Lebanese Youth needs to receive specific attention: the generation that inherits the experience of violence as still living memory!

Dr. Pamela Chrabieh
2013, Lebanon

“You cannot erase everything and start again … We need to continue (…). Suffering is everywhere here, there, everywhere. Life is everywhere here, there, everywhere. Ignorance kills it (…). We must not drown. Dig in and come out alive. Write while I am still alive”.[i]

The war in Lebanon, especially since the 1970s, had – and still has – an impact on individuals and communities. It inflicted psychological and physical harm, and undermined social relationships, as well as individuals’ sense of belonging to society. How can the endless stays in shelters, the infernal noise of the bombing, the demarcation lines, the snipers,  the forced migration (exile), the black markets to buy bread and kerosene at exorbitant prices, the power and water outages , the war games reproducing struggles of adults, the ‘holiday homework’s’ when schools were closed, the destruction of houses and public infrastructure, the dreadful and only news on the radio and television counting the dead, disappeared and wounded, all be forgotten…?

Some Lebanese chose to forget. They turned the page, and many fled to other countries. They even changed their names and chose not to teach their children their mother language. Perpetrators (ex-militiamen for example) did so because they feared vengeance; while victims chose to forget because they preferred leaving the experienced horrors behind. Still, the vast majority of Lebanese living in Lebanon are struggling with a continuous dilemma, in spite of the 1989 Taif Agreement, the 1991 Amnesty Law,[ii] and the famous Tabula Rasa applied by all Lebanese governments and major political parties for the last two decades.

The Taif Agreement (October 1989) or The National Accord Document as it came to be known, constituted the outcome of a process of a certain political compromise among Lebanese militia leaders and deputies, with the support of Syrians, Arabs and the International Community.  It tackled many essential points pertaining to the structure of the political system and to the sovereignty of the Lebanese state. It was the right formula to end the war internally; however, it required the acceptance of incomplete sovereignty over a considerable period of time. The Taif Agreement constitutes a step forward, but does not provide the basis for a more stable and democratic system in Lebanon.

Lebanon has passed a General Amnesty Law in March 1991- by a parliament closely allied to the various warring militias. It gave amnesty to all politically-motivated war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the 1970s and 1980s with a few exceptions. This has effectively allowed most warlords to escape prosecution and hold high posts in later governments until present day. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that neither the Israeli nor Syrian authorities have satisfactorily investigated any cases in which their forces were alleged to have been responsible for gross violations of international human rights or humanitarian law and that the international community has shown no interest in opening inquiries at a global level. Also, with regard to enforced disappearances, the fate of thousands of Lebanese and other nationals who have been abducted in Lebanon since 1975 remains unknown, despite years of campaigning by families of victims and non-governmental organizations.

To forget or to remember? This is a sensitive question that many Lebanese, especially those who were born and raised during the 1970s and 1980s, have tried to dismiss at some point in their lives, often times without any success.[iii] No matter how hard people may try, the horrors they have experienced cannot be eradicated from their minds. This dilemma sums up the tragedy and suffering of hundreds of thousands caught between amnesia, hypomnesia – abnormally poor memory of the past – and hypermnesia – abnormally strong memory of the past. Some may believe that forgetting will help them build a better future. Others think that remembering only the past glories in our history, the golden times of the Phoenicians, the Byzantine Empire, and the Arab caliphates will comfort the present of torn-spirits. However, without a critical remembrance of the more recent past, atrocities will continue to be perpetrated, and the culture of violence will prevail.

In this sense, it becomes urgent to work on the transformation of society and of social conditions, as much as it is urgent to help victims, survivors, and their descendants to deal with the impact of conflicts on them. In the absence of national memory building and of a common national history book taught in schools and universities[iv], one major goal should be to initiate the needed memorialization process. It becomes more urgent in a context where the culture of silence is pervasive in many families and where intergenerational dialogue is lacking. “It is quite common that members of the generation immediately succeeding the one that endured periods of extreme violence have trouble making sense of entire segments of their lives,  not to mention their identity, as a result of the silence maintained by their parents, and, more generally, by the adults of the community.”[v]

Based on my previous studies, I found out that many of the reasons why a process of memorialization thus critical reflection is absent in the new generation may lie in the Lebanese education system and in the absence of dialogic peace education.  This generation – born during the 1990s – needs to receive specific attention as it is the generation that inherits the experience of violence as still living memory, and “which molds and converts this remembrance into some form of collective memory or historical knowledge.  It is in this crucial interval that the past can be frozen into fixed mythology, or comprehended in its historical complexity; and in which the cycles of revenge can be perpetuated or interrupted. The moment of transmission is important to dwell on, because it is a moment of real danger; but also of genuine hope and possibility”.[vi]

