University summer courses are over, but war isn’t! Working for a better social political management in Lebanon, as well as for human rights and peace is a continuous process, a lifetime struggle paved with numerous obstacles, and especially: extremist mentality and movements characterized by bigotry and bias, occupying most Lebanese ‘spaces’ (political, social, cultural, religious, sectarian,…) and often using violent means. When I asked my 60 students about their willingness to face such an obstacle, many preferred thinking of ways to leave the country once they graduate. “What about the suffering? And isn’t this mental/physical/intellectual effort like being on a treadmill going nowhere? A never-ending cycle? We can’t change our fate. We were always at war and we will always be. We are just banging our heads against the wall”.
One of my goals was and still is to encourage young people to think alternatively and start fighting back and I don’t agree with George Carlin’s quote: “Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity”. Fighting does not necessarily mean the use of violence. By ‘fight’ I mean a “Greatest Jihad” (from ‘juhd’ = effort), the inner struggle against the false self, the effort to better manage anger, hatred, traumas and wounded memories, as individuals and communities, and the will to fuel positive and constructive spaces of dialogue and conviviality.
The false self is the inner tyrant, enslaving the true self by illusion. It forbids individuals from taking action. It censors them from speaking out, and rules them by fear. Such individuals would have a weak sense of identity (national identity), and show a tendency toward guilt and absolutism (black-and-white thinking).
In other words, our worst tyrants aren’t the so-called political leaders, nor our neighbors, Syria and Israel, but ourselves! And if we do not operate the Greatest Jihad both individually and within a large movement, we will not have the ability to combat heinous abuses, nor to prevent physical conflicts, and not even to bridge and multiply the human capital that exists in Lebanon. This Greatest Jihad would allow connecting university students across different religious/sectarian and non-religious/sectarian affiliations in massive service projects. It would allow social movements growing differently, not by drawing lines in the sand and saying ‘we on this side are against you on that side’, but by creating inter-political/social/religious and non-religious platforms of dialogue thus applied knowledge building.
Clearly, as Lebanese, and especially for those believing in Peace, we face a long and winding road. But there are three things I do not doubt: 1) the horizon is worth it ; 2) we will be able to reach it, at some point; 3) an active responsibility for both the individual and the common goods gives greater breadth and depth to our existence. So let us all follow the path of the Greatest Jihad and celebrate the rights of all Lebanese to life and liberty, and assume the responsibility for ensuring that we extend those inalienable rights to the many. As Sondra Myers states in the preface of ‘The Pluralist Paradigm’, “The task is vast, and eternal – and it is ours!