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May 10, 1996 - Image 50

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1996-05-10

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Lebanese men during the
war had become the talk
of what was left of Beirut's
Mr. Khoury clearly rel-
ished his role as intellec-
tual agent provocateur.
Slender, with heavy black
glasses and thick black
wavy hair, he looked like
an intellectual. He would
have been at home in
Paris, where his play
would soon be performed,
or in New York, where he
had taught for two years
during the war. His office
at An-Nahar was as clut-
tered as my own. Mr.
Khoury had helped found
Mawakif (Positions), a
now-defunct journal cre-
ated after the 1967 Arab-
Israeli war that had
attempted to explore with
brutal candor the causes
of the Arabs' massive de-
feats. The effort had been
highly unusual in Arab in-
tellectual life.
I asked Mr. Khoury
why there was no equiv-
alent of Mawakif today,
when the Arabs needed such a
journal. "Because there is no
Beirut," he replied. "We are liv-
ing in a collapsed society. Where
else in the Arab world would
you have Arab intellectuals rich
enough, independent enough,
and free enough to dare to ask
the questions we raised then?"


Lebanese today were being
offered a choice "between
Hariri's money and Hezbollah's
God." He, for one, wanted nei-
ther. The militant Islamists of-
fered seemingly compelling
solutions, he said; but like all
simple solutions, they would
create more problems than they
solved. "I'm not sure the mili-
tant Shiites could ever win in
Lebanon," he said. "Most
Failed Models
Lebanese, including the Shia,
None of today's models of gov- simply want to be left alone and
ernment suited either the Arabs make money. We are very
or the Lebanese, Mr. Khoury pragmatic — at times."
said. Lebanon's traditional sys-
If there were peace in the re-
tem did not work because "it gion and Lebanon prospered, it
gave Muslims the impression would be harder still for Hezbol-
that Christians were governing lah to win, he added. 'They have
Muslims with European back- long fed on economic and polit-
ing." Besides, the system had ical discontent and disenfran-
failed even to protect Christians. chisement."
"It proved that even if we Chris-
I wondered. Most social rev-
tians govern, we will not neces- olutions — in France, Russia,
sarily be protected."
and even Iran — had occurred
The Arab nationalist model, not during times of economic
too, had failed: It had not liber- despair but of growing prosper-
ated Palestine, nor had it liber- ity.
ated, enriched or empowered
Lebanon's culture was chaot-
Arab citizens. Most Arab states ic but strong, Mr. Khoury in-
were "confessional," that is, com- sisted, which was "bound to
prised of several minorities and affect the fundamentalists."
one dominant sect; but under Hezbollah, in his view, would
Arab nationalism, ethnic diver- become "Lebanized" before
sity had been denied, deliber- Lebanon became "Islamized" be-
ately suppre§sed.
cause no minority had ever

Years of war
have left Lebanon
a country "atomized
by its competing religions
and sects...
filled with rage,
envy, petty resentments
and ancient grievances."

ruled tyrannically for long in

Rebuilding Souls

For Mr. Khoury, a secular
Christian, an Islamic future in
Lebanon would force him into
exile, something he disliked
even contemplating. For him,
Lebanon's past and its future
were inseparable.
That was why his country's
aversion to pondering the caus-
es and implications of the war
had so troubled him.
"People disliked my play be-
cause it forced them to remem-
ber," he said, returning to
psychologically more comfort-
able ground. "It forced them to
admit that we were all respon-
sible for the carnage in
Lebanon, that this was not a
war caused by foreign med-
dling... How can we rebuild
souls when there is no soul-
searching? Our amnesia is dan-
gerous because it is destroying
our ability to leave the war be-
hind. If you don't examine the
past, you can't really leave it be-
Suddenly, we heard what
sounded like an explosion. Mr.
Khoury and I exchanged worried
glances. Two minutes later, we

( 5 heard the ambulances
g and fire trucks as they
(.2 sped toward East Beirut.
If the Lebanese
thought about the past,
Mr. Khoury said, trying
to continue our discus-
sion, they would realize
that they must find a
new formula for ensur-
ing that Lebanon re-
mained democratic but
a society in which "our
confessional and ideo-
logical differences are
But there was no con-
sensus in Lebanon on a
system that would sat-
isfy all, or even most, of
its 17 sects.
The Lebanese now
knew only what they
were against: They were
opposed to the 300,000
Palestinians remaining
in their country, to Syr-
ian hegemony, and to
the rabble-rousing mili-
tias that had pillaged
and plunderedthe land.
"The world is now be-
ginning to ask itself very
Lebanon-like questions," Mr.
Khoury said. "Look at Bosnia,
Somalia, Sudan, Russia, and
even Belgium. Everyone is
struggling with the issue of how
minorities — peoples of differ-
ent colors, religions, or races —
can live together in freedom,
harmony and prosperity. The
whole world is becoming Leban-
That was bad for Lebanon, he
added lightheartedly. "It only
increases our megalomania."
It was dark by the time we
finished talking. The smell of
smoke and the wailing of sirens
had become more intense. Mr.
Khoury turned on the news and
learned that at least three peo-
ple were dead and 30 more
wounded at the site of the ex-
plosion: the headquarters of the
Christian Lebanese Forces:
Who could have done such a
Mr. Khoury looked out the
windows sadly and sighed.
"Anyone." ❑

Copyright 1996 by Judith Miller,
excerpted from God Has Ninety-
Nine Names, to be published by
Simon & Schuster. Reprinted
herein with the permission of the
Wylie Agency.

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