'We are proud that this is shining from Beirut... There are more than 30 of these sculptures worldwide but this is the first one in the Middle East and the Arab world, including North Africa'
Piece in the Middle East: Famous sculpture symbolising non-violence unveiled in Beirut
A famous non-violence symbol has found a new home in Beirut. In a ceremony to mark the International Day of Non-Violence on Tuesday, an enormous sculpture of a Colt Python 357 Magnum revolver with its barrel tied in a knot and its muzzle pointed at the sky was inaugurated at Zaitunay Bay, in a celebration attended by Arun Ghandi, the grandson of famous Indian anti-colonial activist Mahatma Gandhi.
The sculpture is a copy of a famous bronze sculpture, entitled Non-Violence, created by Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Reutersward after his friend John Lennon, who campaigned against the Vietnam War, was murdered in 1980. It was installed outside the United Nations building in 1988 and has since become one of the world’s most recognisable non-violence and anti-gun symbols.
The sculpture’s presence in Beirut stemmed from peacebuilding efforts spearheaded by the Academic University for Non-Violence & Human Rights (AUNOHR), a one-of-a-kind institution that offers post-graduate courses in subjects related to non-violence, human rights, social work and conflict resolution. The university, founded by activists Walid Slaybi and Ogarit Younan, was accredited by the Lebanese Ministry of Education in 2014 and began teaching in 2015. Its first cohort of students are due to graduate this year.
The sculpture is the official symbol for the Non-Violence Project Foundation, a non-profit organisation based in Switzerland. To mark the 30th anniversary of the sculpture’s inauguration in New York, the original sculpture was “re-unveiled” on Tuesday outside the UN headquarters. AUNOHR approached the charity to ask for an edition of the sculpture to inaugurate on the same day in Lebanon.
AUNOHR’s president Dr Issam Mansour told The National that the celebration marked several milestones, including the university’s successful petition to the government to issue a decree declaring October 2 the Lebanese National Day of Non-Violence, making it the first Middle Eastern country to officially create a national version of the holiday.
“Yesterday’s event was to celebrate the foundation of AUNOHR, the decree for the National Day of Non-Violence and also the birthday of Mahatma Ghandi,” he said. “We wanted to have a nice celebration because thanks to the Non-Violence Project Foundation we have a copy of this sculpture that has become the symbol of non-violence worldwide. There are more than 30 copies worldwide [but this] is the first one in the Middle East and the Arab world, including North Africa.”
Arun Ghandi, who is a peace activist and a member of AUNOHR’s international advisory council – along with 12 other prominent figures, including two Nobel peace laureates – gave a speech at the ceremony on his first ever visit to Lebanon. He spoke of the enduring legacy of the values held dear by his grandfather Mahatma Ghandi, emphasising the importance of a holistic approach to social harmony in conflict resolution and achieving lasting peace.
Mansour hopes that Reutersward’s iconic sculpture will serve as reminder that there are always alternatives to violence, particularly in Beirut, a city famously divided by conflict. The sculpture’s location on the city’s waterfront is close to the Green Line that split Beirut into two during the 15-year civil war. Visible in the distance is the bullet-riddled carcass of the Holiday Inn, one of the most poignant traces of the violence and its legacy.
“It is all too easy to see the need for a non-violence reminder among human beings in our world today,” Mansour said, “especially in the Middle East, taking into consideration all the violence that surrounds us on a daily basis. Even if it is symbolic, there should be a wake-up call for humanity in general and the Arab countries in particular. We are proud that this is shining from Beirut.”