ABSTRACT

Framing and taming the past: global and local responses The recent proliferation of transitional justice studies confirms three distinct, and at times antithetical, state-sponsored approaches to dealing with the legacy of civil conflict. The first involves the pursuit of justice through war trials and legal prosecutions. The second seeks national reconciliation through a collective forgetting and forgiving, invoking a general amnesty and the ‘politics of amnesia’ (Makdisi and Silverstein 2006). The third approach privileges truth-telling – embodied in truth commissions, a declassification of war files and public inquiries as a means of recounting the past and providing public space for victims’ voices, perpetrators’ confessions and the emergence of new national narratives (Rotberg and Thompson 2000; Barahona de Brito et al. 2001; Humphrey 2002). Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (TRCs) have become perhaps the preeminent model for post-conflict resolution; popularised by the South African TRC experience of the 1990s, and now with over thirty-two variants established in twenty-eight countries since 1974.7 Amidst increasing international support for TRCs as a catalyst for democratic transition and national rehabilitation after civil violence there is however an emerging body of critical research reflecting on the moral, political and conceptual dilemmas surrounding such procedures

(Hayner 2002). Scholars and practitioners raise concerns over the dangers of a politicised and internationally contrived process; the obfuscation of national interests and individual needs; and the conflation of notions of truth and reconciliation, justice and peace, forgetting and forgiving8 (Hamber and Wilson 2003; Phelps 2004; du Bois and du Bois-Pedain 2009). In the aftermath of Lebanon’s prolonged internal conflict a truth and reconciliation process was rather precluded by the partisan and volatile nature of the political recovery. The post-Taʾif order founded on Syrian military governance (Pax Syrianna 1976-2005) and dominated by former Lebanese militia leaders and traditional elites (zaʿim/zuʿamaʾ) had little incentive or interest in opening war files that could lead to their own indictment or undermine their current position of power. Similarly, a critical reckoning of the past was deemed virtually impossible due to ongoing sporadic violence and instability caused by the Israeli occupation of the south (1982-2000), Hizbullah’s armed resistance, and external interference (tadakhal) through patron-client dynamics. Instead Lebanon’s postconflict transition was forged around what some critics have termed a ‘statesponsored amnesia’ (Kassir 2002: 204), encouraged through the culmination of a general war amnesty in 1991, media censorship laws (the 1994 broadcasting law), and the complete absence of criminal tribunals, compensation schemes or truth and reconciliation committees. The legislative pardon and exoneration for those guilty of politically motivated war crimes was, incredibly, Lebanon’s fifth general amnesty in its brief national history (1949, 1951, 1958 and 1967). For Lebanese lawyer and humanitarian activist Muhamad Mugraby (2008: 175-176) such a historic precedent reveals a culture or ‘environment of impunity’ founded on almost absolute immunity from prosecution or any form of public accountability. The official justification, on the other hand, has been reliance on the expedient doctrine of la ghalib la maghlub (no victor, no vanquished): the war was deemed to result in political stalemate, with neither victor nor defeated, enabling society to forgo the past and instead forgive, forget and move forward together. This pragmatic well-worn Lebanese political formula provides a strategy of oblivion in the aftermath of communal violence and a reversion to the established social order of sectarian power-sharing (Khalaf 2002: 150; Haugbolle 2010: 70). Lebanon’s official policy of post-war silence and denial should not, however, be mistaken for ‘collective amnesia’ or substantiate the idea of a national ‘culture of forgetfulness’ but rather represents one discursive approach to the past amongst competing and conflicting historical narratives (Young 2000: 42-45). Indeed the initial post-war silence has given way to what Jens Hanssen and Daniel Genberg term hypermesia – the proliferation of seminars, conferences, workshops, films, books and art work, ‘confronting and rethinking’9 war memories, and creating an environment where ‘memory is constantly present, multiple and celebrated’ (Hanssen and Genberg 2002: 233). These public memory discourses can be briefly delineated within four broad trends: healing, engagement, resistance and revolution. The first trend is ‘revealing is healing’; this therapeutic approach, championed by victims’ groups and civil-rights

