Tim May

Rashad and Rachael are both 18, both Lebanese, and both just starting higher education. Like all Lebanese they were deeply affected by the summer of violence and left Lebanon for England in August. I spoke to them both about their experiences of leaving Lebanon and embarking on university education.

Rachael is now studying Arabic and Arabic Translation at Salford University in Manchester, and however frightened and bemused she is by Manchester’s nightlife, she is happy and grateful to be continuing her education where she is. I asked her why she is studying, “I am at university not because I have to, but simply because I believe in the importance of education and what changes it can make in a person's life.”

Rashad spent this summer in Bristol. He enjoys England and feels at home here. I asked Rashad what he thought students could achieve in Lebanese society? “If we as students put aside all political and religious discrimination and the will to resort to conflict, I think we will then be able to help our country out of the mess it’s in. I think the new generation of students can make a difference if they intend to, but as long as we group people according to their religions or their beliefs, then we will not get anywhere.”

“Every job nowadays requires a degree from university. It proves someone's intellectual ability and capability to do the job, so I consider going to university the main step into my future, plus we are witnessing how much some people who couldn't finish their education are struggling to find a proper job.”

Rashad and Rachael are part of the first generation to grow up since the civil war ended in 199o. They share great optimism about the potential for future success but when it comes to Lebanon and its political realities they are pessimistic and increasingly frustrated. This summer’s events show good reason for such sentiment. The route to obtaining the life they want points away from staying in Lebanon. There is one major difference between Rashad and Rachael. While Rachael has all the money and visa support necessary for her study at Salford, after two months of trying, Rashad was unable to find the escalating funds needed for British university fees, and the elusive prospect of a work visa seemed so unlikely that he returned to Lebanon in mid-October. He now hopes to start at a Lebanese university in January, as long as there are no further disruptions.

The wish to leave Lebanon is a deeply rooted feature of Lebanese society. The tiny country is smaller than Wales and has a population of approximately 3.8 million. The latest figures suggest that the diaspora of Lebanon is over 1o million, some sources say over 15. This is the second largest diaspora in the world, after the Jews. Small country, loud voice.

In fact, second only to the Irish, the Lebanese were the most numerous inhabitants of the third-class cabins aboard the Titanic. For 15o years, when the going gets tough the Lebanese go, start a lucrative business, and settle, very successfully. It is estimated that more Lebanese live in Brazil then in Lebanon.

Sitting in a café in Beirut last summer (now reduced to ashes after the Israeli attack), a friend of mine said to me, “The best leave and the shit floats to the top.” As a British student, I am part of a privileged minority. As soon as we enter university, we assume our right to education, to liberty, to freedom. We enter into a life of over-choice: the multitude of social, academic and recreational opportunities scream for our attention. Student life without the constant thrusting of flyers, promotions and opportunities seems unimaginable. Our society is becoming solely concerned with the liberty of the individual. However, most of the world’s individuals have no rights to their own liberty. I asked Rachael why she left Lebanon.

“I have thought about leaving Lebanon ever since I was in Grade 6. There was no specific reason behind that, but it was just that I couldn't see myself living there and I have to admit that so far there can be no fruitful future in Lebanon! I used to travel abroad on holidays but still I knew this was not enough. I then realized that travelling and living abroad is what I really wanted. I have considered leaving to several countries but I chose England simply because I love it and it’s where I always wanted to be.”

I find this sentiment hard to swallow. I cannot look down or oppose Rachael’s desire for the best education and opportunities she can get, and while Lebanon remains an unstable place, the educated and wealthy classes will always leave. As a result, the country has little hope of changing the perennial problems that have surrounded it since its official creation in 1943. It is imperative that the educated class returns to Lebanon. Unlike Rachael, Britons have no need to flee their country for safety reasons or even to obtain a world-class education. Do we really see education as just another step to financial security, necessary to obtaining or maintaining a certain social standing? Or does education have a deeper purpose for human success?

TIM MAY studies Theology and Arabic at the University of Edinburgh. He has taught English in Lebanon and misses the mountains.


Post a Comment

<< Home