1988: Joe Hakim and Marie Chaftari - ‘I am not a victim’

By Mary Lean

1988 square.


The Caux summer of 1988 at the Initiatives of Change conference centre began with a Mediterranean Dialogue, attended by people from all over the region, followed by a 10-day ‘youth training session’. One of the largest groups to attend these events came from Lebanon’s Christian and Muslim communities, who had been engaged in civil war since 1975. 

Even getting to the airport to fly to Switzerland had its dangers. ‘I had to go through several checkpoints and some of them belonged to our so-called “enemies”,’ remembers Joe Hakim, then 22 years old. ‘It was not so safe for me. But I was convinced I had to go because Initiatives of Change had started changing my life.’


Joe Hakim (third from the left) with Lebanese students and Ramez Salamé (left) in Caux


This was Joe’s first trip out of Lebanon. He found himself making friends from many countries. ‘Coming from a situation of war, you feel as if you are the centre of the world. But I started seeing things in a different way: Lebanon and I were no longer the centre. I realized that I did not need to pity myself. I am not a victim. Rather, I am responsible.’

I realized that I did not need to pity myself. I am not a victim. Rather, I am responsible.

In Caux, Joe got to know a Muslim Lebanese, Munir Al Khatib. ‘Once we got home we started with my friends and his friends to build bridges. It was risky at many levels. We gathered people from different backgrounds and communities, to discover the other person who was at some point the enemy.’


Joe Hakim 1988 Caux Joe in red pullover
Joe (left) in Caux, 1988


For Marie Chaftari, the visit to Caux came at a dark period in her life.  For ten years, she had been a communications officer for the Christian militia: her husband, Assaad, was second in command of its intelligence unit. Then, in 1985, a split in the Christian militia forced them to leave Beirut with their baby son. ‘Overnight we went from being called heroes to being called traitors,’ she says. They lost their home and found themselves living among strangers, in constant fear of assassination.

In 1988, a priest asked Marie when she had last been to confession. ‘What have I got to confess?’ she snapped back. ‘I’m the victim.’ She told him how much she had sacrificed for the cause of Lebanon’s Christians. ‘He said, “What about love? The only cause is love.” Something turned in me, and I began to cry.’

That encounter led to Marie’s visit to Caux that summer, accompanied by her three-year-old son. ‘I came back to myself there,’ she says. ‘I asked myself, how can I be a Christian and hate? I began to look again at my opinions.’

Back in Lebanon, the change in Marie had an impact on her husband, Assaad. He went along to an IofC meeting with a gun hidden under his belt and two bodyguards waiting outside. The meeting challenged him to look back over his life. ‘All I saw was a path full of blood.’


Assaad Chaftari Fighters of Peace
Assaad Chaftari talking to young people at a Fighters for Peace event

Two years later Assaad took part in his first dialogue with Muslims. He went armed with a list of grievances – and was disconcerted to find a Muslim had brought an even longer list. ‘I discovered many things at those meetings. I discovered Muslims had real names, they had families, dreams, and expectations and that if we did not have the same political opinion we could at least still respect each other.’

I discovered Muslims had real names, they had families, dreams, and expectations and that if we did not have the same political opinion we could at least still respect each other.

In 2000 Assaad wrote an open letter of apology in the Lebanese media for his role in the atrocities committed during the civil war. The New York Times described him as the one major participant in Lebanon’s civil war who had ‘truly apologized’. He and other ex-combatants, Muslim and Christian, founded Fighters for Peace, which works to convince young people that war is not the way.


Marie (centre) and Lina Hamade (second from left) with women from Linaltaki and Mary Lean (second from right)


Before 1988, Marie says, ‘the Other’ for her was the Muslim. Now one of her closest friends is a Shi’a Muslim, Lina Hamade. Together they founded Linaltaki (’let’s meet’), an organization which brings together women and runs summer camps for children from different communities.

Joe Hakim, too, has devoted his life to building bridges. Now the operations manager of a large company dealing with intellectual property, he says that volunteering in the Caux dining room taught him the meaning of servant leadership.


Joe Hakim addressing students in Lebanon in 2019
Joe addressing students in Lebanon, 2019


‘I learnt how to support, help, serve, listen, understand, appreciate – how to work together with people from different backgrounds, communities, perspectives, ages, generations.’ He feels a particular calling to help young people find their purpose in life. ‘I offer my friendship, my fellowship – and this helps me at the same time.’

In the dark days that Lebanon is going through once again, flames like these, lit in Caux over the years, provide sparks of warmth, hope and light.

I learnt how to support, help, serve, listen, understand, appreciate. I offer my friendship, my fellowship – and this helps me at the same time.




