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The view from Beirut

March 25, 2014

Given my proximity to Syria and the recent spate of bombings in Lebanon, the question sometimes arises, “Whatever compelled me to move to Beirut?” In fact, it is the exact question posed by my taxi driver yesterday on my way home from the office. After several attempts to convey my interest in the region, passion for global affairs, and desire to serve, I think he began to understand.

During my time in Lebanon, I have had the opportunity to be closely involved with several initiatives related to the crisis in Syria and the situation in Lebanon. In Syria, most of the Forum for Development, Culture, and Dialogue’s (FDCD) programs revolve around the provision of humanitarian aid in areas unassisted by other organizations. What I find especially empowering about FDCD’s approach to the aid it gives, is its constant commitment to use the provision of aid to maintain and strengthen interfaith relationships in the region. With both Muslim and Christian partners in Syria, FDCD maintains a vision of the future where neighbors will continue to coexist and thrive. In fact, most of the people I talk to insist that their future depends on it.

Working on projects occurring in Syria means the receipt of daily updates on the state of affairs in the areas where our Syrian partners are working. Stories of families being found in wells, decapitation, and the complete breakdown of humanity become a regular part of your work. These stories both highlight the present state of affairs in Syria and the bleak forecast most have for the immediate future. A pervasive intolerance and the demonization of the “other” continue to drive Syria further and further away from a process of reconciliation.

Enjoying a period of relative calm over the past several years, many organizations have concentrated their efforts on particular activities and programs with the objective of building a civil society which is engaged in inclusive dialogue. However, the recent polarizing events in Syria continue to be a wedge between Lebanon’s diverse and vibrant sects. A colleague recently told me, “Andrew, we have moved from prevention to mitigation.”

It is easy to look at the course of events and ask the question, “Does dialogue and peace building actually achieve anything?” The short answer is, yes! At the conclusion of a conference held by FDCD for young Lebanese political leaders, members of historically rival parties voluntarily agreed to host each other at their respective headquarters in an effort to advance a discussion of their hopes and fears for Lebanon’s future. Though small, encounters such as this can and do have positive impact overtime.

If there is one thing I have learned during my time in Beirut, it is this: Peace begins not in times of need, but in times of relative comfort. How we as human beings interact on a daily basis lays the foundation for peace in the future. In a world increasingly polarized by divisive rhetoric, we need people who are willing to work for constructive conversation and dialogue. The Forum for Development, Culture, and Dialogue’s relentless dedication to this idea is a prime example of this idea.

It continues to be a great joy to work with those who truly believe this and continue to work for peace and understanding both in their home communities as well as the greater region. To know there are those who wish to defy the odds to work towards peace where peace is not only absent, but hard to imagine gives me great hope both for the future of Lebanon and Syria, as well as the world.


Andrew Long-Higgins serves as a Global Mission Intern with the YMCA Beit-Sahour in Palestine.  He worked on the annual JAI Magazine and did field documentation for the OTC.

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