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University of Balamand > Administration > Presidency > President Salem > Speech05-12-97

At the Gala Dinner of the AUB Alumni Association Mount Lebanon Branch on December 5, 1997

I wish to thank the Alumni Association of Mount Lebanon for giving me the opportunity to talk about AUB in the context of the changing mood in Lebanon .

For us alumni there is something mystical about our relations with AUB. Our feeling towards AUB is impervious to change. As alumni, we are also committed to keep an eye on our alma mater, to review its progress, and to ensure its continuity into the indefinite future.

AUB went through three phases. Now it is going through a fourth. The fact that it does not yet fully grasp the transition from the third to the fourth constitutes a problem. I shall attempt to address this problem.

Phase one was the phase of faith and founding. The l9th century in America witnessed a massive missionary movement that sent Americans abroad to spread the Gospel according to the Protestant faith. Islam, Catholicism, Eastern Christianity, were all in some sort of incompletion, and needed help. The aim was religion; the vehicle was education.

Together with the Protestant faith went the concept of service as a possible route to the spirit, and the liberal approach to education as a way to civilize and Christianize. The Syrian Protestant College was the right name for the 1 860s. The area was known geographically and popularly as Syria . There was no visible Lebanese nation to identify with. A Mount Lebanon Mutassarrifiyyah under the Ottoman Sultan was not a clear-cut entity. The political scene in the Ottoman context was undergoing radical changes. Hence, Syrian was understandable; Protestant was right, and college was just the right dosage in higher education for the times. The famous speech of Daniel Bliss on the founding of College Hall on December 7, 1871, ending with the oft quoted phrase "but it will be impossible for anyone to continue with us long without knowing what we believe to be the truth and our reasons for that belief", was appropriate. His belief was, of course, Protestant Christianity, and his conviction was unshakable.

Phase two began with the end of the first World War. The Ottoman Empire had collapsed. Britain and France were creating successor states from the fallen Ottoman Empire and placing them under mandates. A state of Lebanon , with Beirut as its capital, had emerged under French mandate. The American messianic spirit of the 1 9th century was taking a new form. The missionaries in the Syrian Protestant College have by now learned a lot about Eastern Christianity and Islam and began to respect them both. They remained, however, missionaries, but their concern was more and more educational.

It was appropriate in the spirit of the 1 920s to transform the Syrian Protestant College to the American University of Beirut . America was emerging as a power, a victor of the Great War; the University replaced the College as the College grew and became a beacon of higher education; and Beirut was coming on its own as a major Mediterranean city.

Lebanon then was, in America 's eyes, a nebulous concept. Lebanon was under French mandate, and there was no love lost between France and America . The Muslims of Lebanon were uncertain about the new state. The Maronites and the other Catholic sects were not yet enamored with AUB and the American system of education.

The inter-wars period was one of transition-messianic and educational; it was a period bending rapidly towards the secular.

Phase Three followed the end of World War II and the cataclysmic events that came in its wake. It is important that we fully understand this phase to help AUB move into phase four. The end of the war saw America a superpower with world-wide responsibilities. Facing it was another superpower, the Soviet Union . Soon the two superpowers were locked in a Cold War encompassing the entire planet.

In Europe , America formed NATO to contain and deter the Soviet Union . In our region, now dubbed the Middle East by Britain and America , an attempt to form another NATO in the form of the Baghdad Pact bringing together Turkey , the Arabs, and Iran did not succeed. The Middle East became an area of great concern to the United states , it was the southern tier of NATO in its defense strategies against the Soviets. America has gone secular and political. American attention, no longer missionary, focused on the politics of the great imperium. America , the imperium, is quite different from America the island of the 1 9th century. The imeprium looked at the world with the eye of the strategist. Its navy, the largest in human history, was in all seas and oceans, defending its world-wide interests. The imeprium looked at the globe and focused on it in blocks. In our area, it saw something we do not usually see. It saw the Middle East - an area stretching from Turkey to the entire Arab World, to Iran , Pakistan , and the Central Asian republics. The Middle East is a post-war American perspective, it was a strategic area to be defended against Soviet incursion. In the heart of this Middle East, its attention rivetted on Israel , Egypt , Turkey , Saudi Arabia . America saw oil the lifeline of NATO; it saw strategic routes that must be protected. It saw a Soviet threat that must be contained.

The American Government found AUB as a major American institution in the region. It poured money into it through the Agency of International Development (AID). AUB benefited from this new found generosity, but soon found itself talking like the American government, we are a university for the Middle East , we are for the region. We need to expand to meet area needs, keep repeating AUB presidents. We too fell in line, not appreciating beforehand that in leaning on one side we were virtually leaning against the other.

The Middle East needed engineers, specialists in Business and administration, and practitioners in all fields. Accordingly, a Faculty of Engineering was opened. A public administration program was introduced. The Social Sciences were expanded and strengthened. The hospital and health sciences were given prominence. The political has prevailed over the spiritual, and the spirit of the time has gone secular, political, strategic. With the transformation of the Chapel into Assembly Hall, the last vestige of the messianic era had ended.

Phase Three was a political phase, it was a phase of expansion, of broad orientation, and of great expectations. In this phase, AUB was in Lebanon , but its mind was somewhere else. A volcano was brewing underneath us, but we were too involved with regional issues to detect it.

