“The View from Lebanon: Dr. Pamela Chrabieh on life, education and the economy today in Beirut” – Interview on Finitoworld.com (London, UK)

Dr. Pamela Chrabieh is a Lebanese-Canadian scholar, university professor, visual artist, activist, writer and consultant. Selected as one of the 100 most influential women in Lebanon (Women Leaders Directory 2013, Smart Center and Women in Front, Beirut), and ‘Most Exceptional Teaching Fellow’ in 2008 (University of Montreal), Dr. Chrabieh won several national and regional prizes in Canada (including Forces Avenir Université de Montréal, Forces Avenir Québec, Prix Lieutenant-Gouverneur du Québec), and her Peace Education ‘Diplomacy of the Dish’ activity was selected as one of the most innovative activities during the Innovation Week of the United Arab Emirates in 2015. Since 2017, Dr. Chrabieh has been the owner and director of Beirut-based SPNC Learning & Communication Expertise, and the Nabad (nabad.art) Program Manager since 2020.

Here, in an important exclusive, she talks to the poet and critic Omar Sabbagh about the current condition of Beirut and Lebanon.

Omar Sabbagh: Whether it may be common knowledge or not, Beirut and Lebanon more generally are currently in a state of crisis.  Can you tell us, to start with, what this crisis situation looks like on the ground?  

Dr. Pamela Chrabieh: Lebanon has been going through a multiform crisis following the so-called end of the 1970s-1980s wars: social, political, environmental, sanitary, etc. The Beirut port blast on August 4, 2020, was the first straw that broke the camel’s back, and the ongoing acute economic crisis the second straw. As poverty is rising – more than 60% of the local population lives now under the extreme poverty line – people are increasingly desperate. Many (those who were able to do so) left the country, others (those who are staying) are trying to survive the financial meltdown, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the political deadlock.

OS: There are many factors that constitute the fraught modern history of Lebanon.  In your view, is the current crisis another version of other crises in the history of modern Lebanon, or is the current situation of a new sort, and why?

PC: In my opinion, the current situation is first the consequence of decades of corruption, physical and psychological wars, state paralysis, nepotism, sectarianism, foreign interferences, and a clash of ignorance. However, and contrary to what we went through during the 1980s – and that I witnessed first hand as being part of the generation of war – what we are going through today is different, as the deterioration of the country is unprecedented. During the 1980s, we were able to escape bombs and snipers and take refuge in a different city or village, we were still able to find food and work, and we had hope for the future. Whereas today looks and feels like a descent into hell, with most of us who still roam the land are hanging by a thread. The level of despair is immeasurable today, and that is, in my opinion, one main difference between the recent past and our present life.

OS: The economy has suffered tremendously in recent years.  Apart from long-standing practices of corruption, there was the revolutionary movement from 2019, and the terrible blast in Summer of 2020.  How would you assess or critique the recent fate and current state of materialwell-being in Lebanon and Beirut?

PC: Lebanon is enduring an acute economic depression, inflation reaching triple digits, and the exchange rate keeps losing value. This is still affecting the population, especially the poor and middle class. I agree with the World Bank statement: “The social impact, which is already dire, could become catastrophic”. I honestly don’t know how long the local population will be able to survive with one of the lowest minimum wages in the world, and when the country’s food prices have become the highest in Southwestern Asia and North Africa. People can’t even find needed medicine or pay a hospital bill. They haven’t been able to access their money in banks since late 2019, and their lights may go off starting May 15 because cash for electricity generation is running out. 

OS: How would you assess the prospects for the young, the student body of Lebanon?  It’s common knowledge that for decades the pool or fund of human capital, of human talent in Lebanon is a kind of superlative supply for what is a nugatory demand, and that there has been for decades a brain-drain from Lebanon to other places.  Are prospects for the young just a continuation of this previous scenario or are there significant differences to the situation now, and how so?

PC: Now more than ever, and given the compounded effect of multiple crises, the Lebanese youth is facing a lack of work opportunities, rising costs of living and unemployment rates, and the absence of any state support. Many are growing disillusioned and desperate, and we are not even at the end of our crises. We should expect worse to come and it is going to be tougher for young people to pursue their higher studies, find a job, or even secure an entry visa elsewhere. 

OS: Lebanon is known for its fractious sectarianism.  Does this feature of the nation’s political, civil, and denominational make-up affect the young today as much as it may have done in decades past?

PC: Most students of mine and other university students, along with countless academics, activists, and artists who have been part of the October 17 ‘revolutionary movements’, have vehemently criticized sectarianism in all its forms and offered alternative paths, ranging from a complete separation between religion and politics to mediatory approaches. This is not a new phenomenon, as many individuals and organizations stood against sectarianism in the last decades, but we are witnessing change within student bodies, especially with secular groups winning elections in some of the most prestigious universities versus traditional sectarian groups.

OSYou have been involved at a grass-roots with the so-called ‘revolutionary’ upheavals in Lebanon and Beirut since they began in late 2019.  How would you characterize the nature of this movement?  And what do you think its effects have been and/or will be on Lebanese politics and thus on the prospects of the up-and-coming generation?

PC: I think it is still too soon to assess the October 17 revolutionary movements. I wrote a while ago that there are many ways of approaching the study of revolution in the contemporary world. According to a narrow definition, “revolution is a forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in favor of a new system”. In that perspective, revolutionary dynamics in Lebanon appear to several observers (whether anti-revolutionary or skeptics) as “minor disturbances”. According to these ‘experts’, as long as the socio-political and economic systems are “unchanged”, the so-called “hirak (movement) is not worthy to be called “revolution”, and “will soon end” or it just “ended”. However, a different definition of “revolution” – the one I use and develop – makes it appear as an ongoing project of deep confrontation, resistance, deconstruction, reconstruction, and systemic transformation. This project has no start per se, nor a specific end. In other words, Revolution with a big R is a process, and the October 17 revolutionary movements are only but a step towards overturning existing conditions and generating alternative socio-political and economic orders. As I see it, “revolution” in Lebanon isn’t a static object that can either be a “success” or a “failure”. It consists of several current dimensions and historical layers simultaneously, and when it is not roaring in public spaces, it is boiling in the minds, adapting, learning, and bouncing back.

OS: What’s it like being both a teacher and a business woman in today’s climate?  Detail, if you would, how the perspectives of your variegated work-roles have illuminated for you the current state of Lebanon?

PC: I wear several hats: scholar, university professor, visual artist, activist, consultant, program manager, wife, daughter, mother, etc. And these hats have been both challenging and rewarding. Definitely, my studies and work experience have helped me shape my knowledge and critical thinking, but my life experiences, with my family, friends, and colleagues, in Lebanon and abroad, have marked my identity and deeply contributed to what I have become today. Most certainly, I haven’t learned about resistance and resilience in books, but through my art, the arts and culture in my country and the region, and through the many struggles I have been going through, as well as the struggles of others around me.

OS: Given your answers to the questions above, what in your view is in store for Lebanon, and why?   

PC: As long as there are inequalities, social injustice, exclusion, oppression, violence, war, etc., and as long as there are possibilities of change, I do not think that revolutionary movements will end. As long as our backs are to the wall and our only way is forward and through our fears, and as long as there are no limitations we choose to impose on our will, imagination, resilience, patience and freedom, we will rise again from under the rubble. 

Photo credit: the opening image was originally posted to Flickr by jiangkeren


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.

Lancement de l’ouvrage “Beyrouth Mon Amour. 4 août 2020 18h07”.

Heureuse d’avoir contribué à cet ouvrage sur Beyrouth. Merci Bélinda Béatrice Ibrahim et félicitations!

Je partage ci-dessous le communiqué de presse:

Beyrouth Mon Amour
4 août 2020 18 h 07
Ouvrage collectif sous la direction de Bélinda IBRAHIM
Préface de Gérard BEJJANI
Participation audio exceptionnelle de Mme Fanny ARDANT.

Une tragédie telle l’explosion du 4 août ne se donne pas à voir, elle se vit.
Profondément elle pénètre la peau, comme le jour du drame, elle a investi les âmes de Beyrouth. Elle ne se feuillette pas comme un album photo, mais elle imprime les yeux de spectres et de sang. Il y a autant de récits du drame que de victimes ;
Il y a autant de miracles que de survivants.
Comme un miroir brisé, l’explosion de Beyrouth se démultiplie dans nos têtes.
Elle hante nos rêves et distord nos réalités.
Le temps trébuche puis s’arrête, pour converger vers le seul jour de la comparution, où seront jugés les criminels, où peut-être s’apaisera notre colère.
Ce jour-là ne sera ni celui de l’oubli ni celui du pardon. Il verra la lente suture des blessures et le début de la cohabitation avec nos cicatrices.
Cet ouvrage est le fruit d’un travail collectif. Une chaîne d’entraide formidable, née de l’urgence de libérer la parole et d’exorciser la douleur.
C’est pourquoi sa mise en page est simple et sobre, retranchée dans la pudeur qui suit l’outrage. Aucune recherche de sensationnel et encore moins de reconnaissance ne viendra entacher les intentions de ses contributeurs.

Cinquante-six auteurs ont livré leur témoignage écrit et vingt-huit artistes ont saisi par des photographies, des peintures et des dessins cet instant funeste qui a détruit une ville et saccagé des vies.

Cet ouvrage a pu voir le jour grâce à la générosité de mécènes anonymes et d’autres nominatifs qui ont assuré le financement des frais de production et d’impression. Tout en offrant un espace cathartique à nos artistes, ils soutiennent le travail titanesque de six ONG qui œuvrent depuis le 4 août, 18 h 07, sur le terrain.

L’ouvrage sera lancé en présence des contributeurs et de la presse, le mercredi 28 octobre de 16 h 30 à 18 h 30, dans les jardins du palais Sursock-Cohrane, dans ce lieu qui symbolise à lui seul, les ravages subis par le Patrimoine libanais.

L’ouvrage sera disponible à la vente le jour du lancement et dès samedi 31 octobre au prix de 150 000 LL dans les branches (hors-mall) de la Librairie Antoine qui a gracieusement offert son réseau de distribution, ainsi qu’auprès des points de collecte suivants, le Kudeta à Badaro et la Casa Lounge , Avenue de l’Indépendance.

Il sera également disponible à l’achat en broché à l’étranger au Canada et les USA dans quelques jours sur : bouquinbec.ca (Impression sur demande)
Et en France pour la France et l’Europe sur : pumbo.fr (Impression sur demande)

Les recettes iront à 6 ONG actives sur le terrain à Beyrouth:
Afel Liban AL MAJAL Live Love Beirut Expertise Erasmus arcenciel.aec et Faire Face Cancer

Le Liban, un foyer de dialogue… Est-ce une utopie?

Dr. Pamela Chrabieh

Le Liban, un foyer de dialogue… Est-ce une utopie? Si en tant que peuple nous abandonnons ce rêve alors oui… En dépit de nos souffrances et mémoires meurtries, nous ne pouvons pas nous résigner. Il va falloir continuer à faire scintiller nos lumières, tant individuellement que collectivement. Un peuple qui lutte ne meurt pas!
الشعب الذي يكافح ويقاوم من أجل تقرير مصيره لا يموت.

Dynamiques révolutionnaires, dialogue islamo-chrétien et gestion des diversités au Liban: apports ou impasses?

Par Dr. Pamela Chrabieh, Article publié dans Telos Magazine, no. 1, Juin 2020.

Entrevue avec RFI sur la révolution au Liban

Mon entrevue cet après-midi sur Radio France Internationale (RFI) sur la révolution des femmes au Liban. A partir de la minute 33. Merci à Emmanuelle Bastide pour l’invitation !

“Depuis le 17 octobre, la population libanaise occupe la rue. A l’origine des contestations qui a rassemblé jusqu’à 1,5 millions de personnes, soit 20% de la population du pays, l’annonce d’une taxe sur la messagerie WhatsApp. Le pays a été immobilisé et le premier ministre a annoncé sa démission. Mais le mouvement ne faiblit pas et dénonce désormais les défaillances de l’Etat. Pénuries d’électricité et de gaz, chômage endémique, mariages précoces, dette abyssale, violences conjugales : quelles sont les revendications de la population dans ce pays où l’âge médian est de 29 ans ?


Bilal TARABAY, Journaliste pigiste franco libanais à France 24, photojournaliste pour l’agence le pictorium, agence indépendante
Dalia OBEID, libanaise, activiste installée en France qui a beaucoup agi en faveur du mariage civil.
Souraya KARAM, étudiante en relations internationales et histoire à l’Université St Joseph de Beyrouth.
Pamela CHRABIEH, activiste féministe et pour la paix depuis 20 ans, docteur en sciences des religions, habite dans les environs de Beyrouth.
Mira MINKARA, guide touristique à Tripoli, fondatrice de « Mira’s guided tour » qui propose des visites guidées culturelles et historique de la ville”.

Source: Liban: que demande la jeunesse ? 7 milliards de voisins, RFI, 19 novembre 2019

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/

لا للحرب ولا للنظام… اريد لبنان للجميع

انا جزء مما يسمى “جيل الحرب”. لقد ولدت وترعرعت في حرب السبعينيات والثمانينيات من القرن الماضي. لقد شهدت إراقة دماء ونجوت من القناصة والقنابل. أصبحت ناشطة سلام عندما كنت مراهقة وأقسمت أنني سأكرس حياتي للمساهمة في إنهاء الحرب. لقد ناضلت من أجل ثقافة السلام من خلال التعليم والفن والكتابة والنشاط الاجتماعي في لبنان والخارج، وسأواصل القيام بذلك ، بشكل فردي ومع الآخرين.

ما شهدناه في آخر 9 أيام في لبنان هو ظاهرة فريدة. أكثر من ثلث السكان يتجمعون ضد نظام فاسد يمثل أحد الأسباب الرئيسية للأزمات الاجتماعية والاقتصادية. ظاهرة فريدة من نوعها بسبب لامركزيتها، عفويتها ومصداقيتها. فريدة من نوعها لتعدد الأجيال والهويات الاجتماعية والثقافية. فريدة من نوعها بسبب تضامن خلاق بين وعبر الاختلافات.

من المؤكد أن هناك مجموعات وقوى محلية وإقليمية ودولية تستغل إيمان الناس ورؤاهم وأحلامهم وثوراتهم وانتفاضاتهم في جميع السياقات، بما في ذلك في لبنان، لكن هذا لا يعني أن تطلعات وممارسات الناس المتنوعة نحو لبنان أفضل باطلة، غير مجدية او مأجورة.

لا أريد حرباً أهلية ولا نظام طائفي.
لا أريد فراغًا سياسيًا ، ولا أمراء الحرب والسياسيين الفاسدين.
لا أريد الزواج بين الدين والسياسة ولا التخلص من الناس الذين لديهم إنتماء ديني.
لا أريد تلويث العقول وبيئتنا. و لا أريد الامساواة في الحقوق والفرص.
لا أريد مجتمعًا منقسمًا بين 8 و 14 آذار ، ولا بين مؤيد وضد ثورة.
لا أريد مجتمعًا قائمًا على التفرد ولا على الاقصاء.

أريد أن أعيش في مجتمع متحد في تنوعه.
أريد أن أعيش في سلام وأريد أن يعيش اللبنانيون من جميع الخلفيات والأجيال في سلام مع بعضهم البعض. اريد ان اعيش في لبنان لي، لك، لنا ولكم.

اريد لبنان للجميع.

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)