Bits and Pieces of War

It is indeed a rare occasion when a hadeth fardi (random event) fails to occur somewhere in Lebanon, regardless of the location or political influence surrounding the incident. These disruptive skirmishes are referred to frequently in the Lebanese vernacular as anomalies or random events, yet they are uniformly violent in nature. Moreover, responsibility for the event as well as its consequences and repercussions lie strictly with those directly involved. As well, these hawadeth fardiyya (random events) are not usually associated with the confession, party or regional group with which the participants are affiliated—whether the connection exists fortuitously by birth or through free will. Yet while these random events may be distinct in terms of connotation and impact, they remain intrinsically arbitrary and unpredictable. As a result, such episodes are categorized emblematically and nearly immediately as random events to counter any assertion that they are connected to a wider framework, such as a confrontation between any of Lebanon’s myriad, bloodstained groups. Thus, regardless of the antecedents or background of these events, despite the number of casualties produced or the degree of martial organization involved (such as the types of weapons used, the structure of the organization present or the willingness of those involved to comply with orders), hawadeth fardiyya are characterized uniformly as random events.

Interestingly, the converse is sometimes true as well. For instance, at least theoretically, episodes like these need not be warlike to surpass the eligibility criteria established for random events. Today, when someone experienced with the Lebanese situation (and its literature) learns not only that another random event has occurred, but also the identity of its victims, the person typically doubts the accuracy of that overused characterization and fears the worst: a Lebanese melt down. Curiously, however, that kind of apprehension can be justified and refuted simultaneously. On one hand, it may be correct to downplay the chance nature of a given random event, but doing so is tantamount to ascribing to some degree of deliberateness. On the other hand, overestimating the political meaning and implications of such an event may be ill advised as well.

Despite the fear these occurrences create, however, not every random event has the potential to become the harbinger of a large-scale confrontation. With that in mind, it becomes impossible to connect a single event to any major altercation without first considering the chain of minor and entirely random events that preceded it. Likewise, random events should not be viewed as a discrete category of incidents. Instead, they represent a particular classification that was fashioned, modified and applied according to longstanding Lebanese practices. We might add that those who use the phrase random event most often typically have the opinion that a specific episode must relate to some larger incident. By extension, a similar observation can be made regarding people who eschew the phrase altogether, use it very seldom or employ different jargon when making casual observations or touting an event’s significance soon after its occurrence.

In fact, such hasty remarks should simply encourage us to reassess the very notion of these random events, especially since they have become a “station” at which Lebanon’s train of daily life makes regular stops. That station, symbolic though it may be, is situated at the intersection of three dimensions: security, politics and history. Notably, those constructs are italicized to stress the idea that the appearance and meaning of each term used to describe a random event is not prima facie. Security, for instance, may relate to the assorted tensions that prevail in certain areas or saturate the entire country. Politics may indicate the willingness of a given faction to capitalize on a random event by squeezing as much life from it as possible. Finally, history may refer to the conceptualization, real or imagined that some relationship exists between an event and its antecedent. It may even convey symbolic elements of a specific or general nature.
Of course, it may be that no such random event could compel any competent authority—political, religious or otherwise—to rush into characterizing an event as random even if it really was so. In other words, when a responsible individual or organization decides not to pursue the de facto categorization of an event, that inactivity distances the incident even farther from its supposed random nature. Thus, in the absence of other corroborating evaluations—accurate or not—a given incident might not win the pro forma “random” categorization by those typically predisposed to do so.

A common denominator of hawadeth fardiyya is the tone used by Lebanese media outlets relative to the events. That tone, which reflects and perhaps even shapes general public opinion, demonstrates that Lebanon’s predilection for “closing the files” on challenging issues is not restricted to past events. Instead, that categorically unsuccessful approach is taken routinely in the country’s management of its current events. But by examining these potentially cataclysmic random events, Lebanese citizens can underscore the country’s urgent need to commit unequivocally to the painful yet essential process of seeking and telling the truth, regardless of how “uncomfortable” the process may be. Of course, that evolution can only begin when the concept of truth seeking and its corollary, accountability, finds legitimacy within and becomes embedded in Lebanon’s political culture. In other words, seeking the truth about the Lebanon’s past simply cannot happen if we persist in our failure to deal decisively and courageously with the present.

Clearly, not every random event is capable of igniting a war, but regardless of how self-evident that observation may seem, it certainly prompts one to ask meaningful questions. For example, is it accurate to state that for the Lebanese, random events always echo the wartime violence that tore the country apart? Might the converse be even closer to truth? In such a case, a random event would likely be counted among the many hypothetical institutions that populate Lebanon’s “cold” civil peace. Here, its job would be to sieve out the violent facts and confrontational fault lines etched into the collective memory of the Lebanese wars. It would minimize the number of annotations and footnotes added to those recollections and to the general responsibility and implications that attend them. In such a case, they could finally be viewed for what they really are: individual criminal acts that should be dealt with according to the law.

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.