There are many opinions in Beirut about why America went to war with Iraq, although everyone is unanimous in their opposition to the war itself. Recognition that of course Saddam was an evil man is tempered by criticism for Bush’s unilateral action. Last night I spent an hour with Tony, a Syrian graduate student who is finishing up the last ten days of his mechanical engineering degree at AUB, discussing the reasons behind the decision to go to war. He is convinced there was a conspiracy by the American government. “Who ever heard of Osama bin Laden before Afghanistan?” he asked. “And where is he now? Where is Saddam Hussein? It was too convenient.”
I’m surprised by how many people both here and in Cairo believe in a conspiracy theory. I think they give the American government, with its four-year revolving door and constant changes in political administrations, too much credit. Yet at the same time I can’t help thinking about “Wag the Dog,” a movie about an American president who creates a war to detract attention from domestic scandals. Haliburton, Enron anyone?
At times it’s difficult to be an American. I tell them of participating in the peace march on Washington, and how little coverage it received in the press. I tell of the media bias that pervaded the country in favor of war. Of the fact that the majority of Americans did not choose George W. Bush as our president.
But mostly I listen. I listen to Yasmin talk about growing up in Iraq during the first Gulf War and living under sanctions. Still, she was privileged. She attended an international school in Baghdad reserved for diplomats and internationals, which was taught in English and barred to Iraqis.
I listen to Omar talk about the despair of living in his own divided society (Beirut), where religious prejudice is deeply ingrained even though a decade has passed since the end of the civil war. “The war is still going on inside everyone,” he tells me.
Under the guidance of an American professor at AUB, Omar and some friends have started a conflict-resolution NGO. They have dozens of projects in mind; they are one of the few officially registered NGOs in Lebanon, and even have a tiny office down the street from campus. Their Center for Conflict Resolution is the first of its kind in the Middle East.
“A lot of people tell us it’s hopeless,” he admits. But the skepticism is only a symptom of the divisions that have etched themselves into the soul of Lebanon. His little NGO is a Band-Aid seeking to heal a schism that still oozes hatred, as evidenced by the slums around Beirut and the attitudes of the high-society folk that promenade along the Solidere. The war may have ended but the wounds have not healed. Yet it is a Band-Aid that no-one has yet tried to apply in Lebanon. And maybe by encouraging dialogue and understanding, this student-led effort can set an example for the rest of civil society.
Posted By Courtney Radsch (Lebanon)
Posted Jun 6th, 2003