Thursday, May 23, 2013

In Lebanon, searching for peace and "the enemy"

(Beirut, Lebanon)--For most Americans, discussions about peace and war are, thankfully, abstract. Sadly, that’s not the case here in Lebanon, where talk of war, of “the enemy”, and of the prospects for peace is never far from the surface.
 As we discussed peace in a general way during the first day of my first peace journalism seminar here in Beirut, the attendees, all bright, energetic young people, began talking about the prospects of peace in a skeptical way. I asked them the question, “Do Lebanese want peace?” The response was one of the most poignant things I have ever heard. One student said, “We want peace, but we don’t know what peace is.” The other students applauded this response while I stood, mouth agape, not knowing what to say.

Later, as I sat in my hotel room, I thought that “not knowing what peace is” was not only poignant, but was one of the saddest comments I had ever heard as well.

We picked up this discussion the second day. The young lady who made the “not knowing what peace is” comment said that she, too, had been thinking about the discussion overnight. She said that what she really wanted to say was that Lebanese do want peace, but sometimes misunderstand the true meaning of peace.

The discussion at our advanced peace journalism seminar also taught me about the daily, routine use of the term “the enemy” by the Lebanese media to denote Israel. One attendee even noted that at her media outlet, it was mandatory to say “the enemy” instead of Israel. I asked the students about this term, and they all agreed that Israel is the enemy, and that the label was accurate. My response was that this term is inconsistent with peace journalism, since it is needlessly inflammatory and reflects bias and a lack of objectivity. The students’ retort: But what if this is the way I really feel? I replied that all journalists have feelings and individual biases, but the best reporters present news in a matter-of-fact way.

We also briefly talked about how some Lebanese media refuse to use the acronym IDF (Israeli Defense Forces). Why? Because IDF implies that this army is merely defending Israeli territory. Here in Lebanon, the IDF is seen an army of aggression and oppression. Again, I cautioned about making value judgments that reveal bias. I said that it’s better to call them what they choose to call themselves, and then systematically and factually reveal the IDF’s actions, letting the reader/listener/viewer decide if this is a defensive or offensive force.

As wonderful as the participants were, my first Lebanese peace journalism seminar left me with more questions than answers. If we can’t move beyond discussions about labels, how can we ever enter into a deeper and more constructive dialogue?

--Follow me on Twitter @PeaceJourn


  1. Call it an education for the teacher...In an earlier version of the story above, I used the term cynical to describe the students' reaction to peace. In hindsight, this was the wrong word, and inaccurately (and unfairly) described our outstanding students, who were skeptical, maybe unsure, but not cynical. As I teach peace journalism, I always stress the importance of word choice. I need to pay more careful attention to my own lessons. --SY

  2. Thank you sir for writing about our seminar, and thx again for all the time you dedicated for us to benefit from your professional experience in Peace Journalism.
    I would like to comment on what you've written above.
    I, as a Lebanese citizen and a peace activist. I assure that I I want peace in my country and I really hope to not have an enemy at all which is the most guaranteed way to avoid using such a term.