June 28, 2008
Chairperson and Members of the Board of Trustees
President John Waterbury
Members of the Faculty and Administration
Friends and Colleagues
At times like these, one is expected to express gratitude and humility for being granted this special recognition and for sharing it with such distinguished company - and I am truly grateful and humbled. The nature of this recognition is of particular significance as it embodies a meaningful reciprocity with the University that bears a major responsibility for getting me to this point in the first place!
From coffee and conversations at the Milk Bar, to spontaneous exhortations at the Speakers' Corner, to protest marches through Bliss Street, to thoughtful seminars in Fisk Hall, to the blessed calm of the library, I have had the privilege and provocation of a unique educational and life experience at AUB; for this, I am truly grateful, and I consider the recognition mutual.
Thus the resumption of the granting of honoris causa degrees does not just represent honoring the awardees, but essentially signals to the world that AUB (like Lebanon) has not been defeated by adversity or deflected by injustice or diminished by pain. Rather, like the Mediterranean, it remains confidently assured of its continuity at the center of the inhabited world! Nothing, dear friends, can match the power of an undefeated human spirit, simultaneously subject to the fragility and vulnerability of the human condition, yet tenaciously persistent in its struggle to engage and transform reality as a source of value and a force for change.
I have witnessed, and lived through, the best and the worst of such a condition, for I come to you from Palestine - a tortured land, besieged, violated, traumatized, wounded in its soul, longing for relief, crying out for justice, yearning for peace. While the Israeli military occupation attempts to steal the land, culture, history, identity, and overall human rights of the Palestinians, there are those who have appointed themselves sole arbiters of thought and conscience in Palestine, thereby confiscating other forms of freedom and human identity in a different battle over the soul of Palestine.
The complex "displacement/replacement" paradigm that began its active manifestation in 1948 persists today in various forms of oppression - the horrific wall of separation and annexation; racist settlements devouring the land and its resources; military incursions resulting in abductions, assassinations, and house demolitions; and hundreds of checkpoints with the express purpose of humiliation and dehumanization. And Jerusalem, the eternal city at the heart of Palestine, remains captive, surrounded by chains of settlements, checkpoints, and walls, undergoing slow strangulation and ethnic cleansing.
Within this narrative of denial, exclusion, and victimization, Palestinian existence has found expression in dual motivations: the urge/ drive to return, with a momentum of motion that constitutes a most elemental validation - homecoming; and the will/determination to endure, to remain obstinate in withstanding all attempts at displacement and expulsion. Uniting both the victims of exile and those of the occupation is the quest for historical redemption, for that elusive peace that can lay claim to justice and permanence. For such a resolution to materialize, it is imperative that we undergo a healing process to mend the self-inflicted wounds of internal strife and mutual negation, and to restore to our cause its integrity and luminosity. No, Palestine is not in need of a "lull" in the "violence" or even a "ceasefire"; it is not in need of a stilted and formalistic internal "dialogue"; nor is it in need of "virtual state" or "shelf" or "framework" agreement. Rather, it must launch and implement a comprehensive national agenda of reconstruction and reform with an unwavering commitment to democracy and the rule of law, while formulating an authentic political consensus capable of reconciling popular resistance with the quest for genuine peace. The context remains firmly enshrined in the basic values of global governance and rule of law, universal human rights and security, as well as historical affirmation of culture and identity.
Dear friends, in Palestine (as in Lebanon and other stricken lands), when the public space becomes constricted and opaque and the discourse of deception prevails, and when power constructs supersede human/humane considerations, we need the courage to intervene before inaction becomes complicity and acquiescence turns to defeat.
That is why we are assembled here today - not only to celebrate the creative and compassionate voice, but also to engage in a collective act of provocation. For we are required to dismantle not only illegal settlements but also coercive constructs of mental and physical intimidation; to challenge not only the confines of prison cells and checkpoints, but also the blockade of ignorance and abuse; to lift not only the siege of the land but also of absolutist ideology and complacency. Unless we agitate, dear friends, we will not be able to provide our children (and grandchildren) with that rare gift of a future of tolerance and tranquility. Our shared experience today is a modest contribution to the expansiveness and transparency of our joint space.
No venue is more appropriate for such an endeavor than this institution - a university that, for generations, has dedicated itself to the overall integrity and dignity of human existence, fulfilling this grand design with quiet persistence and humility. Like Jerusalem, like Lebanon, AUB is a place much larger than itself. And the world is that much better for it. Thank you for your patience and indulgence.