participants also joined from the USA, Canada, Sweden, the Netherlands, Austria, Germany, and the UK. The conference provided also a forum for Arab scholars from the diaspora to connect to their peers from the region. The forum’s diversity of participation inspired an unparalleled interdisciplinary, ecumenical, and interreligious discussion, through which participants could explore issues from multiple perspectives.

Following a welcome dinner on October 31, the event consisted of eight sessions and 22 paper presentations over two days. Sessions I and II provided a theoretical framing of inclusivity in political and theological terms. This led into sessions III and IV, which tackled gender justice as a critical form of inclusivity. On day 2, the morning consisted of two sets of parallel sessions. The first contextualized inclusivity through specific insights from Lebanon and Egypt, while the second brought unique interdisciplinary approaches to the theme- from philosophy, to germ theory, to natural resource management.

The conference also made space to include a flash panel on the revolution currently unfolding in Lebanon. As a scholarly forum rooted in everyday realities, it was necessary to include this session given its relevance to the themes of the conference and to the sociopolitical context of the region at large. Lebanese participants shared their diverse perspectives from the ground, reflecting on the opportunities and challenges of the revolution as a platform for people to affect social and political change.

Several important themes emerged from the discussions surrounding these sessions. Firstly, the bondage of minoritization and sectorization in the Middle East poses a challenge to inclusive societies. Through histories of colonialism and authoritarianism, Christians have been constructed to think of themselves as minorities and, therefore, inherently disempowered. This phenomenon calls for a radically inclusive, popular theology that rejects sectarianism.

Inclusivity, then, requires societies in the Middle East to learn from local history so that they might deconstruct oppressive power systems inherited from colonialist and authoritarian regimes. Rather than reproducing exclusivist modes of authority, there is an urgent need to build new social contracts that empower the participation of all people in public life. This necessitates not only the building of new political systems, but also a sociocultural shift in which people begin to understand political participation not as a privilege, but as an essential dimension of their being.

Therefore, there is a need to pursue a collective journey towards inclusive societies. This was brought to light in discussions tackling gender justice, as many women’s movements are already carving a place for themselves as equal citizens. For example, women are at the front lines of the revolution in Lebanon. Meanwhile, women Islamic activists in Palestine are challenging the dominant culture by studying Islam and building their religious practice. In addition, women in the Evangelical Church in Egypt are struggling to become ordained leaders in their church through subversive ministry. Youth in the Middle East are also actively excluded from participation in public life. Research presented in the conference showed youth’s growing disillusionment with their future. Although they are eager to better their own community, many feel they must ultimately go abroad to realize their dreams. The problematic of Arab youth and women’s exclusion calls for participatory processes that allow the marginalized in society to make their voices heard.

Finally, the conference concluded with a discussion of pressing topics that might be addressed in future conferences. The recommendations emphasized by participants included the following:

Public theology of the religious other
Liberation from exploitation and authoritarianism
Technology, Religion and virtual realities
The role of education in social change, peace, and reconciliation

CAFCAW executive committee decided to choose the theme of Education for the next year with a working title “The Future of Education in West Asia and North Africa: Education for the Future.”

The conference was utilized as a platform to launch Telos magazine (www.telosmagazine.org), a new online magazine with a focus on public theology.

In addition to the stimulating discussions that surrounded these sessions, one of the greatest successes of the conference occurred informally. Academics and activists from around the world were able to build new connections with one another, creating a network where ideas and experiences could be exchanged. As one participant noted, the conference succeeded in developing a community of scholars and practitioners. This allowed not only for rich and critical dialogue, but also opened endless possibilities for future”.

Source: Dar al Kalima University of Arts and Culture

CAFCAW Executive Committee
Telos Wana Magazine Editorial Committee

Standing Together in a World Divided – Bangkok Consultation

My video conference has been screened a few hours ago in Bangkok – Thailand.

STANDING TOGETHER IN A WORLD DIVIDED – Consultation developed by the Presbyterian World Mission and the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), (PCUSA).
Bangkok – Thailand, November 1-6, 2019.
My paper will be available in due time (“Christian Responses in Western Asia: Case Studies”).

Full video here.

عن الحوار الإسلامي المسيحي، ذاكرة الحرب وبناء السلام في لبنان

Interested in the subject on Interfaith Dialogue, War Memory and Peacebuilding? This is the full version of my article, and you can have access to the PDF file on Telos’ site: https://www.telosmagazine.org/

Towards Inclusive Societies in the Middle East International Conference in Cyprus

Last preparations for the international conference “Towards Inclusive Societies in the Middle East” in Ayia Napa – Cyprus. Organized by CAFCAW and Dar al Kalima University of Arts and Culture. Oct.31st-Nov. 3rd 2019.

CAFCAW executive committee

Repenser la gestion de la diversité religieuse et culturelle entre le Liban et le Canada

Les cas d’étude et de comparaison entre le Canada et le Liban ne sont pas récents, et suscitent encore aujourd’hui l’engouement de plusieurs chercheurs, vu que ces deux pays sont marqués par la diversité religieuse et culturelle. Une diversité qui pourrait constituer un terreau de dissensions, ou une pratique et un horizon de convivialité et de paix.

Au Liban, des individus et des organisations non-gouvernementales revendiquent des changements dans la gestion de la diversité. Au Canada, avec les revendications particulières de communautés religieuses et culturelles, ainsi que l’intégration de l’expression du phénomène religieux dans l’espace public comme dans les secteurs académiques, médiatique et juridico-politique, les défis de non-discrimination sont multiples.

