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Lebanon's legacy and what it can teach us

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Beirut – the shelling, the sectarian strife, the green line dividing east and west, and the brutal carnage – led news bulletins throughout the 80s.

Now faded from popular memory, the Lebanese Civil War is loudly echoed by what’s happening now in Syria, says the director of a new documentary.

“The conflict in Syria brings Lebanon back into the spotlight as Lebanon becomes a refuge for Syrians traumatised by another conflict,” said Dr Daniele Rugo, who teaches film at Brunel University London.

About a War follows three opposing fighters who first took up arms as teenagers and didn’t stop fighting until the bloody 15-year conflict ended.

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Ahed first picked up a gun when he was 14, to fight for one of the Palestinian factions then in 1982. He was born and still lives in one of Lebanon’s many Palestinian refugee camps that started when Palestinians fled the war that founded Israel as a Jewish state. Ahed fought to return to Palestine.

Former right-wing Christian intelligence officer Assad was the second-in-command of intelligence for the Lebanese forces. He had a hand in the 1982 siege of Beirut that killed hundreds.

Nassim, a former Communist commander, recounts the moment he looked someone in the eye and was forced to kill them while defending the camp where his family lived.

“We wanted to know how and why these men first picked up a weapon and how they kept on fighting for 15 years,” said Dr Rugo, who co-directed the documentary with Abi Weaver.

“This is what makes the film so relevant – recruitment, picking up weapons, hatred. These ‘cycles of violence’, as one survivor calls them, are still very much at work today around the world.

“Lebanon lets us understand conflict that is happening today, whether it is Yemen, Iraq or Syria.”

Today, Ahed runs a youth group in Shatila refugee camp, and Assad and Nassim work with Fighters for Peace, which aims to spur ex-fighters to disarm young fighters.

Backed by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Global Challenges Research Fund, Rugo, Weaver and Manchester University sociologist Dr Dana Abi Ghanem interviewed victims, ex-fighters and Red Cross volunteers who dug mass graves.

“Hearing their stories was the hardest part of making the film,” said Dr Rugo. “The experiences of people who survived the Sabra and Shatila massacres were particularly difficult to record.” 

Remarkably there’s no one official account of what happened in the war. Different communities tell different versions and even political analysts struggle to say who won.

The Lebanese government has a widespread refusal to face up to what happened, says Rugo. So, the country’s young people know next to nothing of what the war was about. About a War aims to shatter that amnesia. And for a region still marred by inequality and sectarian divide, it is a cautionary tale.

The first official screening is at Curzon cinema Soho on Wednesday November 28 followed by a discussion with the filmmakers hosted by Will Self.

The film is the output of 'Following the Wires', a project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Global Challenges Research Fund through the Partnership for Conflict, Crime and Security Research and hosted by Brunel University London. 

Reported by:

Hayley Jarvis, Media Relations
+44 (0)1895 268176
hayley.jarvis@brunel.ac.uk