The “Other” Lebanon Part I: Civil War

It is fun when you go somewhere new: You are not working, you are not surrounded with accustomed buildings, faces, even clothes, there are joyful things to do, experiences to have, mysteries and secrets to find out and solve… But travelers often neglect observing the local people. The joy and relaxation sometimes shadows our ability to see or realize what actually is going on in the countries we travel to.

I am a sociologist. Unlike Keti, and probably a vast majority of travelers, each time I go somewhere new, be it a foreign land or a city or town of my own country, or even a new neighborhood, rather than what is created by man, like the buildings, parks, or city plan, I look at what is created by “God”, i.e. the people, the animals, and the nature – or, well, the much that is preserved. Being from a country where “Europe and Asia meet” and having interest in culture and politics, I observe human beings and their way of life, which leads to “interesting” “experiences”.

When you go to a country, you would want to have at least a brief knowledge about their history and customs. Lebanon is best known with its multicultural and multi-faith society, which suffered from a long and destructive civil war (well, as if there is any civil war, which is not destructive) that started with political motives and turned to religious not long after – in other words, it ended with identity politics.

The War on Buildings

Civil war is not forgotten in Lebanon. On the contrary, it is there, at every step there is something that reminds people, what the country went through not long ago.

The tall building on the right side, Al-Murr Tower was going to be some commercial place, Beirut Trade Center. But ever since the war broke out, it is abandoned. Then it was used by this militia and that militia. The war left its marks on it heavily, and today it leaves marks on people: A huge tower, which can be seen from many places, with shrapnel and bullet wounds on its dead body.

These two photos are of Holiday Inn Beirut. It operated for only a year, before it ended up in the middle of military clashes. Today it is abandoned as well. The contrast that it creates with the building just next to it is the image of Lebanon: Ruins next to fancy-looking buildings.

These two are among the famous ones, yet they merely make up the whole of the story. Beirut, and of course whole of Lebanon, is full of such ruined and abandoned buildings:

They are located in the central areas and near the attractions, so why are they empty? Are all the people that lived there dead, either during the war or after, or they simply left it to their curse? I don’t know and I doubt I want to find out.

As life goes on, new buildings are being built, but the specter does not stop haunting the country. A note: Our driver from airport to the hotel told us that at some fancy neighborhood, the flats are being sold for million(s) of dollars.

Let’s first look at the people before I start telling why this was a funny moment for me.

The War on People’s Minds

Maybe because it’s a small country with much tension, police force is so small in Lebanon while military is rather “big”. You see military vehicles and soldiers everywhere. Is it because of the ongoing war in Syria? No. In that case, Beirut wouldn’t be surrounded with military personnel as well. Is it because of the issues with Palestine and Israel? Again, neither of them penetrate into the country to have some “defensive line” within its borders.

The military is there simply because people keep hating each other. The deep cleavage that led to the war is still there. No one did forget what happened, and there are many groups that are as organized, ready and full of anger and rage as they once were, before the official end of the war.

Civil wars are barely forgettable, at least for three generations. Today’s children are raised by those that were children when the war was still ongoing. Yes, the world is changing ever faster, things are easier to forget nowadays, but some things are not to be forgotten. Civil war is one of them. You see on every face that there was, and is, something going on. Something bad and deep. And the people, at least some of them, are ready to close the unfinished chapter. Few, if any, would have the mental strength to remain stable, calm and determined under such circumstances, and I believe that not few would take action, if someone would do something wrong – which is why the words of the driver was funny. Why would I pay millions of dollars if there is the possibility of the place becoming ruins?

Studied politics, sociology, and economics while learning equally much on social psychology, psychology, religion and mythology, and anthropology. Travels to see people, not the buildings. And writes about these.

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