Lebanese Visit Us
01 August 2005
‘The Lebanese people have been making peace with themselves,’ Muhieddine Chehab, Mayor of the business district of Beirut, told The Washington Post.
‘FORMERLY bitter enemies become promoters of peace,’ announced The Washington Post in April, reporting the visit of four Lebanese to Washington DC. ‘The Lebanese people have been making peace with themselves,’ Muhieddine Chehab, Mayor of the business district of Beirut, told the newspaper. ‘They have been slowly walking back from the brink. That is what I did.’
Chehab, a former fighter in a Sunni Muslim militia during the Lebanese civil war, spoke alongside Assaad Chaftari, a former senior officer in a Christian militia, to a wide range of audiences in Washington, DC, and Richmond, Virginia. They were accompanied by Roweida Saleh, a Druze educator active in reconciliation efforts, and Ramez Salame, a lawyer who gave up his gun to start dialogues during the war.
‘When I asked God what I should do after 15 years of killing, I realized that my greatest sin was on the level of love; love of the other,’ Chaftari told Members of Congress, community leaders and students at a meeting in the US Capitol Building. ‘I had gone too far from God and my religion, which asked me to love the other, not kill him. This is where change started.’
As he spoke about his own responsibility for the atrocities of war, Chaftari stopped suddenly, overwhelmed by emotion. Spontaneous applause broke out—led by Chehab, his former enemy.
The evening was closed by Doug Tanner, Director of the Faith and Politics Institute which co-sponsored the event. ‘We can put all our energies into building walls, weapons systems and gated communities to try to protect ourselves from those whom we fear,’ he said. ‘Or we can dare to put our trust in opening up and making ourselves available to whatever the spirit of God leads us to.’
The group met students and staff at American University, Georgetown University and the US Naval Academy, Members of Congress, senior officials at the Department of State and others.
‘Dialogue is a powerful weapon, which unfortunately is little used,’ Ramez Salame told an event in Richmond. ‘After our first dialogue, we saw our enemy had fears like our fears, aspirations like ours.’
‘I want to commit to a more diverse Lebanon, a Lebanon that can have everyone in it,’ said Roweida Saleh. ‘I want my children to have a peaceful future to live in.’
Chris Breitenberg and Will Jenkins
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE MORAL TODAY?
‘YOU can plan a new world on paper; but you’ve got to build it with people,’ said former British Ambassador Archie Mackenzie at the opening of the Initiatives of Change (IofC) USA national gathering in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
His words echoed those of Frank Buchman, the founder of IofC, who also said that ‘each person has a role to play in remaking the world’. A hundred people recently met in Buchman’s hometown to celebrate his legacy, and through the sharing of personal stories sought to answer the question, ‘What does it mean to be moral in America today?’
Business executive Ruma Bose set the tone with her own story: ‘Six years ago I started on this road... and then turned away. I now have the resources and possibilities to do something effective but I know I have to go back to the basics: love of God, love for people and times of quiet in the morning. I am starting again.’
Chris Fernando recalled fighting for his life in Sri Lanka during the tsunami in December 2004. He had walked away with a new calling to create a charity to help Sri Lankan orphans.
Carlos Monteagudo shared his memories of an impoverished Chicago childhood and how this led him to facilitate dialogues on how to alleviate poverty in New York.
Owais Bayunis, Chairman of the Islamic Center of Minnesota, explained his personal calling to educate Americans on the essence of Islam. ‘I decided to make it my Jihad, which means my internal spiritual struggle, to make Islam known to people as it truly stands.’
IofC and the City of Allentown gave ‘LifeChanger Awards’ to Dr Hassan Hathout and Jim Houck, who embody the spirit of Buchman’s legacy by demonstrating the power of personal transformation to create societal change.
Egyptian-born Hathout is a doctor of obstetrics and gynaecology, author, poet and Islamic scholar. After meeting Buchman in the 1950s he concluded, ‘This is how the world can be changed’. He has dedicated much of his life to interpreting Islam to the West.
Houck had a major drinking problem until, in 1934, he heard Buchman’s challenge to live a different life following God’s guidance. He committed to never drink again. This launched a life of care for others in the docks of Baltimore, in meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, in churches and prisons across the country, and internationally with IofC. His ‘Back to Basics’ work to revive the moral foundation of AA was featured in Time magazine in 2004.
John Solomij, Executive Director of the Lehigh Valley Historical Society which co-hosted the gathering, reflected, ‘I’m walking away from this weekend knowing what I’m going to have to do with my life, what I have to change.’