Adonis Diaries

How you become a Peace Activist in Lebanon

Posted on: April 23, 2014

How you become a Peace Activist in Lebanon

Aisha Habli posted this January 18, 2014

Why I Became a Peace Activist

Beirut – 9:40 AM, I wake to my phone ringing and mistake it for an alarm. My sister anxiously asks me where I am, and I guiltily reply that I’ve slept in. “I’m just calling to ask you if you heard the explosion,” she says.
As I’m talking to her, I hear a helicopter fly close by, followed by sirens from speeding vehicles. I had an errand this morning in Downtown Beirut, and the site of the explosion was on my walking route. This situation has become eerily familiar.
Aisha Habli and fellow activists organize youth activities to tackle issues of identity and segregation in Lebanon. Photo credit: Joanna Choukeir, July 2012.

Aisha Habli and fellow activists organize youth activities to tackle issues of identity and segregation in Lebanon. Photo credit: Joanna Choukeir, July 2012. (One of the girls looks like Lynn or Lin)

On the last Friday of 2013, an explosion hit Lebanon’s busy capital Beirut, killing 6 civilians, injuring 45 others, and assassinating Mohammad Chatah, former Finance Minister and senior advisor to former Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

The bombing was only a short distance from the site of the car bomb that targeted former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005 and marked the beginning of a series of car bombings and assassinations that have been occurring regularly ever since.

All Lebanese political parties have been targets of such terrorist acts. The beginning of 2014 has already seen yet another car bombing in the southern suburb of Dahieh, and a historic library in the northern city of Tripoli was torched damaging thousands of books and manuscripts.

In times like these, I am reminded of why I am a social and peace activist. Things are not well in Lebanon or the region, and until we change our mentalities, things won’t change anytime soon.

Aisha records reflections from youth who participated in social integration activities. Photo credit: ??, July 2012.

Aisha records reflections from youth on social integration. Photo credit: Hanane Kai, July 2012.

I grew up in multicultural communities in Saudi Arabia and moved to Lebanon in 2007 to pursue my higher education. I was fascinated by the Lebanese hospitality and generosity.

To my disappointment I have lately noticed an increasingly polarized community—one where your name, hometown, religion, and political affiliation define you.

Because of these labels, I am sometimes offered special privileges and, at other times, treated with distrust, both equally frustrating.

I have even been turned down for a job that I was qualified for because of my name, Aisha, which was the name of the Prophet Muhammad’s favorite wife, who played a large part in the conflict that later divided Muslims into Sunnis and Shiites.(She got involved in and led the first civil war in the battle of “The Camel” against the troops of Calif  Ali who were ironically Sunnis (followers of the power to be)

In the interviewer’s words, with a name like Aisha, I would “cause a loss in the company’s market and could only work in select regions based on their religious and political associations.”

Refusing to tolerate this as the norm, I wanted to get to know the people of my country in person, rather than rely on the media outlets and adopt the prejudices around me.

I sought out communities where people of various Lebanese backgrounds engaged in dialogue, exchanged ideas, and pursued reform and innovation.

The people I met were hopeful and inspiring. Soon enough, I became a social and peace activist, eager to improve my community through projects that encourage dialogue and break down social barriers.

‘Imaginers’ share their passion for Imagination Studio. Video by Joanna Choukeir.

In 2011, I joined Imagination Studio, a co-creation project that aimed to tackle the leading social integration barriers facing Lebanese youth, including religious sects, political affiliation, poor mobility between regions, and media influence. We organized workshops to analyze these ‘barriers’ and designed activities to bring together youth in public spaces across Lebanon.

Today, the research methodology used for Imagination Studio is being developed as a guideline to support worldwide organizations in using social design to tackle social segregation.

I have also volunteered as an organizer at TEDxBeirut. The success of the TEDx communities in Lebanon comes from the networking opportunities they provide to individuals of various backgrounds. The events cultivate dialogue on a variety of issues including education, healthcare, technology, design, entertainment, and entrepreneurship.

Walkabout Drum Circle entertaining the crowd with interactive drumming from West African origins at the TEDxBeirut event. Photo credit: ??, May 2012.

Walkabout Drum Circle entertains the TEDxBeirut crowd with West African, interactive drumming. Photo credit: Nadim Kamel, May 2012.

Once a week, I participate as a mentor for The Nawaya Network. As one of the first mentorship programs for disadvantaged youth in Lebanon and the Arab world, it aims to create a positive and nurturing environment that allows youth to discover their hidden potential.

My other passion is peace activism. I am the local and international outreach coordinator at the Media Association for Peace, an organization based in Lebanon that trains media practitioners in peace journalism techniques and promotes the implementation of peace journalism.

MAP members celebrating the International Day of Peace with MasterPeace, a movement inspiring peace through arts and education, at a monastery in the Lebanese mountains. Photo credit: ??, September 2012.

Media Association for Peace members celebrate the International Day of Peace. Photo credit: Mostapha Raad, September 2012.

The concept behind peace journalism, also known as conflict-sensitive journalism, is to report news from an unbiased standpoint. It gives equal value to both sides of a conflict, creates opportunities for non-violent responses to conflict, and proposes solutions.

study from a professor at Park University suggests that the practice of peace journalism in Ugandan local media mitigated violence during elections in 2011.

Peace journalism is not just a tool for becoming a more responsible journalist but also a tool for better communicating with others. It has made me a better listener, helping me be open to a wider variety of viewpoints and learn the many angles of “the truth” in a story.

Things are rarely ever black and white, and through peace journalism, news reports humanize and give a voice to both sides of a conflict.

This summer, I witnessed violent clashes in my hometown of Sidon in southern Lebanon. Being a part of the story gave me insight into how a news story is put together in the Lebanese media.

The news outlets spotlighted two opposing sides of the conflict: radical Sunni Sheikh Ahmad Al-Assir and the Lebanese Army, with civilian reports on Hezbollah’s involvement as a third front.

Being held hostage inside my house, I felt devalued in the media as a civilian. While our hearts and prayers were with our friends and family closest to the clashes, the media was focused on polarizing the situation and creating a thrilling evening news report.

Aisha and fellow social change agents share ideas. Photo credit: ??, February 2012.

Aisha and fellow social activists exchange ideas. Photo credit: Hanane Kai, February 2012.

Rarely does one find peace efforts that have long-lasting effects, but peace journalism has promise, as it focuses on violence prevention.

It can help media outlets report news in a more sensitive and responsible way by providing neutral facts, giving both sides of a conflict an equal voice, humanizing the conflict, being selective about terminology and images associated with the news story, and lastly, proposing solutions.

After a peace-journalism report, the viewer is informed with facts, able to deduce his or her own opinion, and willing to feel compassion for both sides of a conflict rather than aggression towards or fear of one side. “Peace is not just mere absence of violence. Peace is, I think, the manifestation of human compassion,” as the Dalai Lama XIV said.

I am one of many activists in Lebanon calling for an alternative to the current situation, in which we are more involved in decision making and the country’s security status. Lebanese civilians are tired of being victims of sectarian and political tension and are becoming proactive.

TEDxBeirut participants holding signs to express "All we need is..." Photo credit: ??, November 2012.

TEDxBeirut participants share their views and personalize the event’s theme: “All we need is…” Photo credit: Nadim Kamel, November 2012.

Aisha_HabliAisha Habli studies biomedical engineering and works as a public relations and media specialist. She is a social and peace activist and a member of the Media Association for Peace and MasterPeace Lebanon.

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