Humans have identified with war and conflict since the dawn of time more than they have ever tried to identify with each other. This is particularly the case of the Lebanese post-civil war scene, where the discourse of war and sectarian hostility still floats at the surface of everyday interactions among people.
In the region of Ouzai, the southern suburbs of Beirut, philanthropist Ayad Nasser embarks on a journey against the predominant current of sectarianism to revive a long-neglected area through street art. As a first impression, the project draws the attention of locals and tourists as much as that of local and international media. However, the project also reveals the war mentality still manipulating the geographical affiliations in this small country. Despite the enthusiasm about the project, most people were hesitant to visit this area few miles away from the capital Beirut. A strong identification with war mentality and war fears is still at work. This article contemplates briefly the identity issues of those who survived the war and their struggle to carry on with nothing but ashes.
In a country with an already contested history over pan Arabism and independent identity, the civil war further swept away whatever grounds or foundations were available to reach any sort of identity. It has rather become a search for the self among the ashes of nothingness before the search or establishment of a national identity. Some have fled and some have stayed, but both were left with nothing to carry ahead or to start from. Years passed and the past is gone, but the war memories remain to sustain the trauma and the struggle for an identity that remains undefined to this present day. What made it harder to come to terms with the losses are the sociopolitical formations that steered the way before having the time to overcome the trauma of war. There was no time to reflect and recover before going ahead. A sectarian discourse took the lead and it was the only identity to claim after the storm of war. Political affiliations, sectarian nationalism and amnesia were taking over the scene.
However, has amnesia really helped. The war still lingers in the smallest details of everyday life even if unnoticed. The effects have become so latent that they actually define the post war identity of those who lived and suffered the war and those who were born years later. The same level of loss and struggle of identification permeates the tiniest daily interactions. The new generation is founded on latent trauma and the previous one has not yet recovered from this same trauma. It is not so different for those who left seeking a better future and better prospects to forget and find a new identity. Their search proved in vain and their pain haunted them beyond the seas that carried them away.
The following quotes reflect the on-going struggles of the post-war generations: “As if there is no life outside the ideology of war. This discourse of binary still feeds a latent war on the same hate basis.” “Whatever the reason for war was, we are still serving it through a filthy chain of action and reaction. The war took everything, even the human in us.” “I didn’t live the war, but it is in my identity, in my perceptions, in my ideology, in everything everywhere. A haunting ghost.” “I never knew how much the war affected me until I left Lebanon and met people from all over the world with ambitions and plans for the future, while I was living in survival mode, day to day.” “The racism and hate is not only among religious parties but among classes as well.” Despite the remarkable shifts happening on a daily basis and the efforts of countless individuals and groups to get over the trauma, the repercussions of war scars still manifest here and there once you scratch the surface of every day mundane life.
On another note, Bertrand Russel says: “there are those who have so passionate an admiration for courage that they rejoice in opportunities for its existence.” The discourse created back then glorified the fight for political constructed causes and offered an opportunity for bravery and courage. This discourse lived and still lives long after the war is over. The people still function on the same motives in an ever-ready state to fight and defend this constructed ideology which they unconsciously sustain as part of their identity, or maybe the only part left of their identity. After the war, there was nothing left for people to identify with but this discourse. Everything else was and is still lost and thus there was no other place to resume from but the very reason (discourse) that caused the war and that is why the same motives for fighting and hostility are still latent in past and present generations.
There was nothing left to rely on for self-assertion and growth. Those who fought are still afraid that their valued wins in this storm of destruction might be forgotten. Thus, they have glorified these micro achievements that are nothing more than the very motives that sustained the war without ever daring to reflect if the “constructed” enemy is worth all this suffering and destruction. It is quite a vicious circle where your senseless victories are actually destroying what you think you are protecting and defending. The story goes on, same binaries, same ideologies, same fears, same senseless hostilities, same frustrations, same failed hopes.
Those who remain still carry the dreams of those who left too early to witness the futility of war, the hypocrisy of political causes, the selfishness of political leaders, the emptiness of political ideals, the hollowness of war victories, the struggles and loss of future generations, the heavy burden of war scars, and the inevitable and paralyzing hostility in post-war communities. The bright and lively colors of Ouzville may open the door to break the ice of a latent war ideology, but what Lebanon really needs is nothing more than an inclusive social vision that embraces the inspiring diversity of the country to learn from the pass and build the future. The shackles of past scars must be broken before they devour more generations into a futile and reckless path. The message of Ouzville: Brighter colors for a brighter vision.