Wonders of Destruction in Arabic Fiction
March 1, 2015 4:06 PM   Subscribe

Historians of war and society would like to believe that military conflicts have fixed beginnings and ends. Conventional depictions of the Lebanese civil war are no exception and typically confine that conflict within the notional temporal parameters of 1975–90. But the key aggravating features generally identified with the events of the Lebanese civil war—class resentments, echoes of the Arab-Israeli conflict on a regional scale, domestic geographical inequalities, sectarian rancor, and political infighting across the Lebanese scene—had been accumulating since 1948, and even earlier.

"During the last quarter of the 20th century, multiple wars were fought in, around, and over Lebanon—the two-year war (1975–76); the Israeli invasions and occupation (1978, 1982–2000); the Syrian invasion and occupation (1976–2005); the “War of the Camps” (1985–87), and so on. Indeed, “the Lebanese civil war” as such is a myth, one might even say a political fiction; it was never one thing, and cannot be boiled down to a single conflict. The Lebanese civil wars, therefore, which must be apprehended in the plural, have started, stopped, and re-started at different moments, proceeding along multiple timelines, occasionally running parallel, occasionally intersecting, and not always in ways that are coherent or comprehensible. If war, in the formulation of von Clausewitz, is the continuation of politics by other means, then politics in postwar Lebanon might be thought of as war by other means, means that may not always have readily discernible ends."
posted by standardasparagus (6 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I love reading about Beirut and The Mehlis Report sounds like an excellent novel; thanks for the post!
posted by languagehat at 4:24 PM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Historians of war and society would like to believe that military conflicts have fixed beginnings and ends.

Is this actually correct? I thought it was a truism that, for instance, the Second World War was set up by the conditions of the First. Certainly nobody treats the Second Gulf War as being genuinely distinct from its immediate predecessor. I think the wars that are usually treated in isolation are those where one or more of the parties have been eliminated or thoroughly reconstructed. In those cases it's fair to say "for you, the war is over"; in other cases I think we recognise that wars grow from previous resentments and are the fertile ground for future conflict.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:39 PM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

While reading about Lebanon in general earlier today I came across the Wikipedia article on Phoenicianism.
posted by XMLicious at 4:46 PM on March 1, 2015

1948? Some aspects of it go back centuries.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:38 PM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Is this actually correct?

In some instances, yes. There is a formal declaration of war, a period of conflict, and then a surrender or peace treaty brings it to a close.

I think you could make the argument though that in some wars, one side just leaves and calls it "done" while the fighting continues in the area. These wars may be seen as won or lost by some historians, which would suggest and end-point, but to the people living there, it could have been still be very much ongoing.

Then there are weird situations like North and South Korea which are in a state of cold war (declared or not) and only a DMZ prevents it from becoming a hot war.

Shades of grey, I think. It also doesn't help that for quite a long time, the US didn't have wars, we had "police actions" and the like, which from a boots on the ground perspective was absolutely no different than a declared war.
posted by quin at 7:10 PM on March 1, 2015

It was a very long time coming.

The Ottomans' imperial project depended in no small part in rivalries among major Arab populations (Sunni vs Shia / Alawite vs Christian) and between them and the big non-Arab populations (Kurds, Persians, Jews) and among the tribes and factions of each of the foregoing. When and in the places where they supplanted the Ottoman influence, the British and French were happy to use their own playbooks for indigenous ethnic rivalries that they'd deployed in Africa and the subcontinent.
posted by MattD at 8:10 AM on March 2, 2015

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