Saturday, September 16, 2006

It Is Not Religion, It Is Culture and Value-Systems

Elza S. Maalouf
I am in Kuwait on a business trip and here I have a chance to meet with Arabs from various countries especially Lebanese, Syrians, Palestinians and Jordanians who come to Kuwait and Dubai seeking better work opportunities.

A chat with Nasser a 27 year old Lebanese waiter offered an amazing perspective about the messy situation in Lebanon. When meeting a fellow compatriot, Lebanese in general try first to identify the person's religion and their hometown in order to avoid any unsensitive comments and have a somehow normal conversation.

I asked Nasser is his family was doing well after the war in Lebanon. He said that even though they lived in Southern Beirut, Al Dahie, their house stayed intact with some broken windows and very little damage. Well, that statement told me that Nasser is a Shiite and might be a Hezbollah supporter, and I needed to be sensitive in asking him about his opinion about the war and what kind of solution he sees out of this mess. Anyway, I am never interested in a heated debate with a complete strager, besides I am always interested in what people think and why they think this way.

To prove the cultural developmental theories right and my assumptions wrong, Nasser was a Shiite but not a Hezbollah supporter. He said that many of the people who joined to the party were there for the check they get at the end of the month and for the power trip. A much smaller percentage of Hezbollah members are attracted to the ideology, according to Nasser.

He felt that it is unfair for any party to keep Lebanon in turmoil and to deny a stable country with a booming economy that supports young Lebanese who have dreams of going back home and building businesses there. Even though he appreciates the money he makes working as waiter in Kuwait and that supports his family in Beirut, he feels cheated out of his dream to work in the fashion design industry and apply his college degree in a business he loves.

When Nasser quoted Ziad Rahbani's socio-poltical satire, I knew I am able to ask more specific questions about his political affiliation. Ziad Rahbani is a world famous musician, a philosopher, a play writer and a socio-political critic and a genuis. A true patriotic he exposed many of my generation who listened to him religiously, to a world beyond rhetoric, Arabism and destructive resistance. I was pleasantly surprized to see that Nasser's generation is influenced by Ziad's words.

Nasser is aware of the corruption in the Lebanese Government as well as in the opposition parties. In his opinion the International community should support the economy in Lebanon so that people like him go back to the country and become the new set of Leaders who can pull Lebanon out of a tribal-feudal system to a more structure nationalistic and capitalistic country.

No, no more defining people by their religion or ethnicity. It is people's value-systems, beliefs, morals, aspirations that define how they think and why they think this way.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Power of Compassion!

Elza S. Maalouf
On October 26th, I will be speaking at the Common Bond Institute Conference on "Engaging The Other." The Conference is a conscious human exploration in who is "the Other" and how to truly engage every single human being in our global village.

Isn't it about time we meet each other out beyond race, ethnicity, color, religion, age and economic status...Isn't it there where true solutions begin?!!

Check out the conference website

Monday, September 04, 2006

A Tale of Two Men: A Lebanese & An Israeli

Elza S. Maalouf
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us..." Charles Dickens' words rang true in Lebanon's mythic drama!

A Lebanese and an Israeli - Khalil and Oren- had their hopes high in the spring of 2006 for their respective countries for different reasons. Now they both feel an ominous despair after their sense of safety and security was snatched away from them on July 12th.

Khalil a Lebanese entrepreneur who decided to move back to Lebanon a year ago after spending 10 years in Canada and to start his new electronics sales business. He set up shop in Beirut and did not spare any expense on this new venture believing in the promising prospects of the country. This summer season was the most anticipated for all businesses in Beirut, Khalil stocked his shop with the latest gadgets from mp3 players to computers loaded with the latest software...

Khalil's shop was completely destroyed in this war. He fled with his family on a ship to Cyprus and flew back to Canada with nothing but a couple suitcases...He really wanted to stay in his country and help rebuild its economy, he desperately wanted to believe in a new Lebanon. Sadly, on the plane back to Canada he told my friend that he will never set a foot back in Lebanon, the safety of his kids and securing their future overshadowed any patriotic sentiment he had left.

