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University of Balamand > Administration > Presidency > President Salem > Speech19-07-97

At the Graduation Ceremony on July 19, 1997

I shall address today issues  that we talked about during your student days.  I have always held that Lebanon 's internal war was a war in the inner soul of the Lebanese, before it became the war of others on our land.  For reasons we need not go into now, we Lebanese tended to uphold ideologies that were either larger or smaller than Lebanon .  We tended to support movements that ultimately threatened our freedom and independence.

By ignoring Lebanon , we exposed it, and left an open arena for others to exploit for their own ends.  Until we appreciate this fact and analyze it critically, we cannot build the Lebanon we want.   Our generation failed in protecting our country;   when the country  fell, we wept, we beat our chests, we wrote love poems for Beirut .  We acted like the tribes who worship their totems, then kill them, and weep for them in deep regret.

After two decades of warfare we formulated a Document of National Conciliation.  While the Document was virtually completed in 1987, it was not formally adopted until 1989.  The Document became our guidepost to the future.  We have no other.  The Document ended the war, defined the basic principles of a new Lebanon , and laid the stipulations for a new constitutional order.

The Document consists of Basic Principles that are not subject to change or cancellation.  These principles define the Lebanese state as final, Arab, free, democratic, sovereign, united, and committed to comprehensive development.

It also consists of political and juridical guidelines subject to amendment.  And certainly, some of these guidelines must be amended in light of eight years of experience.  The proposals of the President of the Republic in this regard deserve serious consideration.

Any amendment or change in the Document and in the Constitution emanating from it must follow the rigorous democratic-juridical process, and should not be the product of personal whims and passing political fancies.  Regretfully, past amendments have followed the latter course.

If the Document is not implemented as it should, it does not follow that the Document should be abrogated.

The Basic Principles need to be interpreted, expanded, and implanted in the minds of our youth.  It is wrong to look askance at these principles or to raise doubts about them.  To do so is to return to the uncertainties of the National Pact (1943), which left Lebanon hanging between East and West, dubious about its identity and cultural roots.  The Lebanon of the Pact was conceived as a bridge between two worlds, it had little conception of itself.

We need to transcend the Pact and the age of uncertainty.  We are not a bridge, nor are we transmitters and interpreters as others wanted us to be.  We are an end in ourselves, a nation with our own roots and our own aspirations.

I have come to realize from extensive contacts with our youth that they harbor doubts about the Basic Principles.  It is appropriate therefore, to review briefly these principles.  The Document states that Lebanon is a final nation.  This means that it is not on its way to oblivion, or to becoming part of another country.  The Document states that its territory and its institutions must remain integral and united.  This means that Lebanon , or parts of it, will not be ceded to another country, nor will Lebanon be allowed to fracture into independent statelets.  We have experienced the confessional statelets and rejected them.  We have experienced alien ideologies and found them feckless.

The lesson we learned was completely different from the lesson of Yugoslavia .  There, the war ended in statelets and partitions.  We, on the other hand, rejected statelets and partitions and opted for a free and united Lebanon . Lebanon 's post-war model  is a likely model for the immense diversity of religions and civilizations across the Globe.  The force of history drives the diversities towards unities through conciliation, compromise, and mutual understanding.

The finality of the Lebanese state and its Arabism are the two faces of the same coin.  One cannot exist without the other.  Arabism, as we know it, is a rich civilization which at the height of its glory was the universal civilization, and the world center of learning in all fields, without exception.  We have in the distant past gone through many civilizations.  Our strategic and central position in the world dictated this course.  We were part of these civilizations, and they became part of us.  What survived of these civilizations and continued to be part of our life, we recognize through the Arabic language and the Arabic culture which incorporated these civilizations and transformed them.

Each Arab country has its own perception of Arabism.  Yemen 's Arabism, for example, is not Lebanon 's Arabism.  Our Arabism is lebanized.  A lebanized Arabism is open to the world, subject to free critique, tolerant of the other, and thrives on diversity.  This is the Arabism we adhere to.  Arabism is also our gateway to the Arab World, a world which we need just as it needs us.

