MESA Presidential Session – Thinking Through Catastrophe: Perspectives and Lessons from Lebanon

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The devastating explosion of August 4, 2020 rocked the Lebanese capital, destroying its historic port, the very port that had transformed Beirut from a coastal town of 6,500 people in 1800 to a bustling cosmopolitan city of 150,000 residents by 1914. The explosion devastated the city and its people: over 200 people died, at least seven remain missing, and over 6,000 were injured. Hundreds of thousands of people were rendered homeless, thousands of homes destroyed beyond repair, and an estimated $15 billion in property damage. The psychological impact is immeasurable, with most residents of Beirut still traumatized, including its children. This incident was the last straw of ongoing crises and catastrophe that included an escalating economic crisis and hyperinflation as well as the global pandemic, all fueled by the continued entrenchment of a political-sectarian leadership and violent state apparatus that has proven, time and again, to care only about their own financial well-being. What can these rolling catastrophes and the people of Lebanon teach us about survival and struggle? How have scholars, writers, and activists from different fields understood and responded to this context of multiple crises? We seek in this panel to center the labor, the intellect, and the contributions of people living and working in Lebanon. Panelists will speak from the perspectives of urban reconstruction, journalism, economic aid, creative writing, legal activism, and racial justice.

Organized by Catherine Batruni, Indepedent Scholar, Lara Deeb, Scripps College, and Sherene Seikaly, UC Santa Barbara. 
Chair: Nadya Sbaiti, American University of Beirut

Habib Battah, Investigative Journalist & Founder, Beirut Report
Mona Harb, American University of Beirut
Dima Krayem, University of Cambridge
Lina Mounzer, Writer and Translator, Beirut
Karim Nammour, Legal Agenda
Banchi Yimer, Egna Legna Besidet 


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