When the current political impasse is resolved and the ongoing restoration of Beirut resumes, the Lebanese government – whichever one ends up being in charge – should turn a cluster of the most distressed remaining buildings from the 1975-1990 civil war into a living museum. To hell with the cost.
Somewhere along the Sodeco-Monot axis would be perfect. It would not require much to get such a project underway. Expropriation and some yellow tape, the kind used by police forces around the world to cordon off crime scenes. Come to think of it, yellow tape with the words “crime scene – do not cross” would be ideal to mark part of what was one of the biggest crimes committed in Lebanon’s brief history.
The Ministry of Education should then make it mandatory for all school children from the earliest grades through to baccalaureate to visit the “Civil War Museum” once every year. These visits should be accompanied by a detailed narrative explaining how the country suffered during a war that left much of Lebanon in a state not very dissimilar to the museum.
The object of such an exercise would be to impound into the minds of the Lebanese from an early age just how senseless the war was – and is – and in so doing hopefully plant the seeds among future generations that, as the song goes, war is not the answer.
But, it’s a message that is finding few takers. First there was last summer’s Israeli-Hizbullah war. In its vapor trail we have seen the rising tensions between the Shiites of Hizbullah and Amal and their Christian allies led by retired General Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and the Franjieh-led Northern Alliance on the one hand, and the supporters of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri – the multi-ethnic March 14 movement – on the other. Lebanon finds itself once again in the midst of a dangerous political crisis, the worst since the end of the 1975 civil war. The assassination of 34 year-old Minister of Industry Pierre Gemayel and the simmering street violence also revives the specter of 1975.
(Memo to the Aounists: I am aware that Aoun is not an “ally” of Hizbullah, and that he only has an MOU – a memorandum of understanding – with the organization. But given the fact that the two groups are united in their opposition to Fouad Seniora’s government, it makes him, well … an ally.)
But war won’t happen. It can’t happen. I, like many Lebanese, was there in 1975. I saw Lebanon destroyed one block at a time, one village at a time. It was the work of a people gone mad, a time when logic was replaced by hatred and fear. It was a time when snipers gunned down innocent men, women and even children simply because they lived on the wrong side of town.
The delicate mosaic that comprises the Lebanese political landscape has much changed since 1975 when the divide was clearly between the mostly Muslim west and the Christians in the east. The global landscape is also different. The cold war is over.
In April 1975 the Christian side was exclusively Christian. The other side, typically referred to as Muslim – but which also included Christians – included leftists, communists, Marxists and Palestinian groups. Today, the schism dividing Lebanese society is more political than sectarian, although traditions are hard to abandon and Lebanese political parties remain mostly ethno-religious. There are Christians and Muslims on both sides, the most notable anomaly is the Christian general (retired.) Aoun, who is MOU-ed to the Shiites of Hizbullah.
The hefty Palestinian resistance as a serious military and political force has also disappeared. Many argue that they have been replaced by Hizbullah as the nation’s catalyst for war, but hopes that Hizbullah’s much vaunted discipline will prevail.
Finally, the Christian militias, who called on both Syria and Israel for assistance when outnumbered and out-gunned by the Muslim-leftist alliance, can no longer call on either country.
One would hope that the Lebanese who were there have no stomach for a second round. We now that know there were no winners then, just as we understand there can be no winners now.