activists, seeks personal closure and national unity based on truth and reconciliation. The second trend stops short of the ambitious aims of catharsis, instead content to explore and examine the violence through literary and artistic mediums. War-inspired personal memoirs, novels, plays and installations wrestle with themes of pain, guilt, forgiveness and identity.10 The same struggles are dramatised in films – from Ziad Doueiry’s groundbreaking West Beirut (1998) to Joseph Fares’ more recent Diasporic account Zozo (2005) – and in historic documentaries such as al-Jazeera’s vast fifteen part series The War in Lebanon (2004) or Mai Masri’s intimate portrayal of Children of Shatila’ (1998) in which the accident-induced amnesia of Issa, a young Lebanese Palestinian boy, serves as a metaphor for a ‘generation which have lost a past and are desperately seeking a future’.11 The third trend is the growth of Lebanese nostalgia as a means of resisting post-war change and the globalising and homogenising forces of reconstruction. Samir Khalaf (2006: 35) explains this trend as an impulsive reaction to the erosion of familiar landmarks and icons, resulting in a ‘heritage crusade’ evidenced in the revival of folk arts, poetry and storytelling, and the increase in films, novels and autobiographies recalling past times, places and experiences. The fourth trend is memory recovery as a vehicle for political revolution, a popular approach of leftist intellectuals and of political opposition and civilsociety groups seeking to challenge Lebanon’s ruling elites and confront the inherent culture of sectarianism (Haugbolle 2007: 121-133). The recent ‘Independence Intifada’ campaign attests to the potential for war memory discourses to be used in bolstering claims for political change, freedom from Syrian hegemony and the revelation of ‘al-haqiqa’ (the truth) concerning the latest assassinations but also the details of the war (Safa 2006). Equally, the horrors of past sectarian violence have also been evoked as an apocalyptic warning to bolster political support for continuity, stability and maintenance of the current status quo. This emerging debate over the politicisation of war memory has sharpened with the creation of the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) in June 2007 to investigate and prosecute those responsible for Rafik Hariri’s murder.12 For some proponents, the establishment of an international tribunal marks an unprecedented shift in Lebanon’s culture of impunity and denial, yet a shift which ultimately does not go far enough. Why should $40 million be spent annually on investigating one political crime and ignore Lebanon’s lengthy history of war crimes and human rights violations? (Mugraby 2008: 172). Yet for critics, particularly those from the 8 March coalition, the tribunal impinges on Lebanese sovereignty, lacks legal jurisdiction13 and serves as a political instrument of ‘international intervention to implement a US agenda against Syria and Iran’ (Shehadi and Wilmshurst 2007: 2). While these memory discourses encourage different forms of agency, cultural production and social responses, their influence and impact on postmemory narratives remains of central concern to this book. Global and local discursive trends and mnemonic strategies must be balanced against Lebanon’s everchanging political realities – the sudden demise of Pax Syrianna and emergence of a fragile interregnum – which is helping to generate diverse readings of both

the present and the past. While some students celebrate a so-called ‘Cedar Revolution’ and newfound Lebanese unity, others curse the re-emergence of sectarian divisions and unpredictable violence. War memories crystallise around lessons learned; injustices still to be resolved and the looming threat of another war on the horizon. This study provides an ethnographic snapshot of a post-war society in transition. Whether Lebanon is moving backwards or progressing forward is still a matter of perspective and ongoing debate. Although my fieldwork was succeeded by the Israel-Lebanon war of July 2006 (also known as the IsraelHizbullah war or the July war harb tammuz) and Hizbullah’s military incursion in Sunni West Beirut in May 2008, these new acts of violence have merely added to older civil war memories; stirring new sectarian diatribes and exacerbating the politicisation of the past (Haugbolle 2010: 234). As contemporary Lebanon lurches between violence and tenuous consensus (Doha Accord of May 2008) there is even greater need to examine how the younger generation are seeking to resist, subvert or (re)imagine their national, social and familial histories of conflict and violence.