Lebanon: Beirut: Men, not the revolution, are the architects of “Arab Spring's” destiny

world | Dec 03, 2011 | By Asia News

Beirut - In the moving first chapter of the book Voyage au bout de la violence (Journey through violence), winner of the Phoenix Award at the last edition of the Book Fair in Beirut, the former member of parliament Samir Frangié speaks of "a memory gone mad", a "warped view" of the past, which has dragged the Lebanese into the abyss. I speak of the Lebanese as if they were a different race from the one I belong to. But it would be truer to say that it drove "us" to kill ourselves, and from there on to assume personal, if indirect, responsibility for the massacres which produced the war, that have woven it as a cloth is woven, or as a trap is woven.

These massacres are not orphans; they have an origin. The barbarism that characterizes them has a beginning, a family, a family name. Samir Frangié tries to make out its family tree. He recounts one of its first branches, the killing in Miziara, in northern Lebanon, in 1957. This settling of accounts with a tribal background, which took place in a church and caused over a hundred deaths, remained unpunished. It has endorsed, and somewhat trivialized, massacres as a methodology for settling disputes. It would take entire books to describe the massacres that have made - or unmade - Lebanon, and they belong to more distant times. Once and for all, there they lay bare before us the deformity of a past that characterizes us and the violence that haunts us collectively, we once sober and relatively civilized tribes.

The "descent into hell"

And so, this case is not about individuals but a society characterized by a potential violence, with distinct rules of conduct; a society that can only be framed in an interdisciplinary context, between history, politics, social psychology and psychoanalysis. A society that is experiencing the awakening of a traumatized memory, as well as conditioned reflexes, ancestral defense mechanisms, sources of fear and violence, rivulets of water that combine to form a raging torrent. What Samir Frangié calls a "descent into hell", the unstoppable spiral that has dragged us to the bottom of the well. It is of the soul of this violence, the soul of society and not of individuals - though it concerns individuals somewhat - that the psychoanalyst of Turkish origin Vamik Volkan (former advisor to the U.S. President Jimmy Carter on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) spoke, when addressing the American-Lebanese University (Jbeil) in the context of an three-day encounter on healing the wounds of memory. He describes with disarming precision the process of descending into hell, which becomes a social pathology, whose examples have multiplied throughout the four corners of the globe, from Rwanda to Bosnia. We, too, have had our atrocities, conflicts rooted in the past, such as that which led to the massacre of 1860, and of which we have only managed to derive a single, caricatured, lesson: the Druze are dissemblers with whom you must fast, not dine, and stay awake all night, because they might betray you, slitting your throat while you sleep.

The "langue de bois"

Out of everything that was discussed at this meeting of great interest, I would like to quote the psychiatrist Reina Sarkis when she expressed her total disagreement with the words of the introduction of the Lebanese minister of Education, who had explained our history with a ream of bombastic but empty words - the "langue de bois" - and had spoken of Lebanon as an exemplary country for its dialogue between cultures and for its level of civilization, among adults and educated persons. A fairy tale to which we're attached, but that has been debunked by the war. Left to themselves, reflects Reina Sarkis, the years of calm in which we are living are nothing but years of gestation for a new war, and more violence. In the absence of a true labour on our historical memory, of truth and forgiveness, the wounds are there to generate new ones and contaminate us. No, we have not yet learned the ways that lead to peace, let alone the ways of our sorrow. The victims of violence continue to wander among their memories, expecting to see their suffering recognized and their frustrations resolved.

A flag that sleeps

Notable among the various interventions was the accurate exposition of the facts by Antoine Messarra about a history book that stops at 1943, about the museums that it would be useful to multiply, to ensure visibility for our symbols of peace. These include the giant Lebanese flag imprinted with 40 thousand signatures, which signal the passage of museum visitors, and which sleeps in a private closet, for fear that it may be profaned, once brought to light by a state that does not revere the flag as sacred. Quite the opposite of what Americans do with their flag, a symbol that comes to life, constantly waving over the roofs of the Capitol, and given on two occasions to the Maronite patriarch during his stay in the United States as a symbol of great honor. How is it possible to deal with a "memory gone crazy"? What can we do with our memories, when they are in conflict with each other? How can you avoid depriving victims of their memories, without becoming a hostage to our own past? It's not an easy task. In 1994, three years from the vote in Lebanon on the amnesty law, which has become a "law of amnesia", Desmond Tutu, the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, set his country a challenge unrivalled in the history of nations: not forgetting the crimes of apartheid, but at the same time avoiding a trial that would have lead to chaos, he set up the gigantic task of speaking out, in which victims and perpetrators were able to testify to the horrors of the race war that had sowed so much hatred.

