Sans l’art, on tue notre envie de vivre (ici-Beyrouth)

Cet article est paru dans ici-Beyrouth, 4 Dec. 2021

La crise multiforme qui marque le quotidien des Libanais pousse beaucoup à croire que l’art est un luxe et que les droits à la sécurité, au logement, à la nourriture, à l’emploi et à l’électricité devraient être les seules priorités des citoyens et de l’État. Or, les interventions artistiques des dernières années, et notamment depuis octobre 2019, déconstruisent cette croyance et soulignent l’aspect vital de l’art pour toute société, et en particulier la société libanaise.

En effet, la façon dont l’art est intervenu et intervient encore dans l’élaboration d’un projet collectif ou dans l’espace public s’est récemment diversifiée et a acquis de l’importance en tant que stratégie et action citoyennes : concerts véhiculant un message d’unité dans la pluralité et d’engagement citoyen en vue d’une déconfessionnalisation du système socio-politique (Beirut Jam Sessions, Minal Shaab) ; installations publiques dans les rues de villes côtières pour la justice sociale et les droits humains (Haven for Artists) ; graffitis révolutionnaires (Ivan Debs, Spaz, Ring Bridge, Art for Change, Ashekman, Yazan Halwani, REK) ; expositions en ligne alliant artistes émergents et établis suite à l’explosion du port de Beyrouth (arleb.org) ; ateliers de thérapie par l’art (Meadows, A+ Initiatives) ; publications d’ouvrages collectifs sur la préservation de la mémoire et la résistance culturelle (Beyrouth mon amour, 4 août 2020 18h07 ; The Beirut Call : Harnessing Creativity for Change ; Beirut Urban Ruins : Save it on Paper), etc.

Photo prise par Pamela Chrabieh lors d’une intervention artistique par « Haven for Artists » en avril 2021 a Gemmayzeh et Mar Mikhaël

Ces exemples et bien d’autres encore nous rappellent l’importance de l’art puisque celui-ci nous permet de mieux collaborer les uns avec les autres, d’identifier des problèmes et de les résoudre, de gérer les émotions, de guérir les blessures, de favoriser l’écoute, la réflexion, l’imagination, l’observation, le décentrement, le questionnement… et certainement, de construire une société saine. Il est à noter qu’en novembre 2019, l’Organisation mondiale de la santé publiait un rapport reposant sur 900 articles scientifiques qui affirment l’impact bénéfique de l’art sur la santé physique et mentale. D’où l’importance de généraliser les activités et les interventions artistiques au côté des protocoles thérapeutiques en milieu hospitalier, dans l’éducation mais aussi dans la vie de tous les jours pour améliorer le bien-être individuel et collectif.

Par ailleurs, lorsqu’il n’est pas instrumentalisé par des partis politiques ni n’est utilisé pour la propagande étatique, l’art offre des opportunités d’éducation à la citoyenneté et peut, par conséquent, entraîner une prise de conscience en vue de la convivialité. En ce sens, de plus en plus d’académiciens et d’artistes entreprennent des recherches sur l’art et la citoyenneté et forment des réseaux de collaboration locale et régionale tel celui de l’Université Dar al-Kalima. Celui-ci promeut notamment une citoyenneté active et inclusive définie par la participation et non par l’idéologie, et appelle à la pensée et la pratique de l’art comme véhicule de participation pour approfondir les discussions publiques sur les questions civiques et les valeurs fondamentales.

Malheureusement, les défis socio-économiques auxquels se heurtent une large partie d’artistes, d’entreprises créatives et d’organismes s’accumulent au fil des jours au Liban, sans compter l’exacerbation des identités meurtrières, le recul des libertés et la sacralisation de la politique mafieuse. Dans cette perspective, si les lieux de la pensée et de la pratique libres et libératrices – qu’ils soient formels ou non – ne s’élargissent pas, et notamment à travers l’art, il est à craindre que beaucoup de Libanais ne pourront désapprendre ce qu’ils ont appris suite à des décennies de guerre, de népotisme, de corruption, de mauvaise gouvernance, d’autoamnistie, et d’impunité. Désapprendre est un processus et une éducation visant la sortie du système d’exclusion mutuelle, en appliquant l’exercice de la subversion qui n’est nullement une destruction ou un rejet, mais qui essaye de comprendre le pourquoi et le comment des choses, de problématiser le canevas épistémologique articulant chaque discours et expression et d’ouvrir la voie à un engagement citoyen protéiforme inclusif.

