Worldfocus correspondent Kristen Gillespie reported on the signature story “Beirut’s American University preaches tolerance, democracy” — featuring a college campus that promotes a radical idea in the Middle East: free speech and democracy.
In the back corner of the fourth floor of West Hall, the Secular Club shares a small room with the Palestine Culture Club. The room is big enough to hold a few desks and chairs.
As we get ready to film the discussion, the students start joking about how the space is divided down the middle of the room by a row of paper Palestinian flags taped to the ceiling. Typical Arab unity, says one, Palestinians alone and everyone else on the other side. Laughs all around.
But it’s the most practical arrangement, says another, and everyone agrees. A poster of Yasser Arafat from the 1970s is turned to face the wall. For this filming, the Secular Club is crossing into Palestinian territory.
I was looking for a student club to talk to for this report and happened to wander in to West Hall, where Ahmad, the young man with the dark beard and leather jacket who participated in the roundtable discussion, was exhibiting his watercolor paintings. One is on the poster for the Secular Club, seen in the report.
Ahmad and some other friends from the club sat down to talk about secularism as the only solution for the future of Lebanon. A system based on religious quotas means a fractious, divided society where intermarriage is discouraged and people live within prescribed geographical and social boundaries.
It’s common for a taxi driver who lives in Muslim West Beirut not to be familiar at all with major landmarks in sections of Christian East Beirut. He may never have even been there before, just a few miles from his home.
The Secular Club, and the slowly growing secular movement in Lebanon, want to move beyond these social boundaries; for people to be Lebanese citizens first, and to be judged on their merits, not on their religion.
– Kristen Gillespie