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Safely to Earth. Human Space Flight. Final Mission. The research is a superb introduction to Lebanese cultural production and the struggle to define and confront the contradictory elements of Lebanese national identity. Her insightful work is also an urgent call to Lebanese and non-Lebanese people to study and engage with literary and cultural production in order to expand the ways in which we conceptualize Lebanon. It redresses the lack of scholarship on the symbiotic relationship between nation and culture, especially in Arab studies, by presenting both descriptive and prescriptive models of how a nation can be "read" through literary productions.

Elise Salem provides valuable close readings of many Lebanese literary texts written in Arabic, including lesser-known fiction, popular culture narratives, and plays written and produced during the Lebanese civil war and postwar period. Using this framework, Salem examines the construction of nationalist mythology in Lebanon and illustrates how nationalist and regional politics influence cultural productions. Rereading Gibran Khalil Gibran, for example, with the idea of nation in mind reveals that his works are replete with formative ideas on Lebanese identity.

The cactus-lined alleys were soon converted to macadamized streets. Urban construction leaped beyond the medieval walls of the city to accommodate the persistent inflow of rural migrants into Beirut. The construction of the wharf in Beirut's port in to accommodate the increasing maritime traffic, like all the other infrastructural developments and public amenities undertaken throughout the second half of the 19 th century e.

As a residence for consul-generals, headquarters for French, American and British missions, and growing center of trade and services it gradually began to attract a cosmopolitan and heterogeneous population. It is then that some of the early symptoms of cosmopolitanism, marked by elements of sophistication and savoir faire in public life, started to surface. This was particularly visible in the opening up and receptivity of seemingly local and provincial groups and neighborhoods to novel and mixed life styles and mannerisms. But Beirut's swift urbanization the consequences of both internal migration and natural growth rates in the population carried with it other more disheartening consequences.

Since nearly two-thirds of the rural exodus was directed toward Beirut, the capital trebled its residential population between and and grew by nearly tenfold between and This rapid growth of Beirut was not only due to internal demographic factors but, to a large extent, it was also a reflection of external pressures which generated added demand for urban space. First, the Armenian Massacres of brought over fifty thousand Armenian refugees from Turkey. The waves of Palestinian refugees after and the political instability in neighboring Arab countries intensified this demand, as did the subsequent inflow of capital from the Gulf states and foreign remittances, which poured into the already lucrative real estate and construction sectors of the economy.

The building boom of the s and s, with its manifestations of mixed and intensive land-use patterns and vertical expansion, was largely a by-product of such forces. The resulting uncontrolled and haphazard patterns of growth were maintained during the early s. Shortly before the outbreak of civil disturbances in , greater Beirut was probably absorbing seventy five percent of Lebanon's urban population and close to forty five percent of all the inhabitants of the country.

By the early s Beirut's annual rate of growth was estimated at four percent, which implied that the city was bound to double in less than twenty years. The magnitude of this change may be expressed in more concrete terms: if the current rates of growth were maintained, Beirut would have had to accommodate and provide housing, schooling, medical services, transportation, and other services for at least 40, new residents every year.

It is in this sense that Beirut was at the time associated with the phenomenon of primacy and overurbanization. Insofar as the degree of urbanization was much more than would be expected from the level of industrialization, then Lebanon was among the few countries — along with Egypt, Greece, and Korea — that may be considered overurbanized Sovani , We will subsequently explore some of the spatial and sociocultural implications of such overurbanization.

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Suffice it to note that this is one of the most critical problems Lebanon continues to face, a problem with serious social, psychological, economic, and political implications. Urban congestion, blight, depletion of open spaces, disparities in income distribution, rising levels of unemployment and underemployment, housing shortages, exorbitant rents, problems generated by slums and shantytowns, and, to a considerable extent, the urban violence of the war years were all by-products of overurbanization.

In short, the scale and scope of urbanization had outstripped the city's resources to cope effectively with continuously mounting demand for urban space and public amenities. Hence, Beirut has always been gripped by a nagging dissonance between conceived and lived space. The city, as we shall see, has never been short on blue prints and envisioned, often idealistic conceptions, of how planners and builders perceive the defining elements and shape of the spatial environment.

For a variety of reasons, such perceptions were not consistent with the concrete spatial realities. In other words, lived space almost always assumed a life of its own unrelated to its original or intended expectations. From its eventful past, much like its most recent history, a few distinct but related features stand out. Together these defining elements continue to be vital in informing the way Beirut, and its central square in particular, could continue to serve as a vibrant and transcending public sphere amenable for collective mobilization and for forging a hybrid popular culture for tolerance and peaceful co-existence.

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First, and without doubt, one of its most striking attributes is the dual role Beirut managed to epitomize throughout its eventful history as a port city and a national capital linked to its hinterland. Hence, any understanding of this distinctive feature requires an elucidation of the timeless interplay between the accidents of its pregiven geographic and ecological endowments, namely the sea and its mountainous hinterland.

Indeed, to many of its articulate historians, philosophers and writers, who often evoke these natural gifts with high and emotive hyperbole, much of their country's accomplishments are seen as an outgrowth of such seemingly dissonant attributes. Some, like Charles Malik, Michel Chiha, Said Akl, Kamal elHajj among others speak, with more than just a hint of geographic determinism, of the "horizontal" effects of the sea and the "perpendicular" effects of the mountain to account for the two most distinctive characteristics which informed its distinguished history: the open, adventurous, itinerant and worldly predispositions generated by its seafaring heritage, along with the role its mountains served as a secure asylum for displaced minorities and dissident groups.

To Albert Hourani, Lebanon's political culture, particularly its republican and liberal features, managed to reconcile two distinct visions or ideologies which had been tenuously held together since the creation of Greater Lebanon in Hourani traces the theoretical basis of this vision and its embodiment in the Mithaq or covenant of to, of course, the writings of Michel Chiha, in which we can see the marriage of the two ideologies; the mountain and the city.

To Chiha this largely accounts for what he termed Lebanon's "spiritual dominance":. Chiha's optimistic vision notwithstanding, the marriage was strenuous from its very inception. It was, after all, an arranged liaison, a contract; not a romantic bond.

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With all the bona fides of its architects and the noblesse oblige of the consenting parties, the Mithaq could not have possibly survived the multilayered pressures local, regional, and international it was burdened with. It was a partial covenant. It did not fully express the changing demographic and communal realities of the time.

With the creation of Greater Lebanon, Christians as a whole were no longer in a majority, though arguably the Maronites were still the largest single community. The annexation of the coast and the Biqa' also ushered in an unsettling variety of political cultures and disparate ideologies. Incidentally, it is these "New Phoenician" voices which captured the attention of the American Legation offices in Beirut at the time; particularly those of Chiha, Gabriel Menassa, Alfred Kettaneh, and their extended network of family circles and close associates of the commercial and political elite.

As staunch advocates of free trade, they were opposed to any form of central planning and protectionism, shunned industrialization, jealously guarded the sources of their new wealth and lived by the edict: "import or die. Legation had this to say:. Chiha himself, incidentally, was fully aware that his vision was far from an exemplar of stability and harmony. His liberal image of Beirut as a cosmopolitan city-state coexisting with the more archaic tribal and primordial loyalties of those of the mountain and hinterland was, to say the least, a cumbersome and problematic vision.

This was compounded, particularly after , by impassioned claims of the rival ideological currents taking root in the coastal cities. The "Lebanism" of the Christians was pitted against the "Arabism" of the Sunni Muslims with reverberations among the Shiites and Druze of the hinterland. No wonder that during the s the neighborhoods of Beirut were periodically "the scene of violent clashes between Christian and Muslim gangs, one side brandishing the banner of Lebanism, the other of Arabism" Salibi , The shortcomings of the Mithaq, it should be noted, are not inherent in its basic philosophy or modus vivendi to arrive at a consensual compromise between communities seeking to contain potentially explosive issues of sovereignty, collective or national representation, and peaceful coexistence.

The Mithaq was also addressing perhaps the more delicate problems associated with the "fears" of the Christians and the "demands" and "grievances" of the Muslims. Like most pacts it involved mutual renunciation. The Christians undertook to renounce their traditional alliances with the West and France in particular, while the Muslims promised to abandon their pan-Arabist aspirations.

In effect both communities were to turn away from the larger world to help galvanize their loyalties to Lebanon. The Ta'if Accord of has not fared any better in allaying some of the disheartening manifestations of such persistent fragmentation and conflictful images regarding Beirut's collective memory and national identity as the nation's capital. The Accord is often heralded as an innovative and remarkable pact marking the threshold of a new republic.

It is credited for putting an end to nearly two decades of protracted violence for laying the foundation for reconciling differences over the three implacable sources of long standing discord and hostility, namely: political reforms, national identity, and state sovereignty. The tensions between the two seemingly dissonant "ideologies", those of the city and the mountain, have been compounded by yet another unsettling feature: the "ruralization" of Beirut as seen in the tenacity and survival of large residues of non-urban ties and loyalties.

In other words, the intensity and increasing scale of urbanization as physical phenomenon was not accompanied by a proportional degree of urbanism as a way of life. What this suggests, among other things, is that a sizable portion of Beirutis were, in an existential sense, in but not of the city.