Il est ainsi plus que temps de dépasser les frontières dites immuables entre individus et communautés, de sortir des ghettos, d’être à l’écoute des attentes et des aspirations de toutes les composantes de la société, de transformer le regard sur l’autre afin qu’il soit dénué de tout projet d’autojustification et le regard sur soi-même pour qu’il ne se complaise pas dans des poncifs convenus. Et au-delà du survivre ou mourir, il est plus que temps de vivre. Or, en nous privant de l’art, ou en limitant l’accès à l’art, on tue notre envie de vivre, et de là, ce qui fait notre humanité.

SOURCE

The Beirut Call: The Strongest Souls Emerge Out of Suffering

Article published on arleb.org

“I am more than honored to be part of an amazing team of contributors whose testimonials, perceptions, narratives, and stories highlight the change-making arts and cultural scene here in Beirut. Together, these academics, poets, artists, activists, and individuals engaged in a wounded city, reveal glimpses of their thinking and doing, offering inspiration for other communities facing wars, crises, instability, and despair—and when negotiating with margins of varied forms. As “border individuals”, “cultural amphibians”, and harnessers of creativity for change, many of the people featured in this anthology have mastered the art and act of crossing borders along textual, political, and cultural margins; they humbly encourage us to challenge carefully guarded territories, deconstruct concepts of unitary, essentialized or monolithic identities, learn lessons from the past, live in the present beyond mere survival, seek justice, engage in dialogue with one another, and gather hope for tomorrow. As Edward Said writes, they are, “responsive to the traveler rather than to the potentate, to the provisional and risky rather than to the habitual, to innovation and experiment rather than the authoritatively given status quo.”

The Beirut Call contributors remind us that humanity is formed in and by the complexities of overlapping territories and intertwined histories. They remind us of the benefits flowing from arts and culture, as these help shape reflective individuals; facilitate greater understanding; increase empathy and respect; promote not only civic behaviors such as voting and volunteering but also viable alternatives to current assumptions; help fuel a broader political imagination; help minority groups to find a voice and express their identity, and help peacebuilding and healing by assisting communities to deal with the sources of trauma and bring about reconciliation. 

All contributions to The Beirut Call inspire us to think about the impacts of arts and culture on cities and urban life, urban regeneration, modes of engagement with cultural activities, tasks that are neither all metropolitan nor all peripheral, and acts in the spirit of initiating dialogue across asymmetrical divides and of peripheralizing centers… They inspire us to deconstruct the internalized status quo and articulate coalitions between differences. They inspire our souls to re-emerge, or as Lebanese-American philosophical essayist, novelist, poet, and artist Gibran Khalil Gibran once wrote: “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars”.

Source: “Out of the Margins: Towards the Rise of Beirut’s Arts and Culture Scene? Introduction to The Beirut Call Anthology” by Dr. Pamela Chrabieh, in The Beirut Call, Harnessing Creativity for Change, 2021.


About The Beirut Call:

The Beirut Call is Nabad by Dar al Kalima University project of a book on resilience & resistance culture in Lebanon, featuring artists, poets, authors, activists, and academics testimonials, analyses, narratives, and stories of initiatives for social change.

The Beirut Call brings together individuals who think, do and create to inspire and communicate diverse approaches in facing wars, crises, instability, and despair; people who are turning to the arts and culture as a way to engage audiences through deep and emotional connections to bring about change, and who are imbuing their work with social and political messaging to advance the issues about which they feel most passionate.

The Beirut Call presents diverse perceptions and expressions that speak to Lebanese in their homeland and in the diaspora, but it also transcends the borders of Lebanon as contributors address glocal (local-global) issues — war, peace, memory, history, identity, creativity, cultural resistance, resilience, artistic activism, human rights, feminism, social justice, intercultural dialogue… — which can be discussed in a range of settings such as in schools and universities, arts & culture workshops and learning programs, youth and community centers, women’s groups, NGOs, as well as alternative education programs.

Proceeds will help Nabad continue to fund artists, arts NGOs, and small creative enterprises’ projects in Lebanon.

Edited Book: THE BEIRUT CALL: HARNESSING CREATIVITY FOR CHANGE.
Editors: Pamela Chrabieh, Roula Salibi.
Publisher: Dar al Kalima University, Bethlehem – Palestine.
Production, Printing, and Distribution: Elyssar Press, Publishing company in Redlands CA.
Date of Publication: April 2021.
Language: English.
Availability: The book is available in Digital Format and Hard Copy with hardcover.

