the interrogations of shamshouma

Archive for the category “civil war”

Hiking Lebanon: on the difficulty of disentangling violence and disease from nature

Every Sunday morning , many Lebanese head to specific locations in Beirut to catch appointed buses for their weekly hiking trip. The buses  gather around in Downtown’s martyr square and the end of Forn Al Chebbak. They wait for the hikers, who appear wearing their full-geared hiking clothes, except for those trying out hiking for the first time, stumbling around feeling a bit “under-dressed” for the trip.

Hiking has become a main attraction for middle class Lebanese and for foreigners, professionals and students alike,  who seek a day of promenade, exercising and dwelling in nature away from the polluted, noisy, disease-afflicted, explosive and violent city of Beirut. in the last few years, USAID took on the task of funding the project of creating hiking paths all around the country. well , in the “civilized” regions that is, with the exception of most South Lebanon whose nature was deemed too insecure and dangerous for hiking promenades.


Since this funded project, hiking established itself as one of the main Sunday attraction and leisure sports in Lebanon for people from different ages and gender. Becoming a hiker is not a simple endeavor. it is a inter-relational production of a middle class appreciation of nature as peaceful, healing, full of wisdom and knowledge, and as spiritually empowering. Nature is a shelter from the city’s sudden explosions and from the everyday terror that people experience as a result. Hikers are also those who scream in disapproval over littering in nature and bulldozers “eating nature’s essence”. However, in Lebanon, hiking is not just about nature. Everyone who has hiked with one of the mainstream hiking groups was able to notice that this activity is one of the main ways for “hooking up” or “finding a boyfriend/husband” in Lebanon that does not requires drinking and nightlife. Hiking in Lebanon is not a solitary dwelling in nature but is more of a socializing and romantic kind of getting together in nature.

However, being a hiker in Lebanon who can appreciate nature through specific modernized and civilized practices is very difficult. It takes a lot of  work to ideologically perceive, produce and imagine nature in Lebanon as esthetically beautiful, peaceful and healing while hiking. And this work requires building the ability to detach from, disregard and become blind to the signifiers and markers of violence that overwhelmingly inhabit nature in Lebanon and renders it diseased and in conflict. Producing the modern nature/culture dichotomy, separating nature from culture, seems to require an ideological process of “forgetting” and “blinding”  “things violent and diseased” that are so entangled with nature that they themselves become “natural”.


Hiking in the Chouf region on a Sunday morning, a good middle class hiker encounters many obstacles in his quest for natural healing and enjoyment.  Hiking peacefully, one first walks between lands entangled with explosive devises. Suddenly, one is surrounded by lands full of mines: “if it rains, one of them might explode all of a sudden” remarks a hiker to another in passing. “danger of death, mines” signs stand at the edge of the land, although quite far away. After crossing the explosive  nature land, one is exposed to a much more visible marker of violence: countless colorful hunting cartridges lie on the earth, entangled with its dirt and trees. Red, blue and green, they soon become part of the natural landscape and their violence  is forgotten


Walking further and further up, hikers next arrive to the middle of the woods. While they walk through, few notice three of four well-made and maintained stenches on the top of a hill and look at each other “is this..a trench?”, “perhaps it was used in the civil war…look how it overviews all of this area in Lebanon” others continue hiking, while commenting on trees and plants.

One of the hikers noticed a strange looking web covering small young tees on the side of the trail path. He horridly snapped the disease branch and threw it on the floor while stepping on it “look, all these trees are diseased, it is a kind of a worm that kill trees…” One of them comments: “it is diseased nature”, while distant gun shots are heard intermittently. But no one seems to hear them.

diseased trees

It is exhausting to hike in peaceful nature in Lebanon. One has to put on her ideological blind glasses in order to imagine herself in a healing natural landscape.


Lebanese suffering on STL stage: narrating violence for the international community

One can criticize many things about the special Tribunal for Lebanon’s, about it being politicized, somewhat meaningless and absurd in the light of the  weekly explosions that have become a matter of mundane occurrences in Lebanon. But what  undeniably interesting about this tribunal is that it offers Lebanese a humanitarian and international  recognition of their suffering by turning them into witnesses of violence.

For the first time in the history of Lebanon, Lebanese (granted, a selected few) are invited to sit and talk in a court of law, whether in person or through video teleconference, to an international and Lebanese audience about their suffering and loss from the 2005 explosion. While acting as witnesses of violence itself, and of their own suffering, the Lebanese are asked questions by both the prosecutor and the defense lawyers. This act of witnessing and narrating suffering invites Lebanese to frame their encounter with violence in an international discourse that (re)defines what it means to be human, what it means to suffer, how to prove your suffering physically and psychologically and how to speak about violence.