The Arabic language is the storehouse of our heritage in terms of arts, sciences, philosophy, history, poetry, and technics.  Arabic is our national language.  We are as proud of it as the British are of English, the French of French, and the Chinese people are of Chinese.

In view of our strategic place at the crossroads of civilizations, we must learn foreign languages, especially French and English.

All languages to us are means for acquiring additional knowledge, for engaging in trade or in public relations in one form or another.  Arabic, however, is an integral part of our being and our national identity.

Our political position should issue forth from our perception of the nation state (al Watan), Lebanon .  From the perception of al-watan, we perceive ourselves, our Arab world, and the world as a whole.  When we look at the whole, the parts fall in place.  If we look at the confessions (the religious communities) from the perception of al-watan, the confessions take their appropriate place in our democratic system.  If, however, we look at al-watan from the perception of the confessions, then al-watan emerges confessional, divided, a conglomerate of pieces, subject to exploitation and divisions.

From the perception of al-watan we see the Lebanese people, not as a conglomerate, but as one people, distinct from other peoples, a people steeped in freedom, in the love of travel and adventure, accustomed to good living, enjoying a unique type of humor bordering on the sacrilegious.  From the perception of the confession the oneness of the people fades into the background and threatens to disappear.

While recognizing that the foundations of Christianity and Islam are eternal and not subject to change, we must admit that the Christians of Lebanon are not like the Christians of the Occident, and the Muslims of Lebanon are not like the Muslims of the Orient.  This is because the continuing Christian-Muslim interaction in Lebanon has changed the attitudes of the Christians and of the Muslims and rendered them unique, each conscious of the other and each reaching to accommodate the other in terms of rituals, habits, traditions, and vocabulary.  As cultures come closer together in the imperatives of the Global Village, there is nothing more intriguing than the concordance between the voice of the Muezzin and the tolling of Church bells.

When a Lebanese Christian speaks, he takes into account Islam and the Muslims.  And so does the Lebanese Muslim.  We quote the Gospels as we quote the Qur'an;  we resort to the sayings and doings of Christ as we resort to the Sunnah of the Arab prophet.  In so doing we are on a futuristic course, a course imposed on us by the advances in technology which pull us together and force us to understand, to accommodate, to appreciate, and to appropriate.

I have heard our young men and women expressing a sort of despair about Lebanon , about our people and our values.  Doubting, in the context of a university based on questioning, is a good thing;  despairing is not.  Some of our youth proclaim in agony that Lebanon is finished, that as a people we do not deserve statehood, and that pervasive corruption in our political system is beyond redemption. 

I emphasize with these feelings.  I know why they are there and why they are held.  We must, however, transcend the existent and work  for what ought to be.  The ought to be should ignite the existent, and not vice versa.  Nations are built by daring and determination, by a vision that must be implemented with conviction and passion.  In nation-building we decide, and we never turn back.  Like Tariq ben Ziyad, we burn our ships and storm forward.

As a people we Lebanese are good, generous, and ambitious; we deserve to live in a free and independent state.  Our land is beautiful, our system of government., inspite of  its many failings, is democratic and capable of development.  We err greatly when we aggrandize other peoples and scandalize ourselves.  This weakness in us, expressed in self-doubts and self belittlement, has been mercilessly exploited by others.

Similarly, we err when we expect salvation at the hands of others.  The others have their own problems, their own interests, and their own priorities, and rarely do their interests coincide with ours.  Others can help, but only when we have first determined to help ourselves and proved it on the ground.

We have faced great confusion in our identity.  This was due to a dearth of civic education and to irresponsible mixing between one loyalty and the other.  Each of us belongs to a number of associations:  to a family, a village, a city, a confession, a professional syndicate, a club, a party and also to the state in which one is a citizen.  This is natural;  it is also natural for each association to expect a loyalty appropriate to its nature.  Thus, loyalty to the family is familial, to the village emotional, to the confession religious and ethical.  As for political loyalty, it is reserved to the state, and should not be dispersed helter-skelter, here and there.

