Lebanon’s civil war was ‘futile’, ex-fighters say 40 years on
Beirut - After fighting each other for 15 years, the former “enemies” of Lebanon’s civil war appear to agree on one thing: The war brought nothing but destruction and disappointment to all.
Lebanon marked in April the 40th anniversary of the start of the war, a conflict that is for many still an open wound, with many of its repercussions being felt today. It has been 25 years since the guns fell silent but thousands of people are still unaccounted for, those handicapped by the bloodshed are not looked after and hundreds of thousands of Lebanese were driven away by the violence did not return.
“War is a bitter drink,” said Massoud Ashkar, a former fighter with the Christian Lebanese Forces, but he did not wish even his “arch enemy to taste” it.
“One lesson that we learned from this war is that we have to live together, and every day I pray a hundred times that the days of the war do not come back,” Ashkar told The Arab Weekly.
Lebanon’s bloodletting came to an end after the warring groups signed a Saudi-brokered reconciliation agreement, the “Taif Agreement”, in 1990 which redistributed power among Christians and Muslims. For many, the accord silenced the guns but failed to resolve core issues that were among the reasons that enflamed the country 40 years ago.
“The war did not resolve our problems. We still can’t agree on important matters such as the constitution, a new electoral law or how to govern our country,” Ashkar said. “We are not even able to agree on documenting the civil war and teach it to our children, simply because each faction has a different interpretation.”
Amin Kammourieh, who fought on the opposite side with the Marxist “Communist Action Organisation”, summed up the war as “a big disappointment”.
“All those who fought the war are totally disillusioned and deceived, because we participated in the fighting, each for his own cause, but the war eventually developed into being something else. We had aspirations and dreams for change, but achieved nothing at all,” Kammourieh said.
“The Christians, who had fought to defend their presence in Lebanon and keep it under their control, are today a minority in the country,” he said. “The leftist parties, which wanted to change the world, including Lebanon, do not exist anymore, and those who carried arms to defend the Palestinian cause have no more a cause to defend, even Palestine hardly exists anymore.”
“Moreover, the Muslims, who had in principle won the war, are themselves deeply divided between Sunnis and Shias now,” Kammourieh told The Arab Weekly.
Walid Touma, a professor of socio-economy and business at Beirut’s Lebanese American University (LAU), said that the war, despite its ugliness, served a purpose.
“One result of the war is that it created a certain balance and equity between religious factions and political parties. Another thing is that it resulted in creating platforms for communication and dialogue to discuss differences, which did not exist back in 1975,” Touma said.
“The same people who did the war are today communicating to resolve differences. Obviously there is an agreement not to resort to war anymore,” he told The Arab Weekly.
Despite their misgivings, the former fighters did not regret their involvement in the conflict. “If I have to do it again, I will do it … But this time, it will be only for defence … Only if my people, my family, my country is attacked,” Ashkar commented. “If we had not carried weapons at the time, things might have been more dreadful for us (Christians).”
Nonetheless, the ex-militiaman, who ran for parliament in 2009, is trying to spread the culture of peaceful interaction. He has been speaking at high schools, universities and other venues against the evils of war.
“War is misery,” Ashkar said. “Most of my friends and companions of arms are not in this world anymore. We should not get to the point of having war as the only choice, but if someone attacks you, you cannot stay idle, you will have to defend yourself.”
Despite his strong disappointment, Kammourieh, as well, does not regret his part in the war. “At the time, you could not but carry arms … it was a shame not to have a cause to fight for,” he said. “But definitely, there are lots of lessons learned. The war makes you see things differently … It basically makes you appreciate life much more.”
The two former combatants, now with families and children, would not want the younger generation to experience the dark days of the war. “I wish we had worked out a certain settlement at the time, instead of going to war. But no one wanted to talk to the other then and all we did was to destroy our country without making any achievement,” Kammourieh commented.
He added: “Now when I see a country at war, like Syria or Yemen or Libya, I ask myself ‘Why should they fight? They should rather find a compromise.’ … This is the wisdom that you learn from the war but unfortunately no one will listen to you and they would still want to make war, exactly like we did back in 1975.”
For his part, Touma is confident most Lebanese have learned a harsh lesson. “We have suffered a lot and we don’t want to repeat this stupidity … We basically realised that communicating is the best way to resolve issues and to change whatever we do not like … In short, we learned that if we disagree, we don’t need to kill each other,” he said.
Former warlord Walid Jumblatt, whose Druze “Progressive Socialist Party” fought the bloodiest battles with Christian militias, marked the war’s 40th anniversary with a note of wisdom to his son and political heir. “My testament to Taymour and to all the Lebanese youth is to beware of violence and ignorance.”