As part of their Civil War Memorial Week, A Rupture Of Amnesia, AUB’s Secular Club went around campus to ask students about the civil war. Whether their answers will be surprising to you or not, I don’t know. But what I can tell you is that they reflect the reality of a sizable proportion of Lebanon’s population. If this doesn’t call for a need to have us re-question the necessity of understanding what really happened during the Civil War, why it happened and how is it still affecting us, perhaps the daily chaos we call living in Lebanon would.
Here you have university-educated students in one of the most prestigious universities of the Middle East – 2nd after the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals according to the QS World University Rankings – not knowing anything about their country’s Civil War. For example, to the question “how did the civil war start?”, The only student who replied somewhat accurately got the bus’ occupants wrong. It was the Palestinians in the bus and the Kataeb who massacred them, not the other way around. That attack was a response to a previous deadly scuffle between PLO and Kataeb militiamen, itself a consequence of previous tensions. There is no “real” start to the Civil War; there rarely is a single event that can be said to be the only cause of a war.As a sidenote, the infamous bus massacre was famously dramatized in the 2010 masterpiece “Incendies” (link) as well as in my favorite Lebanese movie, Ziad Doueiri’s 1998 West Beirut (link). I still remember the first time I saw that movie. It was February 14th, 2005, the day former prime minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated with 1800kg worth of TNT, along with 22 other people. We were watching the movie because a teacher called in sick and a student had the movie with him (something like that). To say that that was symbolic would be an understatement. I wasn’t even 14 yet.
I don’t blame any of the students. History classes stop somewhere in the 50s or 60s before things got “controversial”. We don’t have any accepted history curriculum that covers anything from the 60s to the present day. To learn about the civil war, I had to binge read books bought after leaving my (very) sectarian school for a secular school and then entering (thankfully still) secular AUB. I don’t have any memory of meeting Muslims before the age of 16, and this is coming from a citizen of one of the smallest countries in the world, with a Muslim-majority population. I know first-hand what it’s like to grow up in a very ‘homogeneous’ environment sect-wise.
And even those who didn’t grow in such an environment, they were likely to either not know anything about the civil war or have a very biased account of it from one or either parent – let’s not forget that many of our parents participated in the civil war. To quote a previous post, “we have become a nation of justified claustrophobia and justified paranoia; we have stopped hoping that this bomb would be the last because we know that another bomb will soon follow; we are living in the not-so-discreet shadow of our catastrophic civil war and are aimlessly waking up every morning not really understanding what the hell is going on; we are engulfed in our own sectarian lunacy exacerbated by our own (suffocating) corrupted religio-political class; and we have never failed to remind ourselves how we’re failing to do anything about it.”