Incredible Pictures of Lebanon From 1976, At The Start Of The Civil War

We’ve all seen those pictures of the Syrian war: devastation in Homs, irreparable damage to the souks of Aleppo, blood-soaked streets in Douma…. And even though Syria is a stone’s throw away, those pictures always remained an element with which we interacted with shock, grief and sadness, but they were still pictures of a distant country, as if Lebanon hadn’t produced similar footage for years and years.

It’s been 40 years since the Lebanese civil war started and those who were part of it are beginning to forget how it was.

It’s been 40 years and the same politicians who fought the war are still around, still unable to govern, still contributing to instability and still fighting among each other without weapons, but with weapons sometimes.

It’s also been 20 years since the war ended, and the newer generations that haven’t lived any phase of the war “remember” how it was. How old were you when that battle happened, you’d ask in clear sarcasm at their staunch bravado. They reply: it doesn’t matter, I was told of how things were.

Because we don’t have a history book, because footage of the Lebanese civil war is yet another taboo in the country, and because our only path to information is through stories that are more often than not subjective, devoid of facts and relying entirely on the perspective of the person telling them.

I have colleagues in medical school who have told me how much they’re “itching” to fight, to hold weapons and go to war. I have acquaintances who have expressed desire to hold arms again. I have people in my hometown who, at one point last year, actually held up arms to defend the town against the non-existent dangers of those veiled strangers.

20 years later, the country is without stability, without a president, without any form of democracy. And what’s more dangerous than all of that is that the collective memory of the nation towards that dark, dark phase of our history is weakening by the day.

You don’t need April 13th to remember “to remember and not repeat.”

I stumbled on a gorgeous gallery of pictures uploaded to Reddit by user u/dob3rman. At almost 100 upvotes on Lebanon’s subreddit (link), it’s one of the most popular threads there. That user is now yet another expat whose father left the country way back when to seek a better life. Lately, he stumbled upon the pictures that his father took in 1976 and decided to share them with all of us to see.

Because these pictures are important, and because they should be engrained in our memory as a country I have decided that spreading them is vital, that being aware of of the devastation of 1975-1990 is crucial.

In the years since, Lebanon has been greatly rebuilt. We now have Solidere, Zaitunay Bays and endless projects taking place mostly in Beirut (link). Let these pictures serve as a reminder of how easy it is to destroy, and how difficult it is to rebuild and regain normality after war, a normality we haven’t seen yet 20 years later.

 

Why The Lebanese Government Is Silent On Tripoli

Every once in a while, the city I once referred to as “3enna” by mistake becomes a place I force myself to go the extra mile to recognize.
The last time such heavy fights broke out in the city, we were all in outrage at how media couldn’t care less about the people dying and the innocent lives in danger. Today, the outrage over Tripoli’s worst night since the Civil War is gravitating towards a government that is as apathetic as apathy goes.

However, are we supposed to expect anything more from our government? Tripoli’s Ministers and MPs go on air to voice their disdain and condemnation over what’s going on. What’s actually happening, though, is that in the other side of the room is one of their henchmen waiting on a phone to issue further instructions to the fighters on both sides of the battles.

Najib Mikati feigns peace. But he probably has men fighting. Mohammad el Safadi feigns innocence. But he probably has men fighting too. Have you ever seen how Bab el Tebbane worships Kabbara? Why do you think that is? You don’t have to over think it really.

The solution for Tripoli isn’t political. If it were, all those politicians asking for calm and peace would have succeeded by now. The problem is that those same politicians want to perpetuate the status quo, because this status quo works and does wonders for them and their careers.
It keeps the city poor for them to do their “charity” work.It keeps the city relevant politically for them to make a “political” dent and remain in the country’s political spotlight.

Perhaps the solution for Tripoli is for a side of the battle to actually win. Perhaps the problem in this country is that we have never had a clear winner and a clear loser in anything, not elections, not the war and not even those sporadic battles in Tripoli which we’ve gotten used to.

Until then, my thoughts go to all the people spending their days and nights in absolute terror in the city I’ve come to love, a place that doesn’t deserve the hand it’s dealt.

Accidental Sectarian

Answering “we’re in West Beirut” to a question of location was my mistake. I hadn’t really meant the war-sense of the word but when you grow up hearing about areas being in West Beirut and other areas being in East Beirut, the terminology sticks. 

For the person who heard me, however, I was another one of those – the people whose heads are transfixed with their own region, their own bubble, dismissing everything else in the process. I tried to explain that I didn’t mean it that way. No amount of speech could change things.

