When I’m watching videos of ISIS destroying ancient statues or news coverage of the wars in Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Iraq, I’m thinking about other “victims” of the current turmoil in the Middle East–my students at the American University of Beirut. Every day, their futures are being mapped out by bullets and bombs, and their hopes and dreams hijacked by widespread violence, rampant corruption, and the appallingfailure of the international community to put an end to the Syrian war.
Being in college is hard enough, but imagine studying for a bachelors degree and living away from home for the first time with violence breaking out in all directions. ISIS and the army exchanging gunfire on the border with Syria. Deadly shells detonating on the border with Israel. Suicide bombers exploding in the heart of Beirut. Political deadlock that has left Lebanon without a president for almost a year. No wonder it’s hard for so many students to focus in class.
Some of my students are Syrian refugees–whose trauma from the war back home is magnified by the unwelcome treatment they receive in Beirut. Others are Palestinian refugees, who have known nothing but displacement since birth. The majority are Lebanese, whose parents not so long ago were embroiled in a brutal civil war–that many believe never really ended.
ISIS fighters make regular guest appearances in my students’ creative assignments, and close friends who died in bomb blasts in Beirut cry out for peace from beyond the grave. When my students and I read Plato’s Republic, I invite them to imagine themselves as philosopher kings of Lebanon–and ask them what their first order of business would be. A common response? “Burn it to the ground!” And after that? “Walk away,” they say.