Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Survey Shows Students Reject Sectarianism, Love Lebanon

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Survey Shows Students Reject Sectarianism, Love Lebanon

Article excerpt

In April, the American University of Beirut (AUB) Drama Club put on a Charles Schultz play "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," and dedicated it to all the children of Lebanon, wishing them a brighter future. The actors, all AUB students, were children themselves when Lebanon's civil war broke out in April 1975. Today they are among the thousands of young Lebanese adults who never had a normal childhood.

The attitudes of this war generation toward Lebanon and its politics were measured in a 1989 project by a team of four AUB students for a Public Opinion course. Their sampling included the AUB West Beirut campus and its now-discontinued off-campus program in East Beirut. The 43-item questionnaire was given to 280 students from Lebanon's five major religious communities: Sunni, Shi'i, Druze, Maronite and Greek Orthodox.

A striking overall observation is that, in spite of everything these young people have lived through, four out of five are proud of being Lebanese: 78.9 percent said they did not regret being born Lebanese and 85.1 percent said they would not avoid saying they are Lebanese.

Traveling on a Lebanese passport, however, has caused many young people, especially the men, delays and humiliating experiences. Even getting a visa is problematic. Cyprus is the only Western country that issues visas to Lebanese upon arrival.

The US Embassy in Beirut has not issued visas for several years. Lebanese seeking to visit the United States must travel to Damascus or Cyprus. The visa line at the US Embassy in the Syrian capital forms at midnight -- even on the coldest winter nights. The flight to Cyprus is $200 per round trip and often two trips are needed before the visa is granted -- if then.

US-bound students tell of complete body searches upon arrival. Others, who traveled during the Gulf crisis, were insulted by US Immigration and Naturalization officials when their Lebanese passports were spotted.

Their "pariah complex" is traced to the continuing hostage crisis, according to one 27-year-old Lebanese. "I wish they would put all the hostages in a bus and take them to Damascus and that would be the end of all this hostage stuff," he said bluntly.

Labeled as terrorists and kidnappers, many of this generation have themselves experienced the terror of being arrested by militias, or have had their fathers or other family members kidnapped or killed. And many more must face the rest of their lives blind, disfigured or as amputees.

Nevertheless, the survey results showed that 62.78 percent of the respondents said they would not give up their Lebanese nationality for a foreign one. But with economic conditions as bad as they are in Lebanon, working abroad still has great appeal. A surprising 68.9 percent said they plan to work somewhere outside Lebanon.

Among respondents in their late teens and 20s, there is the desire to equip themselves with skills that will increase their chances of finding work abroad. Interest in English as a second language among young adult Shi'i Muslims convinced one man to open a language school in Beirut's infamous southern suburbs. He is offering computer programming courses as well.

When polled on the subject of politics, 89.2 percent said they had no political affiliation. And 96.7 percent said the Lebanese Parliament did not represent them. …

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