Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Press Conference highlights second Beirut PJ seminar

Our second peace journalism seminar here in Beirut was highlighted by a press conference featuring representatives from two opposing political parties.

These representatives, who customarily stoke partisan fires here, were treated to something different: a press corps trained in peace journalism that was seeking a story about common ground, rather than the same old mudslinging.

After a slow start, the students did an excellent job by ignoring the representatives when they said something that was obviously political propaganda or was contentious or overly partisan. Instead, the young journalists pressed the representatives to find and discuss areas of agreement like women’s rights and old age pensions. Afterwards, several students said that they were encouraged that the political partisans were indeed able to find common ground.

Overall, the seminar, sponsored by the Media Association for Peace and MasterPeace-Lebanon and Park University’s Center for Global Peace journalism, was a rousing success thanks to some vigilant and enthusiastic participants.

Unwanted reminders of Lebanon's civil war

Here in Beirut, it’s hard to escape reminders of Lebanon’s civil war (1975-90). This is because of several accidental monuments to the conflict scattered around Beirut.

These monuments are actually buildings that were gutted during the war, but remain standing.

Exhibit A is the old Holiday Inn, built in 1974 and destroyed a year later. It’s burned out, artillery-pockmarked shell still hulks over the city. It’s ironically situated on the seafront sandwiched between two beautiful, modern hotels—old and new Lebanon side by side. Looking left out of my hotel window, I see the Holiday Inn. Looking right, I see the five-star Phoenicia Hotel and a spectacular view of the Mediterranean Sea.

I sympathize with my one of my Lebanese friends who said she hates the Holiday Inn’s burned out shell and what it represents. If I were mayor of Beirut, the Holiday Inn and the few other wartime skeletons would be razed immediately because they have no place in modern, cosmopolitan Beirut.

My friend did have one good suggestion—leave one pockmarked building standing as a testament to the futility of war. Good idea. But, make the memorial building one that isn’t so prominent or as large as the old Holiday Inn.

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