Today, a few months after that incidence, I sat reflecting on it and only one conclusion presented itself to me.

It’s not the cliche line about how the war hasn’t really ended yet. It’s not the even more-cliche line about remembering and not repeating: “tenzeker w ma ten3ad.”

I am a person who, like many people from my demographic criteria, is in a dilemma of pride and blame. I cannot not be proud of where I’m from or the houses, families and regions that built me. But there’s also a tinge of blame for those houses and regions and people that I cannot shake off. I am caught between Christian pride and Christian blame. And I think others are caught between Muslim pride and Muslim blame as well – in the sociological aspect of the notion, of course.

But the truth of the matter is that I have no idea what actually happened during those 15 years. I keep hearing about how some politicians were vicious warlords back then who killed people mercilessly or about MPs standing on checkpoints as military men. I keep hearing about those battles whose names keep getting thrown around, as I nod without having a clue what’s being discussed.

Does anyone really know what happened during the civil war, even those who actually lived it? Of course, they would never admit the answer is no. Everyone I know considers their side of the story as scripture. I’m sure the other side of the country has a different story which they take as scripture as well. And both sides get offended if you insinuate they may not know the whole story.

When the current ruling class of the country, most of which was the class leading the civil war, throws around war-era jabs at each other when the going gets tough, what can you expect from all the regular folk who considered those politicians their reference during Lebanon’s civil war?

How could we actually be called to learn from the civil war when those who ran the battles and the politics of the war haven’t sat down and discussed what happened between 1975 or earlier and 1990 to agree on what  needs to be learned in the first place?

We cannot rewrite the history that hasn’t even been written yet.

Until a time when the notion of west and east Beirut becomes purely geographical, I am, like the majority of Lebanese today, an accidental sectarian of the conditions in which I was brought up, of those hidden green lines that exist between regions and people and of the rubble we’re still sifting through 23 years later.

Lincoln [2012] – Movie Review

Lincoln Movie Poster

Steven Spielberg’s new movie, Lincoln, is the American Civil War-era story of the United States’ 16th president on his quest to get Congress to pass the 13th amendment to the constitution, effectively ending slavery, something he wants done before his inauguration ceremony for the second term which he had just won. In order to do this, he must gather a 2/3 majority in the House of Representatives – one that goes beyond the 56% majority that his Republican party held and into Democrat territory, a party that is staunchly against such a thing.

Lincoln is Spielberg’s best movie in a long time, something that is definitely helped by the fact that the director has been fascinated by Abraham Lincoln since he was a little boy. In this highly dignified portrait of the late American president, you are invited to delve into a world of charged polarizing politics on a story with an undertone of liberty and humanity. The movie can be divided into two halves: A strong first half sets the tone – the era, the characters, the entire situation and its framework.  The even stronger second half shows how the wheels set forth in the first half play out.

The true gem of Lincoln and what helps elevate this movie into a masterpiece is Daniel Day Lewis who incarnates the character he’s portraying to the letter – from the mannerism, to the tone. Lewis’ subtle, engaging, deep and highly emotional performance is one for the ages. His portrayal of the late American president is spot on in every sense. It never wavers, never falters, never drops from the standard that is set with the movie’s opening scene down to the last frame. He adds a sense of humanity to the commander in chief: a man who tells stories, laughs at his own jokes, cares deeply for his family. This sense of humanity gives the character an entirely new dimension.

Daniel Day Lewis is helped as well by chilling performances by Sally Fields and Tommy Lee Jones. Fields plays Mary Todd Lincoln. As a mother, she’s afraid for the life of the sons she still has and as wife, she’s growing more distant by her husband’s coldness towards her after the death of a child that she blames on him.

Tommy Lee Jones plays Thaddeus Stevens, a “Radical Republican” congressman whose goal in life is to establish equality between America’s black and white populations.  Jones is the only character in this movie that knows, deep down, that blacks are equal to whites in every way. The hurt that his character has to go through as he’s forced to tone down his convictions is passed on convincingly in a multi-layered and highly engaging performance.

However, not all acting performances in Lincoln are as great. Joseph Gordon Levitt, for instance, as Lincoln’s oldest son who wants to enroll in the army but is forbidden by his protective parents never quite finds his footing, causing the father/president-son story arc to falter and be less compelling than it could actually be. The father-son story that is interesting, however, is Lincoln’s relationship with his younger son Tad, played by Gulliver McGrath, as a young boy who wants his father to curl up next to him besides the fireplace and look at portraits of slaves who should be freed.

