Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Lebanon a Country of Interfaith Relations

Arab Group for Islamic-Christian Dialogue
August 18, 2009 – Meridian Commodore Hotel (Hamra, Lebanon)
Dr. Pamela Chrabieh Badine (Session Chair and Moderation – Introduction)

Good Evening and Welcome to Lebanon, a country as you all know, is torn apart by continuous external and internal tensions and conflicts, a country with a sad set of truths/stories shaping the headlines of local and international media. Lebanon has suffered from years of war. In the last three decades, long-lasting and destructive armed conflicts have shaken the country. The majority of people in Lebanon have been affected by the armed conflict in some way – either personally or due to the wider consequences.
Nevertheless, there are other realities telling different stories/truths about Lebanon:
1- Ethnic, cultural, archeological and historical diversities, dating back to more than 7000 years, mixtures of Mediterranean, Arabic, Asiatic, African and Western civilizations. Originally home to the Canaanites or Phoenicians, and then subsequently conquered and occupied by the Assyrians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs, the Crusaders, the Ottoman Turks and most recently the French, Lebanese culture has over the millennia evolved by building bridges between all of these civilizations.
2- Another story/truth is of religious diversity. For centuries, Islamic, Druze, Jewish and Christian groups lived most of the time side by side, coexisted, or lived together, in a convivial way. These relations, whether on a daily life basis or between political and religious leaders/institutions, contribute to the building of a pluralistic identity and a relatively stable democracy, a model that everyone professes to want in the Middle East and elsewhere. Lebanon is a parliamentary democracy, which implements a special system known as Confessionalism. This system is intended to ensure that sectarian conflict is kept at bay and attempts to fairly represent the demographic distribution of the 18 recognized religious groups in the governing body. Despite its numerous advantages, it creates instability because any degree of internal dissatisfaction can cause the government to disintegrate. Also, it is almost impossible for actors to generate enough power from the inside, they look for power outside, which in turn allows international actors to manipulate domestic politics to their advantage.
At this juncture, Lebanese need to find a new balance among the political-religious/non-religious factions, handle a very precarious security situation, and redefine their country’s relationship with its neighbors. These challenges require a unified vision, which is rendered very difficult given the current vacuum of authority. Still, I do believe that Civil Society along with International support, can contribute to meeting these challenges, especially when individuals and communities who work to forge links, eliminate misunderstandings, smooth out difficulties, seek compromise and build bridges, are encouraged and empowered to pursue their work.