Not only that, the Lebanese, for the first time  (Although I vaguely remember a quite similar international “Remy Bandali” moment in the 80s), are getting a taste of what it means to have the international community, our Alma mater,  recognize, register and record, sometimes quite specifically and scientifically, their suffering, for the purpose, we are told, of attaining justice and retribution from violence.

Nazih Abou Rjeily  providing testimony via video teleconference about the death of his brother

Nazih Abou Rjeily providing testimony via video teleconference about the death of his brother in the 2005 explosion in Beirut

By narrating their suffering on the international stage of law, those few and selected Lebanese communicate the most intimate details of the loved ones they lost from the explosion. Whether they suffered unfathomably before they died, how their sudden death affected their family and kins, how long it took for the family to find the body, the types of psychosomatic diseases that afflicted them after their loss, صhow did they broke the news to their parents, how hard it was to grieve for them, etc… Watching one witness after another, I do not feel like I am intruding on their lives or that I am being a peeping shamshoumah, snooping around for dirt about their suffering. Their heartbreaking stories are familiar and close to home.  I listen to their stories and cry sometimes.  I look at them on their international “stage”, sitting between two STL flags, with their headphones on their heads, trying very hard to deliver “the truth” and answering the questions of both lawyers and judges.

These suffering narratives very quickly became quite uncanny. They were both simultaneously familiar and quite disturbing and unfathomable. Suddenly, I feel jealous of their cathartic speech . Why do they get to act out their suffering? I can’t shake this overwhelming feeling of jealousy. I start thinking about the other families from recent explosions, families who lost loved ones during the street fights of 2008, the 2006 war, or the series of explosions that hit Lebanon after the 2005 explosion. I think about the civil war and all the people who lost loved ones, all the injured, the mutilated, the trembling ones, and all the innumerable  horrid stories left untold and unrecognized . I am sure they are jealous too, I think..

It seems to me that in Lebanon, there is this unspoken cultural convention: talking about and narrative your own suffering from violence is not celebrated. It might be tolerated if one is going to admit that “everyone else has suffered as well”. Everyone has suffered in Lebanon because violence, although does not equally hit all social strata, is so entangled in our everyday life, is so constantly anticipated , expected and awaited, that we seem to constantly suffer with each other in silence.

While watching the witnesses talk about their brothers and fathers, and describe their mutilated bodies in the explosion scene, I could not remember how life continued after this explosion, I could not imagine how people picked up the pieces, literally and figuratively, and went on living. I could not remember how we all survived at the edge of life. But then again, we have been doing that for a long time. When the country is on the palm of the demon, its people must remain very very quiet. Their bodies must remain still, they must function the same way everyday. Everything must keep very still so that not to upset the demon. So we keep waking up and going to work, then go back home. We keep walking, taking services, eating, drinking coffee, drinking whiskey and chatting. As if nothing is the matter. We slowly forget previous explosions. there are so many now anyway. We must forget and anticipate  future ones.

it is the smart thing to do, when you’re on the palm of a demon.

رحلات ميدانية الى وسط بيروت، او كيف تُبنى ذاكرة الحرب الأهلية

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ترجع اولى ذكرياتي لوسط البلد في بيروت الى ايام انتهاء الحرب الأهلية. وقد خبرت آخر أيام الحرب كأغرب وأغمض وقت عشته وانا في التاسعة من عمري. أتذكر هذه الايام بقلق ثقيل، كأن شيئا مهما كالحياة قد انتهى، وحل مكانه غموض وترقب ينذر بالانفجار. لم يزرني القلق خلال الحرب الاهلية، فقد ولدت فيها وخبرت الحياة من خلالها. لكني اصطدمت به عند انتهائها وبقي معي سنينا عديدة ولربما لا يزال.

 بالاضافة الى ذلك القلق الذي اختبره الكثيرون، انتهاء الحرب الاهلية أطلقت أيضا سلسلة من الرحلات الميدانية العائلية والمدرسية لتعريف الصغار امثالي على جميع المناطق في لبنان، من بعلبك الى جبل لبنان والتلفريك الخ. في رحلتنا الاولى للمنطقة الشرقية الساحلية، ألصقت وجهي على زجاج السيارة بجانب وجه أخي ونحن ننظر مبهورين الى المطاعم الملونة والمحال المتنوعة. وما زلت اشعر بالخجل الشديد عندما اتذكر كيف أعلن أبي بصوت عال استنكاره للاسعار المرتفعة في مطعم سبارو للبيتزا، اول مطعم للوجبات السريعة التي ذهبت اليها في حياتي (وفي حياة أبي كما هو واضح)، و كيف منذ ذاك الوقت بدأ عندي توق طفولي شديد لكل الاكلات الغربية السريعة.

