Monday, December 05, 2005

digging up the past

We choose to ignore the past because all of us are guilty as hell. The graves in Majdal Anjar is "hallal" for discussion because it was dug up and filled in by a foreign Army. I will use it as a segway into the more difficult activity of tackling our own demons as Lebanese. Once a pandora's box is open, it is open!
Two days ago I got an e-mail from fellow Lebanese Blogger, Reem. She forwarded an article written by David Brooks titled The Age of Skepticism. Brooks' first paragraph reads as follows:
War is a cultural event. World War I destroyed the old social order in Europe and disillusioned a generation of talented young Americans. World War II bred a feeling of American unity and self-confidence. Vietnam helped trigger a counterculture.
If Brooks is right, and war is a cultural event, what did the Lebanese civil war do?
One of the most common messages I hear is that Lebanese do not deal with the demons of their past. They do not deal with them because if they did, they'd realize that the social order they cling on to so desperately is one of the major factors that allowed such devastation to take place.
Maybe I simply cannot see a counter culture develop because I am not putting things into perspective. Maybe I do not notice Lebanese challenge the old social order because I cannot put my finger on the right signals.
I say those things because I do not see Lebanon's civil war as a "cultural event!" Tackling those demons appears to be too taxing for the Lebanese population. But heck... is that not what the youth are for?!?!?


Solomon2 said...

I prefer to think that War is a clash of cultures, and its ending is a defining event shared between the warring cultures. (In short, a rock concert is a cultural event; throwing rocks is a clash of cultures.)

Thus, the "demons" are difficult to tackle because challenging them implicitly threatens the peace. A new shared understanding must supersede the old before "demons" can be discussed and laid to rest sucessfully.

hummbumm said...

The problem is that there really is not much difference between 1975-1990, and 1958, and 1860, and 1840. The answer by lebanon's youth at each juncture was the very rational one, emigrate, fly fly fly away to the great benefit of the US, Canada, Brazil, Australia etc... The reason I believe is that there is still no agreement on nationhood and what it stands for that leads to a collective decision to change the country from within. In all the cases you mentioned there was great internal redefining of the culture but no one was like, screw it I am moving to another country, I am no longer American, or British after WW1 etc.. So now a lot of lebanese are not truly committed to lebanon, after all many are dual citizens and if the shit hits the fan, they are outta there. That optionality is of great value for the individual, but does not exactly lead to hanging tough. I have exercised the "flight" option a while back, and it would take a bigger man than me to come back and "fight" for change in lebanon

Doha said...


I disagree with you that the civil war in Lebanon was not a cultural event for its people. Something HAS changed after the civil war ended. For the past 9 months we've been provoked to carry arms and fight; we've been provoked a hundred times. And the Lebanese people have outright refused to engage in war. The change that has occurred, Raja, is that we, the Lebanese, do not want war, we don't want to fight, we just want to live. We are willing to be disgruntled, to leave the country in disagreement or disgust, to live in isolation from the "others" whom we dislike...but we just don't want to go to war. I mean, the cultural event that has taken place is Geagea and Aoun meeting, Seniora and Aoun meeting, Aoun and the Hizbullah factions meeting, Akkar and Bsharri uniting to vote for one list, the willingness of the Gemayyels to forgive Pakradoni for his unholy alliance with the Syrians and bringing the united Kataeb back to life, Christian areas being hard hit by stray bombs and assassination attempts and the zeal to rebuild for the sake of living in a free Lebanon, fliers inciting hatred between Shiites and Sunnis being swallowed by the sewers for their pettiness...and the list goes on....

We are willing to sit and talk, to compromise; we want a democracy, the right to disagree in a civil manner. I mean, you remember how we were all afraid of Aoun going onto the opposition. The Lebanese were afraid that the way Aoun disagrees is perhaps by opening fire (real fire). But the opposition has shown that it does not want to replace the system, it just wants to rightfully arms, no fire. And this has relaxed many Lebanese who were afraid of the past.

Digging out those mass graves, will unite the Lebanese, Raja, more than ever and perhaps cement that cultural event ensuing after our civil war. These cementing events should have come earlier, 15 years ago, but better late than never...

Raja said...

doha, you point to some very positive developments that have taken place over the past couple of months. However, I believe that Brooks was pointing to something much more profound that "choosing" not to fight.

What Brooks seemed to refer to was "choosing" to challenge sectarianism. Or, more figuratively, young teenagers (en mass) looking back at the way their parents are sectarian and rebelling against it!

That is the kind of change that Brooks was probably referring to when he wrote that WWI destroyed the old social order, and Vietnam creating a counter-culture.

Hummbumm, you hit it on the head when you said that we all have a chance to simply leave!

Solomon, I think that a rebellious youth culture that emmerges after clashing with the old sectarian one could actually lead to a shared understanding of certain crucial realities that would help us all tackle those demons.

Doha said...


Challenging sectarianism and all those profound changes you aspire to, actually which we all aspire to, will come by. It's just that for now the Lebanese have proven to themselves that they don't want war to be an option to bring about change...after this step, we can start moving towards bringing about those changes through civil and peaceful means.

sam said...

What to do?
There are few choices (politically speaking) offered to a young Lebanese like me. A) I either adhere to a party/movement/whatever that represents my sect, without very much questioning its positions regarding democracy, liberties, economy etc. (The main thing is that it defends us against the others). In that case, if I'm lucky, the party/movement I belong to didn't take active part in the war, and I can "philosophize on" my colleagues about how we should boldly evoke the war and try not to bury our demons because they will grow more and more dangerous. While if I support LF/FPM/PSP/Hezbollah/Amal/Communist/etc (practically everybody) I don't have that option. B) I can also take a very comfortable position: indifference. I don't want to know about the war, I don't want to talk about it, I didn't kill anyone and even if some of my relatives died/participated/emigrated because of the war, I prefer to focus on the present and not encourage to old grudges. Je m'en fout. C) Any other alternative is perceived as a useless one. This category can include (3ala sabil al mithal la el7asr) writing a book, leaving the country to work abroad, starting a blog, even running in the elections as an independent candidate. They are all unfortunately considered laughable by most Lebanese.

Who do we have to thank for such a difficult situation and for the deadlock? If I say the confessional system, I will have the professors on my back, and we will end up hearing from the 'burn burn' guy again. Ofcourse Hezbollah is part of the problem (the biggest problem because of its weapons and islamist views), but so are all the other criminals/heroes/patriots/traitors...
One cannot blame the confessional system for the deadlock. At least not yet, because we haven't even reached half a consensus yet, there was the war, Israel's occupation of the south, the Syrian intelligence running the country. I sometimes think (naively) that a move towards democracy coming from above (the state) that helps out in starting a debate would be welcome, but I know it's not possible. If that's not disillusion...


Raja said...


a solution is getting people to talk politics outside of its sectarian context. Too many good Lebanese associate politics with sectarianism and avoid it to the best of their abilities (I used to be one of them!).

There is an alternative. This alternative can be made available. That is the obvious next step.

JoseyWales said...

The question(s) could be:

Why do some cultures learn from history and others not?

Why do some cultures believe in modern science/facts and others not.(the West by the way is regressing on that)

Why do some individuals learn from past mistakes and others keep repeating their mistakes/obsessions? (Like repeadly washing your hands/seeing a zionist/wahabi monster under every bed etc)

Variations on a theme but there is a deep question somewhere underneath. Some other time... (hey, maybe that's the problem: procrastination)