To both recent migrants and relatively more permanent urban settlers, city life was predominantly conceived as a transient encounter, to be sustained by periodic visits to rural areas, or by developing rural networks within urban areas. In practice, urbanization in Lebanon has not meant the erosion of kinship ties, communal loyalties, and confessional affinities and the emergence of impersonality, anonymity and transitory social relations. As in other dimensions of social life, the network of urban social relations, visiting patterns, and the character of voluntary associations still sustain a large residue of traditional attachments despite increasing secularization and urbanization.

In many respects Beirut remains today more a "mosaic" of distinct urban communities than "melting pots" of amorphous urban masses. Often neighborhoods emerge that consist of families drawn from both the same village and the same religious group, resulting in patterns of segregation in which religious and village ties are reinforced. The survival of such features has been a source of communal solidarity, providing much of the needed social and psychic supports, but they also account for such of the deficiency in civility and the erosion of public and national consciousness.

More important, as will be shown later, they may obstruct rational urban planning and zoning. The protracted civil disturbances of did not only reinforce the communal character of neighborhoods but generated other problems of a far more critical magnitude. Vast areas, in addition to the central business district, were totally or partially destroyed. More particularly, what role can urban planning and landscape design play in providing spatial settings conducive for allaying some of the segmental and divisive loyalties which continue to undermine prospects for forging transcending and cosmopolitan urban environments.

Another compelling reality, with substantial implications for the envisioned role the Bourj can play in providing venues and outlets for forging the desired collective and spatial identities, has much to do with the process of postwar reconstruction. Such ventures, even under normal circumstances, are usually cumbersome.

In Lebanon, they are bound to be more problematic because of the distinctive character of some of the residues of collective terror and strife the country was besieged with for almost two decades and which set it apart from other instances of postwar reconstruction. The horrors spawned by the war are particularly galling because they were not anchored in any recognizable or coherent set of causes. Nor did the violence, ugly as it was, resolved the issues which might have sparked the initial hostilities.

It is in this poignant sense that the war which devastated Beirut was wasteful, futile and unfinished. As such the task of representing or incorporating such inglorious events into Beirut's and the country's collective identity becomes, understandably, much more problematic. But it needs to be done.


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  4. Otherwise, the memory of the war, like the harrowing events themselves, might well be trivialized and forgotten and, hence more likely to be repeated. Some of the disheartening consequences of unfinished wars are legion. Two are particularly poignant and of relevance to the concerns of this essay: First the salient symptoms of "retribalization" apparent in reawakened communal identities and the urge to seek shelter in cloistered spatial communities.

    Second, a pervasive mood of lethargy, indifference, weariness which borders, at times, on "collective amnesia.

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    Both, however, could be disabling as the Lebanese are now considering less belligerent strategies for peaceful coexistence. Both manifestations — the longing to obliterate, mystify and distance oneself from the fearsome recollections of an ugly and unfinished war or efforts to preserve or commemorate them — coexist today in Lebanon.

    Retribalization and the reassertion of communal and territorial identities, perhaps a few of the most prevalent elements in postwar Lebanon, incorporate in fact both these features. The convergence of spatial and communal identities serves, in other words, both the need to search for roots and the desire to rediscover or invent a state of bliss that has been lost; it also serves as a means of escape from the trials, tribulations and fearful recollections of the war.

    Expressed more concretely, this reflex or impulse for seeking refuge in cloistered spatial communities is sustained by two seemingly opposed forms of self-preservation: to remember and to forget. The former is increasingly sought in efforts to anchor oneself in one's community or in reviving and reinventing its communal solidarities and threatened heritage.

    The latter is more likely to assume escapist and nostalgic predispositions to return to a past imbued with questionable authenticity. The two however, as will be seen, are related. It is only when certain artifacts and objects are remembered and, by exclusion, begin to cause others to be forgotten. If there are then visible symptoms of a culture of disappearance, evident in the growing encroachment of global capital and state authority into the private realm and heedless reconstruction schemes which, are destroying or defacing the country's distinctive architectural, landscape and urban heritage, there is a burgeoning culture of resistance which is contesting and repelling such encroachment and dreaded annihilation or the fear of being engulfed by the overwhelming forces of globalization.

    One unintended but compelling consequence of all this is that through this restorative venture, and perhaps for the first time in recent history, a growing segment of the Lebanese are becoming publically aware of their spatial surroundings. It has enhanced, in appreciable ways, their spatial sensibilities and public concern for safeguarding the well-being of their living habitat. By doing so, consciously or otherwise, they are transforming their tenuous, distant and instrumental attachments to "space" to the more personal and committed identities engendered by deep and more meaningful and supportive loyalties to one's "place".

