Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Youthful Voices in Post-War Lebanon

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Youthful Voices in Post-War Lebanon

Article excerpt

For more than three years, Lebanon has been beset by a succession of political assassinations and disquieting public protests. Little is known about the views of the youth, roughly half the country's population, who have witnessed the enthusiasm and sense of national consciousness sparked by the Cedar Revolution of 2005. This article focuses on the narrative texts of returnee students at the American University of Beirut, exploring their hopes and disappointments. Such trenchant voices should be incorporated into the shaping of the public discourse and reconciliation currently underway.

I left Beirut in 1984 with my husband and two young children, George and Ramzi, for what we thought would be a year's research leave. Having survived a grueling decade of escalating violence and atrocities only strengthened our resolve to distance ourselves from the brutality and savagery of warring factions. Over the next 11 years, I visited Lebanon many times in my memory and imagination, never able to dispel the possibility of returning to what had once been a vibrant, thriving country. Although I was born in Baltimore to an American mother and Lebanese father and had lived in a number of countries because of my father's work, I had always considered Lebanon my home.

Upon my return in February 1995, I realized that the Lebanon I had invented while in exile had perhaps never really existed. My desire to return had been deep but I now seemed unable to find meaning or draw strength from reentry. My dream had been to launch creative writing at the American University of Beirut (AUB) where I had taught for ten years before leaving for Princeton and New York. A few years after returning, I suddenly saw a window of opportunity because of its immediate relevance to the lives of numerous students, particularly returnees and hybrids like myself. In addition to developing and refining creative potential, it would address the need for significant literary production and a discourse around it. My idea was not immediately embraced. After all, it was marginal to a traditional English department and some colleagues doubted whether students would be interested. Finally, after much deliberation, I introduced the first creative writing workshop. The response was overwhelming and immediate. Eager students flocked to my office, and contrary to all expectations, they came from diverse disciplines. Many were already avid writers and it became clear, as the semester progressed, that the vast majority were returnees, seasoned travelers, multicultural, hybrid border crossers, whose lives had been spent dipping in and out of Lebanon due to the civil war and continuing political unrest. Almost instantly, their concerns began to echo similar themes, and when drafts and manuscripts were presented, my academic world took on new meaning. Our workshops instigated an ongoing conversation that transformed class encounters into charged happenings due to reciprocal phases or periods of reflexivity and collective reflection that explore experiences common to us both. Since that time, creative writing courses have mushroomed into a successful program at the university.

Although the Lebanese Civil War came to a close in 1992, little has been done in the post-war years to explore the views of youth, particularly the role they might play in shaping the public discourse and reconciliation efforts through non-confrontational venues. Now, in the wake of the Cedar Revolution catalyzed by the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005 and which has successfully toppled the government, leading to the end of Syria's 30-year hegemony over Lebanon, their voices carry an added sense of urgency. In large part, the uprising and subsequent demonstrations that have followed continue to be initiated and sustained by youthful groups, especially multicultural and transnational students who remain visibly active.

My intention is not to offer a comprehensive view of what Lebanese youth think and experience, but rather to present a focused study on a selective group of returnee students at the American University of Beirut. …

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