Interview with the Director of LERC ( the Lebanese Emigration Research Centre ), Dr. Guita Hourani, (Campaign Director of the LDC Initiative).
A petition is being circulated asking the Secretary-General of the United Nations, His Excellency Mr. Ban Ki-moon, to designate Lebanon as “A Land for Dialogue Among Civilizations and Culture.”
The origins of the petition go back to 2008 and is based on an official request from the then-President of Lebanon, Mr. Michel Sleiman, that Lebanon is the nation of dialogue and it should receive international recognition from the United Nations and its member states as a token of international solidarity with Lebanon, its freedom-plurality-dialogue-and co-existence.
Interview with one of the organizers of this petition, Dr. Guita Hourani, director of the Lebanese Emigration Research Center (LERC) at Notre Dame University(NDU) , in Beirut.
First, tell us about the Lebanese Emigration Research Center which you direct?
The center is an academic research center that is part of the NDU. This center was founded in 2003 as a result of the conscious awareness of the university of the importance of Lebanese emigration from the social, economic and political aspects and also in recognition of the importance of wide geographic distribution of this emigration and the contribution of these emigrants to their new lands and to Lebanon.
What are the most important objectives of this center?
+To conduct research and as a result of this research to impact policy decisions.
+To attend international conferences about emigration
+To provide a forum to exchange the findings of research conducted by others around the world
+To play the role of advisor to governments and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), as well as local and international organizations
+To archive the story of Lebanese emigration
+To document the story of Lebanese emigration through the purchasing of books, magazines, as well as collecting documents and PhD Theses
+Establish a permanent museum and art exhibit dedicated to the Lebanese emigration and assist those Lebanese of emigrant decent to explore their heritage and connect with their relatives in Lebanon
What has your center accomplished to date?
We have accomplished much but the most important is the foundation of the center itself, the very first academic center dedicated to Lebanese emigration.
Second, this center has become from its foundation the leading resource in the world for conducting research into the Lebanese emigration story and we have accomplished the following:
–established the first indexed electronic archive about Lebanese emigration
–established the first academic library in five languages, dedicated to Lebanese emigration
–laid the foundation stone for a permanent museum about the Lebanese emigration
–published more than 20 studies and printed more than six books about Lebanese emigration
–provided research services to more than 10,000 researchers and students from Lebanon and around the world
–attended more than 25 international conferences and workshops about emigration
Tell us about yourself, Dr. Guita Hourani, and why you have embraced this petition project? We understand that you yourself actually spent many years abroad as an emigrant. Can you talk to us about this personal experience?
I was born in Talabaya, in the Zahle district of North Lebanon. In 1975, my family and relatives were displaced after a horrible massacre took place in my village during the beginning of the Lebanese war. I studied in the Lebanese University in Beirut and graduated with a major in history. After that my parents sent me away to the United States where my uncle on my mother’s side lived. I spent 15 years in Washington D.C. where I finished my Master’s degree and then went to work as a Development Counselor at the International Bank . I also worked in other international development positions.
My dedication to the cause of emigration can really be attributed to the displacement I experienced in my own country and being a refugee in my own country during the war, and then afterwards being an emigrant outside of my country and my forceful separation from my parents, family and friends. Not to mention the questions people in the diaspora would direct towards me about who am I and where do I come from and what is my culture and what is my ethnicity etc…
All of these questions made me think of my identity and my story and the story of all those who came before me and especially of those Lebanese, the early emigrants and this is where my love of the subject really originated. In 1995, I founded the Center of Maronite Studies with the objective of registering and archiving research about Maronite emigration. Much later, Notre Dame University proposed that I establish this center which I now direct. I began my journey with this center and the university back in 2003.
Who are the visitors that come to your facilities at the university?
Many are emigrants of Lebanese origin, Lebanese ambassadors serving outside of the country, retired ambassadors, as well as other diplomats from nations serving inside Lebanon, envoys from foreign ministries, non-Lebanese research students of all ages, and from all nations, and also those of different intellectual levels ranging from historians, to movie and documentary-makers.
What service can you provide research students?
