A powerful antidote to the Islamic State

The Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/...refugee.../4750d7...

November 29, 2015

by Gordon Brown, prime minister of Britain from 2007 to 2010, is a U.N. special envoy for global education.


Syrian refugee students attend school in Taanayel, Lebanon. (Hassan Ammar/Associated Press)

In Beirut — the troubled capital of a country with one of the worst histories of sectarian violence in the world — a unique experiment is underway.

Born out of a National Charter for Education on Living Together in Lebanon — which leaders of all major religions have signed — a common school curriculum on shared values is being taught in primary and secondary schools to Shiite, Sunni and Christian pupils.

The curriculum focuses on “the promotion of coexistence” by embracing “inclusive citizenship” and “religious diversity” and aims to ensure what the instigators call “liberation from the risks of . . . sectarianism.” But the new curriculum is more than an optimistic plea to love thy neighbor and an assertion of a golden rule common to all religions. It teaches pupils that they can celebrate differences without threatening coexistence.

The curriculum is designed for children starting at age 9 and includes four modules. The first tells the story of the global human family, asserting that all are equal in dignity. The second focuses on the rights and duties of citizenship, irrespective of religious or ethnic background. The third covers religious diversity, including the “refusal of any radicalism and religious or sectarian seclusion.” In the fourth, the emphasis shifts from the local to the need for global cultural diversity.

Of course, there is a long way to go before this experiment bears fruit, but the fact that it is happening today in Lebanon is of global significance because of the country’s decision to offer schooling to all Syrian refugee children.

Operating under a double-shift system — Lebanese children are taught in the morning, Syrian refugees in the afternoon — the public schools now house more refugee pupils — nearly 200,000 Syrian boys and girls — than local ones.

Lebanon’s offer of school takes young people off the streets and ensures that they are being taught in an ordered environment. More important, the curriculum’s focus on peace and reconciliation between religions is an antidote to the extremist propaganda of the Islamic State. The curriculum challenges the narrative of the violent extremists that there is an irreconcilable divide between Muslim believers and the apostate “others.”

The strategy of the Islamic State is to “capture the rebelliousness of youth, their energy and idealism, and their readiness for self-sacrifice,” according to its own propaganda. Central to this worldview, as one former hostage held by young Islamic State extremists bore witness, is “the belief that communities cannot live together with Muslims” and “that there is a kind of apocalyptic process under way that will lead to a confrontation between an army of Muslims from all over the world and non-Muslims.”

But if most Syrian refugee children are getting an education that promotes decent, humane values, the space this apocalyptic worldview holds rapidly diminishes.

President Obama is right to say that the Islamic State has to be destroyed as we also condemn those whose perverted interpretation of Islam leads them to condone violence. But hard power deals best with the hard core. We have to offer these young people an alternative vision of their region’s future and accept that there has been an abject failure in education. This has left too many Arab youth with little knowledge of the common strands within the world’s religions and of any alternative other than in jihad to closed and unreformed institutions that are unable to provide jobs or hope.

Today, 47 percent of Middle Eastern and North African youth are either unemployed or underemployed. By 2025, the region will be home to 250 million people under 25. With these young people under daily pressure to identify with the suffering of their fellow Muslims, we have to show that there is a third way beyond terror and an often tyrannical status quo.

All evidence suggests that if there were educational, employment and entrepreneurial opportunities, the region’s youth would seize them. Most want to live in a more open society with the chance to benefit from scientific advances like other young people. In a recent survey, nearly 40 percent of Middle Eastern youth said they wanted to start their own businesses.

It is time to show we are not only on the side of openness, tolerance and diversity but also of opportunity. We need to guarantee that every refugee child has what the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 2000 Millennium Development Goals promised: the right to education irrespective of where the children are located, what religion they practice or what status they have — refugee or otherwise.

Before the civil war, most Syrian children were in school. Now, with most of the 2 million Syrian children exiles on the streets, theirs is a lost generation among whom child marriage rates have doubled in Jordan and for whom child labor — according to recent survey of Turkish refugees — is rampant.

In just a few months, thanks to Lebanese Education Minister Elias Bou Saab, 175,000 refugee school places have been created without having to build one new school. But it is not enough. There are 200,000 school-age children still on the streets of Lebanon and even more in Turkey and Jordan.

But a lack of money is holding us back. For about $500 million, or $500 per year per student, we could put 1 million refugee children into school across Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.

If education is available within the region, many parents will think twice about life-threatening voyages across the Mediterranean, and we will slow the exodus to Europe of thousands of refugee families. But the case for large-scale Western financial support for an education program in refugee communities is more compelling than that: It is about how we not only deal with the terrible suffering and sorrow of millions who have lost everything in a brutal civil war, but also offer a vision of a future that makes coexistence between religions a reality.


