Thinkers, activists, artists and concerned citizens of Lebanon converged Thursday evening at the French Institute in Beirut for the fourth edition of the “Night of Ideas,” to discuss some of Lebanon’s most pressing issues.
The annual event was hosted by various chapters of the French Institute worldwide and organized under the theme: “Facing our Time.” From Buenos Aires to Kathmandu and Los Angeles, participants debated the main issues facing their local societies.
Beirut’s edition focused on the environment, threats to freedom of speech and the future of technological development in the country.
“This is a time where we can assemble a greater number of the community to talk about the news, to hear a variety of opinions and thought,” French Ambassador to Lebanon Bruno Foucher said during an opening speech.
“We must respect democracy, plurality, and the opinions and viewpoints of others in order to develop ourselves and work towards changing issues.”
The night kicked off with a notably all-female roundtable discussion on Lebanon’s environmental crisis. The speakers, coming from different professional backgrounds, discussed obstacles preventing the Lebanese people from seriously addressing the degradation of their natural surroundings.
“When we talk about the Lebanese people and their [lack of action] in the environmental crisis, we first have to better understand the context of who the Lebanese are,” said Josiane Yazbeck, the vice president of environmental NGO T.E.R.R.E Liban.
“First, the Lebanese people have long been victims of conflict. As a result, much of the way we act is to ensure our temporary safety. It’s difficult for the Lebanese to look towards a long term vision. Dealing with environmental issues however, requires long-term thinking.”
The modern Lebanese society’s focus on individualism over the collective good, Yazbeck said, has also led to indifference toward environmental issues.
A second round table gathered activists including Executive Director of the Skeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom Ayman Mhanna and founder of Beirut Pride Hadi Damien. They addressed an apparent crackdown on freedom of expression in the country, after a number of journalists and social media commentators were apprehended or questioned last year for remarks deemed offensive to the state. Damien himself was detained overnight last summer, days into Beirut Pride, for allegedly encouraging debauchery and offending public decency, and was forced to sign a pledge to call off the rest of the week's events.
The last panel at the The Night of Ideas centered on the potential to integrate artificial intelligence in Lebanon.
In addition to conversation, attendees enjoyed food, art and entertainment.
Rayess Bek and La Mirza performed their audio-visual productions “Glory and Tears” and “Love and Revenge,” both critiques of society and culture.
Satirical cartoons, comics and illustrations by a number of Lebanese artists including Ghadi Ghosn, Tracy Chahwan and Bernard Hage - commonly known as “The Art of Boo” - were on display, offering comic relief on some of Lebanon’s dire social issues.
“It’s a great and enjoyable opportunity to talk about important things in an [informal] setting with friends while also getting to know more people,” Rayan Kasem, a 29-year-old attendee, said.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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