The most we can do is to give them a consultation and offer them our expertise in their field of research and in field research. We can assist them to get in touch with those who might be able to help them, either experts in the field or in the community and other Lebanese and international institutions working in Lebanon, or connect them with researchers working in the field of Lebanese emigration around the world.
We can assist with providing information and reference material from our electronic archive and the museum archives and our specialist library.
We also agree to host lectures and offer lectures and present the results of research studies or screen the movies in the university or secure interviews for them with field researchers, translators/simultaneous translators, along with other services which could facilitate their projects.
What is the purpose of the petition to the United Nations Secretary-General which you announced recently?
The aim of this project is to encourage the United Nations to designate Lebanon as “A Land for Dialogue Among Civilizations and Culture.”
Based upon the official request presented in 2008 by the former president of Lebanon, Mr. Michel Sleiman, we believe that Lebanon is the land of dialogue. All that we are seeking is international recognition from the United Nations and its member states as a token of international solidarity with Lebanon as a land of freedom, plurality, dialogue, and co-existence representing the eternal Lebanese cry for FREEDOM, PLURALITY, DIALOGUE AND CO-EXISTENCE.
How confident are you of success, given that this is an academic project from a university?
We have great confidence that we are going to accomplish our objectives especially as those who are supporting us in the project believe strongly in what we are doing and the action that we are taking to accomplish our goal– attending meetings and conferences and managing an internet campaign for petition signatures. If we achieve our goal this will consecrate Lebanon as the land of dialogue in the minds of people instead of the propaganda promoted by the enemies of Lebanon that it is a land of war, divisiveness, disputes, and fanaticism.
Yes, the project has the backing of the university with people who believe strongly in the role of Lebanon but the university is not along in this project. It has the co-operation of institutions, individuals, social activists, and others who are keen to preserve the image of Lebanon, Lebanese or non-Lebanese. We are in the early stages of this petition but we have the appropriate strategy to accomplish our objective. We believe strongly that what we are doing is a noble cause and even if it does not materialize it will not die but remain alive in the conscious of humanity. We are counting on the Lebanese and the emigrants of Lebanese heritage and our friends around the world, no matter what their nationality, to sign this petition as a way of supporting dialogue, especially in the Middle East.
What are you hearing in the diaspora with regard to support for the petition?
As you know, we just launched it a few days ago, yet despite that, the Lebanese–in and out of Lebanon– have praised the initiative and they have started a campaign in their countries and institutions so that up to this moment we have registered more than 500,000 signatures from around the world. Some of them have attached very supportive comments to their signatures as well.
Are there any financial costs associated with this petition campaign and do you foresee any difficulties associated with this project?
The first difficulty we might encounter is that people do not sign the petition or that we do not get the support that we need to pursue the next phase of this campaign which we will announce in due time. The expenses connected to the petition campaign have been met but this is a long term project that will need additional support to meet the costs of travel, conferences, workshops and so for those that want to contribute to these costs, I would like to suggest that they email Dr. Edward Alam, the head of this project
or myself, Dr. Guita Mourani, at
We have heard that you may be conducting a travel tour in support of this petition?
In order to reach out to Lebanese in the diaspora, we are preparing a field visit over the next two months to the United States, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, and in the Fall, we are going to visit France and Brazil, and then Africa and Australia.
Our goal is to get in touch with Lebanese communities and their organizations first, and then to meet with influential figures in the diapsora as well as officials in the countries which we visited to explain our initiatives in the hope of obtaining their moral support.
How will this petition project contribute to unite the Lebanese against the many dangers facing the country?
I think at this stage the Lebanese need a cause they can rally around and the concept of Lebanon as a land of dialogue is such that it can unite Lebanese of all dimensions and factions, both inside and outside of the country. We are confident that, despite the challenges and the difficulties before Lebanon yesterday and today, that the Lebanese people believe strongly that the Lebanon they love and want is threatened and that the only peaceful way to resist is to face those who want to change the values of the Lebanese nation–pluralism, dialogue, and co-existence–by insisting on this campaign and convince the United Nations and its member states about the worthiness of our initiative and get them to agree that, as a token of solidarity with Lebanon, this designation as a land of dialogue is the perfect message, exactly as we live these values in our daily life.
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