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Formerly Bitter Enemies Become Promoters of Peace

"We were so deluded. I have met such decent people who have feelings, fears, nagging worries like us," he said. "I looked at my children. . . . I knew what happened to us, but what about them?"

During the war, Chaftari rose to the ranks of deputy intelligence director of the Christian militia. Captives were brought to him for interrogation, and he ruled over their fate. "It was up to me if they were to be killed, exchanged for others or used to bridge intelligence gaps. I acted like a small god," he recalled.

Assaad Chaftari, left, and Mohieddine Mustapha Chehab, who were enemies during Lebanon's civil war, have reconciled. (Courtesy Of Initiatives Of Change)

Read Nora Boustany's previous Diplomatic Dispatches columns.

"I was not conscious of what I was doing. It was just keeping score," he said. "If they killed four of us, it was my duty to inflict more harm in our retaliation. I had lost my sense of humanity."

When Chaftari's branch of the militia was ousted by Christian rivals, he and his wife settled in a central Lebanese town. The other Christians who lived there initially treated them like traitors, he said. His wife started attending a discussion group that was part of an initiative to foster understanding. She met people who disagreed with her but accepted her. Chaftari was eventually pulled in. He learned to accept Lebanese Muslims for who they were and are, "not the way I wanted them to be."

One day, he heard his son Elie, then 14, making disparaging remarks about Muslims. Chaftari drove his son to a mosque and explained that worshipers came to pray on Friday just like his family attended Mass on Sunday.

Chaftari decided to let others know about his change of heart. In 2000, he sent a formal apology to a local news agency for distribution. "I said I was sorry for what I had done and I forgave my enemies," he recalled.

Today, Chaftari and Chehab speak at elementary schools and universities to help hack away at misconceptions. "I try to make a difference in my work, to be an actor," Chehab said.

"We work on a one-on-one basis," Chaftari added, "a heart at a time."

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