Act for the Disappeared.

Lebanon’s recent past has been consistently been characterized by a pervasive sense of joyful insouciance, a kind of permanent amnesia that allows us to convince ourselves the biggest decision in our day is what shirt we should wear or what bar we should head to tonight.

Given the ambient carefree attitude, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in Bermuda or Andalusia, not in a volatile country that has been in political deadlock for years. There is something vaguely grotesque about how we go about on a daily basis, oblivious to the fact that so much in Lebanon remains unresolved.

Now, I know what you’re going to say. I can hear you shouting at your screen “But that’s the Lebanese way, we’re brave in the face of adversity, we’re famous around the world for our resilience in times of difficulty. We partied under the bombs”. That’s all well and good, and the Lebanese spirit of steadfastness is admirable beyond words. Everything somehow continues to function regardless of what state the country is in.

However, there is no denying that our inability to deal with our past is a considerable problem. I mean a country doesn’t go from a 20-year free-for-all of murder and destruction to a peaceful having of foreign investment overnight. Something is wrong with that process. The fact that the political discourse 20 years after the end of the war is so bitter is the most glaring illustration of how unhealthy our attitude to the past is. You only need to scratch the surface of any conversation/confrontation and you’ll find people digging up various vile episodes from our prolonged periods of civil strife.

The first reaction most people get when someone tries to open up a proper factual, accountable discussion about the past is “Let the past be the past, we have enough problems as it is”. But that’s the crux of the issue, most of our problems stem from the fact we’ve never discussed them openly and honestly. Most countries who’ve been through civil war have had some sort of process of reconciliation post-conflict. From South Africa to Spain, people have addressed their less-than-glorious past in order to overcome it. And the longer we refuse to, the longer it stays a part of our daily existence.

In this context, I’m glad to see an open forum being organized on Saturday April 16th discussing the often overlooked/purposefully avoided issue of Lebanon’s mass graves. The event features the screening of the award-winning film Son of Babylon, followed by a discussion with representatives of the International committee of the Red Cross, and experts on the issue from the Balkans and Spain. I urge you to attend, it’s from 6-9pm at Metropolis Empire Sofil.

The event itself is organized by an NGO called Act of the Disappeared (check out their Facebook page here), a non-political and apolitical organization whose goals are purely humanitarian. They work to remind us that there are 17,000 people who are still considered disappeared 20 years after the end of the war. Not dead, not alive, just disappeared.

Can you even imagine what that means for their families? That’s 17,000 families living in a state of limbo. 17,000 families who don’t live in 2011, but rather somewhere between 1975 and 1991. As we go around town proud of our ranking as best party capital in the world, let’s not forget these people live around us. In our streets. In our neighborhoods. It may not be the funnest of things to do, but we owe them the courtesy of thinking of their loved ones from time to time.

Act for the Disappeared












3 Responses to “Act for the Disappeared.”

  1. Ronman
    April 11, 2011 at 3:27 pm #

    Great write up about perhaps one of the most un-discussed subjects…

    I have always said to those who listen to me that the infamous Lebanese War is not over, just on hold, our cold war so to speak…the various sides still have the same lingering issues that got us to start fighting, not to mention the myriad of issues that the war itself brought upon us to add to the tally…it’s frustrating really how Lebanese are disconnected from reality, living in a denied limbo… and the partying to speak off doesn’t just happen amongst the families of the 17,000 lost souls….it might have taken place on top of them or very near to them at best…

  2. Nasri Atallah
    April 11, 2011 at 3:47 pm #

    Cold War is actually a good way to frame it. I think the state of limbo is the most unhealthy part, for the population at large as well as for the families of the disappeared. It denies you one of the most essential elements of a healthy life, stability. It may be an amusing quirk to expats or visiting tourists, but our myriad contradictions are the bane of our society.

  3. Ronman
    April 12, 2011 at 1:11 pm #

    “but our myriad contradictions are the bane of our society.” Toucher Monsieur…..

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