Lebanon came to London on the wings of an exhibition of Lebanese heritage, culture and arts, essentially to promote "the best of Lebanon"Proceeds from the Exhibition and its associated events will go the BLA's scholarship fund, which helps finance Lebanese students to follow UK courses not available in Lebanon; and to "Oum-el-Nour", an important charity committed to drugs rehabilitation and improved drugs awareness in Lebanon.
LEBANON:MEANING AND MESSAGEBy Philip A. Salem, M.D.To begin with, I want to thank the organizing committee, and the British Lebanese Association for the invitation to speak on Lebanon tonight, and I am looking forward to the panel discussion that will follow. At the outset, I would like to acknowledge that I am not a politician. I am a cancer physician and researcher, and I am deeply committed to the struggle of man against disease. However, at the same time, I am also deeply committed to the struggle of Lebanon, not only to regain its sovereignty and freedom, but more importantly to regain its soul and meaning. The late Pope, John Paul II, in his recent visit to Lebanon, declared that Lebanon is “more than a nation, it is a message; a message to the whole world.” In my presentation tonight, I shall try to focus on the nature of this message, and what Lebanon means to us as Lebanese, and to the whole world. Why is it critical that Lebanon survives, and why should the world be interested in its salvage?Four concepts define the meaning of Lebanon: The first and most important is the concept that Lebanon is a model for the integration of Christianity and Islam. Here in this tiny country, which is geographically situated between the overwhelmingly Moslem Arab world, and the Israeli-Jewish state, Christianity embraces Islam. For hundreds of years, Christians and Moslems lived in Lebanon in harmony and peace, and they produced a culture, which is unique in dialogue and in tolerance. It is a model of the dialogue between civilizations and an anti-model for the “clash of civilizations.” The war that raged in Lebanon between 1975 and 1990 was most brutal. Of the 4-5 million Lebanese living in Lebanon, 150,000 were killed; approximately 300,000 were handicapped, and probably by now more than a million have left the country. Yet, in spite of its brutality, and in spite of death and pain on all sides of the political and religious landscapes, Christians and Moslems embraced each other, and reestablished dialogue when the war was over as if those 15 years of war were only a nightmare. I do not believe this ever happened before in history. The integration of Christianity and Islam survived the 15 years of war and most recently it also survived the July, 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah. This means that the dialogue between Christians and Moslems is very deeply rooted, and that this religious integration is capable of surviving the most brutal political turbulence. In the year 2003, and during a visit to Lebanon, the ex-President of Iran, Mohammed Khatami, described Lebanon as “that heavenly piece of land where Christian love is bonded to Islamic wisdom”. Indeed, the greatness of Lebanon lies in this bond. Should this bond be dissolved, Lebanon will be dissolved too. Should Lebanon ever be partitioned in two, one Christian and one Moslem, Lebanon as a unique concept and as a message will cease to exist. The beauty and power of Lebanon lie in the fact that it symbolizes the synthesis of Christianity and Islam. It is a model of how people can rise above religious ideology, and live together. I believe this model is the central challenge for the 21st Century. As we come closer to a new civilization, and the building of a new global village, we should be ready to shed our differences, and rise above geography and religion, to work together for more noble objectives, and to build a better future for mankind. Being a doctor and an expert on the human body, I have never seen the body to differ, whether one is a Moslem, Christian, Jew, or an atheist. Also, I have not seen disease discriminate against people because of their religions or political ideologies. Of the most important scientific research that has been conducted in the last 10 years is the mapping of the human genome. We have learned from this project that at the DNA level, we humans are all 99.99% identical. That similarity applies regardless of which two individuals around the world you choose to compare. Thus, by DNA analysis, we humans are truly part of one family. This lesson, that man is one, in health and disease, might have been the greatest that man has ever learned in the last 3000 years. If we only differ as humans in 0.01% of our genes, wouldn’t it be a shame to permit the 0.01% defeat the 99.99%? My message to the diverse people of the world is that we should rise to our humaneness. Let us be prepared, not only to be good citizens of a nation, but good citizens of the world. This is the new challenge to the world, and to the new century. This is why Lebanon as a model of religious dialogue and tolerance should be preserved and promoted. Whether we are Christians, Moslems, Jews, or believers of any other faith, we only deserve God, in my opinion, when we rise to our humaneness. However, to be able to do so we should separate religion, not only from state, but also from education. Religion in Lebanon and in most of the developing nations has been used as a political instrument to separate rather than unite people. The second concept is freedom. The Lebanese do not only cherish their freedom, but they strongly believe that without it, life loses meaning. Thus, they are struggling to maintain their freedom in the midst of the conflicts that choke the Middle East. These conflicts are not only about who