Talk it out: Healing a nation by addressing the past
An international conference at LAU Byblos explores the socio-psychological roots of violence in Lebanon and new means of creating a lasting culture of peace.
The main aim of the international conference was to explore the socio-psychological and deeper roots of violence in present-day Lebanon, and to identify new modalities in reconciliation and dialogue, between both individuals and groups.
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Academics and scientists from around the world converged at LAU Byblos on November 11-13 for a groundbreaking conference exploring the roots of violence in Lebanon and new ways of fostering reconciliation and dialogue.
“Healing the Wounds of History: Addressing the Roots of Violence” brought together historians, psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, political scientists, educators, activists, professors and students — 160 participants in all — to share personal and professional perspectives over three days of plenary discussions and group sessions.
Organized by the Centre for Lebanese Studies (CLS) at Oxford University’s St. Antony’s College and the Guerrand-Hermes Foundation for Peace (GHFP), in partnership with LAU’s Institute of Diplomacy and Conflict Transformation (IDCT), the conference highlighted the use of psycho-social approaches to address historical grievances and break out of cycles of violence.
During the opening ceremony, Alexandra Asseily, co-founder and member of the board of Governors of CLS, stressed the distinction between forgiveness and forgetting. We must remember, she said, so as not to let atrocities happen again. She challenged the audience to consider “how to embark on a journey different from the one we seem to have been programmed for.”
Dr. Walid Moubarak, director of IDCT and associate professor of political science at LAU Byblos, said the aims of the conference reflect the institute’s mission of “employing a progressive definition of diplomacy to create a culture of peace that will reduce violence, increase justice and respect for human rights.”
“This is acutely important in a country like Lebanon, where deep-rooted cycles of conflict have passed on from one generation to the next,” Moubarak said.
The Minister of Education and Higher Education Dr. Hassan Diab, representing the President of the Council of Ministers Najib Mikati, echoed the need for a holistic approach to conflict transformation, one committed to social justice, human rights, social and economic stability and educational reform.
The keynote address was delivered by Dr. Vamik Volkan, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville and a renowned expert in psychoanalytic approaches to conflict resolution. Volkan explored shared reactions to largegroup conflict and traumas such as victimization, dehumanization and humiliation.
Presenters Patrick Magee and Jo Berry followed with a moving example of reconciliation. Berry’s father was a conservative British MP killed in 1984 by a bomb planted by Magee, a former Irish Republican Army member. Soon after his release from prison in 1999 Magee met Berry. The pair has met regularly since then and shared their experience with others, as “an example of what can happen through dialogue and compassion,” Magee says.
The final two days of the program consisted of group breakout sessions. Each of the six groups of 15-20 participants then shared their ideas for a more unified and peaceful Lebanon during the final plenary session of the conference. Suggestions ranged from the general, such as sharing conflicting narratives as well as educating and empowering children, to the specific, such as increasing Beirut’s public spaces to facilitate daily encounters of difference and diversity.
Finally, participants drafted a 10-point “Declaration for Healing Our Wounds of History,” which they plan to present to Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
The conference ended with a trip to the “Garden of Forgiveness” in Beirut’s downtown district. Participants left copper tags with written grievances on an olive tree outside the garden, symbolically letting them go.
“This message of optimism confirms my belief in a very bright future for this country,” said Moubarak.
Dr. Makram Ouaiss, assistant professor of political science and international affairs at LAU Byblos and a facilitator of the conference, concurs. “Participants openly shared their fears, hopes and concerns, and as a result were really energized to find ways to move forward together,” he says, adding that these local acts of reciprocal understanding are precisely what is needed at the national level.