Today is the day we commemorate the war. We reflect on the fact that 39 years ago, the life of a country and that of its people would change and never be the same again. We reminisce on what was and what could have been. We believe, or would like to believe, that things have changed, but in fact they have never been more the same…
April 13, 1975 – April 13, 2014. 39 years after the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War and we still repeat the same cliches of victory and defeat. That we are a country that will never surrender; the phoenix that is constantly reborn from its ashes; that Lebanon is more than a ‘country’ but a ‘message’ that has miraculously survived the test of time. At the same time, we also say that Lebanon will never survive united except if it doesn’t slowly grow apart (federalism). Or that if the inherent and always-mounting tensions in society don’t “explode” and people don’t fight it out again, our problems will never be dealt with, never be solved (“اذا ما كبرت ما بتصغر”). Indeed, if there ever was a schizophrenic republic, Lebanon would be its poster child.
Today, more than any other day and perhaps only today, everyone pays tribute to our unofficial national mantra of “not forgetting so that it doesn’t happen again” (“تنذكر وما تنعاد”). But then again, how can we not forget when we haven’t even started to remember?
I do not want this to be yet another poetic cry for a lost Lebanon. A country adrift, turning in vicious circles around its own fears and frustrations, living off used and abused refrains of national unity when everything keeps tearing us apart. I do not want this to be yet another defeatist cry for a lost Lebanon, blaming our wars and problems on the world, our neighbors and everybody in between, not realizing that we too, are to take responsibility for our fate and for what we have made of the country we inherited from our forefathers.
How can we not forget when we haven’t even started to remember? Starting to remember means to understand that a lot of the war still lingers on today. The same sectarianism, similar social and economic inequality throughout the country, and the same blind support for the same leaders. We cannot start to forget without dealing with these root causes of war and stop blindly following those that exploit these factors that led us to war. Today, all the major leaders that continue to rule participated in one form or another in the war. Those that lead us in war, will never be able to lead us in peace. Never.
How can we not forget when we haven’t even started to remember? Starting to remember also means dealing with the heavy legacy left by the war, part of which includes providing answers to thousands of families looking for their disappeared loved ones, forcefully taken at the hands of local militias, Syrian occupation forces and Lebanese security forces before the Syrian withdrawal in 2005. Starting to remember also means trying to deal with a disease that has propagated exponentially after the war, which is proving to be as deadly as any other war, bleeding our country dry. The disease is corruption.
Cynics and conspiracy theorists will never tire in arguing that a war isn’t something that is always decided in Lebanon, but also depends on regional and international factors. There will always be some truth to that, but we also must realize that we, and only we, are responsible for sowing those poisonous seeds – sectarianism, inequality, lack of social justice, greed and openness to corruption – that everyone so gladly exploits.
Today, I remember the war through the eyes of those who lived it and the memories of those who swore to never let it happen again. I’ve understood it in my own way, enough to know that it still hasn’t ended, for how do you explain the daily battles we face for a decent and dignified life, fighting discrimination, corruption and blind confessionalism. But I’ve also understood the war in my own way, enough to know that it should not happen again.
I had hoped this wouldn’t turn into another heartbreaking essay, but I believe it has. Part of me is always hopeful, but a greater part of me is always sad. I fear I will read this in ten years, sitting on the doorsteps of a small picturesque house in a faraway land, fitted with red brick tiles on the roof to remind me of home, laughing at myself for how naive I was to believe that there was something left in Lebanon to believe in…