The problem lies not with the multiplicity of loyalties.  Indeed, the multiplicity of loyalties is of the essence of democracy.  The problem lies in the mixing between what is familial, social, and religious with what is political.  Such mixing is a vestige of the Middle Ages, and should be subjected to serious analytic criticism.

Democracy requires the unity that ensures stability and purpose, and thrives on diversity and interactions.  The art of politics in a democracy is how to hold the forces from escaping centrifugally and continuously focusing them into the centripetal system.  The more civic organizations, such as political parties, clubs, research centers, and youth organizations we have, the more democratic our society becomes.  A new political concept known as al-marja'iyyah (reference point as religious leader) has crept into our political vocabulary during the war.

This concept is utterly undemocratic.  I understand al-marja'iyyah in a religious sense and in a confession that is structured hierarchically.  In a democracy, however, the only marja'iyyah is the people which expresses its opinion in regularly held elections, and in the context of rational electoral laws, and rational electoral procedures.  The talk of holding future parliamentary elections on the basis of all of Lebanon as one electoral unit is not only unhelpful, but dangerous.  Such a step renders the people a tool in the hands of the government, for the people then could be mobilized to echo the voice of the ruler instead of making their own voice heard.

As we examine the principles of citizenship and of identity, we should not neglect the question of history and the art of writing and teaching one's national history.  To write the history of Lebanon , we should know first what Lebanon we want.  The history of nations is written largely in light of their future aspirations.  To assume that history can be written by merely digging into the past is to err greatly.  The past is as meaningless as it is unreachable unless we look at it with purpose.  When we decide what Lebanon we want, we will then return to history and construct from its lessons and stations the appropriate texture for the future we want.  The past is like a huge ocean in which we fish.  It contains what we know, and what we do not know.  It contains the useful and the harmful.  To wade into its murky waters, one must learn the art of swimming and the profession of diving or else be battered by the waves and pulled lifeless to the bottom.

Questions and uncertainties then abound and crowd out the answers.  Are we Phoenicians or Byzantines?    Are we Arabs or Mediterranean?  Are we tribes or confessions?  Are we East or West?   In the anarchy of thought and in the absence of vision, questions cannot end.  When we look at the past from the perception of the final, Arab, and democratic watan, all these questions are easily answered and all doubts dispersed.

The history books we teach to our children in elementary and secondary schools are a product of this anarchy.  These books cannot prepare the citizens we want.  History cannot be written from dates, names, battles, and events.  History cannot be written from the pieces scattered without meaning or purpose.  It must be written in light of the future.

A country whose people are Christians and Muslims is bound to look at the future with hope and joy.  This is because history with us, unlike history with the Greeks and Romans, is rectilinear.  To the pagans history was cyclical and without purpose.  With us Christians and Muslims history is a progression from a beginning to an end under the judgment of God.  We share in this progression and we are accountable for what we do and do not in it.  The Christian-Muslim interaction in Lebanon is an essential step in this progression, and a force in the orientation of history towards the Great Historic Conciliation ordained by the Deity.

In Christianity and Islam, religion is good news.  We Christians believe that God has saved mankind, and has also saved the creation in its totality and rendered in holy.  From this concept of salvation we look at the salvation of Lebanon which tasted the bitter herbs of war and destruction.  Our hope acquires concrescence and effectiveness when it is bolstered with confidence and determination.

We live at present a moment of decision.  We either enter history from the front door, or the door will be slammed shot in our face.  In this challenge, we have no choice but to opt for determination.  We opt for the Lebanon of the Basic Principles we alluded to above.  This is the best way to help our people, to serve our region, and to provide a beacon to our emigrants wherever they are on this Globe.  Wherever they are they have two concerns one for the Country where they work, and one for the old Country which lingers romantically in their memory and their imagination.

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Lebanon

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