Lebanon: the lapses of memory of the school manuals

by Joelle Touma

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© Libération 2003 -2021

In History classes, the civil war is absent from the program.

A twelfth grade pupil cries out: 'We want to know about Lebanon's war, but we are told nothing'. Nothing, or nearly nothing; In each of the different communities in Lebanon, accordingly to the sectarian belonging of the family, the parents' and the grandparents' version at home states that 'it is 'the others' -the Christians or the Muslims- who have massacred 'our people'.

Today in Lebanon, the post-war pupils are learning about their country's History through a thirty-five years' old History program ending at the event of Lebanon's independence in 1943.

Samir Kassir -Historian and Editorial staff at 'Al-Nahar' newspaper- considers that 'once Mohamed, and Joseph, and Dimitri, and Ali are ready to get acquainted, with no aim or interest to settle accounts, they will then be able to look upon their differences. And only at that stage could the subject concerning a history book be discussed.'


Ideological Arsenal

Yet, the National Center for Educational Research and Development (CRDP - Centre National de Recherche et de Développement Pédagogique) governmental organization commissioned, in 1996, a Committee of Historians to set up a new program.

Prof. Antoine Messara -member of the Committee- explains: 'It was a hard task considering the huge ideological arsenal in the minds of the Lebanese people that had to be taken into account. We tried to respect the divergences and to show the different points of view in order for the pupils to come up with their own personal opinion'.

In 2000, the Council of Ministers / the Cabinet agreed upon this program, but no further step was taken to resume it.

Later, the new Minister of Education constituted another Committee, without providing any explanation. This Committee is working today under total opacity. The CRDP members are proceeding relatively to the program as if it were a State's Secret.

A person in charge explains: 'Let's consider a maths exercice; if its terms are 'A plane goes from Beirut to Tel-Aviv', a crisis might occur. This example shows how complicated the subject of a new History school manual is. It is simply forbidden to talk about it'. The Minister of Education is the only person in charge who is authorized to express himself on the subject. But he did not wish to do so when Libération contacted him.

According to Samir Kassir, all this mystery around the subject is not surprising. He develops: 'If, for example, a pupil asks who killed Kamal Joumblatt (Druze leader murdered under the Syrian Regime in 1977), will the school program allow to provide him with an answer as long as Lebanon is under Syria's control?' Besides, the unique page that was added to this day to the History manuals and that concerns the period covering the beginning of Lebanon's Independence in 1943 until today, states that former President Bachir Gemayel 'died in a regrettable incident', whereas he was murdered in 1982 in a car bomb attack attributed to Damascus.

Syria's hand over Lebanon is not the unique problem. The warlords -or their descendants- are still in power. Kassir wonders 'if under such circumstances, on can state that the militias did not fight only, but also maintained a corruption and racketeering system that is still kept up in Post-War Lebanon'.

For the time being, pupils in schools only have a one hour History class per week. The method of teaching is a dilapidated one consisting in underlining and learning by heart.

Melhem Chaoul -sociologist- states that' Not teaching the History of the War to the new generation, is the same as preparing them to leave their country'.

The school pupils following the French Baccalaureat system study an additional four hours History class per week. This minority learn about the war from their French manuals of History through their studying of the Near-East conflicts. Salima Kik -member of the former Committee and History teacher at Louise-Wegman lay school where pupils of all communities are present- says that 'this is when they start to ask questions'. She continues: 'We organize conferences in order to answer their questions. It is essential if our will is to form entirely Lebanese citizens. They must understand what happened in order to avoid having it happen again'. Antoine Messara adds: 'Undergoing this salutary trauma is indispensable; History only repeats itself in underdeveloped countries'.


Eternal Truths

Melhem Chaoul considers that 'pupils following the western method will, as long as they are kept ignorant, notice something is missing and will read anything they can put their hands on. The others will consider what they are taught as eternal truths; this is the pot out of which combattants are drawn'.

Meanwhile, the trust the new generation is putting in their country that is becoming more and more a mimitary one, and where liberties are becoming more and more restricted, is already lost to a large extent.

When Salima Kik's pupils are asked about considering their future life in Lebanon, only one third of them raise their hand.

Joelle Touma is the correspondent in Beirut of the French newspaper Libération and the Belgian newspaper Le Soir since september 2001. She is also a scriptwriter and is working on another film presently under production.

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