Lebanese Peacemakers Visit France
30 January 2007

At a time when Lebanon again faces the spectre of civil war, five Lebanese, representing Christian and Muslim communities on opposing sides in the last civil war, spent 10 days in France meeting political and community leaders to explain how they changed and why they are now working for reconciliation and peace.

Their visit was organized by Initiatives of Change in partnership with the Christian association Fondacio and took place 12 to 21 January.

The group consisted of Mohieddine Chehab, a Sunni Muslim and former militia leader; Assaad Chaftari, formerly second-in-command of the secret services of the main Christian militia during the civil war, and his wife Marie Chaftari; Lina Charafeddine, a Shi'ite Muslim; and Ramez Salame, a Beirut lawyer. All are active in dialogues organized by Initiatives of Change in Lebanon. Marie Chaftari and Lina Charafeddine are also founders of a women's movement called Linaltaki (let us meet each other).

The group spoke to public meetings at the Paris Institute of Political Sciences, at the Muslim 'Institute Formation Avenir', and in Versailles, where they were welcomed by the Mayor (who is also an MP and President of the France-Lebanon Parliamentary Group). The delegation was also received at the Paris Great Mosque where they met students preparing to become Imams, and spoke to students and teachers at the Muslim Institute of Human Sciences in the city of Saint-Denis.

The stories they told were powerful in their concrete truthfulness and the unity the group demonstrated. 'War starts long before you take up arms', said Assaad Chaftari; 'it starts in your heart when you take for granted that the “other”, whom you do not know, is an enemy.' One woman, originally from Tunisia, and member of the organizing committee, commented: 'They shared their experience without expecting anything in return. It was clear and honest. It had a huge impact on me.'

The delegation also spent a day in Strasbourg, where a hall was put at their disposal by the European Parliament to meet several European MPs. In the evening, they spoke at a public meeting organized in partnership with the Focolare movement and the ecumenical association 'Le Pont', who works for inter-religious dialogue. Adrien Zeller, President of the Regional Council of Alsace, welcomed them, commenting that change will come more from the attitudes of ordinary citizens than from politicians. Annelise Oeschger, Chair of the IONG Conference at the Council of Europe, spoke of radical change: "A powerful and genuine message of life comes to us Europeans from a country in the East that goes through a deep crisis."