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University of Balamand > Administration > Presidency > President Salem > Speech06-10-99

On the Occasion of the Ceremony Opening the University's Academic Year 1999-2000 on October 6, 1999


Old universities inherit their traditions; new universities, like ours, must create them.  Accordingly, we are establishing a new tradition today at the University of Balamand by holding this ceremony to inaugurate the new academic year.  After the raising of the national flag, I will speak to you on fundamental issues facing the University and the country.  Then, faculty, students, employees, and friends of the University will enjoy a barbecue, dance, sing and socialize together.

Balamand is the first university in Lebanon to have its main Campus in a village and its branches in the city, and in this we depart from the norm and blaze a new trail.  We villagers have for decades looked to the city for challenge and fulfillment and turned our backs to the village.  The time has now come to reverse our stance and direct our energies, our talents, and our best efforts to our villages for they represent the very heart and soul of Lebanon .  Even our cities, including Beirut , are themselves conglomerates of villages that have grown and meshed into each other leaving perceptible traces and tastes of their origins.

We, at the University of Balamand , take pride in the village because it retains innocence, frankness, and courage in the expression of its views.  The clarity and simplicity of the atmosphere in rural areas – both physical and intellectual – goads us to raise difficult questions in search of answers.

We must, in particular, raise questions about Lebanon and about our responsibilities as a university towards it.  After Lebanon 's long and tragic internal war, it is no longer permissible for the university to be in one protected and secluded valley and the country in another.  The university cannot extricate itself from the web of the forces that might either strengthen Lebanon or threaten its existence.  The destiny of the university -all universities operating in Lebanon , without exception – is inseparable from the destiny of Lebanon and vice versa.

What Lebanon experienced in 1970s and 1980s was not unlike those historic events that, in the distant past, led to the intervention of the Gods and to the creation of epics of the literature and religion.  The epic of the flood was one of the products of such cataclysmic events.

To some, the flood was a gift from the Gods, for it eradicated one order and replaced it by a better one.  If our Lebanese war was figuratively a flood destroying a corrupt order and heralding in a new one, we still are waiting for the indications of this new order.

It is no longer feasible or acceptable for a university in Lebanon to proceed with its programs as if the war had not happened or to proceed as if Lebanon were not its main concern.  It must ask the difficult and embarrassing questions:  Why did Lebanon have a war?  Why did generations of young university graduates fight each other?  Why, after a century of higher education in our country, the university did not contribute to the creation of national symbols that can educate, elevate, and unify?  Why did the university not question its role in the war?  Why did it-and why does it still- proclaim its innocence “from the shedding of the blood of this poor country of ours”?

In truth, the university is as responsible for the war as any other institution or individual in the country.  Its responsibility may be the greater because it is more directly concerned with the issues of mind, knowledge, freedom, tolerance, acceptance and of the other- all the basic components that make or unmake nations.  It may be understandable that the anarchy, confusion, and uncertainties of the country's past would be reflected in our universities.  Now, however, many of these characteristics of the past have been dissipated.  An Ottoman imperial system has long disappeared.  The French-British mandates imposed in the 1920s are no longer.  Mesmerizing and largely irrelevant ideologies that had diverted our attention from our real problems have all collapsed.  A pale mercantile political system in Lebanon fell during the war, or so we thought.

The war ended with the adoption of the National Conciliation Accord commonly known as the Taif Agreement.  This Accord put an end to the uncertainties that accompanied our birth as a nation.  In its Introduction it defined clearly the fundamental principles on which Lebanon is based.  These principles are virtually sacrosanct.  They may be interpreted, expanded on, and continuously analyzed, but they may not be amended as to change their spirit and intent. However, all other principles of the Accord are subject to amendment at the appropriate time and in accordance with the meticulous process in which they were originally formulated and adopted.

The fundamental principles of the National Conciliation Accord are:

  1. Lebanon is a sovereign, free, independent, and final[1] nation.
  2. Lebanon is Arab by identity and its commitment to the League of Arab States and its conventions.
  3. Lebanon is a democratic, parliamentary republic founded on the respect of public freedoms.
  4. The people are the source of political authority.
  5. The political system is based on the separation, cooperation, and    balance of powers.
  6. The economic system is based on the free market.  It guarantees private property and encourages private initiative.
  7. Cultural, social, and economic development must encompass all regions of Lebanon equally.
  8. Social justice for all Lebanese shall be realized through financial, social, and economic reforms.
  9. Lebanon 's territory is one and inviolate for all the Lebanese. No secession, no partition, no implantation is accepted [2] .
  10. No legitimacy will be granted to any authority which may conflict with this Accord.

These are just headings.  Volumes could and should be written on each.  Only by allotting them the fullness of examination, research, and interpretation will we do them justice.  Unfortunately, this has not yet been done either by the politicians or the intellectuals.  The people, burdened by the bitter legacy of the war, are too distracted by economic considerations to care; furthermore, the people have learned not to place their trust in mere words on paper.  Universities and their custodians, however, must refocus attention on these important matters and develop a sense of urgency in addressing the foundations of the state.

Accordingly, the University of Balamand will hold the first national conference on the National Conciliation Accord on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Accord by Parliament in its meeting on November 5, 1989 .  Our conference will be held at the Bristol Hotel on November 9 and 10, 1999.  The conference, under the auspices of the President of the Republic, Emile Lahoud, provides us with the opportunity to examine the Accord and assess its implementation.  The proceedings will be subsequently published in book form and widely distributed. We expect those in authority to read the Accord carefully and to abide by it.  Since its adoption, the Accord has been subjected to much demagogic oratory and erroneous interpretation.

The Article dealing with confessionalism, for example, provides a specific methodology to realize its aims.  Its objective is not to abolish confessionalism by decree as was intended in the now defunct Tripartite Agreement and its subsequent amendments.  The intent of this article in the Accord is to enhance those common denominators that unify the Lebanese.  A national committee headed by the President of the Republic and including leading politicians and intellectuals is to be formed with the view of strengthening national consciousness and gradually releasing the grip of confessionalism on the machinery of the state.

The Accord should have ended the debate on a number of issues. Unlike its predecessor, the National Pact of 1943, the Accord has taken a clear and forceful stand on matters relating to national identity.  Whereas the Pact was uncertain and perhaps deliberately unclear, the Accord is definite.  We expect a great deal from the National Conciliation Accord.  We expect the rise of new politics, of a new style of governing, of new administrative directions, and of a new national orientation.  Our expectations have been, so far, frustrated, and the new has turned out to be very much like the old.  One has only to read the agenda of the Council of Ministers to realize that, as before, it is a mere listing of endless administrative items that are bound to stultify and paralyze thought: the transferring of funds from one item to another; the authorization of an employee to attend a conference abroad; the decision to accept a car from the Red Cross, or open a road in a village, or appoint a minor official to a position in the bureaucracy.  These are necessary transactions, but they are not the agenda of a country coming out of a war facing an uncertain future in a turbulent region.

We need to make a giant leap, to reach out toward new horizons, and to speak a daring and creative language capable of addressing the substantive issues facing our nation.  Small countries need big ideas and a visionary foreign policy to protect themselves against the shifting fortunes of politics.  Ideas, as Plato said, are greatly influenced by the environment in which they are formulated.  Beautiful thought, he opined, is enhanced if carried out in an atmosphere of beauty.

Extensive psychological and emotional drugging pervades the prevailing atmosphere in Lebanon .  There are drugs taken in the mouth and injected in the veins, and there are non-physical drugs that are hurled at us from all directions; these are as dangerous as the needle or the pill.  Our atmosphere threatens freedom and constrains constructive critique.  We get a dose of these drugs as we watch the evening news programs and another dose when we read our morning newspaper.  Other narcotic injections reach us as we drive in our cars and are accosted by the ubiquitous billboards selling commodities through smiling faces and beautiful people.  We are also drugged by the prevalence of petty events, petty statements, petty attacks and counter attacks thrust on us by our politicians who mistakenly think they are talking “Politics”.  To paraphrase Nietzsche, “they muddy their water and think it is deep”.

We appreciate the drive our present government is making against corruption and wish it to continue.  But we would be more appreciative if we could detect much more serious and rigorous governmental concern for the new future of our country and its people, for Lebanon’s role in the region, for the revival of the economy, for the education of our youth, for the development of the rural areas, for the protection of the environment, and for the upholding of human rights.  These are not mere slogans; they are the very substance of responsible politics.

If we take the environment as an example and look at the seashore from Tripoli to al-Nahr al-Kabir or from Sidon to al-Naqurah can we honestly say that this the Lebanon we want? Are we to stand still and be silent while we witness green Lebanon slipping away from us?  What tourism can we contemplate if we lose our shores to shacks and garbage, our mountains to gaping and gouged-out holes made by indiscriminate quarrying, and our water and air to all types of pollution?

Our natural resources are practically nonexistent – no iron ore, no oil deposits, no natural gas – but we have the most precious of resources, our youth.  We need to concentrate on them and on their future.  What educational programs do we have to prepare our young men and women for appropriate jobs in the rapidly expanding technological world? We do not expect these problems to be solved by merely waving a magic wand, but we are fully justified in expecting to have them seriously considered by the responsible authorities.  The University cannot afford, like Martha in the New Testament, to run frantically in all directions and miss the very direction essential to our well being.

One of the main causes of the war was conflict on national identity.  The 1943 National Pact spoke of Lebanon as neither East not West and described its identity as “having an Arab face” (Wajh Arabi).

This description fitted the hazy political climate of the 1940s which harbored a community that believed Lebanon to be a transitional Arab country that should merge with Syria and another community less enamored with the Arab identity and opposed to merger.

The Accord has settled this issue and defined Lebanon as country with Arab identity.  In spite of the clarity of the Accord on this issue, there are still some who question the Arab identity and who worry lest Arabism drag Lebanon downwards and backwards.

