Monitoring Civil Peace and Memory in Lebanon

Antoine Messarra (dir.), Monitoring Civil Peace and Memory in Lebanon (from the Remembrance of War to a Peace Culture), Beirut, Lebanese Foundation for Permanent Civil Peace, in cooperation with Ayia Napa Conference Center-Cyprus and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Librairie Orientale, 2004, 656 p. (in Arabic, with French and English syntheses).

April 13: Forgetting, but Remembering Still

The work published by the Lebanese Foundation for Permanent Civil Peace is both a fundamental and practical reference that helps build collective memory in the light of shared experiences and suffering during the 1975-1990 wars in Lebanon ( Monitoring Civil Peace and Memory in lebanon , dir. Antoine Messarra, Librairie Orientale, 2004, 656 p.).

On the cover one can see the huge petition signed during the war years in Lebanon by thousands of Lebanese; it is both a symbol of civil resistance and a “peace pact”. Two interviews have been carried out with Issam Khalifé and Amale Dibo about the history of this streamer that should be, according to the authors, shown at the National Museum or in a “Museum of the Memory in Lebanon ”. It quotes the Apostolic exhortation: “One should, above all, keep alive the memory of what has happened in order to prevent it from ever happening again.” (no 114).

The work includes the yearly reports of the programme “Monitoring Civil Peace and Memory in Lebanon ” (Tony Atallah) which was started in 1999 by the foundation. It also includes the proceedings of five seminars organized between 1999 and 2003 with the participation of 48 members of the Programme, academics, researchers, journalists and social actors.

Indicator Grid

The work offers both theoretical and practical approaches to the issue of memory. By determining “ conflicts that are more of a civil war or that are exploited as such ”, the programme establishes a ” Grid of 90 indicators of the Lebanese coexistence pact ”. The starting point was this controversial question: “ Is history sorted as a human science? Or is it human by its content in a way that it is not limited to the study of rulers – often killers – but studies also those killed and are victims ?”

Who is this work mainly aimed at? Professor Antoine Messarra writes in the introduction: “ How can we protect and guard the Lebanese rising generation against other internecine wars that are exploited or manipulated for regional as well as international stakes ?”

A fundamental problem for the young born in the aftermath of war or at the time of pacification. Are we still going to learn history by reproducing ideologies or behaviors or conflict –based policies? Or are we at last – after over five centuries of conflicts and consensus – going to learn from history that uses the lessons of the past in order to develop a national memory ?

To go from the rememberance of war to a peace culture, we need national contrition with the help of accountable historians that delve into history in terms of cost and profit seen from the people as they are the ones who are victimized, suffer, react and struggle.

Four types of memory

The work underlines four types of ways people have of remembering:

- Memory based on guilt : based on a real or amplified historic fact, “others” are accused; history is exploited to hide injustice and find oneself innocent, sue – after decades – far and dying culprits in order to stir hatred. Those that seek so much to find others guilty are eventually found guilty after trying to preserve a “pure” identity and absolute “innocence”.

- Memory based on conflict : under the cover of historical science, some historians use the verb “to kill” just about anywhere looking for any skirmish in any remote area to remind all those tempted to forget that conflicting identities are meant to continue fighting and the compromise and cross cultures are a mere illusion.

- Memory based in blockage : The trauma caused by suffering or exodus remains vivid in a sickly manner and in politics it confines people to their past unable to see better days without necessarily denying their heritage.

- Memory based on contrition and solidarity : historical ethics go beyond history as a reduced science. History is not about turning the knife in old wounds; it should rather be about real experiences namely:

- civil resistance,

- moral support of people despite the war,

- solidarity facing the war,

- commitments in favor of peace,

- courage and hope despite constraining conditions,

- the cost of conflicts and the yield of solidarity.

The work shows that “one should forget, but remember still” (Marie-Thérèse Khair Badawi); the new history curricula must be re-activated since they were conceived to create a “memory based on solidarity and contrition”, under the direction of Professor Munir Abou Asly in the years 1999-2000 and published in the Gazette (Decree no 3175, June 8, 2000, Gazette no 27, 26/6/2000, p. 2114-2195); mourning rites and memorials must be set up namely in the City center for those lost from all regions, communities, allegiances and non-allegiances to signify common suffering.

The programme “Monitoring Civil Peace and Memory” continues its activities hoping to thrive and expand.