Tony Kushner, who wrote the screenplay for Lincoln, did a great job at turning a mostly dialogue-driven movie into something that doesn’t drag on and, despite the extensive running time, doesn’t feel overstuffed. His take on the story is very focused and specific which in itself is a very good thing if you’re familiar with the history behind the movie, which I believe every American viewer is and should be. In a way, it is the screenplay that sets Spielberg in a certain framework that helps him not turn the movie into an overly melodramatic mess but to give it a documentary grit. However, many non-American cinema enthusiasts, who will end up watching Lincoln because of the attention it’s garnering, might end up being overwhelmed by the details causing them to care less about the story which should be front and center and seek entertainment in the acting performances that I’ve previously mentioned or other attributes that I will mention subsequently.

What helps Daniel Day Lewis in his Lincoln incarnation is a stunning make-up work that transforms the actor’s face into that of the late president’s identical twin. In fact, Lincoln is bolstered by a technical team that spans from the aforementioned makeup to the cinematography to the sound mixing to the art direction. Almost every aspect of this movie is taken care of in a way to ensure authenticity.

Lincoln is a highly engaging and entertaining film, one that stops being a historical portrayal and becomes a character study of what many Americans believe is one of their best presidents. By becoming a character study, Lincoln also becomes a movie about politics which are the wheels that get the movie rolling: how these characters interact to make legislation, how these characters use each other’s flaws in order to advance their agendas, how this presidential character so deeply believes in the sanctity of freedom, how this presidential character wants peace for his nation and for himself.

If I were an American, I’d be proud to have a movie such as Lincoln portray one of my presidents.

9/10

 

The Hypocrisy of the Lebanese Forces

Some LF supporters protesting against the visit in Elige yesterday

Michel Aoun is visiting Elige. A headline that, in any normal setting, would just be that: something to get the press to talk.

But this is Lebanon and Michel Aoun visiting Elige, a convent in Jbeil where many Lebanese Forces martyrs are buried, sparked immense controversy among Christians first and foremost.

He is not allowed to visit and desecrate the place VS he’s going there ghasb 3annkon.

Mante2 bila33e men l meyltein.

My readers already know that when it comes to how I lean, Michel Aoun doesn’t get my vote. And I’m definitely not voting for his party next year. But regardless of me preferring the Lebanese Forces over his party, there’s something that I felt gnawing at me yesterday as I contemplated the Elige dilemma. And it is hypocrisy.

The Lebanese Forces are hypocrites when they ask everyone to put their war crimes where they belong – in the past – but they cannot do the same for the war crimes of others. I, for one, am sure Michel Aoun did not kill most the martyrs buried in Elige and I’m also sure he wasn’t a civil war saint either as his supporters would love to potray him. Michel Aoun may have spoken harshly against those martyrs before. He may have humiliated their memory and he may have been a “Michel Aoun” about them. But that’s on him. And if he wanted to visit their graves to pay tribute and maybe – just maybe – apologize for what was said against them (you know that would work well with his electoral plan), then what’s the harm in that?

Lebanese Forces supporters should know how well Samir Geagea’s apology played out. He’s the only politician so far to have spoken in such a way about the civil war.

The problem with many Lebanese Forces supporters is that when you speak out the words Michel Aoun to them, their blood pressure starts to rise. It’s the same with those who support Aoun when you say those two syllables… Geagea. You see them throw a fit even worse than that of an Lebanese Forces supporter. You see them shiver and inundate his supporters with all kinds of stereotypes. According to them, I am an illiterate high school dropout .

The divide between the supporters of both groups is way too great and it has never been more obvious than with Aoun’s “planned” visit to Elige. However, the Lebanese Forces cannot simply ask everyone to get over the “Geagea is a murderer” stereotype (one that I, for the record, do not agree with) while they have no problem hanging the dirty laundry of others for everyone to see if it serves some purpose that they think they have.

He who lives in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

The Lebanese Forces are also hypocrites on another front: had one of their allies, say Walid Jumblat, decided to visit the martyrs at Elige, would they have reacted in the same way? One would say Jumblat’s party has killed way more Christians than Aoun. But I’m not a civil war expert so take that with a grain of salt. And for the record as well, I want to keep my civil war knowledge as limited as possible for the time being. Odds are the Lebanese Forces would have saw Jumblat’s visit as a great step towards national unity. But not Aoun’s.

