War Is Coming: Between Past and Future Violence in Lebanon

War Is Coming: Between Past and Future Violence in Lebanon

War Is Coming: Between Past and Future Violence in Lebanon

War Is Coming: Between Past and Future Violence in Lebanon

Synopsis

From 1975 to 1990, Lebanon experienced a long war involving various national and international actors. The peace agreement that followed and officially propelled the country into a "postwar" era did not address many of the root causes of war, nor did it hold main actors accountable. Instead, a politics of "no victor, no vanquished" was promoted, in which the political elite agreed simply to consign the war to the past. However, since then, Lebanon has found itself still entangled in various forms of political violence, from car bombings and assassinations to additional outbreaks of armed combat.

In War Is Coming, Sami Hermez argues that the country's political leaders have enabled the continuation of violence and examines how people live between these periods of conflict. What do everyday conversations, practices, and experiences look like during these moments? How do people attempt to find a measure of certainty or stability in such times? Hermez's ethnographic study of everyday life in Lebanon between the volatile years of 2006 and 2009 tackles these questions and reveals how people engage in practices of recollecting past war while anticipating future turmoil. Hermez demonstrates just how social interactions and political relationships with the state unfold and critically engages our understanding of memory and violence, seeing in people's recollections living and spontaneous memories that refuse to forget the past. With an attention to the details of everyday life, War Is Coming shows how even a conversation over lunch, or among friends, may turn into a discussion about both past and future unrest.

Shedding light on the impact of protracted conflict on people's everyday experiences and the way people anticipate political violence, Hermez highlights an urgency for alternative paths to sustaining political and social life in Lebanon.

Excerpt

The Hamra neighborhood of Beirut was a very busy place during ḥarb tammūz (the “July War” in 2006). Many displaced people from the South had made their way to the city, escaping Israel’s incessant bombing of that part of the country in an ineffective attempt to destroy Hizballah, the Lebanese resistance movement against Israel. the displaced were staying with relatives or in school compounds, underground garages, unoccupied apartments, and other vacant spaces in the city. On this particular afternoon, Dima and I decided to take a break from our relief work and have lunch at Roadster Café, a local American-style diner. I came to meet Dima during this period of relief work in the July War, and with her and others I would take part in various forms of humanitarian and political action during the course of my fieldwork. Dima is an architect and grassroots activist originally from a town near Tripoli. She mostly lived abroad during her childhood, though she recalls significant periods when she experienced the 1975– 1990 war.

We walked down Hamra Street, busy with people but not so jammed with cars as one would usually expect. We passed the popular fast food restaurant, malek el-baṭāṭa (King of Potatoes), and crossed the cobblestone street to our destination. There, we ordered our food. As we sat lazily at the bar, waiting for our food to arrive, we got into what would be one of our many sad and fervent conversations about war, its future possibilities, and our past memories of it. Although we did not begin by defining “war” (ḥarb), we understood the grammar of our conversation about it in the context of the July 2006 war. It was certainly not an abstract talk of war, for we were living and hearing it. This was the case in many of my conversations with interlocutors: even . . .

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