This story is part of our series 75 Years of Stories about individuals who found new direction and inspiration through Caux, one for each year from 1946 to 2021. If you know a story appropriate for this series, please do pass on your ideas by email to John Bond or Yara Zhgeib. If you would like to know more about the early years of Initiatives of Change and the conference centre in Caux please click here and visit the platform For A New World.


  • Photos Marie, Linaltaki, Fighters of Peace: John Bond (photo top: Marie Chaftari (right) with Iman Al Ghafari from Syria and Lina Hamade)
  • All other photos: Joe Hakim



Featured Story
Event Categories
75 stories 75th anniversary

related stories

This is us square 8.png

75 Years of Stories: Meet the team!

When we launched the 75 Years of Stories series in February 2021 about 75 years of encounters at the Initiatives of Change conference centre in Caux, we had no idea what an adventure we had embarked o...

Caux in snow 2021 credit Cindy Bühler

2021: Initiatives of Change Switzerland – Opening Caux’s doors to a new chapter

As our series of 75 stories for 75 years of the Initiatives of Change conference centre in Caux draws to an end, the President of Initiatives of Change Switzerland, Christine Beerli, and its two Co-Di...

Aad Burger

2020: Aad Burger – Struck by a virus

In 2020, the Caux Forum went online in response to the pandemic. Its organizers found that this made Caux accessible to people all over the world who could not have taken part in normal circumstances....

Marc Isserles 2017

2019: Marc Isserles – ‘We must save the children’

During World War II, the Caux Palace (later the Initiatives of Change conference centre in Switerland) provided a refuge for Jews fleeing the Shoah. Over the years, some of them – or their descendants...

Wael Broubaker climate actionist

2018: Wael Boubaker – ‘Climate change should be top top top priority’

When Tunisian economics graduate Wael Boubaker joined the Caux Peace and Leadership Programme (CPLP) in 2018, he expected a conference which would look good on his CV, and some beautiful scenery. Inst...

Tanaka Mhunduru CPLP

2017: Tanaka Mhunduru – A home for the world

Tanaka Mhunduru from Zimbabwe is one of the organizers of the Caux Peace and Leadership Programme (CPLP), a one-month programme for young people from around the world. He first took part in 2017....

Diana Damsa Winter Gathering 2016

2016: Diana Damsa – ‘It made me feel I counted’

The Winter Gathering of 2016 was a special experience for Diana Damsa – not just because she experienced Caux in winter, but also because, for the first time in eight years, she had no responsibilitie...

Philippe and Liseth Lasserre

2015: Lisbeth Lasserre – ‘The richness in art’

Lisbeth Lasserre came from Winterthur, where her grandparents, Hedy and Arthur Hahnloser, had built up a private collection of art at their home, Villa Flora. Amongst their artist friends were Bonnard...

Catherine Guisan

2014: Catherine Guisan – Europe’s Unfinished Business

Catherine Guisan is Visiting Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota, USA. She has written two books on the ethical foundations of European integration. In 2014 she spoke at Caux’s first se...

Tom Duncan

2013: Tom Duncan – Restoring a healthy planet

2013 saw the first full-length Caux Dialogues on Land and Security (CDLS). These events, which took place at the Caux Conference and Seminar Centre, focus on the links between sustainable land managem...

Merel Rumping

2012: Merel Rumping – Going out on a limb

When Merel Rumping from the Netherlands first visited Caux in 2012, she had a goal in mind – ‘to explore how I could contribute to a more just world through my professional activities’....

Lucette Schneider

2011: Lucette Schneider – Choices which make the magic of Caux

For many years, Lucette Schneider from Switzerland organized the team which gathered in the early mornings to wash, peel and chop vegetables for the kitchens of the Caux conference centre. ...

Mohan Bhagwandas 2003

2010: Mohan Bhagwandas – Addressing the crisis of integrity

Mohan Bhagwandas is all too aware of his carbon footprint. In the 13 years from 2006 to 2019, he flew 17 times from his home city of Melbourne, Australia, to Switzerland to take part in the Caux confe...

Rajmohan Gandhi 2011 Caux Forum Human Security

2009: Rajmohan Gandhi – Bridges between India and Pakistan

25 distinguished Indians and Pakistanis came to Caux in 2009 with the aim of building bridges between their countries. The man who initiated the gathering was Rajmohan Gandhi, a grandson of Mahatma Ga...

Iman Ajmal Masroor

2008: Learning to be a Peacemaker – ‘An eye-opener to the world’

2008 saw the launch of an unusual course on Islam’s approach to peacemaking for young Muslims and non-Muslims, devised by Imam Ajmal Masroor from the UK. The course’s coordinator, Peter Riddell, descr...