Dr. Guita Hourani, Lebanon Dialogue Initiative (LDI) secretary-general, director of the Lebanese Emigration Research Center (LERC), and assistant professor at the Faculty of Law and Political Science (FLPS), Notre Dame University-Louaize (NDU), discusses the “Dialogue and Best Practice International Forum 2017,” which was held on November 3, 2017, in Issam Fares Hall, at the NDU main campus.
Q: Please give us more details about the goals of the LDI?
The Lebanon Dialogue Initiative (LDI) is devoted to designating Lebanon as a universal “Land of Dialogue among Civilizations and Cultures” and to establishing on its soil a universal center for dialogue in response to contemporary local, national, and international disputes in order to contribute to conflict reduction, reconciliation, social justice, and peace-building.
By securing global recognition as a “Land of Dialogue,” we believe that Lebanon will be able to garner the international solidarity it needs to renew its historic vocation as a land of pluralism, freedom of belief, and conviviality—a vocation to which Lebanon still manages to be faithful.
The LDI works to motivate people of good will, friendly nations, and Lebanese at home and in the diaspora to support the Initiative.
Q: Tell us a bit how it all started?
The LDI started as the LDC (Lebanon Dialogue of Civilizations) and was initiated in June 2013 by The Honorable William Zard Abou Jaoude who approached Dr. Edward Alam and me at NDU with the idea. The Honorable Abou Jaoude chose NDU because of the Lebanese Emigration Research Center’s (LERC) connection with the Lebanese diaspora. The Honorable Abou Jaoude believed that, if this project was to be realized, the Lebanese diaspora had to play a significant role by lobbying their respective countries to vote for Lebanon in the UN to become a designated land and for the establishment of the universal center on its soil.
LDC became LDI when it became an NGO officially registered in Lebanon. In 2015, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between NDU and LDI to specify the vital points of accord between the two entities on the LDI mission and to establish a working relationship to realize this mission. Consequently, LDI became housed at NDU and is being implemented by the LERC at the FLPS, NDU, in collaboration with various local and international partners.
Q: Can you walk us through the whole process? How did you gather all these speakers?
Planning the yearly Forum, which is the main activity of LDI, is a great undertaking, especially since the Forum is divided into three sessions: the Plenary Session, where high-level officials from NDU and LDI speak, as well as were one or two keynote speakers, address the audience. The Dialogue Table Session which is the focal point of the Forum, where a case study is presented; usually two disputing countries representatives are invited to discuss the history of the dispute and the dialogue process and provide insights on best practice. The third session is the Youth Session, where active in dialogue and peace-building from various countries are invited to share their experiences and lessons learned.
Because we follow up on disputes around the world and because we have a strong network with organizations that work on issues related to our mission, we can identify speakers this way. Our partners also help us to nominate speakers, or to put us in touch with speakers. Similarly, our youth committee coordinator Jasmin Lilian Diab at LERC/NDU is an active member of a various international organization where she meets active youth that she can reach out to them and invite them to participate.
The LDI noble mission, excellent communication proficiency, the need for dialogue especially in the region, and the fact that LDI has an academic institution as a strategic partner were crucial in compelling the speakers to participate.
Q: What role did NDU play?
NDU is a valued strategic partner and is LDI’s host. More importantly, NDU and LDI share similar values and beliefs, such as respect freedom and diversity among various identities; cultivating an environment of understanding and acceptance among people; and emphasizing communities’ moral principles as the best path to discover the desired peaceful solutions to the challenges they face. NDU’s past and current Presidents have been devoted to LDI’s mission seeing it as compatible not only with NDU’s vision of Lebanon but also with NDU’s commitment to its role as a Catholic institution of higher education in the service of dialogue and peace. Consequently, over thirty professors, staff, students, and alumni are involved in various ways in LDI’s operation and activities; as such, this cooperation between NDU and LDI is fundamental to the success of LDI’s noble, humane, and universal mission.
Q: What did LDI’s mission gain out of this Forum?
The annual Forum demonstrates that Lebanon can play the role LDI is working to achieve, i.e. by becoming a designated land for dialogue among civilizations and cultures and by becoming the host of a UN universal center for dialogue. The LDI, through its partnerships with reputable local and international organizations, demonstrates the importance of its mission and validates through the traffic on its social media platforms and the comments of people from around the world that there is an urgent need for a universal UN center for dialogue. What LDI gained from this year’s Forum is reassurance from speeches delivered by Philippe Lazzarini, the deputy UN special coordinator for Lebanon, and by H. E. Faisal Bin Abdulrahman Bin Muaammar, the secretary-general of the Vienna-based King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID), that Lebanon is a model of conviviality and tolerance that can be emulated. The LDI gained support for its mission through the call made by H. E. President Michel Aoun at the UN in September to designate Lebanon as a “Land of Dialogue among Civilizations and Cultures” and to establish on its soil a UN universal center for dialogue.