To us, the Lebanese war: 1975-1990 put an end to Phase Three and ushered us into Phase Four. The war has so changed our perspectives that we no longer understand those who come to us from Washington and New York . They continue to talk of AUB in the context of the region and of the Middle East . We, on the other hand, who have experienced the alienation that comes from nebulous regionality, are a bit bored with the region and with the Middle East . The war opened our eyes to a tragic reality. All of a sudden we realized that we were upholding every cause except the cause of Lebanon . We either held ideas larger than Lebanon , or smaller than Lebanon , but ideas tailored for Lebanon were virtually non-existent. In effect, we seemed indifferent to Lebanon - we were Communists, Socialists, universalists, Arab nationalists, Syrian nationalists, secularists, fundamentalists, but not Lebanese. We took Lebanon for granted. We enjoyed its liberal environment, its progressive culture, its beautiful terrain, and its generosity, but we paid no attention to its destiny. We drank from the well and threw a stone in it. When Lebanon fell; when Beirut was rocked by shelling, we cried for old Lebanon . We sang for old Beirut , we wailed like ancient tribesmen. We killed the totem and castigated ourselves for the crime.

In the heat of the battle, we all lost. AUB also lost. It had its share of martyrs, and of breast beating. Some thought of moving it to another clime. Some thought it was finished and urged us to leave. But we did not leave. We stayed behind and faced great dangers. It is not true, the good professors had left, and only the not-so-good stayed. Those who stayed behind kept AUB going, and for that alone they deserve to be called the best.

For us Lebanese, the war has ended, and a Document of National Conciliation was reached. The Document states that Lebanon is a final nation. It is Arab. Its territory is indivisible; its form of government is democratic. Its moving spirit is freedom. Gone is the shy uncertain language of the National Pact, gone is the vagueness of the Ottoman East, and gone is the pale, distracting, superfluous Middle East .

Now a nation called Lebanon occupies central stage. It has problems, but it also has opportunities. It has a potential unequalled anywhere in the region. The ability to see Lebanon , to comprehend it, and to divine its role in the region is our way to entering phase four. It is in this sense that we are in phase four, but our American colleagues, judging from their statements, are still largely in phase three. They speak of the Middle East , and they move us not; they talk of the region and they leave us cold. Lebanon has suffered enough in being camouflaged by the region and by the Middle East that it deserves to be noticed on its own. We think Lebanon is grand enough to deserve AUB. More than that we believe, AUB is fortunate to have a Lebanon to give it platform.

While all universities have a regional and universal character, they remain primarily for the nation in which they exist, for the nation that gives them the freedom to fulfill their missions. And for those who think that Lebanon is too small to deserve an institution as grand as AUB, I say: Lebanon is the only country in the Arab World that has an imperial reach. Our emigrants are all over the world in influential positions. We, as a country are basically regional and international in our outlook.

The Arab World is not going to Arabize Lebanon. Lebanon is already Arab, more Arab than most of those who want to Arabize it. To the contrary, it is Lebanon that must lebanize the Arab world. It is the Arab World that needs the Lebanese characteristics of freedom, democracy, pluralism, tolerance, the recognition of the other, humor, and openness to the world.

We must recognize that we have moved l rom phase three to phase four, and engage in serious reconsideration of what is involved in the process.

AUB should concentrate on Lebanon . Its function is to help Lebanon achieve its full potential, and Lebanon and the Lebanese will galvanize the Arab World. For AUB to overlook its base Lebanon and aim at a nebulous Middle East , it will lose both Lebanon and the Middle East . Perhaps AUB and every other university in Lebanon must effect a mid-course correction to ensure that their basic concerns are the concerns of Lebanon and the Lebanese.

As globalization gains momentum at the dawn of a new century, so must the process of authentication. Like a tree that stretches upwards and sidewards should strike deeper roots to gain hold of the tree, so should we in the age of globalization. As we get occupied with global concerns and as we become truly citizens in the Global Village, we need to strike roots in our own language, our own religion, our own nationality, tradition, poetry, music, and art lest we are blown away in a vague lukewarm universal of which little is truly ours. A great poet once wrote: "Let's look at the infinite stretch of things and chose that which is ours." Authentication is the essential ingredient of globalization. Universities must grasp this reality and tailor their programs accordingly.

Now for the first time in human history we have matured enough to recognize the value of pluralism. Pluralism is a conscious alternative to messianism and to proselytism. You are Christian, deepen yourself in Christianity and understand the other and love him as he is. You are Muslim, deepen yourself in Islam, and understand the other, and love him as he is. Pluralism accommodates diversity and directs it to positive ends. The world will continue to be a conglomerate of civilizations, religions, languages, and races, and peoples must learn to live together in some form of unity. Pluralism allows each to be himself and be respected for that. The Christian need not become a Muslim, and vice versa to please his neighbor, nor does he need to dissimulate. In a plural order one will stick with pride to his own religions and work with the other as citizens in a civic order. American Christians built AUB and erected a Chapel. This act should be respected, and Assembly Hall should revert to its original name and be called the Chapel. Beirut is the World Capital of churches and mosques, and in their synergy lies our claim to fame and glory.

The church does not call itself a meeting place to please the mosque, nor does the mosque change its name to please the church. They are both there, and there to the end of time, and must work together.

In all previous phases, Lebanon was there. AUB saw it but through a glass darkly. Now it must see it face to face. AUB must also intervene with Washington to see Lebanon and deal with it on its own.

Let's reassure all that by emphasizing Lebanon we are in no way reducing the University's regionality and universality. AUB's regionality is better served by better implanting itself in Lebanon body and soul. Our American colleagues will appreciate that after all what has happened to our country, we must now concentrate on our own house and put it in order.

Lebanon can survive without AUB. It will survive better if AUB is fully behind it. AUB cannot survive without Lebanon . As we are committed to AUB and to Lebanon , we must effect the right symbiosis for them to live together in harmony. AUB can only benefit from a courageous reconsideration of its time, place, and mission. It is a great University, we can still make it greater.

 

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