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A Fragmented Unity: Lebanon's War and Peace in Cultural Memory

Abstract

From the turn of the century, Martyr Square in downtown Beirut, Lebanon has been the scene for myriad political events. Beginning in the mid-seventies, Martyr Square was part of the Green Line that saw vicious fighting during the arduous fifteen-year civil war fought along religious identities. More recently, and after a period of peaceful coexistence among the Lebanese, on the eve of February 14, 2005, the Square district witnessed yet another event of an immense magnitude. Former Prime Minister and tycoon Rafiq Hariri was assassinated. This event caused a huge wave of protests and demonstrations claiming the strength of the Lebanese people and their steadfastness against ‘foreign’ aggression. In essence, this public outcry was a reaction to a tragedy that reminded the Lebanese of the horrors of war and resulted in a series of major transformations in the country. This paper is an exploration of the transformation in cultural memory and the manipulation of historical narratives to suit a particular political agenda. In light of the past collective war traumas, the Lebanese have “mythesized” the rise of their nation above the internal differences to reach its destiny: national cohesion. What the Lebanese have failed to acknowledge, however, is how they have suppressed the trauma of the war, ignored its underlying causes, and fell blind to the haunting possibility for these differences to remerge and ignite yet another war. Without addressing the past or engaging in a post-war healing process, the Lebanese fabricated a cultural memory that served to conceal internal strife placing the responsibility for the internal conflicts on ‘foreign powers.’ This paper will therefore explore how a geographical site serves as a mediated space for cultural memory. How has Martyr Square served as a locale for negotiating meaning? Finally, the focus will be on the means by which Lebanese used this space for manifesting their fears and dreams, and most importantly how this space became a site for negotiating history.

Assem Nasr

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