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  • Maria Yamak

Stuck on replay: Losing Lessons from Lebanon’s Past

Schoolchildren around the world are taught from a young age that those who do not know their own past will be doomed to repeat it. Not ‘fated.’ Not ‘destined.’ They will be ‘doomed,’ a word filled with an undeniably negative connotation, and for good reason. The past—good or bad—was never meant to be repeated, for humans are made to be forward-moving, not stuck in limbo in eras that have long since passed. To relive the past is, truly, to be doomed, for it indicates that we have failed to learn from experience and, as a result, we have failed to grow. For that reason, we teach history, to learn from our many mistakes, to become enlightened with the knowledge that guides the steps that lead us into our (hopefully) brighter future. Learning our own history is fundamental for us, as a society, to ever move forward.

History came to a halt in Lebanon in 1943. Despite the numerous implications felt throughout all of Lebanon as a direct and damaging result of the events that unfolded nearly three decades later, history was forever paused before the Lebanese civil war even began. None of the events of April 13, 1975, or thereafter are ever taught in Lebanese schools. Perhaps it is a result of the Lebanese mentality of wanting to see everything through rose-colored glasses. Or, perhaps, that very mentality is the result of years of learning to efface the past that scars us as a nation. Perhaps we do not want to teach the Lebanese Civil War because we do not know which of the eighteen official religious sects to blame in our reconstruction of those dark events. Perhaps we do not know how to separate fact from fiction, truth from opinion, prejudiced hatred from political manipulation. Perhaps we do not even know in what shades of black we can begin describing the darkness that enveloped our nation, the destruction that ensued, and the tens of thousands of deaths and disappearances that amassed. In a country as small as Lebanon, such reverberations are felt endlessly and deeply, marking an entire generation of youth as a generation of war. It is not easy to venture to the edge with the willingness and courage to face such depths.

Lebanese Independence Figures in 1943

And so, in Lebanon, we do not. Not officially, at least. Instead, schools turn their back on such topics, relegating them to be handled by each respective community, or each family therein, who are left to teach their own. As a consequence of the state’s failing, the history—true and untrue—of the Lebanese Civil War is transmitted by word of mouth in a sort of warped revival of older storytelling traditions. Because the civil war is so recent in the minds of so many, the retelling of the war varies largely from region to region, from sect to sect, and from family to family, with each indoctrinating the younger generation with a version of the events that is colored by the bias of their own tinted lenses. This feeds further and further generations into the cycle of embedded prejudices and presumed superiorities, leading to greater and greater rifts among individuals in a nation already stretched to the edge of its capacity.

Child Soldier in the Lebanese Civil War (Creative Time Reports)

Furthermore, by failing to present the facts of the Lebanese Civil War to the next generation, the state has failed to create opportunities to promote the growth of a generation of independent and critical thinkers. Students are not taught to judge the events of history for themselves, nor to analyze them for important takeaways. In the absence of such opportunities, we risk raising a generation of blind followers, eager to remain loyal to sectarian lines that were drawn long before they were even born. These divisions are exacerbated when even in the midst of our nation’s collapse, prejudice is taught to be stronger than reason. While many members of the younger generation are proving to be more aware and wiser than the generations before them, it is a failing of the state that they are left to face and learn such difficult truths on their own.

For the generations that came before us, the failure to struggle to separate fact from opinion has led to the hiding of undeniable facts, such as the atrocities committed by many of today’s leading political figures and their followers. These facts become obscured behind a curtain of desiring to be politically correct or, to be more accurate, remaining politically blinded in an effort to not remember. As a result, so many of us have forgiven, through our ignorance, those who should not be forgiven and—worse—allowed them to continue to hold power over a country of individuals who deserve and dare to dream of so much better.

"By failing to teach the Lebanese Civil War in today’s schools, the state has failed to acknowledge a very simple and inescapable truth: the only way out is through."

By failing to teach the Lebanese Civil War in today’s schools, the state has failed to acknowledge a very simple and inescapable truth: the only way out is through. No country is devoid of failures. But the triumph of a state is when those failures are acknowledged, addressed, and amended. In Lebanon, the state has yet to even acknowledge its own tainted history, much less a need to open a space for healing and progression. And so we remain rooted in a past we have lied to ourselves and our children about, leaving us all stuck in a blurred version of 1990, not even sure if the direction we are facing is ahead or behind, falling into the greater risk that these two directions are becoming one and the same.

About the Author:

Maria Yamak holds a doctorate in Gifted Education. She has taught math and English in private and public schools in the United States and in Lebanon. She has taught in various teacher education programs in Lebanon

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