The state-imposed amnesty that ended the civil war in Lebanon in 1990 has left a long list of war crimes undocumented and unaccounted for. Various forms of cultural production and activism have tried to fill the gap left by official silences and neglect. This paper examines the effect of these memory cultures on advancing claims for documentation, truth, and reconciliation in Lebanon and the wider Middle East. It argues that Lebanon’s memory project has contributed to awareness about divisiveness in the past, and may have helped keep Lebanon from returning to the dark days of the civil war despite the political conflicts after 2005. Still, Lebanon has yet to confront many aspects of its war history. The logic of confrontation has been strongly influenced by international discourses on truth and reconciliation, and by notions of transitional justice in particular. In conforming to abstract notions like these, Lebanon’s “memory makers” have tended to leave out aspects of its civil war—aspects that could trouble the belief in an innocent civilian population held in a state of amnesia by a small political elite. A project driven by the logic of confronting silences has hence created its own silences.
Sune Haugbølle is assistant professor in Arabic at Copenhagen University. He holds a D.Phil. in modern Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Oxford (2006). His research focuses on culture, media, and society in the Arab Middle East. He has published a number of articles and books, including War and Memory in Lebanon (Cambridge University Press, 2010).