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Living Together and State Neutrality: the Test of Radicalization, Identity Withdrawal and Global Upheavals

13 Mar 2018

The conference is in cooperation with Kaslik University, Lebanon and took place 14 to 16 March 2018. Target groups are participants representing minorities from the region, working in Academia, culture and education.


In the East, following the turbulences of the Arab Spring and the string of bloody confrontations, “living together” is emerging as a de facto issue in the debate between the religious and ethnic groups composing Arab and Muslim societies.

In Iraq, the concept of living together is still disrupted and even tainted with bloodshed, relying mainly on balances of power, despite the 2005 constitution, which is based on the federative principle and on the recognition of ethno-cultural identities.

In Syria, the country is increasingly moving towards a division into zones of influence between international and regional powers using rival ethnic and religious groups as proxies. This threatens national cohesion, the meager gains of the modernization of the territorial State and geopolitical order in the Middle East.

In Egypt, attacks and acts of terrorism are ongoing against the Copts, the indigenous people who founded an entity dating back several millennia.

In Turkey, ethnic tensions are also on the rise between Kurds and Turks, as well as between Muslims and the dwindling Christian minority. This is adding to the enduring divergences regarding secularism and state ideology among nationalists, republicans and Islamists.

In the Arab Gulf countries, the existing regimes have to face the growing identity awareness among the Shiite minorities.

In Palestine, the Abrahamic covenant failed to materialize into harmonious coexistence between the faithful of the three monotheistic religions. Living together in the Terra Santa is constantly falling prey to turmoil and rivalries between opposing legitimate authorities and contradictory accounts regarding historical rights and the arrangements to which they led. No solution – whether that of a united or federated state, of the two states nor even others on the governance of Jerusalem – has succeeded in ensuring a good understanding on living together.

During the various wars in the Middle East, the destiny of “living together” was threatened by the collapse or even the abolition of international borders between states and by the involvement of confessional and ethnic militias or armed groups.

This has severely affected Lebanon. The presence of one and a half million “displaced” Syrian nationals on Lebanese territory exacerbates identity and sectarian apprehensions, thus putting the foundations of peace and the harmony of its community convivium at an extreme risk.

Community federalism has been the common sociopolitical designation of the concept of living together in Lebanon. The State, founded in 1920 on civic and citizen linkages, enshrined this concept in its 1926 constitution. Religious communities, however, retained their sovereignty with regard to personal status. This translated orally in the National Pact in 1943. As a result, the post-independence State remained torn between its attempts to save cohabitation, the constitutional citizenship state logic and community logics. The 1989 constitution ended up including the confessional distribution of powers in its text even as it hoped that the end of sectarianism would emerge as the sole applied means to manage Lebanon’s plurality. The Lebanese republican and parliamentary regime was thus labeled as confessional; this shed light on the particular character of Lebanon’s version of living together, which is based on the recognition of the three monotheistic religions in the common and citizenship space, as well as on the non-religious and non-clerical state. Accordingly, the democratic and liberal regime is virtually crippled by its own paradoxes between the primacy of individual freedom and that of community rights.

The tidal waves of civil and sectarian wars, in addition to the other confrontations in Lebanon, obviously weighed heavily on the ties between citizens and communities, tarnishing the model proudly labeled as being the “Switzerland of the East” or that of Lebanon as a message of Christian-Muslim convivium. The Lebanese space suffers from drastic changes in the Christian-Muslim demographic balance, in addition to forced uprooting, community withdrawals and rising extremist and radical rhetoric. Worsening tensions are sometimes taking a bloody turn within and between communities, which negatively hangs over the very foundations of the Lebanese living together.

Lebanese elites have consistently considered several adjustments of this religiously and ethnically pluralistic characteristic of living together, including among others State nationalism, secularism, decentralization, zonal federalism and consociational democracy.

In the West, threats hover around the concept of living together, which has been nonetheless protected by regimes built on citizenship for more than two centuries. The issue of “reasonable adaptation” is giving rise to a lively debate and divergent views in Canada and Quebec even though the State and civil society bodies agree on the primacy of the moral equality of individuals, the central importance of human dignity and freedom of conscience.

Canada adopts two approaches to managing pluralism: multiculturalism and interculturalism. This makes it difficult and complex for the federal government to deal with the current multi–community common belief in the mainly Anglo-Saxon provinces, not to mention the issue of the first indigenous peoples and the particularity of interculturalism in Quebec, a State uniquely harboring nationalistic, Francophone ambitions. This explains the ambiguities of living together in Canada, especially with all that relates to axiological pluralism.

In France, the secular republic and the presence of Muslims and immigrants have evolved into subjects of daily political, societal and philosophical debate.

The living together crisis is also on the table, whether openly or discreetly, in several European societies, notably in Belgium, Germany and England. Opinion polls reveal an upsurge of phobias and doubts on the pacifying and integrating capacities of existing democracies and rules of law.

The speakers in this colloquium will use their knowledge and expertise to elaborate a synthesis of the hopes, trends and stakes of living together in relation to current or projected policies with the aim of achieving world peace and reaching the prerequisites of a common societal project. Keeping this central objective in mind, this multidisciplinary colloquium will take into account the needs and demands of political decision-makers, elected officials, civil servants, administrators at all levels, educators and civil society actors.


This colloquium did deal with the issue of living together as a notion, concept, socio-cultural phenomenon and political arrangement. In these three dimensions, living together is recognized as one of the main global issues affecting secular states, clerical and religious regimes, and pluralistic, ethno-cultural societies in the age of globalization, the opening up of markets, the decline of the territorial state, secularization and accelerated urbanization.

Accordingly, humanity is acquiring a more diversified profile and now resembles a global village wherein ethnic and religious loyalties as well as places of encounter and mixed backgrounds all over the world are increasingly pluralized. As a result, the concept of living together becomes a space where the scales of values, customs and ways of life clash. These clashes occur either between the dominant features in urban and rural areas respectively, or between the various interests of the social classes affected by the ongoing industrialization in its various phases.

The self-defined mandate of this colloquium is to focus on the political and civic commitment of powers and authorities towards the various universal and national human rights declarations and to the 2015 Montréal Declaration on Living Together. This applies especially to those powers and authorities in the fields of education on citizenship, integration and inclusion.

Last updated 30 Sep 2018, 1.00 PM