Ever imagine how college life would be different in a university other than MIT — say several thousand miles away in a Middle Eastern country like Lebanon? During IAP this year, I was in Lebanon and I decided to ask my friends about their college experiences. I even visited a college right after student government elections. Having lived in Lebanon for almost 17 years of my life, I was not surprised by the diversity of the students who come from all Lebanese districts, speak various accents, and belong to different political groups and religions.
What I did not expect though, was the prevalence of political life among students and how it defined almost everything they do. Students only befriend other students who belong to their own political party, arguing and even fighting intensely with the rest. Student governments are not elected according to virtues, but according to the dominance of a certain party on campus. It was a disappointing shock to see friends I have known for years no longer on speaking terms!
Lebanon has 17 different religions. Its populace is a melting pot of different cultures from the Mediterranean and Levant area. However, this country also has been the home of much bloodshed and violence. It has been occupied by or been a part of numerous empires including Phoenicia, Persia, Armenia, Assyria, Macedonia, Babylonia, the Romans, Byzantium, Arabia, Crusaders, Ottomans, Greater Syria, France, and Israel. In 1975, a civil war broke out that lasted 15 years and left an estimated 150,000 killed. An even greater number of people were left maimed, kidnapped, or imprisoned in foreign prisons. Though the war has ended, conflict continues.
There have been more than 20 bombs set off in the last four years, resulting in the death of several high-ranking politicians and dozens of civilians. In 2006, the Lebanese resistance group, Hezbollah, fought a war with Israel leaving around 1200 Lebanese victims. In 2007, Palestinian militants in refugee camps revolted against the Lebanese army and killed at least 160 soldiers. Militants have also been blamed for an August 13, 2008 explosion that claimed 18 lives. Lebanese politicians fight verbal wars where they threaten each other or claim to be threatened. In January 2007, clashes in Beirut Arab University led to 4 dead students and 200 injured. In May 2008, intense fighting broke out between different political factions, killing almost 100 civilians and nearly leading to renewed civil war.
How could such a little country — less than 40% the size of Massachusetts — be the recipient of so much bloodshed and hatred? The Lebanese populace has been constantly fighting the Syrian presence in Lebanon, the Israeli army, Palestinian militants in refugee camps, and, worst of all, each other. Lacking unity, Lebanese have been shamelessly fighting with members of their own families and with previously close friends merely because they belong to opposing political factions. Citizens seem to blindly follow leaders, most of whom have changed political positions several times in recent years. They do not question the nature of things, they accept all that they are being told and use religion to defend their actions. How can this nation survive so much internal conflict and regional tension?
For the past 4 years, the Lebanese people have not had any moment of peace nor rest. They have been in a constant phase of being in war, but with whom? Who is it that they are continuously fighting? Who is the ‘enemy’? Is it one entity or is it everyone?
Who are the Lebanese people called upon to despise and hate? It seems that they are brainwashed into believing that we are constantly in war with others and with ourselves.
However, who is to blame for the state of affairs? Is it a foreign government that is forcing them to hate and fight? Is it the Lebanese government’s own doing by failing to offer modern infrastructure, regular services and a productive economy? Or, after all these centuries of occupation by foreign nations — and this is the greatest fear of all — has the urge to fight become inborn in the Lebanese people?
Whoever is to blame, this constant fighting has left the Lebanese people hopeless for a peaceful future. Finding a solution seems almost impossible since the people of the nation stand divided — unsure of what they are fighting for and what they are fighting against.
Alice Nawfal is a sophomore in the Department of Mathematics.