There is no future without forgiveness

This experience, so difficult and unique, is recounted by Desmond Tutu in a prophetic book entitled There is no future without forgiveness. "The solution", the Archbishop wrote in his work, "was not perfect, but it was the best one possible under the circumstances: truth in exchange for amnesty”. "In this context, the ultimate goal is not punishment; following the principle of 'ubuntu (an African word the Archbishop equated with restorative justice), the primary concerns relate to making reparation for damages, returning to equilibrium, restorating broken relationships, rehabilitating the victims and the guilty, whom we must offer the possibility of reintegration into the community, where their crimes or offenses have caused suffering (...) with this in mind, we can say that justice has been done since it has been actively worked for in shelter, in forgiveness, in reconciliation." The old Archbishop of Cape Town has not hidden the limits and imperfections that have accompanied this process. Since it was the State that put this noble ideal of restorative justice into practice, with its bureaucratic and financial limits, and yielding sometimes happier, sometimes less satisfactory results, resulted in the "executioners" benefitting well before the victims received their compensation.

Restorative justice

With more or less happy, the South African model has been reproduced from then on in other parts of the world. In some cases, international courts have exercised pressure to be apply punitive justice, especially for conflicts and crimes against humanity. In Lebanon, nothing has been done to resolve the conflict: neither punitive nor restorative justice. The mothers of those who have disappeared during the war are dying, one after another, in Riad el-Solh Square, without any news of their children. In contrast to the paucity of this way out of the Lebanon conflict, and despite its limitations, the South African model of national reconciliation is even more precious. Thanks to it, it can be said that the duty to remember goes hand in hand with the need for justice, even when it's restorative and not punitive. In this regard, and the conference of Jbeil made no mention of it, it is surprising to note how the African concept of ubuntu, mentioned by the Archbishop of Cape Town, is very similar to what the Church says about the sacrament of confession.Indeed, Christian forgiveness does not stop at the absolution obtained in the confessional, but challenges the penitent to repair the wrongs committed. And repentance, whic follows forgiveness, must be a visible sign of deep contrition and conversion. Because among the many wrongs inflicted in wars, some are physically irreparable.

The Martyrdom of The Massabki Brothers

In this human dimension, one might add another, transcendent dimension, the models of which we find in the martyrologies. The story of the martyrdom of three Massabki brothers, in Damascus, during the massacres of 1860, is a fine example and one close to us. Hunted in their last retreat, the three brothers, elevated to the rank of "blessed" by the Catholic Church, offered themselves to their killers inside the church where had taken refuge, at the foot of the altar that commemorates another celebrated martyrdom. There, the atrocity of the murder was mitigated, almost obliterated, by the force of a pardon that destroys the circle of violence and returns a degree of humanity to the executioners. This is the ideal, the summit at which efforts must be aimed in a mindset seeking real peace. Peace is a good in itself. A few days before the U.S. invasion in Iraq in 2003, Pope John Paul II said that "war is a defeat for humanity". This phrase reveals the highest idea of humanity, because we know that violence is deeply rooted within us. It is ignorance of this rule, and to be honest, of this very special anthropology that is Christian anthropology, which proves false all the ideologies of "progress" and turns them into mortal beliefs. The time to realize, and it's already too late, and whole generations have already been sacrificed on the altar of utopian change external to man, instilled by coercion. This is the truth that is contained in the philosophy of Nicolai Berdyaev, and which Samir Frangié makes his own without even mentioning his name.

The "old man"

"All great revolutions" Berdyaev writes, "claim to create a new man.Yet, the creation of a new man is infinitely greater, more radical than the creation of a new society. This seems clear, after a revolution and the establishment of a new society, but we may look for a long time and in vain for the new man. It is in this that the tragedy of the revolution consists, its fatal echo." And this is precisely the reason why the "Arab Spring" should not be idealized, but respected in its guidelines, as proposed by the Maronite Patriarch Bachara Rai, assisted in his task by Amine Gemayel. Is it possible? No one knows for sure, but we must try, relativizing, in the name of a Christian anthropology that knows, as did Jesus, "what is in the heart of man" - which knows both noble and unspeakable things - the impact this Spring may have on the seasons that follow. This is the condition capable of defending us from the discouragement that comes from the "tomorrow, the source of illusions," of which we all felt the bite after the "Beirut Spring". Insofar as is humanly possible, this condition allows us to build for ourselves and our children a reasonable future. A future where we'll rediscover the "sweetness of living together", to quote Samir Fringe, at the Book Fair, which will lead the ship of violence to a safe harbor, so travelers can finally go ashore.

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