Letters - 3 June 2022

From Lebanon to Quaker outreach


It may be of interest to those who have recently become interested in the Quaker school in Lebanon (as has Sarah Barrett who has written in the Friend on 29 April) to learn about a book published in America, about Theophilus Waldmeier’s second major Quaker work in that country. This is the creation of ‘Asfūriyyeh hospital.

This book, ‘Asfūriyyeh – A history of madness, modernity, and war in the Middle East by Joelle M Abi-Rached, is the first volume in MIT Press’s new Culture and Psychiatry series. My son acquired a copy which he has given me.

Although I have had close connection with the Friends school in Brummana, and other Quaker work there for sixty years, I had never known the details about the creation of the hospital. I did visit it occasionally, and knew some staff there. I knew, of course, that it had had a major impact on the region well over a hundred years ago, on the treatment of the mentally ill.

The hospital was rebuilt south of Beirut just before the war began in 1975, and finally destroyed when the Israelis invaded Lebanon in 1982. It has never been re-established or functioned again.

I have found this a fascinating account – a history well worth reading.

Jocelyn M Campbell

Penal affairs

My wife used to be a member of a prison independent monitoring board. We still get the journal of the Association of Members of Independent Monitoring Boards (IMBs). In a recent issue, Rod Morgan, a distinguished criminal justice professional and now professor, reminded readers of a statement which Winston Churchill as home secretary made to parliament in July 1910.

‘The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country. A calm and dispassionate recognition of the rights of the accused against the State, and even of convicted criminals against the State, a constant heart-searching by all charged with the duty of punishment, a desire and eagerness to rehabilitate in the world of industry all those who have paid their dues in the hard coinage of punishment, tireless efforts towards the discovery of curative and regenerating processes, and an unfaltering faith that there is a treasure, if you can only find it, in the heart of every man – these are the symbols which in the treatment of crime and criminals mark and measure the stored-up strength of a nation, and are the sign and proof of the living virtue in it.’

His influence dramatically cut imprisonment for petty offences – numbers inside for non-payment of fines for drunkenness, over a decade, fell from 62,000 to 1,600.

I wish more Friends would join IMBs. They report on prison regimes, while prison chaplains are more concerned with individual inmates. But a duty of IMB members is to receive complaints or representations from prisoners directly and with no editing or intervention by officials. They also attend disciplinary hearings. In extreme cases they have the right to contact ministers. To apply: imb.org.uk.

Richard Seebohm

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