المرة الاولي التي زرت فيها وسط البلد كنت في سيارة تويوتا حمراء صغيرة، في زيارة عائلية لاول معرض كتاب افتتح هناك. كان نهارا مشمسا بعد مطر شديد أضحت طرق البلد من بعده موحلة.  بدت البنايات لي او ما شابه البنايات كبيرة بشكل لم اره من قبل، يخترقها نور الشمس من كثرة الفهوات والثقوب التي خلفتها الاسلحة و الحرب. كان وسط البلد رائعا والضوء يخترق كل شيئ فيه، في حين كان والدي يحاول بصعوبة ان يعرّفنا على” البلد”: “هنا كان يوجد محل للحمة”، “هنا كان يوجد شارع اسمه فلان الفلاني”. ..اما معرض الكتاب الفرنسي، فأذكر منه انه كان شحيحا في الكتب وصغيرا جدا . لكن المعرض لم يكن الهدف الاساسي للرحلة، بل وسط البلد. عند رجوعنا الى البيت، اذكر اني لمحت غرافيتي يغطي بنايات بحالها. هذه الغرافيتي كانت موضع نقاش انذاك لان ” اعادة اعمار البلد” سيمحيها من الوجود.

المرة الثانية التي زرت فيها وسط البلد كان ضمن رحلة ميدانية مدرسية للتعرف بشكل رسمي وتعليميّ على وسط البلد و قد اعتمدت العديد من المدارس الخاصة آنذاك ارسال الطلاب الى وسط البلد في رحلات مشابهة. منذ بضعة أيام وجدت الصور التي التقطتها في هذه الرحلة وعند مشاهدتي لها استطعت ان ارى و بوضوح ارتباط هذه الرحلات الميدانية برؤيتنا لوسط البلد كمنطقة أثارية وتراثية غير سكانية ، الامر الذي سهّل لسوليدار اقطلاعه و فصله عن البلد.

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سوليدار ليس فقط شركة استولت على وسط البلد و حولته الى ارض خاصة اسمها الداون تاون. سوليدار أضحت ممكنة بسبب جهود ايديولوجية  طبقية، اكاديمية، ما-بعد-حربية (سمها ما شئتي) حددت لنا ما الممكن رؤيته ، تصوّره (وتصويره) و تذكّره عن وسط البلد، و ما الذي من غير الممكن ان نراه بعد الحرب.

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ايديولوجية هذه الرحلة المدرسية التي كانت مبهمة لي كطالبة تتعرف على بلدها ارتسمت باشد الوضوح في الصور التي التقطها للمعالم “السياحية” من جهة و للعمل الانشائي لتعمير وسط البلد من جهة أخرى، في التناقض في الصور الملتقطة بين القديم والجديد، بين ما بدنا لنا او قيل لنا انه تراث لبناني قديم  ولعملية اعادة تعمير الوسط البلدي. 

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الرحلة الميدانية لم يكن هدفها تثقيقنا عن الحرب الأهلية، عن الدمار الشاسع الذي حل بوسط البلد، عن الثقوب التي اخترقت كل الانشاءات. كان هدف الرحلة تعليمنا كيف نرى و نتصوّر ونصوّر و نتذكّر وسط البلد وكيف ان لا نراه. الآن، فقط الآن، أدركت مدى ايديولوجية هذه الرحلة.

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.اذكر كيف كنا نلتقط الصور بجدية شديدة، نحاول ان نرى و نفهم كل شيء. كان هناك شيء مهم يجب ان نفهمه في وسط البلد، او هكذا شعرت. لم نمزح مع بعضنا كما كنا نفعل في رحلات اخرى. لم نركض خلف بعضنا ونثير الشغب. احسسنا اننا نضجنا في هذه الرحلة و اننا يجب علينا ان نرى وسط البلد جيدا.

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اذكر ان جميع الطلاب جاؤوا مع كاميرات للتصوير وكان علينا ان نلتقط العديد من الصور. لا بد ان الكثير من اللبنانيين من جيلي قد اختبروا هذه الرحلة، قد جالوا في بنايات و مساجد و تصوّروها على انها “تراث قديم”، هندسة  تراثية قديمة يعاد اعمارها و الحفاظ عليها.

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في بعض الصور التي التقطت  كتبت خلفها آنذاك ” 
“archeologie phenicienne”

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من خلال هذه الرحلات الميدانية المدرسية، اصبح ممكنا ان يتحول وسط البلد الى وسط  منفصل عن البلد وسكانه والى تراث قديم نتذكره عندما نتذكر بيروت ما قبل الحرب.  

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