En fait, tant au Liban qu’au Canada, on cherche continuellement à repenser la place du religieux dans l’espace public et à réformer le système de gestion des composantes de ces deux pays, tellement différents mais aussi semblables à bien des égards.

(Extrait de mon introduction à la 4e table-ronde du colloque “Les communautés de l’Etat du Liban” à l’USEK, 22 mars 2019)

The Social Life of Memory: Violence, Trauma, and Testimony in Lebanon and Morocco

Saturday, 2nd March 2019 Magazine of the European Observatory on MemoriesISSN 2565-2931 | DL B 27726-2017

Nikro, Norman Saadi; Hegasy, Sonja (Eds.). Palgrave, 2017

By Tsjalling Wierdsma, Master Student on Heritage and Memory Studies, University of Amsterdam. Fellow at EUROM (2018).

The Social Life of Memory: Violence, Trauma, and Testimony in Lebanon and Morocco, edited by Norman Saadi Nikro and Sonja Hegasy, is part of the larger Palgrave Studies in Cultural Heritage and Conflict Series, which focuses on themes such as heritage and memory of war and conflict, contested heritage, and competing memories. Contributors to the book include Joey Ayoub, Pamela Chrabieh, Brahim El Guabli, Ali Hamdan, Norah Karrouche, and Laura Menin. While the book focuses on the specific contexts of Lebanon and Morocco, in this short review I would like to reflect on some broader memory and heritage issues addressed in the book, while still keeping the particular contexts to which they refer and in which they were addressed in mind.

One of the main thematic parameters of the book concerns the interaction between, and “transformation of private memories into publicly shared memories, according to efforts claiming public acknowledgment and public redress” (2-3). Memory, in the process of this exchange, according to the authors of the book, “is acted on as a transformational site, a milieu, whereby social and political engagement takes place, situating memory as a public event” (3).

The book points to an interaction and tension between Nora’s famous concept of memory as lieu, as a memorial or other form of formal commemoration, and memory as the milieu. By addressing memory as milieu the book enables a focus on overlooked processes of memory that otherwise might not be classified as such. An example of this is given in Laura Menin’s chapter, in which she focuses on the process of waiting experienced by the families of victims of political violence that disappeared during the Years of Lead. Instead of viewing waiting as a purely passive process, she instead views it as a “multifaceted temporality that entails both passivity and proactive engagement” (27). Menin describes how waiting in this context is perceived as an additional state-imposed source of pain, trauma, and loss of agency, but simultaneously brings with it novel political subjectivities and specific modes of activism where personal memories of violence are re-socialized, made public, and act towards specific political and transformative goals (27).

Hariri Memorial | Picture: upyernoz, uploaded by Albert Herring [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Chapters such as Ali Nehme Hamdan’s, which focuses on the Hariri mosque in Martyrs Square Beirut as a site of memory, highlight the usefulness of the concept milieu for engaging with the everyday “messy stuff of contention” (146). It further allows for a focus on the simultaneously conflicting and collective cultures of memory, without “assuming the centrality of the nation-state to their production” (146), which is necessary in a context such as Lebanon, but also more generally enables a focus that highlights the multiple actors and the ways in which they engage, negotiate, and create sites and spaces of memory. It allows for an engagement with the “many cultures of memory that coexist at any one time” (147), and not just at the level of the nation-state.

Pamela Chrabieh’s chapter, focusing on the war stories of university students in Lebanon belonging to the 1990’s generation, adds a generational component to these cultures of memory, and problematizes Hirsch’s notion of post-memory, stating that “many memories that were transmitted not only constitute the memories or are part of the ressouvenir processes of the new generations in their own right, but also intermingle with other memories to the point of not having clear boundaries” (189).

Chrabieh employs Rothberg’s concept of multidirectional memory, to enable a generational conception of a malleable discursive space in which groups, their memories, and their positions come into being through dialogical interaction. Similarly, Norah Karrouche’s chapter, detailing how local memories of war and violence in the Northern Riff region of Morocco have shaped the agencies and identities of several generations of Berber activists in both Morocco and its diaspora, shows how newer generations of activists can attempt to inscribe themselves into and simultaneously construct larger mythological and symbolic histories of activism. Like Chrabieh, Karrouche shows how multiple episodes of violence interact. Karrouche further discusses how these histories of activism can act as mythomoteurs, grand narratives about the specificity of a place in history and (trans)-national narratives (232-233). In combination, the two chapters however also highlight the large contextual differences in the generational transmission of memories.

The interaction and the contradictions between the different chapters is one of the book’s largest strengths. Instead of taking away from the individual arguments, these contradictions work to show the many nuances and contradictions attached to institutions, spaces, and milieus of memory, when approached from different levels of analysis and with different focus points.

SOURCE: EUROPEANMEMORIES.NET

Minutes from the Miracle City by Omar Sabbagh

Congratulations dear Omar Sabbagh! I had the pleasure to read your Dubai Novella and write a back book cover blurb.

Hakim, a Pakistani taxi driver whizzing through the streets. Patrick, a Ugandan security guard with aspirations of becoming a writer. Farida, a Moroccan beautician hoping for a fresh start. Saeed, a respected Emirati journalist just back from London.

Taking place across the last few days of Ramadan, Minutes from the Miracle City is a unique retelling of the virtuoso project that is Dubai.

Note: Here is the detailed version of my blurb: Omar Sabbagh’s Miracle City is a delightful kaleidoscopic tale of contemporary Dubai through the struggles and identity crises of migrants and locals’ characters living at the crossroads of tradition, postmodernity, and glocalization. A feast for the reader’s eye and soul!

https://www.fairlightbooks.co.uk/minutes-from-the-miracle-…/