To my Beirut

Á mon Beyrouth…

An unexpected thought of the day


I went to a fashion show yesterday which I very much enjoyed, but I am going to talk about an occurrence that happened to me today.

I woke up early despite yesterday’s “sahra” and rushed to Red Cross Camp in Le Crillion Hotel, one of Lebanon’s oldest and coziest hotels, in which I am now, typing in my blog despite the terrible internet connection…

See if you understand anything in the below script which I scribbled into my notebook in a moment of inspiration…

“What is the ethical question again?” I ask…

“……(Maryam looks at the paper, and reads something in fus7a Arabic, which I would have understood had she not  mumbled it through as though she was talking to herself)…

“OK… now in Lebanese Arabic, Explain!” (A couple of laughs here and there..)

She explained to me, as we sat during one of our exercises, during the conference, in which the training camp this time was to promote tolerance, anti-discrimination and human rights, that the case of ethical dilemma our group had to discuss came in the following: “Is it ethical to torture a guerrilla fighter, knowing that the information he or she would give might save the lives of thousands of civilians?”

We had five minutes to come up with our answer.

First of all we discussed torture, and how people would not say the truth under torture, as they would want to simply get away from the pain and people who are causing it, so they would say whatever they believe their captors would want to hear. Another aspect was the psychological torture, yet it was argued that psychological torture was worse than the physical….

We then discussed the possibility of bribery, or trade, where the guerrilla fighter would be given his or her freedom in exchange for information. It may not work due to the fact that the fighter would be trained to withstand pain and would not be willing to return to his “people” knowing he or she gave away information. Then the most important question came up between the members of the group without the knowledge of our trainer… It was strange, how non-nonchalantly it was expressed, and yet how quickly forgotten….

“Is it ethical to torture a captured Israeli soldier, in order to discover a plot that would save the lives of thousands of Lebanese civilians?”

Bill O’ Reilly’s grumpy face suddenly popped into my head, as I remembered his position on Guantanamo Bay. I wondered what his opinion would be have been had he been sitting with us, in Le Crillion, Brumana, Beirut, Lebanon, discussing the situation with a bunch of Arabs, or more in particular, Lebanese and their position in this particular case.

It was a very simple question, and no one gave it much thought. It passed without much notice, except that it got stuck in my head for a while. As members of the Red Cross, we are bound to certain ethics and values that are not expected, although appreciated, from the ordinary civilian. As a Red Cross member, we think in one way, but as Lebanese, do we think in other? As human beings, do we see things from a third perspective? Or are these three different personalities all one? Is it a human value not to torture a guerrilla fighter in order to eventually save thousands of other lives, or is it a human value to do so in order to save those same lives. Is it Lebanese patriotism that made me think in one aspect, or the values I learned from the Red Cross that made me think in another? But is it the Red Cross that protects me from judgment when I explore my human values? Or had the roles been reversed, would I think in the same way…

In the conference room, while wearing our official uniform, I felt strongly about the subject. But, as I retreated to my hotel room and changed into my pajamas, it was as though something hit me in the head, as though I suddenly woke up from a bad dream, and graphic flashbacks to the 2006 summer war came back to my head…

Back to the conference room.

Our team decided upon announcing their position, that rather than to use torture, the speaker came up with the term “psychological tricks” to get the prisoner to speak.

Our trainer agreed and said that ethically speaking, a prisoner must not be tortured physically or psychologically, but rather, other positions must be taken…

It was nice seeing this sort of idealism in the middle east… I really would have liked it had Mr O’ Reilly been there to join us!


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This entry was posted on April 10, 2010 by in Classwork, Lebanon News and tagged , , , , , , .
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