Yesterday was our first day of meetings. We went to this super swanky office building where the Lebanon Renaissance Foundation has their offices. We met with four individuals:
- Michael Young who is an editor at Reason magazine and also an editor at the Daily Star. He has also written a book, which I am going to try and get when we return called “The Ghosts of Martyrs Square: An Eyewitness Account of Lebanon’s Life Struggles.”
- Hanin Ghaddar is the managing editor of Now Lebanon. She was very friendly and honest with her comments.
- Ousama Safa who is a Social Affairs officer at UN ESCWA. He also has experience with think tanks, lobbying and public policy.
- Lokman Slim is an activist trying to raise awareness about the collective amnesia regarding the Civil War. He co-founded Umam Documentation & Research and has helped publish several reports related to the Civil War.
All of the panelists were informative and interesting. We started off looking at the Arab Spring. One of the panelists shared that he believes there is a false sense of belief that things can happen in Lebanon as well post Arab Spring. The reality is that the Lebanese beast has multiple heads and so it is impossible to rally for one specific officials resignation or something similar because are so many issues at different levels.
Another topic which we discussed was the amnesia related to the Civil War. The Lebanese Civil War officially ended in 1990 with an official amnesty. It is called into question how the war ended and, more importantly, if it ended? It is surprising that a unified history book has not been decided on in Lebanon. There are three different history books depending on which region you live in. The panelists had different views regarding the issue of the textbook. Ousama believed that it was ridiculous that the country could not decide on one book and it should be remedied as soon as possible. However, Lokman, who spends a lot of time on the topic of the Civil War in his work, though that the textbook was irrelevant and advocated a curriculum based on all different perspectives. The attitude of many in Lebanon is that the war wasn’t their war, it was a “war of others.” All panelists agreed that the Lebanese need to take ownership of the war in order to truly move on.
A big issue in Lebanon is the sectarianism. All panelists agreed that the confessional system is flawed and needs revisions, however they did not all agree on what the revisions should be.
I was surprised by the panelists opinions towards the US and especially US foreign policy. One panelists commented that there is a huge vacuum left by US policy in the region. He wanted the US to show global leadership with diplomacy and use their musclepower to forced people into dialogue because the time for dialogue may be missed. With the shrinking space for dialogue and diplomacy, there is a growth of radicalism. One panelist seemed fearful that Obama would likely be stepping back from the Middle East if re-elected.