Robert Fisk: The adventures of Tintin in Beirut

 

Share
Related Topics

We are all haunted by war.

The First and Second World Wars continue to hold us in their sticky embrace. The Lebanese are still trying to shake off the Christian-Druze massacres of 1860, let alone the 1975-1990 civil war. And there's a fascinating view that the events which lead to war somehow enter our bloodstream, become part of us, a history that goes round and round inside our bodies for ever. Most Lebanese regard the start-line of their civil war as the Christian Maronite Phalangist attack on a bus-load of Palestinians in the Beirut suburb of Ain el-Remmaneh, a red and cream American school bus – actually made at Kew in England – that now lies rusting in a field in southern Lebanon, registration plate long torn off but bullet holes intact and ghosts still aboard.

In an article headlined "Ghost Generation", the Lebanese writer Fifi Abou Dib has intriguingly recreated the last seconds of peace in Lebanon, the driver of the red and cream bus drawing on his cigarette – we don't know if, indeed, he smoked – annoyed at the traffic jam in which he found himself. "The tragedy of the bus at Ain el-Remmaneh is written in our collective history, for sure. But more than anything else, it has infected our DNA." It's true. Art galleries in Beirut often carry symbols of the bus, red and cream, a 1960s Fargo, mass grave to 27 men and women.

Yet only this last October did the Lebanese hold their first seminar on the events of the Christian-Druze war which broke out in the Metn and Chouf mountains 115 years before the bus massacre at Ain el-Remmaneh. And it was Dima de Clerck, doctoral graduate of the University of Paris 1, who drew attention to the connections between 1860 and 1975. "We are in the presence of two traumatic histories which feed on each other," she said. "...The recent war, which happened out of the blue but for clear socio-political reasons, resurrected the memory of 1860, brought it back to life... the history of that conflict, so badly neglected at the time, provoked Christians and Druze to take up arms in 1975, one side taking revenge for a past regarded as shameful, the other (wanting) to gain the political victory which their military success did not obtain for them in 1860."

This is not unlike the aftermath of the 1914-18 war when the victors, including the Brits, came to the conclusion that the War to End All Wars meant that humans must never engage in such a conflict again – while the losers believed that only another war could justify the effusion of blood suffered by the German nation.

Yet can one still read the runes in Lebanon today? Yes, of course, the Syrian conflict has created renewed tensions between Alawites and Sunnis in Tripoli, between Shia Hezbollah supporters of Syria and the Lebanese Sunni-Christian opposition. But it's the more subtle, inside-page stories which snag your coat as you breeze around Beirut. The last-minute cancellation at a Beirut film festival of Persepolis, the animated award-winning movie about a girl growing up in Iran after the Islamic revolution, for example; it was widely rumoured that the Iranian embassy had expressed its displeasure. And then came the weird disappearance of Steven Spielberg's name on the billboard for his The Adventures of Tintin: the Secret of the Unicorn at a cinema in (largely Christian) east Beirut.

Surely the Beirut security authorities had nothing against Tintin. Indeed, they denied any involvement in placing the crude strip of black masking tape over the director's name. The local film distributor blamed an individual cinema proprietor for this act of censorship, although, when I visited the place, Spielberg's name was still hidden by tape. Was this because Spielberg made Schindler's List, about the German who saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust and which ends as Jewish survivors mourn at Schindler's Jerusalem grave? Or was it because Spielberg, whose Munich – and its theme of purposeless revenge attacks by Mossad – was widely admired in Beirut, is Jewish?

This violation of free speech – for that is what it was, along with the cancellation of Persepolis – cannot be seen in isolation. Infinitely more serious is the new Lebanese law to protect women from domestic violence. It hasn't gone before parliament yet but it is, for the most part, supported by the Christian community. Not so the Sunnis. Muslim authorities in Lebanon have opposed the project and the Dar al-Fatwa has actually refuted the text which – and I quote – "strikes a blow at Muslim women" and "cancels laws which are provided for married couples by religious courts". One of the nine parliamentary members working on the new law says that, for Sunni Muslim clerics, "encouraging women to struggle against violence is to encourage them to abandon the conjugal home and thus break up the family". Yipes! The legal article on rape by a husband was also criticised because – in the words of the Lebanese MP – "Islam didn't recognise this form of aggression because it regards the man as responsible for his wife".

As the Dar al-Fatwa statement actually says, "this project, which applies to a Western mentality, does not correspond to the values (sic) of our society" because "it endangers the traditional nuclear family" and "denies a father the right to educate his children – and especially his daughters – who need his protection". Shia Muslim authorities, I'm sorry to say, also denounced the law as "a dangerous business".

Dangerous indeed. If men can still rape their wives and exercise censorship in a civilised nation of educated, cultured people, is it any surprise that violence still haunts the land?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Read Next
Former N-Dubz singer Tulisa Contostavlos gives a statement outside Southwark Crown Court after her trial  

It would be wrong to compare brave Tulisa’s ordeal with phone hacking. It’s much worse than that

Matthew Norman
The Big Society Network was assessed as  

What became of Cameron's Big Society Network?

Oliver Wright
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn