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/

Jbail-Capitale du Dialogue et de la Convivialité (Byblos, Liban)

Avec Sheikh Nokkari, P. Rai, et les convives du Mufti de Jbeil Sheikh Al-Laqis pour un iftar des plus généreux. Une occasion de célébrer la naissance de l’organisation non-gouvernementale “Jbail-Capitale du Dialogue et de la Convivialité” (J.C.D.C)
جبيل عاصمة الحوار والعيش المشترك

Théologies de la réconciliation

THÉOLOGIQUES

Volume 23, numéro 2, 2015 (publié en décembre 2017; disponible en ligne dès janvier 2018): https://www.erudit.org/fr/revues/theologi/2015-v23-n2-theologi03341/#

Théologies de la réconciliation
Sous la direction de Denise Couture et Jean-François Roussel

Direction de la revue: Alain Gignac (Directeur)
Éditeur: Faculté de théologie et de sciences des religions, Université de Montréal (QC – Canada)
ISSN1188-7109 (imprimé)1492-1413 (numérique)

ARTICLES:

Théologies chrétiennes de la réconciliation à l’heure de la Commission vérité et réconciliation du Canada
Denise Couture et Jean-François Roussel p. 7–30

La Commission de vérité et réconciliation du Canada sur les pensionnats autochtones : Bilan et prospective
Jean-François Roussel p. 31–58

Les Églises, la théologie et les Autochtones : De la réconciliation à la décolonisation
Michel Andraos p. 59–73

Le salut comme réconciliation
Jean Richard p. 75–101

La réconciliation chez Paul (2 Co 5,11–6,2 ; Rm 5,1-11) : Perspective discursive et socio-politique
Alain Gignac p. 103–131

La mission de l’Église : Réconciliation de l’humanité désunie
Gregory Baum p. 133–148

Pour des réconciliations ecclésiales, religieuses et personnelles : Les communautés locales de Poitiers et la confiance
Rémi Lepage p. 149–164

La réconciliation comme mission : De l’usage théologique de la notion de réconciliation par le décret sur la mission de la 35e Congrégation générale de la Compagnie de Jésus
André Brouillette S.J. p. 165–183

Les alliances interethniques en Afrique de l’Ouest : Nouvelles stratégies de réconciliation
Zaoro Hyacinthe Loua S.J. p. 185–201

Rôle de la femme dans la société et dans l’Église : Pour une justice et une réconciliation durables en Afrique
Albertine Tshibilondi Ngoyi p. 203–228

Pratiques de réconciliation au Liban : Un état des lieux
Pamela Chrabieh p. 229–252 

Entre le devoir de pardonner et le droit de ne pas pardonner
Karlijn Demasure et Jean-Guy Nadeau


PAMELA CHRABIEH

Résumé
Bien que les pratiques de réconciliation connaissent une longue histoire au Liban, celles-ci se diversifient à partir des années 1990. Elles constituent un important objet d’étude pour de nombreux académiciens et académiciennes ainsi que chercheurs et chercheuses ; elles sont devenues la cause commune d’une pléthore d’organismes non-gouvernementaux, d’associations civiles, de mouvements sociaux et d’artistes. Le thème de la réconciliation des Libanais et Libanaises sert aussi de cadre pour le discours politique. Cet article présente un état des lieux de ces pratiques en traitant premièrement de la relation de la réconciliation au dialogue interreligieux puis de la relation de la réconciliation à la mémoire nationale. Il présente par la suite certains exemples au sein de la société civile et identifie en conclusion quelques pistes de réflexion.

Abstract
Although reconciliation practices have a long history in Lebanon, they have been diversifying since the 1990s. Furthermore, they have become an important object of study for many scholars and researchers, and the common cause for numerous non-governmental organizations, civic associations, social movements and artists. The theme of reconciliation also serves as a framework for political discourse. This article presents first an overview of these practices by tackling the relationship between reconciliation, interreligious dialogue and national memory. It then highlights some examples found in the Lebanese civil society. It finally suggests some avenues to be explored.

Middle Eastern Studies Forum: Peace through Arts

On the afternoon of April 11th, 2016, the Middle Eastern Studies Division at the School of Arts and Sciences held the last of its monthly MEST (Middle Eastern Studies) Forums of the 2015-2016 academic year, titled “Peace through Arts.” The event consisted of MEST students showcasing visual art, songs, poetry, dances, and food that symbolize peace.

The organizers, Dr. Nadia Wardeh and Dr. Pamela Chrabieh, began the event with short introductory speeches. Dr. Wardeh presented first a dictionary definition of peace: “a state of non-violence or truce” and stressed the importance for peace to become “the nature of the human state, not a temporary phase in human life.” She then emphasized the “ripple effect,” in which everyday actions such as a smile or a hug between individuals can easily lead to world peace. According to Dr. Wardeh: “To say it frankly, unfortunately, peace is what is missing in the world around us (…). In our war-torn world, it seems like there are no human values, thus, no peace. But today we want to prove that peace can be big and small, seen in the entire globe or in brief moments.  Indeed, peace is what we are doing today (…). Think of when you drop a stone in a pond. It generates a small ripple at first, but after a while, that little ripple spreads throughout the entire pond. Now, think of world peace. If someone apologizes to someone else, if someone smiles to someone else, if someone feels the meaning of the greeting he/she uses all of time, Peace be upon you, imagine what we can achieve!”

Dr. Chrabieh followed by specifying the fundamental motivations behind organizing this event: “The madness of some religionists who try to win followers by hook or by crook and the misinterpretation of sacred scriptures for various interests have led to religious persecutions and holy wars. Despite these terrible experiences, as Middle Eastern Studies faculty and students, we believe that religions’ fundamentals play an essential role in people’s search for inner peace and peace in society. We believe that war begins in the minds of people, therefore it is in the minds of people that peace should be constructed”. According to Dr. Chrabieh, the pillars of peace’s defenses are dialogue, education, mutual respect and conviviality. “Differences in religious beliefs and practices should not hinder the progress of many individuals and communities working for common causes such as the causes of humanity and peace. The Middle Eastern Studies division envisions an AUD community in which people of different backgrounds and identities live together in respect and mutual support, creating paths to peace. Today, we celebrate this vision and the initiatives of many professors and students who work in harmony and cooperate in the true spirit of service (…); we celebrate through various arts. Art has the potential to raise awareness. It also serves as an avenue for creative and collaborative learning, and engagement”.

Following the introduction that also included the recitation of sacred scriptures emphasizing peace by Dr. Wardeh and Dr. Chrabieh, Qamar Tahboub, student host of the day, announced the performances awaiting the participants: Christian and Islamic heritages in songs, Dabke dance as a symbol of unity in diversity, peace poetry recitation – from Palestine, Azerbaijan, Japan… – and self-produced poems by students. Hala Abulhawa’s poem for instance narrated her inner thoughts from when she was first introduced to the “Peace Through Arts” event. Abulhawa explained her initial difficulty in thinking about a way to represent peace, and finally concluded that “[she] realized [she] could not just find peace in the air […] it comes from within us.” Omar Shazly’s poem, written in Arabic, responded to the stereotyping of Muslims as terrorists, pointing out that the very name “Islam” is derived from the word “peace” in Arabic. Videos of all these powerful performances and more can be found on Dr. Chrabieh’s YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/user/nemr76

The final event of the forum was the “peace buffet,” in which food brought in by students from different cultures was shared. The students who prepared the food provided explanations on its meanings while serving it to their peers. The food was united under the theme of peace; some dishes are traditionally made to welcome visitors, and represent hospitality, while others are made on wedding days and represent joyful community occasions, or represent national unity such as Tabboule in Lebanon.

During the buffet there was a screening of videos created by Dr. Chrabieh’s Islamic Art and Architecture students. Participants were also invited to visit the art exhibition held at the entrance of the venue, which featured paintings, calligraphy, digital images, photography, and installations about peace, all created by Dr. Chrabieh’s students. Dr. Chrabieh shared also the story of a real life example of peace achieved through art. In Redlands, California, a mass shooting caused few months ago the rise of Islamophobia in the region. A good friend of Dr. Chrabieh, Katia Aoun Hage, organized an Arabic calligraphy workshop for students at the Grove School, a public school in Redlands. Ms. Hage is a musician, poet and art teacher, and used her artistic skills to teach the Grove School students the calligraphic strokes of the Arabic letters. During the session, Ms. Hage was able to deconstruct misconceptions and build bridges, truly embodying “peace art.”

The Forum and real life examples of peace achieved through various arts provided a hopeful conclusion to the semester, inspiring all individuals present to cast their own ripples of peace in the world. Dr. Wardeh concluded with a poetic note: “The MEST Division’s mission is to break any cultural, religious, ethnic, and social barriers among people and to build bridges of acceptance, tolerance, respect and appreciation of the “other”.  I had tears in my eyes and my heart danced while watching MEST students eagerly and actively contributing to and participating in this event. I can claim that today, we have succeeded in finding an amazing ideal kingdom of love and peace.  Our kingdom is composed of diverse musical notes which was built by each citizen in the MEST program. Today our message was: religions and wisdom command love, tolerance and forgiveness to bring the entire world together around peace”.

Dr. Chrabieh also concluded with the important function of art: “that of helping in creating and promoting a culture of peace; this culture is not something we wish for or an unattainable ideal; it is a culture we make, we embody and we share”.

Credits: Dr. Pamela Chrabieh and Ms. Haeley Ahn

Dialogue through Religious Arts

I was invited by the Visual Cultures Department and Dr. Woodman Taylor at the American University in Dubai to present a conference entitled ‘Dialogue through Religious Arts: the case of Syrian Aleppo Icons’ – April 6, 2016.

For a summary of my conference: AMERICAN UNIVERSITY IN DUBAI

http://www.aud.edu/news_events/en/view/1216/current_upcoming/visual-cultures-forum-dialogue-through-religious-arts

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