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LEBANON-Lebanon Adrift: From Battleground to Playground

Article excerpt

LEBANON Lebanon Adrift: From Battleground to Playground, by Samir Khalaf. London: Saqi Books, 2012. 296 pages. $27.95 paper.

Reviewed by Kail C. Ellis

In the 1990s, after 16 years of war and economic hardship, a profound sense of relief and guarded optimism emerged in Lebanon. The slogan al-balad macheh (the country is moving) summed up the collective desire to rebuild the country and reestablish Beirut as the financial and cultural capital of the Middle East. A new constitutional arrangement, the Tai'f Agreement, promoted national reconciliation; state institutions were modernized; Beirut's city center was rebuilt; and the Lebanese economy was rescued by businesses both corporate and small.

But this "movement" did not resolve deep underlying problems, as Samir Khalaf details in his latest book, Lebanon Adrift. The Tai'f Agreement recommitted Lebanon to political confessionalism. Collective denial and historical amnesia became coping mechanisms that prevented the country from confronting the horrors of the war years - thousands of lives lost, unspeakable crimes against the innocent, and unresolved political, economic, and social issues - and crucially, the complicity of the Lebanese in their own destruction. Hostility, rather than pluralistic coexistence, still prevails in Lebanon, manifesting itself in periodic clashes between profoundly divided groups that threaten to erupt in sectarian violence. The possibility of violence is alarming: during the war, inter-sectarian or inter-communal violence led to horrific in-group hostilities in which "Fighters were killing not those they wanted to kill but those they could kill" (p. 14). In the face of such atrocities, Khalaf presents the continuing dilemma in the form of a searing question: "Does one remember or forget?"

Both remembering and forgetting have heavy consequences. Without an opportunity to forget, Khalaf says, the prospects for accord and coexistence are slim. Yet one is leftto wonder whether Lebanon, like South Africa, should have attempted "truth and reconciliation," which focuses on the needs of the victims and the offenders and involves the community in a process of healing. Is the concept of "restorative justice" alien to the Lebanese? Why did those who committed atrocities become, for the most part, the new political elite?

A distinguished sociologist, Khalaf cites the work of renowned scholars in support of his thesis that Lebanon is adrift. …