It takes Courage to Succeed, It takes Courage to save Lebanon.
By Dr. Philip A. Salem M.D.
Let me first thank the committee that has organized this event and in particular I would like to thank Mr. Ferris Wehbe. Also, I would like to acknowledge the presence of my dear friend, Mr. Nabih Chartouni, the president of The World Lebanese Cultural Union.
Speaking of courage, you cannot but think of those who had exemplified it. A prominent one was Stephen Hawking. Hawking was an English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author who, at the time of his death, was director of research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at the University of Cambridge. He was viewed by many in his field as the Einstein of this century. Hawking suffered all his life from a debilitating neurological disease, he was in a wheelchair, and could not walk, speak, eat, or drink without significant support. He suffered from the most severe physical disability but he dared to live and with his mind, he dared to change the world.
Another one was Nelson Mandela. After a life behind bars, Mandela was invited to become the president of South Africa. And when he accepted, he did not plan to take revenge on those who put him in prison, and he did not plan to crush his political enemies. He invited all of them to share in his administration. He only planned to do what was good for his country. He ruled with a clear vision, consensus, justice, and above all forgiveness. He was one of those rare politicians who were able to shed their personal ambitions for the sake of the ambitions of their people. His only focus was his country, not his own interests. Thinking of Lebanon, you cannot but dare to wish that one day we will have a president like Nelson Mandela.
In my 55 years of cancer medicine and research, The greatest lessons I have learned were from my patients. Contrary to the popular misconception that in a relationship between the doctor and the patient, the patient benefits from the doctor but not vice versa. However, I believe that this relationship is a two-way traffic. We give our patients life, but in return, they give us a meaning for our lives. Here is what I have learned from the practice of medicine, which is also good for the practice of life:
Courage to conquer despair. Despair is probably one of the biggest challenges to man. Succumbing to despair is like succumbing to death. I have learned from medicine that there is nothing impossible and there is always hope at the end of the tunnel. Hope is a necessary ingredient for life. And in my daily life, I pump my patients with hope. True hope not false one. I have learned that with perseverance you can achieve a lot, you can achieve life. Perseverance and hope are a must in medicine; without them you can do only very little. Here I cannot but think of our beloved Lebanon. Our people are in despair. They are now convinced that there is very little, if any, that can be done. I believe that the worst thing that can happen to us is to accept the status quo and resign from changing it. The only option available to us is a revolution without violence. Many people believe that the revolution is dead, but I strongly believe that the roots of the revolution are dormant in the hearts of the people. The people want change, but the question is how? I must remind our Lebanese people that the wars for the last half century and the disintegration of the state were not the responsibility of others. They were our responsibility. And now I say that the responsibility of building a new Lebanon is also ours, not others. We certainly need support from other countries but these countries are not going to support us if they do not feel that we, the Lebanese people are committed to rebuilding our country. I have always said that the objective of revolution is not only to change the corrupt politicians but to change the Lebanese political mind. If we don’t change that mind we will continue to produce corrupt politicians. Despair should not be our option revolution should be the option.
Courage to override failure. I have learned that you cannot achieve success without going through failure. Those who fear failure cannot make success. Failure is only a segment of the road to the top of the mountain. I do not know of any person who reached the top of the mountain without going through failure. Failure should be your best mentor, and you should learn from it. But you should never let it defeat you, you should never let it push you backward. If you choose to retreat, you will never reach your objective. In Lebanon, we need to acknowledge that the October 17 revolution has failed but we should never allow this failure to lead us to defeat. We should never allow this failure to prevent us from trying again. This time, however, as I have always said, we need a revolution with a leader. We need a revolution without violence.
Courage to challenge the dogma. We live in a world where things may look true but they might not be so , unless you challenge the dogma you will never find the truth. For thousands of years, peptic ulcer was considered a disease caused by stress. We recently learned that it is an infection by a bacterium and that if you treat the bacterium you prevent the ulcer. For thousands of years Leukemia was considered incurable until Frei and Freireich challenged the dogma and cured the disease.
In Lebanon, people believe in a dogma. They believe that those tribal leaders are essential for maintaining stability and peace but the truth unveiled the fact that those leaders were the cause of war and instability. And now the prevailing dogma is that nothing can be done to bring about change. We should prove that this is not true.
Courage to explore the unknown. At the level of the cosmos, and at the level of the single cell, our knowledge remains very small. To make knowledge you have to have the courage to explore the unknown. Maria Angela was a middle-aged woman from Palermo, Sicily. She had lung cancer with widespread metastatic disease to every organ in her body including her brain. By all criteria, such a patient will live less than 3 months. But we tried a new treatment which was developed for advanced cancer in our center which is a combination of immunotherapy plus chemotherapy plus targeted treatment. 6 years later Mariangela is alive and free of cancer and leading a normal life. This patient was told by major cancer centers in Italy and in the US to go home and die peacefully. But we did exactly the contrary, we tried and we succeeded. Unless you go beyond the acceptable and what is considered the standard, you will never make progress. Progress is made by people who dare to explore the unknown.
At last, we should have the courage to save Lebanon. Lebanon is not any country. It is a unique one and should be a model not only for the Middle Eastern countries but for the whole world. This is where Christianity embraces Islam and this is where 18 different religious sects live in peace if the politicians leave them to do so. This land is not only a model of religious tolerance, but it is a model of cultural tolerance. Here the culture and civilization of the West engage with the culture and civilization of the arab world. Here all the cultures of the world thrive without conflict. This is why the pope said that “Lebanon is more than a nation, it is a message”. We should keep this message alive. We should also be very proud to be Lebanese. Only in Lebanon, and after 50 years of wars and conflicts, there is not a single beggar in the streets of Paris, London, New York, and Los Angeles who is of Lebanese descent. We belong to people who have dignity. Although Lebanon hosts more than half of its population as refugees and all the refugees in Lebanon are supported by the United Nations, there is not a single refugee of Lebanese origin anywhere in the world. And there is no single Lebanese who is supported by aid from the United Nations. When the Lebanese leave his country, he does not go to live in a tent. He goes to work.
In my book, “ The Philosophy of Rebellion and Revolution” I say the following prayer:
“I am a Lebanese nationalist but I am a humanist. My father is from Lebanon. My mother is its land. My siblings are all Lebanese without exception. My religion, I believe in Lebanon after God. My geographical district is every particle of the soil of the land. I love all my siblings except those who have no loyalty to my father and my mother. I am Lebanese but I consider all humanity my family”.
*Speech delivered by Dr. Salem in Los Angeles on the occasion of receiving the Courage Award. This award was bestowed on Dr. Salem by The World Lebanese Cultural Union on Sunday, September 24, 2023.