Oren an Israeli computer engineer, was working on a peace initiative for Israel/Palestine. He believed that there will be no safe future for Israel unless the Palestinians are treated with dignity and empowered in a strong state of their own. He spent the spring of 2006 organizing meetings and seminars to foster a better understanding of the issues among Israelis and to work toward a comprehensive action-plan that supports an organic long term solution...

The events in Lebanon exposed the cracks in the Israeli military and governmental agencies and deflated the bubble of safety that many Israelis like Oren thought they had. He believed that with Kadima, a newly created 'forward' party in power, there was a realistic possibility for a systemic solution and a way out of fear for both sides of the conflict. Now fear spread its wings again on the Israeli society, its army is demoralized and the right wing extremists are voicing their anger again. Oren continues in his endeavors to find the elusive peace with more unknowns then before.

For a moment there the true winds of change were blowing in Khalil's and Oren's direction. However, these events declared loudly to everybody that the Middle East problem is a world problem not a regional one. The intricate internal challenges in Lebanon along with the blinded strategy of the Israeli government and the US administration's support for such a strategy, adding to a mix of Shia/Sunni divide with Iran trying to assert itself as a major power in the region and the Arab Sunnis waking up to that fact... a disastrous mix of ingredients that keeps the region and its people in constant turmoil.

This is the TEST for the international community! With Europe on board now with the US, renewing the focus on peace in the region seems more tangible and maybe attainable?!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Khaddam Reveals a Historic Fact That Explains Lebanon's 'Former' Scapegoat Status

Elza S. Maalouf
Former Syrian vice-president Abdul-Halim Khaddam, opened pandora's box of Syrian regime's secrets after fleeing the country fearing Bashar Assad's wrath. One of the few Sunnis who held a strong position in the Hafez Al-Assad regime for more than 35 years, Khaddam resigned from his office and left to Paris to form an opposition party and team up with the Muslim Brotherhood on a common goal to overthrow the current Assad regime.

In an interview last week with journalist Ali Hamade on Future TV, Khaddam who was one of the major architect of the plot to widen sectarian differences in Lebanon and to sacrifice the PLO in Southern Lebanon, spoke as if he was the bearer of unity to the Lebanese people. However some of the points he revealed where worthy of pause. Khaddam said:

  • After the October 1973 War Hafez Al-Assad decided not to enter into what Khaddam called a "traditional war" with Israel anymore. Assad gave his orders to the generals in Golan not to fire a single bullet in the direction of Israel and keep the status-quo in the occupied Syrian land.
  • Assad decided to make Israel "bleed" in Southern Lebanon and to strengthen and manipulate the already existing Lebanese and Palestinian resistance there to serve his regime's agenda.
  • After the humiliating defeat of the Arabs in October 73, Hafez Al-Assad knew that any action against Israel in Golan will be answered by a full blown attack on Damascus by the Israeli Airforce, an action that the Syrian army was ill equipped to respond to. Assad used Lebanon as a proxy battleground to keep his 'Arab resistance' credentials while his Syrian land was occupied.
  • Without Egypt, Syria cannot engage in a war against Israel, an Arab strategic formula that Assad realized early on in his ascent to power.
  • Journalist Ali Hamade asked Khaddam why Syria did not interfere when Lebanon's infrastructure was being destroyed by Israel especially that Syria and Lebanon are bound by a pact of special relations according to the 1989 Taif accord, including a mutual defense agreement? Khaddam answered that the Syrian regime has made the decision not to fight with Israel, even though Bashar's rhetoric never stopped.
  • To a question about the status of Syria in the Arab world as the face of the resistance especially in the Arab street, Khaddam said "how can you say Syria is the face of the resistance and the Syrian people are deprived of their basic freedoms, no constitution, no true representation in the government and ruled by one family for more than 40 years?" He added that the kurds historically had the same rights as Arabs in Syria, however now they are not even granted Syrian Identity cards. It is still illegal for a Syrian to belong to the Muslim Brotherhood group for which one can be prosecuted and put in prison.

Again, Khaddam's hands are not clean of Syrian and Lebanese blood. No doubt he was a co-conspirator in all the plots executed against the Palestinians and the Lebanese people. However the treasure trove of information that he is providing about the inner workings of the Assad clan and their insidious role in Lebanon's history of instability, remains invaluable.