Wadiaa Khoury
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02 November, 2011

Wadiaa Khoury (Photo: Rob Lancaster)
Wadiaa Khoury (Photo: Rob Lancaster)
What is the worth of an individual life? In a world which sometimes seems obsessed with numbers and statistics, Lebanese peace activist Wadiaa Khoury finds inspiration in a film about mothers.

So many events were making headlines over recent months in Lebanon and in the Middle East, it was hard to know where to start when writing this article: the ongoing massive demonstrations for and against the remaining totalitarian Arab regimes; the number and nature of political parties which spring up like mushrooms after the fall of each leader; the continuous discovery of mass graves; the debates about the future of religious and ethnic minorities with the rise of Islamism; and most recently (and maybe more positively) the symbolic celebration of the birth of the seven billionth child on this earth…

A common thread in all the topics mentioned above is the emphasis on numbers rather than individuals. Numbers are used to weigh up the importance of each category of people – perhaps even to give meaning to their existence.

Personally, I always feel uncomfortable whenever I’m treated as just another number. In the same way, I feel uneasy when others are diminished in that way – even when it’s by their own people or family members. The lowest it gets, in my view, is when a mother says: ‘my son was killed for the sake of the national cause; I will continue in the struggle and give birth to another one’. Even though for many people such a speech is the epitome of heroic perseverance, in my view it dangerously undermines the uniqueness of each human life. I very strongly refute it.

While thinking about the value of numbers, and the lack of valuing of the individuals hidden inside these numbers, I thought to share with you something making waves in Lebanese cinemas nowadays. It’s a movie called And now, where to go? It is based on a book Les mamans du Liban (The Lebanese mothers) and the question, ‘And now, Where to go? What to do?’ is addressed to them.

This movie offers the exact opposite viewpoint to the one I refute. It’s about the value of every single human life from the perspective of the mothers. The events all take place in a small village which includes Muslim and Christian inhabitants (who could equally have been Sunnis and Shiites, Arabs and Kurds, Tribe X and Tribe Y, etc). The village is lost somewhere in the mountains of Lebanon, isolated, because the village’s only remaining link to the outside world is a tiny crumbling bridge.

Throughout the movie, the women are dressed in black. The war had taken many of their children, husbands and fathers. But in their new isolation, these women are prepared to do everything imaginable and even unimaginable in order to prevent the surviving men from getting involved in the ongoing conflict outside the village, or from bringing that conflict into the village. Put simply, they won’t stand losing one other person for the sake of war!

When burning all the newspapers and cutting off the only TV in the village are no longer enough to distract the men from outside events; when acts of vandalism occur inside the village’s only church and mosque, those Christian and Muslim women decide together to use more ‘unorthodox’ methods. These include pretending that the Virgin Mary appears in church to express how unhappy she is about the men’s behaviour. Belly dancers are invited to entertain the men. Finally the men are all gathered for a ‘peace dialogue’ where they are offered cookies laced with hashish. The movie ends with these men waking up after being heavily drugged and finding out that the women have all swapped religion. The Muslims are no longer veiled and have changed their names from Fatima and Alia to Georgette and Yvonne. The Christians women are praying in the Islamic way. ‘I’m now one of them, so what are you going to do?’ asks each women to her husband or brother.

Too feminist for some. Way too courageous for others. What all have agreed upon is the authenticity of this tragedy-comedy. Maybe the uniqueness is not just in the movie but also in the way audiences react. Two weeks ago, a peace-building organization I’ve been involved with invited 400 from all Lebanese backgrounds to attend the movie and meet its producers. They included social activists, priests, sheikhs, and politicians. After spending an hour-and-a-half of laughter interspersed with deep, tragic events, all their final comments revolved around one rediscovered truth: ‘re-establishing the value of every human life, as felt and advocated by the mothers’.

How different would our world be if the perspectives of mothers were brought into every political decision and every military action?

Wadiaa Khoury was born in Zahle, Lebanon. She studied educational sciences at Saint-Joseph University in Beirut before taking part in Action for Life, a 10 month IofC leadership training programme in Asia. Since then, she has worked as the Community Service Coordinator at the International College in Beirut. While working, she has continued her studies, completing a Bachelor’s in Law and a Master’s in Public Law. She has a keen interest in building trust across the world's divides, particularly for religious and cultural dialogue. Wadiaa enjoys taking long drives to reflect on life, the quiet solitude of walking in nature and working and having conversations deep into the night.

NOTE: Individuals of many cultures, nationalities, religions, and beliefs are actively involved with Initiatives of Change. These commentaries represent the views of the writer and not necessarily those of Initiatives of Change as a whole.

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