Contributors: Anthony Semaan, Carmen Yahchouchi, Cliff Makhoul, Dorine Potel Darwiche, Faten Yaacoub, Frank Darwiche, Joelle Sfeir, Katia Aoun Hage, Linda Tamim, Loulou Malaeb, Mitri Raheb, Nada Raphael, Nadia Wardeh, Omar Sabbagh, Pamela Chrabieh, Rabih Rached, Reine Abbas, Roula Azar Douglas, Roula-Maria Dib, Roula Salibi, Wadih al-Asmar


CHECK OUT https://elyssarpress.com/the-beirut-call/ FOR FURTHER INFORMATION AND PURCHASE.

“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

INTERVIEW PUBLISHED ON FINITOWORLD.COM (LONDON, UK) – CLICK HERE.

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.

Crawling Out from Under Rubble: On Becoming Iconoclasts

How and why did we let ourselves be continuously buried under 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 sacralisation that colours 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 (desacralisation) 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 government, we will have to crawl out from under rubble, we will have to desacralise, we will have to become iconoclasts, and by that I mean: we will have to start make 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, boycott 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.

Yet despite these limitations and that of self-enclosure of the Ivory Tower, there are already engaged iconoclast Lebanese academics and artists, and they are making a difference, but more need to engage beyond their classrooms, books, 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.

Text also published by telosmagazine.org

Liban, avons-nous perdu notre dernière chance?

Le conseil des ministres et une poignée de députés ont démissionné suite au cataclysme de Beyrouth, alors que les mêmes mafias et seigneurs de la guerre s’accaparent le pouvoir.

Justice doit être faite, et les pires châtiments doivent être infligés à ces odieux tyrans, nérons, sangsues, sanguinaires, inhumains, ces lucifers qui mentent impunément et qui se cachent derrière et instrumentalisent les “légitimes” souffrances de centaines de milliers d’humains qui ne méritent pas l’hécatombe. 

Mais comment cette justice adviendra-t-elle lorsque d’une part, des citoyens-nes expriment leur souffrance, leur compassion, leur convivialité, leur courage, et leur espoir en un meilleur lendemain en balayant les débris, en venant en aide aux sinistrés, en recherchant les disparus, en manifestant dans les places publiques, en témoignant pour la justice et la paix, etc.; et d’autres demeurent adeptes de la violence, et sont prêts à exterminer virtuellement et physiquement ceux qui opposent leurs zaims? Comment cette justice – et ainsi mémoire et histoire – adviendra-t-elle, lorsque “l’autre” n’est plus adversaire occasionnel, mais ennemi de nature qu’il faudrait éradiquer? 

Mes larmes coulent à la vue de la division des Libanais-es, à la vue du sang qui coule, des gaz lacrymogènes, et des cris des familles des victimes, à la vue des luttes au corps à corps et de la montée aux extrêmes. 

J’avais encore un brin d’espoir que le crime ultime, ce crime contre l’humanité qui eut lieu le 4 août, puisse rassembler tous les Libanais-es autour d’une action commune, un projet commun, du moins une colère commune face à des dirigeants qui n’ont fait que couler le titanic et ouvert les portes de l’enfer.

Cet espoir n’existe plus… Car pire que les dirigeants despotiques est un peuple sclérosé. Et tant qu’une partie du peuple ne tolère que la servitude, la corruption et le meurtre, nous ne pourrons faire et écrire librement notre histoire. Nous serons condamnés à revivre un passé sanglant, et nous ne créerons que des présents et avenirs apocalyptiques. 

Nous avions une dernière chance pour nous unir dans notre diversité, pour nous rencontrer là où la politique divise pour justement transcender cette division. L’avons-nous perdue? 

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.

La révolution ne meurt jamais الثورة لا تموت

Sketch on Recycled Paper & Digital Art, Beirut, 2020

Aujourd’hui est le 100e jour depuis le 17 octobre 2019. Célébrons ensemble les dynamiques révolutionnaires en dépit des obstacles et défis. Toute révolution constitue un processus. La nôtre a commencé avant le 17 octobre et se poursuit tout au long des expériences révolutionnaires individuelles et collectives depuis le 17 octobre en laissant à chaque fois des suites et ruptures toujours vivantes.

La révolution est en fait un organisme social vivant qui ne meurt jamais.

اليوم هو اليوم المئة منذ 17 أكتوبر/تشرين الاول 2019. لنحتفل معاً بالديناميات الثورية على الرغم من العقبات والتحديات. أي ثورة هي صيرورة وسيرورة. وقد بدأت ثورتنا قبل 17 أكتوبر وتستمر مع التجارب الثورية الفردية والجماعية منذ 17 أكتوبر، وفي كل مرة تترك وراءها بصمات ازلية.

الثورة هي كائن حي اجتماعي لا يموت.

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.