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.

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)