Two positions are fundamental in the accord.  One, that the Muslims recognize Lebanon within its existing frontiers as a sovereign, independent, and as final nation.  Two, that the Christians recognize Lebanon as an Arab Country with an unambiguous Arab identity.  Nations are formed in this way – through mutual recognition and mutual compromises.

Lebanon ’s Arabism and Lebanon ’s finality have become two sides of the same coin.  You cannot ensure its Arabism without ensuring its finality, and you cannot ensure its finality without ensuring its Arabism.  Indeed,  Lebanon is, in significant ways, more Arab than many a state in Arab League. Arabism is of varying degrees and kinds.  There is an enlightened Arabism and a reactionary Arabism; a religious Arabism and a secular Arabism.  Lebanon has, over the years, fashioned an Arabism particular to its needs and perspectives.  It introduced new ideas and institutions that have become integral to its Arabism.  Instead of Arabism molding Lebanon , Lebanon has molded Arabism.  The question, therefore, is not how to Arabize Lebanon , but how to "Lebanize" the Arab World.  Our Arabism is one of dynamic coexistence.  It is the Arabism of synchronism between the Mosque and the Church.  It is the Arabism of easy discourse between Arabic on the one hand and French and English on the other.  It is the Arabism of openness to the world, of acceptance of the other as he is, as he believes, and as he exists.  Such perceptions and interpretations of Arabism should permeate the entire Arab World of which large parts still wallow in ossified Medievalism.

We Lebanese take pride in the Arabic language.  It is the language of the Holly Quran and a special gift to us.  Its three-letter verb renders it commodious and rich.  Arabic is our national language; we have no other.  A national language, however, is not sufficient for a country with our international interests.  Hence, our need to speak at least one foreign language fluently.  To us Arabic is ontological; the foreign language a convenience.

Because of the war Lebanon experienced the rise of confessional statelets and the threat of virtual partition.  We must now surpass this bitter experiment and emphasize on oneness of the nation, its people, and its political order.   It is no longer proper, nor indeed appropriate, to speak the language of the war and emphasize confessional groupings as if they are self-sufficient civilizations.  All nations are made up of varying mixes of religions, confessions, and ethnic groups.  We are not unique in this regard so as to deserve a special emphasis that sets us apart.  In democratic systems, religions, confessions, and other groupings subsume themselves under unified national symbols and contribute in their diversity to the oneness of the political order and its national symbolism.

In reflecting on Lebanon I prefer to emphasize pluralism (Tanaw’) rather than diversity (ta’addoud).  The diversity we experienced during the war evidenced itself as confessional groups confronting each other from entrenched positions.  Pluralism has a happier connotation for it represents the constructive interaction of diverse elements in the making of a unified order.

This is what we want for our country.  It is not always propitious to look back at the past and bemoan its miseries.  In the making of nations it is the future vision that determines the present, not the past.  The future is more likely to goad us toward reaching new horizons and dreaming daring dreams.  There is no greater horizon to contemplate and strive to reach than to take stock of our expectations for our country and vigorously to proceed to implement them.

We cannot expect salvation from a foreign emissary, from a friendly power, or from a change in regional conditions.  These are, in effect, "zeroes", and zeroes remain zeroes unless they are preceded by a real number.   The number required is the "us" expressed in will and determination.  We have an opportunity to leap over the wall that has shielded us for years from ourselves.  We have allowed ourselves to fall into anomie, to lose respect for ourselves, and to marginalize our political existence.  We tend to belittle our accomplishments and ourselves and to hail the values and baubles of others.

A major mission of the university in Lebanon is to reserve this attitude in the minds and hearts of the Lebanese.  It is time we take hold of our destiny and move onwards from the fundamental principles agreed in the National Accord.  We should cooperate with all nations and work closely with our brilliant and successful Lebanese compatriots who occupy top positions in the universities in the West and in leading business concerns throughout the globe.

We are a nation steeped in the universal.  We must not allow the smallness of our territory to translate itself into smallness of thought and vision.

The Lebanese have always excelled in foreign countries where open-ended opportunities and challenges were readily available.  We have got to find and to create similar opportunities and challenges here, where we live and exist.  A brilliant philosopher once wrote:  "Where you are, dig".  This is good advice.

Here we are, we have no other place that is ours.  Let us dig deep and strike roots, and from strength rooted in the soil firmly under our feet, we can roam the world and still remain true to ourselves.  We may then act and interact on the world stage as our genuine selves, not as copies and not as shadows on a screen in a Platonic cave.

[1] Wattan Niha'I (final nation) means the country will not be incorporated in or absorbed by any other state.

[2] Lebanese may make their residence anywhere they wish in the country.

This is intended to reserve the demographic patterns that emerged during the war that reserved parts of the country to specific confessional groups.  By 'no implantation' is meant Lebanese citizenship will not be granted to Palestinian refugees resident in the country.


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