The War through Its Memorials
 On April 13, 2009, an assembly entitled “Memory for Tomorrow” called for “the establishment of a national monument to honor the memory of the victims of war.” The president of that assembly indicated that the monument would be erected “thanks to the cooperation of Solidere and the Municipality of Beirut, and will be implemented according to a competition among the Lebanese people to design a memorial that allows for the inclusion of the names of the victims.” It is no surprise that this announcement was short-lived and the monument, to this day, has yet to come to fruition.
According to one chronicle of the Lebanese war, on Thursday, August 11, 1977, the executive committee of an obscure association known as the Independent Youth Association questioned “the prevalence of the two-year war martyrs’ memorials,” citing the negative influence they would have on the peace process. While that “executive committee” may just have been a concerned citizen, the point made was nonetheless important. Implicit in the statement was the notion that the “commemoration industry”—as evidenced by the extant memorials and posters bleached by the sun, marred by the rain and even “overlapped” with other images—has a symbiotic relationship with the martyrdom industry, both of which are byproducts of the war.

If it was possible to condemn “the war” back in 1977 (in the aftermath of what became known as the “two-year war”) vis-à-vis such memorials, then two decades after the war “ended,” that notion still rings true. Ultimately, we should not ignore the bitter fact that such memorials to the war (or to the “peace process”) exert much more than just a “negative influence.”

In 2008, Lebanon experienced yet another “brief” and “minor” conflict which incorporated the same types of horrors that characterized its progenitors. A year later, on May 10, 2009, a Lebanese political party unveiled a memorial in Akkar intended to commemorate members of the party who were killed (“martyred”) during that episode. Of note, it was not situated anywhere near the town where the incident actually occurred. Rather, as mentioned in the party’s newspaper, it was meant to “face the standing memorial of the late minister H. A.” A clever reader could guess that the “late minister” was a leader in that party, honored with a memorial for the sacrifices he made in behalf of the party’s cause.

But the party’s words are not the real issue; rather, it is what the memorial aims to express that is so critical. When one regards the relatively recent date engraved into the stone, certain questions come to mind. For instance, wasn’t the inter-Lebanese war put to rest some 20 years before? But the sad reality is that this stone edifice, like all the other memorials, demonstrates clearly that the war has not yet reached its true conclusion. Accordingly, one should expect that these references to the war will be accompanied by an equal number of queries. For example, were the events that occurred in Halba (Akkar) on May 10, 2008 a “massacre?” Can—should—those killed be considered martyrs? At this point, sadly, such questions have no definite answers.

The monument itself responds sometimes to such existential questions but remains silent at other times. But regardless of the reply, no changes are ever made. Instead, the questions raised by such memorials are positively “Lebanese” in nature. Moreover, it matters little whether the structure involved is a majestic monument placed in a fancy neighborhood to honor a revered martyr or a modest, rural shrine that seeks to remind us of some nameless martyr or forgotten event competing for recognition among the more “prestigious” examples of history. Of course, describing these questions as “Lebanese” is neither a privilege nor an exaggeration since dozens, perhaps even hundreds of these memorials prompt the same questions or seek to impart scattered elements of Lebanese history, be it peaceful or combative—if we would only listen... At the same time, such monuments draw symbolic lines of demarcation among Lebanon’s civil groups and hint at the direction they are taking—if we would only watch...

 

 
The organization, its activities and its vision for Lebanon
Acknowledging Lebanon’s past demands that historical evidence and artifacts be collected, protected and publicized. Using a variety of tools, UMAM D&R examines Lebanon’s past to contribute  to the ongoing debate about its collective memory.