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University of Balamand > News > Archive > Identity and Conflict


Identity and Conflict

Questions of identity made their way to the Fares Auditorium on March 20 and sat comfortably transfixed for a three-day international conference on identity and conflict in the Middle East and in its diasporic cultures.

Organized by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, the symposium included the participation of scholars and researchers from all over the globe, who presented their work and engaged in often times heated debate on topics ranging from Literature and Identity in the Middle East to Negotiating Land, Environment, and Media in the Arab World.

Welcoming the crowd, University of Balamand President Elie Salem, said that topics of identity and conflict could not find a better place to be discussed than in the Middle East. Adding, “Lebanon has unfortunately become an international laboratory,” for such conversations.

In his welcoming speech, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dr. Georges Dorlian said that the concern over the question of identity in our region is not new. In 2007, the University of Balamand hosted a conference under the theme of "Francophone: Conflicting or Complementary Identities?" It seems, said Dr. Dorlian “that the question of identity is and will continue to be a constant theme in our societies.” Dr. Dorlian added that our region’s history can be summed up as a constant search for an identity, and characterized by a multiplicity of identities associated with different allegiances with never a consistent path nor a clear affiliation.

Dr. Dorlian said the region is currently experiencing “a delicate and a complex situation” where populations are struggling to maintain a unifying identity against external forces seeking to dominate them, through internal conflicts where groups try to impose their own identity on others.

Setting the tone with a powerful keynote address, renowned author and Associate Professor of English at Brooklyn College, City University of New York, Dr. Moustafa Bayoumi, said: “Our identities are never given or assumed or created in abstraction, they are always constructed in relation to other constructed identities and within that relation, there always lies both the possibilities of co-existence and the threat of violence.”

Remaining on the issue of identity struggle, the first session of the panel debate included the participation of UOB’s Dr. Peter Williams and Dr. Nawaf Kabbara who theorized identities in conflict. While Dr. Williams took on an abstract approach in defining identity, Dr. Kabbara drew on theorists such as Hegel, Nietzche and Foucault to analyze the Arab Spring phenomenon. In essence, Dr. Kabbara argued, the Arab Spring developed as a result of imbalances in the status quo, the resistance towards Westernization and the “attempt to free the Arab citizen from the chains of traditions and the political dominance of the religious discourse.”

From a political to a literary struggle, the second panel addressed the issue of literature and identity in the Middle East. Dr. Siham Abidi, from Tunisia looked at the relationships of literary works such as ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran,’ ‘Crescent’ and ‘I Love a Broad Margin to My Life’, as backdrops to both the Iran Iraq War of 1988 and the Persian Gulf War of 1990. Dr. Abidi described the works as “resistance to the US intervention in Iraq in 2003” as well as a “struggle for pacifism.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Rita Sakr, from the United Kingdom drew on the example of Egypt’s, Tahrir Square, which gained political and geographical significance from the onset of the Arab Spring. Through a comparative study of two revolutionary moments in Egypt, Sakr explained that people who rallied in the streets,“found a moment of national identification with Egypt,” where the square was presented,“as a space for horizontal and vertical solidarity.”Using the books, ‘The Map of Love’ and ‘Cairo: My City, Our Revolution’, Dr. Sakr showed the ways in which the authors traced, “the contours of an ‘Egyptian identity’ that is firmly embedded in the successive social and political struggles of Egyptians against foreign hegemonic powers.”

From Lebanon, Dr. Maya Anbar Aghasi tackled identity as a “structure of vision,” always in flux and dependent on the position of the “looking eye.” Using the context of the Lebanese civil war, Dr. Aghasi drew on the narrative structure of Etel Adnan’s French novel, ‘Sitt Marie Rose,’ to disclose how the self is, “manufactured as a position of looking.”

Completing the panel, former UOB professor, Dr. Jonathan Hall critiqued the concept of hospitality as violent and vulnerable, drawing on the theories of Jacques Derrida and Judith Butler respectively. For Dr. Hall, the novels ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’, exemplified how, ‘We find violence within the very act of hospitality, the very ways in which we cross borders and open up to one another.’

Turning towards Lebanon, the third panel was titled Representations of the Lebanese Civil War, and included an empirical, historical and pedagogic approach to the matter. Dr. Sabrina Bonsen, from Germany’s Universitat Marbug, explored the ‘symbolic capital’ of martyrs as part of a specific cult in Lebanon that transgresses national, religious and political systems. For Dr. Bonsen, ‘The cult of martyrs strengthens the political identity of its actors,’ but weakens and, ‘prevents the society to generate a common national identity.’

Joining the panel, UOB’s Dr. Frank Darwiche, called for the re-appropriation of history and the ‘conflictual dimension’ in Lebanon by reconsidering the confessional system that was established in the national pact. At a more pedagogic level, Dr. Pamela Chrabieh from Lebanon presented an overview of Peace Building Education among youth, ‘to help students share individual and collective narratives of the civil war and of Lebanon’s history.’ According to Dr. Chrabieh, the aim of this ‘Inter-Human Pedagogy’ was to ‘start a process of trauma healing, achieve better mutual understanding’ and resist ‘stereotypes, racism and xenophobia.’

Kick starting the morning session of the final day of the program, Dr. Annika Rabofrom Sweden showcased her research project on Assyrians in Sweden and their transnational commitments. For Dr. Rabo, struggles in ethnic identity have led to the development of a Diasporic consciousness causing Assyrian and Syriac individuals and groups to question their relationship to Sweden, each other and the ‘homelands.’

In turn, Ms. Makiko Nambu from Japan explored the entanglement of politics and Diasporic identities in the field of Palestinian art. Focusing on artistic expressions produced by Diasporic Palestinian artists, Ms. Nambu highlighted that identity and conflict manifested in Palestinian artistic work with trends among young artists to use themes of displacement and discrimination that show,‘The unfulfilled longing to their homeland.’

From art and culture to land, environment and media, the last panel of the conference welcomed Dr. John Unruh from Canada whofocused on land and property rights in Yemen. For Dr. Unruh,‘Identity plays a large role in conflict affected land rights,’ and thus it was an important context to address, ‘both peace and economic development.’

Stemming from this discussion, Dr. Nivine Abbas from Lebanon, argued, ‘The different episodes of armed conflict [in Lebanon] increased individuals’ vulnerability,’ thus affecting, ‘trust among themselves and stakeholders in the environmental management process.’

Using Algerian media, the final panelist, Dr. Yasmine Kellou, highlighted how language and translation are being used by opposing political factions as forms of manipulation, and constructing a polarized reality.

Dr. Mazen Naous, Head of the Scientific Committee, concluded the proceedings by thanking the participants, volunteers and audience members, who were then invited to visit the UOB Ethnography Museum and Monastery. ​​​​​
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Lebanon

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