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Lebanon: Violence, Sectarianism, and Resistance

Panel V-23, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Friday, November 3 at 1:30 pm

Panel Description
  • Reckoning with legacies of historical violence necessitates an assessment into the how the past comes to be entrenched in the banalities of everyday life. Looking to how historical violences live in the physicality of our built environment allows for the conceptualization of how space existentially regenerates the past in the present: specters of violence and the afterlives of war live in the built environment and in the fabric that threads post-war society together. Looking to the multi-scalar territorial configurations and containment of space materializing throughout the Lebanese Civil War of 1975 to 1990, this paper examines the role of violence in the creation of the sociopolitical landscape of post-war Lebanon. As everyday practices inform the production of space, the ideologies within which it is entrenched, and its ontology, I trace the palpable viscerality involved in living in and maneuvering through sites whose futurity is always already informed by perpetuated violences of the past. I argue that an assessment into the entrenchment of the legacies, specters, and afterlives of the violence of the civil war informs the post-war sectarianization of space, identity, and political life more broadly. Thinking through the affective implications of checkpoints allows me to unpack how threats of violence, desires for safety, and navigating of geographies of war directly shape the formation of borders and boundaries in the post-war era. The everyday practices involved in traversing disintegrated spaces tainted with physical violence and precarity, I argue, foreshadowed the emergent sociospatial configurations of sectarian governmentality that appeared in the post-war period and contend with the physicality of checkpoints as that which reinforced the post-war borders through their haunting. In examining how the legacies of violence informed the production of space during and in the aftermath of the civil war, I ask: where can the ruins and legacies of violence be located within space in Lebanon? How can we look beyond bullet-riddled buildings and monuments to unpack the existence of historical violences in the physicality of our built environment? How are historical violences entrenched in the banalities of everyday life? How does the civil war seep into the temporality and geography of the post-war? How does the binaristic identification of the civil war as a cross-sectarian hinder our understanding of the production of space in Lebanon?
  • While interviewing Abu Jibran, an influential communist and organizer from a south Lebanese border village, he shared his first experiences with the harsh reality of the border after the French and English demarcated it. His stories tell how border police, first English, then Lebanese, and later Israeli, detained and beat up residents that did not comply. Abu Jibran and I were sitting in his remaining plot of land, just a few meters above us was a large Israeli military outpost. Abu Jibran recalled: “[Some villagers] came to me...They told me ‘a tractor is plowing your land.’ I went there and found a Jewish officer. I spoke English to him. I used to speak English more than Arabic. I said, look what are you doing? He said what is this your business, I am implementing the map. Yes, but this is my land, don’t you see wheat is planted on it? I inherited it through grandfather to grandfather and have planted it. How are you implementing a map? Whose map are you implementing? So I went and submitted a complaint to the Lebanese army. One more meaningless than the other.” In his stories, Abu Jibran repeatedly voiced his frustration with the Lebanese Army, especially in incidents where it would violently force citizens to comply with the new borderline, without considering people’s land ownership. Then, Abu Jibran got up and walked towards his former land to show me what used to be his, and what is now an inaccessible strip wrapped in barbed wire filled with land mines and where the military base is located. This paper is based on oral history interviews I collected during 2009 and 2022. It studies multiple and constant spatial reorganizations of everyday life and forced migrations under the shifting borders and systems of rule in south Lebanese frontier villages. Many of vital economic and social interlinkages ceased with the formation of the Lebanese-Palestinian boundary demarcation following the 1923 Paulet Newcombe agreement, and severed especially after the establishment of Israel in 1948. How did constant changing borders and authorities form people’s political identity? This paper looks at and beyond the imposed boundaries through the eyes of the people directly affected by it. The abandonment of the (Lebanese) state is a major theme that was voiced repeatedly in my interviews. It was one of the reasons that my informants brought forward for supporting the Palestinian resistance.
  • During my research in Akkar, a governorate in northern Lebanon (2011-presently), I have been observing how local citizens and refugees from Syria navigate access to healthcare in hospitals, dispensaries, and other health facilities. Most residents seek to access healthcare facilities funded by governments that are generally viewed as supporters of their own national, political, and/or religious group. Indeed, in Lebanon, state-led forms of healthcare are barely provided. In this context, identity has become a key tool for patients to access healthcare, while, for providers, it remains a key instrument to create political constituencies (e.g., Jawad 2009; Cammett and Issar, 2010; Cammett 2011). Across Akkar's hamlets, I found that the access of many local and refugee residents to healthcare was not merely marked by ethnic and/or religious identity and group belonging – which, generally, is a primary interpretative tool for understanding societal and political dynamics in the so-called global South. Instead, I observed that people’s attempts at accessing healthcare were also influenced by what other ingroup or outgroup members practically do or believe, pointing to the importance of crowd behaviour. By this token, I am presently navigating the crowd psychology of local and refugee residents who either try to access or avoid the health facilities opened by Turkish governmental agencies (e.g., TIKA). Since the beginning of the Syrian flight in Spring 2011, the number of such facilities has increased in northern Lebanon, especially in villages that are known to be inhabited by Turkmans with Lebanese or Syrian nationality, such as Kuweishra. At present, I am conducting ethnographic observation and in-depth interviews with refugees and Lebanese residents in the villages where Turkish-funded facilities are located. This paper will also build on my past reflections on the impact of humanitarian aid provision on social membership and group-making in Lebanese society, which counts large numbers of refugee groups and local residents previously displaced by wars. Drawing on the anthropology of healthcare as well as crowd psychology, the primary aim of this research is understanding the behavioural politics of local and refugee access to healthcare and, more specifically, the ways in which a psychology of crowds can further inform, complement, or challenge the broader field of identity politics.