And let’s assume in a hypothetical scenario that in the coming few months Samir Geagea decided to have an electoral tour in Zgharta. The Lebanese Forces supporters there, fewer than those who support Sleiman Frangieh, would want that visit to happen. And yet the same outrage that was sparked with Aoun’s planned visit to Elige would happen. The Lebanese Forces supporters would be on the other side of the debate right now. Now, ponder on this: would you have wanted Geagea to go there or not? If yes, why can’t you extend the courtesy to someone else?

The Lebanese Forces are proud of going “7asyou la yajro2 l akharoun.” They should have done that regarding Elige and actually did what others wouldn’t do unto them: let it pass and let the people judge.

It is sad that in 2012, almost all parties are still ready to use up civil war arguments to prove a point to their supporters. The Lebanese Forces supporters are now proud that they stopped Aoun’s visit. The Aounists now hate those war criminals even more. The idea that those “ze3ran” are the reason the country is ruined is at all time high in their minds. It is said the civil war has become in the past. Elige would most definitely disagree with those who say so.

A Flashmob in Hamra, Beirut To Commemorate The Lebanese Civil War

You know what’s funny? The guy with the iPhone thinking he was filming a fight he’d be sharing with his friends afterwards. I’m sure he didn’t know he’d end up with something even better.

Check it out:

Also the look on that guy’s face in the car… priceless.

This was organized by the NGO CityAct.

Spare Us The Samir Geagea Hate

I told a civil war story last year that I made ambiguous on purpose to reach a certain conclusion, which was that everyone’s to blame for the Lebanese civil war if we really want to move the country forward.

However, I recently realized that Lebanese need a scapegoat for them killing each other. Their scapegoat was chosen to be Samir Geagea.

For some, Geagea killed them because they were of a certain religion, region, background, etc. For others, their sense of guilt kicks in and Geagea killed the aforementioned people because of their religion, region or background, as well as some of them who were “strong” enough to defy him.

The murderer! The liar! The assassin! The faithless! The abomination!

For many apparently, Samir Geagea was fighting the air during the Lebanese civil war. He was drawing his weapons against everyone but no one was drawing their weapons against him or his party.

For many it seems, Samir Geagea and his party were busy ruining the country all by themselves during the Lebanese civil war. No one else did anything worthy to be mentioned.

For many, the only war criminal of the Lebanese civil war is Samir Geagea. As if it’s possible for Samir Geagea to lead a whole civil war all by himself.

You defend Samir Geagea? You’re an accomplice to his murders. You complement him? They expected so much more of you. You admire him? You need to learn your history.

Because they know their history very well, I’m sure. Every single Lebanese now has a PhD in Lebanese civil war times and I was out of the loop. It’s sad.

The illusion that some people are innocent because they were legitimate needs to be removed. A bridge needs to be built and people need to get over that idea en masse. The fact that certain parties were violent to certain guests on our land can only be explained by the actions of those guests in a land that’s not theirs. The actions of certain parties cannot be taken out of the context during which they were carried out and treated as stand-alone events. It simply doesn’t make sense, regardless of how hideous those acts may be.

The civil war is an uncivil epoch.

No one in the civil war was a saint. If those involved had been as such, it wouldn’t be called a war and we would have had a very civil era. It’s far from being the case.

So let me put the situation today in the following manner.

If during the war your car was ruined? Blame Geagea. Your house was set on fire? Blame Geagea. You got stopped at a checkpoint? Blame Geagea. Your great-great-great-cousin, 2 degrees removed got killed? Blame Geagea.

Geagea barely escapes death? Blame Geagea. Anyone else barely escapes death? Blame Geagea.

Blame Geagea for everything – because that is the way we move forward.

If you’re one of those people who still consider the civil war in making their political choices today, then I pity you. If you’re one of those people who still need a scapegoat for your own mistakes just so you can please your conscience, I pity you.

Spare us the Geagea hate. Spare us the mindless, useless and retro attitude. If your mind is still in the civil war, perhaps getting it out of there is the first step towards building a country, instead of preaching about the importance of change and reform in moving Lebanon forwards.

Change and reform begin on the inside. Change your mentality. Reform your hate. And then come talk to me.

The ironic thing is that Geagea is the only one among all Lebanese political leaders today that went to jail for some of his supposed actions. Everyone else faced next to negligible consequences.

Tenzeker w ma ten3ad? At this rate, yeah right.