By Martin Accad
“To our most bitter opponents we say: ‘We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.’” (Emphasis mine)
With these words Martin Luther King, Jr. closed his sermon on “Loving Your Enemies” in 1957, which he originally wrote from jail, after being arrested for committing nonviolent civil disobedience during the Montgomery bus boycott.
Lebanon is a land full of violence. It is true that over 20 years have passed since the official end of our 1975-1990 Civil War. But violence has still erupted on a regular basis since then; sometimes in Beirut, at other times in the North, the South or the Bekaa Valley in the East. When I think about where this violence affects me or harms me, it appears as though it doesn’t. It’s been some years now since I’ve lost any family member or friend through violence resulting from armed conflict. Yet I often still have a nagging sense of despair inside of me, a sense that injustice is being done at every moment of every day. A very close friend of mine who moved to Lebanon a few years ago pointed to me early on how she felt that Lebanon suffered from a sort of violence almost intrinsic to the culture and society. It took me a good amount of active listening to try and understand what she was referring to. But lately it has become clearer and clearer to me. There is relentless violence against children and women, unbearable violence against foreign domestic workers, deep historic violence against Palestinians, and shameful violence against Syrians who have been displaced and taken refuge in Lebanon as a result of the 2-year-old Syrian civil war. And these are but a few examples. Many more detailed reports of “Shameful News” can be found on the Beirut.com website.
Does it mean that I am seeing children, women, domestic workers, Palestinian and Syrian refugees beaten or dying all around me? Not exactly. What is so unbearable is that it is so easy for us to become desensitized to this deep systemic injustice because it’s all around us: an “honor crime” against a woman or the simple fact that a mother is not allowed to open up a savings account for her child without the signature of the father; minors carrying guns in service of a fanatic guerrilla or the increasing number of children that come to your car window begging for money every time the traffic is clogged; a Filipina nanny being insulted by a 4-year old brat or an Ethiopian household helper being worked 20 hours a day and whose passport is withheld by her employer (read slave-driver); a Palestinian doctor prohibited from practicing in a Lebanese hospital or a Palestinian child robbed of its childhood by being brainwashed to sing and dance to the rhythm of “killing Jews” by its own mother and father. A Syrian army deserter in hiding and fearing for his life or the humiliating banner, now erected at the center of nearly every Lebanese town, enforcing an 8 pm curfew on Syrian refugees. The victim is clear in all of these examples of both active and passive violence. But who is the perpetrator and who is the enemy? How do we resist this vicious brand of violence and combat this stealthy kind of enemy in a way that applies the teaching of Jesus?
During the struggle of the Civil Rights Movement, the enemy could be clearly identified. Though some, such as the “Black Panthers,” “Black Power Movement,” or Malcolm X called for a lethal and bloody combat against all “whites,” King called for a redemptive type of nonviolent struggle. In the end he laid down his life for it, but victory came. In the systemic violence of Lebanon, some introspection will quickly reveal that the enemy is that person looking at me in the mirror every morning, my close relative, my friend, my neighbor. Struggle needs to begin through introspection, awareness-raising campaigns, and eventually through a movement of nonviolent civil disobedience that will challenge the unjust national status quo with all of its legal ramifications.
Imagine a movement of ordinary Lebanese women and men refusing to withhold the passport of their household helper or nanny, giving her a day and a half off per week where she can come and go as she pleases, limiting her work-day to 8 or 9 hours, and paying her at or above the national minimal wage. Imagine assisting her to keep her baby if she gets pregnant out of wedlock, opposing her imprisonment or repatriation, supporting her by giving her a maternity break, and accommodating her needs as best you can after the child is born.
Imagine a movement of Lebanese employers deciding to offer equal opportunity of employment to Palestinian engineers, lawyers and doctors, at fair wages, in disobedience of the Lebanese labor law, willing to take the risk of paying a hefty fine and of enduring the wrath of fellow-citizens.
Imagine a movement in Lebanese towns and villages, where inhabitants would tear down the racist and segregational banners that have recently been erected requiring all Syrian refugees to register with the municipality within 2 weeks and subjecting them to an 8 pm curfew. Imagine an intentional movement of inhabitants that would offer escort service to Syrians desiring to move around after 8 pm and that would demand that the municipality remove this unacceptable and oppressive initiative.
Imagine all of this being done, not in anger, not by burning tires or bearing arms, but in calm and peaceful resilience, in a deep desire to redeem both our deeply sinful culture and our own selves, who so easily fall to such unjust social and legal expectations. Imagine, in the process, that we should win back our humanity, establish a new social order that rejects all forms of violence both active and passive, and reap God’s promise of a better future for our children and the children of our foreign guests. With the massive people movements that can be created these days through the social media, what is this generation waiting for? But let us not get distracted by the dream of a “movement” when we can actually start with ourselves, with our home, then with our family and in our home town. Let the civil disobedience begin! Let redemption move forward like a river!