Lebanon: Seeking catharsis

A fortuitous loss of her job has made former Lebanese journalist Amal Makarim delve into her country's dreadful past to find a catharsis still much awaited 13 years after the end of its civil war.

    Mind block: Communities still live in separation, blaming each other

    While she seems at ease on her renovated old wooden sofa, she is merely taking time out from a feverish hunt for documents and ideas for launching an association she calls "Memory for the Future." 

    Makarim, who holds a doctorate in history, has visited areas most affected by the war which pitted the militias of political and religious groups against each other in a conflict envenomed by the presence of Israeli, Syrian and Palestinian forces. 

    "Thirteen years afterwards, communities still live in total separation, rejecting each other, blaming each other. It is a real timebomb," she warned. 

    Rebuilding process

    Despite a gigantic rebuilding process that brought a much-needed face-lift to the scarred country, no real effort for reconciliation has been made since the country emerged from the war marked by horrendous massacres, which the Lebanese only refer to euphemistically as "the events." 

    Ongoing disputes over the causes and course of the war - that witnessed a deep involvement of regional and world powers - continue to deprive new generations of history text books which in Lebanon have traditionally ignored or oversimplified civil conflicts. 

    After the guns were silenced by the Taef accords, militias were disarmed while their leaders became wealthy politicians who breathed a sigh of relief after passing a general amnesty law. 

    Reconciliation is also hindered by the widespread feeling that
    total control of the country's political and economic life remains with Syria, which still has thousands of troops in the country. 


    Lebanese know the process
    of reconciliation would be tough

    Political parties are mostly sectarian groupings, and regions which before the war were often multi-religious are now single-community ghettos. 

    "What we are now seeking is a real catharsis starting at the base," Makarim said, referring to the process of releasing pent-up emotions. 

    "The Taef accords helped to reconcile warlords, not the people. Proof is that any tiny problem stirs factional feelings." 

    Plans for a reconciliation project materialised when Makarim and a nucleus of independent lawyers, writers, journalists and sociologists launched the action in 2001 with a highly-acclaimed seminar held at the UN House here. 

    In December, they organised a music concert for peace and a conference with an open debate that nearly went out of control after the audience hurled fierce accusations against some participants linked to wartime militias. 

    They plan to establish an association and to set up an archive centre and a museum with data, objects and pictures from the civil war. 

    "Politicians refused to take part in the debate. But we will not accept that and our campaign provides for the testimony of those who took part in the war. Everyone who refuses to join in will be denounced in a public press conference," said Makarim.

    Post-war peace

    "I hate the saying: 'turn the page.' How can we turn the page without reading it first, without understanding it and absorbing it?

    Only when one shows the horrors of the war and the complete truth about violence, one can avoid atrocities being repeated in the future."

    Jad al-Haqq,

    Most Lebanese agree that any post-war peace and reconciliation process, as in post-apartheid South Africa, would be difficult as "we don't have a clear-cut situation in Lebanon: those who say they are victims were at some point torturers, and vice versa," she said. 

    "But if at least everyone would admit his wrongdoings in public, then it is at least a first step toward reconciliation." 

    The action has received wide backing and financing from the European Union "as part of necessary reconciliation efforts to back stability in Lebanon," said Francisco Acosta, first secretary of the EU delegation here. 

    Playwright Jad al-Haqq is the author of Bint Asl, a play about a woman which shook an audience rarely used to watching scenes from the war, with a violent account of how her husband, a militia chief, brought her down to the lowest level before finally leaving her. 

    "She does not want to forget any more, she wants to say it all out loud. It is meant to say what the war generation wants to say," said Jad al-Haqq. 

    "I hate the saying: 'turn the page.' How can we turn the page
    without reading it first, without understanding it and absorbing it?" 

    "Only when one shows the horrors of the war and the complete truth about violence, one can avoid atrocities being repeated in the future," he said.



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