Farewell letter to Lebanon by Tom Fletcher, outgoing British Ambassador to Beirut

August 2015

“…You gave me Bekaa sunrises and Cedars sunsets. You gave me the adventure of my life, and plenty of reasons to fear for it. You gave me extraordinary friends, and you took some away. I loved your hopeless causes and hopeful hearts, shared your tearful depths and your breathless heights.There are eight stages of life as an ambassador here. Seduction. Frustration. Exhilaration. Exhaustion. Disaffection. Infatuation. Addiction. Resignation. I knew them all, often simultaneously. I wouldn’t have swapped it for anywhere in the world. I and the brilliant embassy team are still buying shares in Lebanon 2020. I’m finishing my time as ambassador to Lebanon, but with your permission I will always be an ambassador for Lebanon. Many of you ask why I remain positive about this country. All I ever tried to do is hold a mirror up and show you how beautiful you really are. Shine on. You crazy diamond. I wouldn’t have swapped it for anywhere in the world. I and the brilliant embassy team are still buying shares in Lebanon 2020. I’m finishing my time as an ambassador to Lebanon, but with your permission I’ll always be an ambassador for Lebanon.Many of you ask me why I remain positive about this country. All I ever tried to do was hold a mirror up and show you how beautiful you really are. Shine on, you crazy diamond.
Please stay in touch.
3asha LubnanYalla, bye


Tom Fletcher is the outgoing British ambassador to Lebanon.”





BY RAMI G KHOURI, Rami G Khouri is a senior public policy fellow in the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut.

Do Beirut elections mark birth of new Arab citizens?

If change is ever to come to stagnant Arab political systems that have long lumbered beneath the control of sectarian and other entrenched forces, historians may look back on the Beirut municipal elections held Sunday as a turning point.

When the voting took place, one main question caught people's attention: Would the upstart Beirut Madinati (Beirut My City) list of candidates comprising young activists and professionals gain any meaningful support from voters?

“The unexpectedly strong showing by the technocratic and social activist challengers is a powerful message that politics may be changing in ways that were never experienced in Arab countries before”

A significant new element quickly visible in Beirut's election discussion was Beirut Madinati's 10-point policy programme that focused on practical family needs, such as transport, water, rubbish, natural heritage, housing, public and green spaces, community services, and other such daily life needs.

"We wanted to politicise the city council where things happen that directly impact on citizens' lives, because this could be a way to achieve the change in their daily life that they want," one young Beirut Madinati activist said in an interview during the voting Sunday.


A grassroots change?

The fact that the challengers secured more than 40 percent of the vote indicated to most analysts in Lebanon that a growing number of Lebanese were seeking ways to express their anger with the stagnant governing system, while improving living conditions for citizens.

This meant that many Sunni, Shia, Christian and Druze supporters were prepared at the municipal level to ignore their sectarian leaders and bring in new city managers who could get things done.

The fact that the establishment candidates retained control of the Beirut city council indicates how deeply entrenched are the old behaviours and loyalties.

The unexpectedly strong showing by the technocratic and social activist challengers is a powerful message that politics may be changing in ways that were never experienced in Arab countries before - community-based, issue-driven, citizen-focused demands delivered by gender-equitable slates of younger candidates.

This could see the birth of a new political party or the establishment of a shadow municipal council, and, for certain, stringent monitoring of the municipal council's performance by activists and citizens who have tasted success for the first time, hoping that victory and incumbency would follow in the years ahead.

This important breakthrough for a new kind of Arab political action - in the face of traditional hegemonies - now faces the harder test of building on the achievements and lessons of the past nine months of public political action.

Lebanese oncologists resort to immunotherapy to achieve cancer survival, with the first medicine approved by the FDA and the Ministry of Health in Lebanon


A revolutionary development in cancer treatment, immuno-oncology therapies are now available in Lebanon, and the Lebanese oncologists are prescribing new medicine, based on Pembrolizumab molecule, to patients with advanced melanoma and lung cancer. The latter molecule is a humanized monoclonal antibody that works by increasing the ability of the body's immune system to help detect and fight tumor cells.

On this note, the leading research-driven international healthcare company Merck Sharp & Dohme, hosted a full day conference on January 30th gathering local and international oncologists and specialists in the field, to officially launch the new medicine, approved by the FDA and the Lebanese Ministry of Health. Speakers discussed the role of Pembrolizumab in the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer and melanoma, and showcased case studies featuring promising results of the drug that is achieving cancer survival.

Lebanon is the first country after the US to launch Pembrolizumab as a treatment for non-small cell lung cancer. In fact, the molecule is indicated at a dose of 2 mg/kg administered as an intravenous infusion over 30 minutes every three weeks for the treatment of patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer and melanoma, with disease progression on or after platinum-containing chemotherapy.

 On this occasion, MSD Middle East Medical Affairs Director- Oncology said: "Our goal is to translate breakthrough science into innovative oncology medicines to help people with cancer worldwide. At Merck Sharp & Dohme, helping people fight cancer is our passion and supporting accessibility to our cancer medicines is our commitment. Our focus is on pursuing research in immuno-oncology and we are accelerating every step in the journey - from lab to clinic - to potentially bring new hope to people with cancer."