[i] Farhoud, Abla. 1997. Jeux de patience pp. 76. Montréal : VLB éditeur.
[ii] For more information, refer to: Amnesty International. Document-Lebanon: A Human Rights Agenda for the Elections. http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/MDE18/003/2009/en/6f6b390d-e815-438e-a03c-f5998a44b85a/mde180032009en.html
[iii] Chrabieh, Pamela. 2008. Voix-es de paix au Liban. Contributions de jeunes de 25-40 ans à la reconstruction nationale. Lebanon : Dar el-Machreq, USJ. This book presents the results of a qualitative research conducted in 2006-2008 with 25-40 years old Lebanese Peace activists.
[iv] The history book ends at 1943-46, when Lebanon became independent from the French Mandate. There was an attempt to design an official common history book, but it did not succeed.
[v] Pouligny, Beatrice. 2004. The Forgotten Dimensions of Transitional Justice Mechanisms: Cultural Meanings and Imperatives for Survivors of Violent Conflicts. Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs: 10. http://www.ceri-sciencespo.com/themes/re-imaginingpeace/va/resources/forgotten_dimensions_pouligny.pdf

[vi] Hoffman, Eva. 2003. The Balm of Recognition: Rectifying Wrong through the Generations. In Human Rights, Human Wrongs ed. Nicholas Owen, pp. 29. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

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  1. The problem in this country is indeed the lack of memory, or the perpetuation of specific memories filled with hate and resentment.
    True the new generations are stuck in the same cycle of violence because of the absence of a national thus common process of memorialization.

  2. My parents never told me anything about the 1970s and 1980s. I grew up thinking there was nothing… Just few hints through media and especially: ‘civil war’, ‘war between christians and muslims’…
    I never asked why. Never tried to search for answers.
    Living in denial!

  3. Yes the national educational system is rotten. It has its advantages but when it comes to History, General culture, and Humanities, it needs a serious reformation.

  4. What can we do as young people? When most of us are enrolled in political parties and militias? And the rest fled to other countries? Ah and let us not forget those who don’t want to be involved in politics!

  5. We ask the same questions in other countries… National history when written can be a weapon used by authoritarian regimes such as the Syrian, Egyptian, Iraqi…
    It should be a collective work involving everybody in order to be close to the truth about our past, not the State on its own, meaning those in power.

  6. Merci pour cet article hyper intéressant! Une femme libanaise qui parle d’autre chose que la diète, le shopping et les cancans des salons. Je suis certaine qu’il y a plusieurs têtes dans ce pays, mais soit elles sont invisibles, soit marginalisées! Bon travail dr Chrabieh et je vous souhaite le meilleur dans votre lutte et celle de vos collègues. D’une inspiration majeure!

  7. Akkkhhhhhhhhhhhhhh ya baladi… my poor Lebanon…
    No memory, no identity, no past, no present, and certainly no future!

  8. Hello Dr. Love your article! and your blog! And i think you’re raising important questions and issues. We do need to think about those, think deeply and do something about our current situation. I don’t understand why and how we – most young people – became slaves of political leaders, or completely detached. Such a shame! Whenever i try to talk about something with my colleagues and friends, they just dismiss me and my ‘ideals’ of a better country, telling me to f***** off !! to get a life!! to be just dumb and get married and have kids. better not to think too much as they say.

  9. Il faut commencer par écrire l’histoire, mais personne ne veut prendre la responsabilité du déclenchement du conflit. Même si c’est contre mes principes, il n’est pas nécessaire de préciser en écrivant que les uns et les autres se rejettent la responsabilité. La suite s’écrira d’elles même avec ses contradictions et ses inexactitudes. N’oublions pas que l’histoire est toujours écrite par les vainqueurs, jamais par les perdants; ce n’est que des siècles plus tard que certaines rectifications y sont amenées. Or, au Liban, de ce conflit, il n’y a que des perdants, le peuple en premier. Il faudra beaucoup d’humilité et de courage pour que les uns et les autres se lèvent pour demander pardon et accorder le leur à ceux d’en face. Car la rédemption ne vient pas des regrets exprimés – même s’ils sont nécessaires – mais seulement du pardon. Sans ce pardon, exprimé sincèrement, la paix ne peut être qu’aléatoire.
    Merci pour vos écrits toujours intéressant à lire et qui forcent à la réflexion.

  10. Hello Dr. Great article! Tackling an important subject. I will definitely acquire your book (voix-es de paix) and read it. I also read many of your articles on war memory and peace!

  11. For further information, read my book “Voix-es de paix au Liban” (based on a qualitative analysis with 40 peace activists and 5 NGOs) and my academic articles. Just send me a message and i will gladly share references. Also, i will present the results of a research on war memory conducted at USEK with 500 students, at Balamand University (March 2014). The results of the first part of this study were revealed in 2010 (Oxford University).

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