In the last decades, religious fundamentalism was on the move in several countries, but so were mainstream interfaith dialogue, dynamic encounters among ethnic origins, sexual identities and social classes, and secular ideas/practices/movements. In counterpoint to tidal waves of authoritarianism, terrorism, extremism, exclusivism and absolutism, there were (and still are) individuals and groups of people breaking through the barriers, struggling for democracy, human rights and social justice, and accepting the right of others to hold their beliefs.
There is no doubt that the wars in Iraq, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon and the geopolitical changes in Western Asia and North Africa left many of us living in this region with a vacuum and a profound sense of vulnerability. There is no doubt that until the present moment, there is no ‘order’ in sight – i.e. stability, security, peace… and that the eruptions of violence will not end in the foreseeable future. There is no doubt that speeches captivating many are the polemicists’, foretellers’ and provocateurs’, and that those with power set their own rules. One may easily believe that ‘there will always be wars in Lebanon and the surrounding countries’ and that ‘diversity is a calamity’, abandon all hope and surrender to despair – for so many reasons, we are indeed marching in our own funeral procession! One may easily be waiting for a ‘miracle’! But guess what? There are no heroes who will save us, no sectarian communities who will protect us, nor foreign powers to help us.
Whatever our worldviews might be, we cannot live in a polarized and insular way, we cannot use scapegoats when raising serious questions about the sources of violence, and we surely need to avoid the demonization or adulation of any one ‘higher cause’ be it religion, sectarianism, secularism, democracy, nationalism, etc.
We cannot give up!
We are called to choose to rise to the unprecedented Herculean challenge of healing and transformation that the current catastrophes have thrown in our faces. There are individual and collective responsibilities to assume. This is the time to practice the art of self-examination and introspection, to teach ourselves and our nations’ youth about the basic underpinnings of pluralistic social-political systems of management. This is the time to celebrate the rights of all people to life and liberty, and extend those inalienable rights to the many. This is the time to be ethically committed to integrate rather than segregate the multiple identities and worldviews in a movement of change (taghyir).
We, as citizens, have the opportunity and the obligation to participate in shaping the new ‘order’, to find ways to better manage our diversities, to acknowledge our interdependence, to make the effort to foster a respect for the other and to live peacefully and productively despite differences. Having an active responsibility for the common good gives greater depth to our existence and surely paves the way for our survival – quoting a colleague of mine at the University of Montreal, prof. Patrice Brodeur:
“Every human being and identity group must realize that his or her own survival and quality of life depends on that of others, in a glocal web of interdependence. This in-depth transformation, already started in small pockets of innovative change scattered around the world, is the best option for a truly sustainable security for all; it helps reduce the present trend that would have our collective survival be based on competitive and exclusivist patterns of behavior (i.e. ‘survival of the fittest’ for the holders of a neo-liberal worldview and ‘survival of the rightly guided and believing’ for those of an exclusivist religious worldview) rather than cooperative ones” (The Pluralist Paradigm, 2006, p.18).
There is enormous work to be done and we may tell ourselves ‘This is just too much to bear!’, along with the suffering, the grieving, the full impact of loss… We may believe that struggling for peace is based on an unrealistic expectation. In the depths of our despair right now, we may also believe that it may be time to die… True that ‘All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on’ (Havelock Ellis), but we cannot give up on the search for peace! We cannot accept that war is inevitable. Our problems are humanmade (locally, regionally and internationally). Therefore, they can be solved, even if it will take many generations. Maybe there won’t be sudden revolutions (referring to the Lebanese case for example), and maybe these revolutions are not the solution, but simply the synergy of diverse processes, ideas and concrete actions… beyond a simple sum of their individual effects.
When the time comes to die, let us as the poet Machado says, die making roads over the sea.