Paradise absent is different from paradise lost …
A city, perhaps like a person, always exceeds the myth of its origins. It's not a coincidence that as a cosmopolitan city Beirut became synonymous with loss. It may be impossible to establish the beginning and end of the Lebanese civil wars. They are generally given the dates 1975–1990: from a 1975 assassination attempt on Maronite Christian and Phalangist leader Pierre Gemayel—and the immediate retaliation by his followers against a busload of Palestinians in April of that year—until the 1990 implementation of the Taif Accord and Syrian intervention. Outside of these events, many historians have pointed to the fragile political conditions resulting from a governing system based on religious sects, patronage, powerful families, militias, and, after 1948, an influx of displaced Palestinians as providing the unstable—almost inevitable—conditions for internecine conflict. As journalist Sandra Mackey writes about the war:
At one point it was estimated that no fewer than 186 warring factions representing contending communal identities and ideologies, splinter groups within these larger blocs, and foreign governments pursuing their own interests were battling within a country seven-tenths the size of Connecticut.
After 1975, this spiraling factionalism transformed the collapsed state of Lebanon into a dense mosaic of heavily fortified neighborhoods and mini-fiefdoms. Perhaps a better date to mark the end of the wars is the disarming of militias, excluding Hezbollah, in the spring of 1991. Yet given ongoing hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel (culminating in their 2006 war), the assassination of ex-Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in 2005, and the scattered sectarian violence of 2008, some would argue that the Lebanese civil wars have never really ended. Unlike many countries recently overwhelmed by internal ethnic, cultural, and racial violence, Lebanon has never had an official truth and reconciliation commission. The length and ferocity of the war left many wanting to forget and rebuild. But as Walid Raad’s art shows, forgetting is another form of remembering, and disaster wreaks havoc with law just as it does without law.
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