For Adballah Ghattas, author and philosophy student at the Lebanese University, studies and career are never independent choices in Lebanon.
Abdallah Ghattas published his first collection of poems at 17. Last March, at 21, this philosophy student originally from Chadra, North Lebanon, issued his third book. This essay called “Apolealogy”, by the Lebanese editor Dar Al-Farabi, calls on the reader to rediscover the human being “in its diverse dimensions”.
Doodling nervously on his notebook, in a café near Sassine Square, in Beirut, Abdallah shared with us his vision of the Lebanese youth and the difficult path towards making your own life and career choices.
What makes you so passionate about philosophy?
I attended my first philosophy class through high school at Saint George, in Zalqa. I was intrigued by the fact that some people could have lived their life through a disinterested activity that, I believe, had nothing utopian nor religious. This made me realize that, trapped in the limits of the small Lebanese society and of my own sect, I was living in a great illusion. From there, I understood that I could write my own story. Choosing to study philosophy was a personal rebellion that transformed my life. We could say, in a way, that the Lebanese reality “condemned me to be free” (J.P. Sartre).
After that, you started a bachelor in philosophy at the Faculty of Letters and Human Science at the Lebanese University. Did your family support you in this project?
After graduating high school, I was granted a scholarship from Lebanese American University (LAU). I would have had only to pay 60% of my studies’ fees. But in LAU, philosophy was not taught as a major. Accepting their offer would have meant studying subject like international business. It was not a totally incoherent move, since I obtained an economics and sociology baccalaureate… So I faced a decisive a choice: would I follow the “Lebanese common sense” or would I branch off and do something supposedly absurd, with no future? I had a great dispute about this with my parents. It remains a very significant event for me. In the end, I was lucky, I think they understood and trusted me. That day I won a great battle. Realizing that I was capable to make my own choice gave me a tremendous sense of relief.
Can career really be a choice in Lebanon?
Being in control of your own life choices, regardless of the consequences, is missing to the spirit of the Lebanese youth. The main issue in Middle-Eastern countries is that your choices are never independent. Several external factors influence them and end up making the decision for you.
The most important is the economic factor. Only one university in Lebanon offers a free cursus and the others are very expensive. Most of the time, your parents will provide for it. But what if they can’t afford it? A lot of students are working beside classes to help with the fees, but it is very tiring and often not enough. Access to education is a great problem in Lebanon.
Then there is the family bound. The father always has a dream that he didn’t accomplish. He wanted to be a doctor or an architect, but the war started and he could never achieve it. So, who will carry it for him? His son. Some of my friends have experienced this situation and it can really be tough. The other recurring situation is the child imitating the father: if my father was a lawyer, following the same path will be much easier. Clients, offices… everything is ready for me! There is a great fear in the Lebanese society of creating something new.
And, eventually, the ultimate criteria is political. Lebanese people always relate their own existence to their political, and thus religious, existence. There is something in this country transforming every choice in a political one. It is taking people’s individual power of choosing away…
Those factors not only determine your studies, they actually also decide of your future jobs…
As soon as you graduate, the first thing you look for is not a job but a contact to help you get a job ! Again, I am lucky because as a philosophy teacher the competition is not too tough. We are not many graduates in this field. Otherwise, I would have never been able to find a job without a wasta. And then, imagine the consequences… This contact obviously leads you to a political affiliation, and takes you down to that vicious spiral, again and again.
Do you have any advice to writers scared to publish their first book?
For me it happened at 17. After several years of writing poems and keeping them for myself, I thought if I could share them maybe someone would be touched by those lines. I contacted an editor who read it and decided to publish it. It was printed in 500 copies and it almost sold out. I think the difficulty lies in this decision to publish. If you do, it means you have to face everything: your ideas, your convictions, your position in the society, the glance of others… It can be scary for a lot of people. If someone is really tempted to publish, I would advise him to carefully check his work and then just go for it. You might possibly get some mixed or negative comments, but at least you will get real and valuable feedback. Send your texts to your girlfriend, father or brother only give you biased comments. Publishing is a beautiful way to give birth to your work. It is a life commitment.