Lebanon: The fear of the unknown

October 8 2012: After a prolonged civil war has come to an end, there often remains a fear of the other community, particularly regarding religion and ethnicity. Rosi Kern, Insight on Conflict's local correspondent for Lebanon, discusses how Lebanese peacebuilding organisations are seeking to avoid this.

A building destroyed during Lebanon’s civil war. Image credit: Antonio Caselli

After a prolonged civil war has come to an end, there often remains a fear of the other community, particularly regarding religion and ethnicity.
After a prolonged civil war has come to an end, there often remains a fear of the other community, particularly regarding religion and ethnicity. However, much of this stems from a lack of knowledge about the other culture, and can also sometimes be coupled with  prejudices.

Following the civil war in Lebanon, which raged from the mid-1970s until the early 1990s, there was a concern that this too would happen here. But peacebuilding organisations in Lebanon were aware of this issue and its potential for reigniting conflicts, placing it at the forefront of their agendas.

People from different backgrounds were brought together in order to reduce prejudices and to promote interaction, allowing them to get to know each other and so defuse any tensions between them.

The Maharat Foundation in Lebanon is one such organisation which has successfully implemented this approach, as exemplified by the story of Carla and Abdel.

Carla and Abdel’s story

They therefore, and understandably, hold reservations towards the others’ culture.
Like many other families, Carla, a Christian, became a victim of the civil war. Her mother endured awful injuries at the hands of Palestinian forces. Carla grew up hating Palestinians, without ever having known any.

Similarly Abdel, who grew up in one of Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps, held the same ideas. He said that throughout his childhood and teenage years he believed that the Lebanese would come after him and harm him.

It is clear from these accounts that some tensions remain between Palestinians and Lebanese. Since there is often little communication between each side their only sources of information come either from the media, or from what their parents have told them about the war. They therefore, and understandably, hold reservations towards the others’ culture.

Carla and Abdel were brought together by a project which was launched by the Maharat Foundation in Beirut. The two of them individually decided to participate in it, driven by a passion for journalism and politics. The project put Palestinians and Lebanese young journalists together in several workshops and trainings, where they discovered common grounds and eliminated previous assumptions.

Abdel said that, “In the first training session on human rights I was shocked to see Lebanese and Palestinians together. I began to enquire about the civil rights of Palestinians and most of the Lebanese in the training were against it, even Carla!” Abdel continued: “So I had a target: to make them think and truly know what it means to be a Palestinian person, to transmit a good image of us. Especially young Lebanese, they don’t even know about the war, they weren’t born yet. However, they hate Palestinians because they were taught to hate us, even if I and other young Palestinians never lived that war or caused it.”

“This was the first time I met Palestinians and actually worked with them and shared our thoughts”
After the training Carla added to Abdel’s narration: “During the training, when we were talking about the Palestinians’ rights, I didn’t know anything about the lack of civil rights that the Palestinian refugees have here in Lebanon; when I learned this I changed my mind. This was the first time I met Palestinians and actually worked with them and shared our thoughts. And not just with Palestinians but also with Muslims. The training was mixed; there were Christians and Muslims. The Muslim girls wear veils; I and my friends are Christians so were more liberal, sometimes we came wearing skirts; many of the Muslim girls and boys thought we were vulgar. But after a while we started to work as a team, we started to talk to each other and we became friends, we accepted one another.”

She explains further: “I realised that Abdel Rahman resembles me. Our points of view were consistent, we found many common aspects and this can overcome all the problems, regardless of all the differences. If I am open minded and Christian and they are Muslim and more conservative, we agree on many points. After analysing the news in Palestinian and Lebanese newspapers, we were surprised to see how they manipulate information. We all agreed we should use that in the right way and we should not modify it and play with the information as we please.” said Carla.

Adbel Rahman added that, “At the end of the training I felt we were not Palestinians and Lebanese, we were just people talking, sharing and working together. I was shocked! I felt I wanted to work with Carla and Carla felt the same.”

It is important to be aware that journalistic power is an extremely effective tool to bring change. The way news is framed is of the utmost importance, for readers and viewers are receptive and easily influenced and they are particularly sensitive when it comes to national events.

No matter what issue is being covered, people’s primary source of information is often the media. Thus journalists have the ability to build peace; their sway is in their pen and in the words they decide to deliver. Being aware of these facts, the Maharat Foundation aims to use its projects to create and contribute to peace through journalism.

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