owns what piece of land and who has access to oil and water, but more importantly about the kind of culture and civilization that should thrive there. It is needless to say that the “gateway” to civilization is freedom, and without it, there is no progress and indeed no worthy civilization. As a researcher, I have known that you can only make innovations when you are free to think. The biggest terror is not the terror that afflicts the human body; it is the terror that freezes the human mind. In this extensive landscape of political and religious oppression in the Arab world, Lebanon remains a haven for freedom: freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and freedom of faith. This is where the individual can choose any religion to embrace, and can embrace any education he chooses. Should freedom be crushed and destroyed in Lebanon, it will never grow elsewhere in the Arab Middle East. If freedom dies in Lebanon, darkness will prevail in the Arab world. The third concept is that Lebanon is a haven for democracy in the Arab Middle East. Although its political system is far from ideal, and its constitutional institutions do not work effectively, democracy in Lebanon is the closest thing to democracy as we know it in the west. Lebanon remains the only country in the Arab world where transfer of power is executed without violence. While in the rest of the Arab world, governance is exercised by a single ruler, in Lebanon governance is exercised via constitutional institutions. And, although these institutions are partially paralyzed now, their structures remain intact. The fourth concept is that Lebanon is a symbol of multiculturalism, and internationalism. In addition to the cultural heritage which is the product of viable and dynamic dialogue between 18 religious sects, there is an additional dialogue between three different cultural entities: the Arabic culture, the Francophone culture, and the Anglo-Saxon culture. Therefore, Lebanon is not only about the integration of Christianity and Islam, but also about the integration of east and west; Arab and non-Arab. This is why one of my American friends once wrote “If you go to London, you go to England. If you go to Paris, you go to France. If you go to Rome, you go to Italy. But, if you go to Beirut, you go to the whole world”. This model of multiculturalism and internationalism is the strongest force to defeat terror, extremism, and fundamentalism. This is why it is important for the world to promote such a model. Also, this is why Lebanon, though Arab in political identity, is indeed international in its cultural identity; and why Lebanon is not only part of the Middle East, but also part of the whole world. There are only 4-5 million people in the homeland in Lebanon, but there are 15 million Lebanese scattered all over the world. The Lebanese abroad have not only contributed significantly to their local cultures, but also to world civilization. The Lebanese author and poet, Khalil Gibran, wrote of the power of love, and spoke of the oneness of mankind. In a sense, he was a prophet of globalization; as he once said “I consider the whole world my country, and all mankind my family”. Michael DeBakey, the son of a Lebanese immigrant and probably the greatest surgeon of the 20th Century, spoke of the power of knowledge and made advances in heart surgery, not only for America, but for the whole world. Charles Malik, once the Ambassador of Lebanon to the United Nations, was the co-author of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and I don’t know of any who had defended the sacred rights of the individual more than he. Danny Thomas, an entertainer of Lebanese descent, had established the St. Jude Cancer Center in Memphis Tennessee, probably the best cancer center for children in the world. His gift was given not only to America, but to all the sick children of the earth. These few examples emphasize that Lebanon has been part of the struggle of all mankind for a better future, and a better world. In my cancer clinic in Houston, patients come from all different geographical, ideological, and religious backgrounds, and I have seen them rise above all these differences and bind as one family. Although it is understandable that cancer, their common enemy, should unite them, this union is also a testament to their ability to rise above their religious and ideological strictures. To accomplish this unity outside the clinic, it takes leadership. In Lebanon, we need a new vision, and we need a new political leadership. Also, we need new leaderships elsewhere in the world to help people rise above themselves, and build a new future, a new paradigm, where the quality of man becomes more important than his religion or ideology, and where power will be defined as the power to achieve peace, not the power to make war. In conclusion, Lebanon symbolizes the integration of Christianity and Islam, the integration of eastern and western cultures, and democracy and freedom in the Middle East. For these reasons, the world should embrace this model to fight terror, to prevent clash of civilizations, and to win the war against extremism and fundamentalism. Before I close, I want to speak of the tenacity and the perseverance of the Lebanese to endure hardship. Also, I want to speak of an observation that stands as a monument to their dignity and their pride. Thirty years of war, and political conflict that resulted in massive destruction in the political, economical, and the physical fabric of Lebanon, and yet there is not a single Lebanese refugee supported by the United Nations Aid Program anywhere in the world; and there is not a single Lebanese beggar in the streets of London, Paris, or New York.
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