Model Arab League hosts speakers for Lebanon forum event

Lauren Mogannam

Fawaz Gerges, a professor from Sarah Lawrence College, and David Schenker, Director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, spoke to about 40 Northwestern students and local residents about the current political crisis in Lebanon on Wednesday night as part of the Northwestern Model Arab League’s spring event.

After about an hour of open forum in Swift Hall about Lebanon’s current political state, the two speakers turned to each other during the question-and-answer session and began a heated debate about the inception of Hezbollah, leaving the audience watching tensely in their seats.

A controversial topic because of the eruption of violence in Lebanon on May 6, Model Arab League member Joe Shields said the event, titled “The Political Crisis in Lebanon,” was timely.

“This event is quite perfect for tonight,” the McCormick senior said. “The current political events have been touched heavily on the last few days.”

NU’s Model Arab League is an academic student group whose mission is to educate students about social and political issues in the Middle East, said Sara Larson, the group’s president.

“We examine issues with a variety of perspectives, not only the United States’,” the SESP junior said. “We take a comprehensive look to see how we can restore existing conflicts in the Middle East.”

Model Arab League hosts a variety of events and lectures throughout the year to educate the NU community, Larson said, adding that the three-part Spring Lebanese series was important because it often gets overlooked amid other Middle East news.

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iraq are on the news all the time, unlike Lebanon,” she said. “Lebanon is a very confusing country to a lot of people and many people don’t know much about it, but it is a very important country.”

With the outbreak of violence in Lebanon, it is important to educate those in the community about the current crisis, Larson said.

“Lebanon has been on the brink of civil war for some time,” she said. “Things, I think, will continue to escalate politically, so I think it is important people are aware of the situation.”

Monday night’s speakers focused primarily on Hezbollah’s actions last week and how it will affect the United States’ international standing.

The Hezbollah takeover in Lebanon is a major setback for U.S. foreign policy, and the worst part is that the United States knew that a takeover was possible, Schenker said.

“Lebanon is the only elected pro-Western government in the Middle East and the second- largest recipient of U.S. military funding,” he said. “The U.S. government has to find a way to stop the bleeding.”

Contrary to the belief upheld by the United States, Hezbollah is not just a terrorist group, Gerges said.

“The Bush administration believed that a pro-Western government in Lebanon could take Hezbollah on,” he said. “Hezbollah is not just an armed militia; (it) is a social movement that has the support of a million Shiites in Lebanon with 200,000 willing to sacrifice their lives to guard the Shiite identity.”

Weinberg freshman Andrew Leff said it is good for students to learn about Lebanon through speakers, but wishes NU offered a class on its history and politics.

“Lebanon is a really, really interesting case,” Leff said. “It is politically unsettled, but overlooked because it is such a small country.”

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