    It is these loyalties afterall which are receptive to the needs of urbanity and civility. Lebanon is not only grappling with all the short-term imperatives of reconstruction and long-term needs for sustainable development and security, but it has to do so in a turbulent region with a multitude of unresolved conflicts and contested strategies for steering postwar rehabilitation and the broader issues of national development. Impotent as the country might seem at the moment to neutralize or ward off such external pressures, there are measures and programs already proved effective elsewhere, which can be experimented with to fortify Lebanon's immunity against the disruptive consequences of such destabilizing forces.

    Such efforts can do much in reducing the country's chronic vulnerability to these pressures. A central premise of this essay is the belief that urban planning and design, architecture, landscaping, among other overlooked forms of public intervention, can offer effective strategies for healing symptoms of fear and paranoia and transcending parochialism.

    This is not, afterall, the first time that the country — Beirut in particular — faces such predicaments. As will be seen, during earlier confrontations with both Ottoman and French attempts at the production of social space, local builders, architects and other indigenous groups displayed considerable awareness, knowledge and skills relevant to processes of construction and reconstruction underway at the time.

    Since Beirut as capital and imposing port city was subjected to successive planning schemes, the construction of monumental edifices, thoroughfares and public squares, it is instructive to re-examine how such attempts were perceived and implemented. Were local groups, in other words, merely passive recipients in such instances of struggle for power and control over lived space? Or were they active participants who often succeeded in resisting and changing the imperial and colonial impositions? The experience of Beirut, particularly its central square and contiguous urban spaces, become instructive in conceptual and comparative terms.

    Beirut's experience, as will be argued, was not and is not merely a process of transfer, transplantation or imposition of external visions and schemes on a willing, compliant and non-participative public. More vital perhaps, by disclosing the interplay between this inevitable plurality of forces — local, regional and transnational — which are involved in the construction of the collective identity of a particular settlement, one is also probing into the elements which make up the "imagined community" of the Bourj, Beirut and Lebanon as a nation-state. Regardless of what perspective or paradigm one adopts for contextualizing the nature of spatial identities — i.

    Indeed, in some instance, so-called "postmodern" attributes — i. No matter for example how we define globalization, it involves as Roland Robertson reminds us, "an increasing consciousness of the world as a whole. While Anthony King is in agreement that identities are established and validated contextually, he is not though of the view that they are usually the outcome of the broad and distant forces of "globalization. Such consciousness and proclivity to engage with cosmopolitan encounters were also present in Beirut before the advent of globalism and postmodernity. The identity of some urban Beirutis — if one were to infer this form the architectural styles of their residences, their mannerisms, fashions and other cultural manifestations of everyday life — was also a hybrid of seemingly dissonant and inconsistent features.

    Expressed more concretely, the Lebanese are certainly becoming more interconnected at all three levels; globally, regionally of locally. They cross over with greater ease. At least they seem less guarded when they do so. They visit areas they never dared to visit before. These and other such symptoms of interconnectedness should not, however, be taken to mean that they are becoming more alike or that they are becoming more homogenized by the irresistible forces of globalization and postmodernity. On the contrary, and in many instances, geography, attachments to place are becoming more important, not less.

    Geography, location, territorial and spatial identities have become sharper and more meaningful at the psychic and socio-cultural levels. Such manifestations should not be dismissed as nostalgic or transient interludes destined to "pass" into "secular", tenuous and more impersonal or virtual encounters.

    Indeed, one of the central premises of the essay is that we can better understand the emergent socio-cultural identities — even the political and economic transformations — by seeing their manifestations in this ongoing dialectics between place and space. How, in other words, are spaces being transformed into places and how, in turn, places degenerate into mere spaces to be occupied and exploited for commercial and mercenary pursuits.

    Yes, of course, notions like space and place are ordinary, mundane, common-sense everyday terms. Yet they are suffused with meaning and symbolism. Hence they are vital to individual and group identity. It behooves us to explore how they are being played out in Beirut's postwar setting. Manifestations of such fluidity and hybridity have become more pronounced today. A cursory stroll of the rehabilitated districts of central Beirut, and those under reconstruction, quickly reveal symptoms of such dissonance.

    First, and doubtlessly, the most striking is the pronounced dominance of religious edifices, mosques, cathedrals, churches and shrines. In the process of rehabilitation some have appropriated added property and, through the stylistic use of modes of architectural illumination, electronic digital amplification, they have been rendered physically and audibly more overwhelming.

    While mosques are restrained from extending the utility of their premises to non-sacred activities, churches and capuchins have been making efforts to host musical recitals, poetry readings and other secular performances and events. Incidentally, Greek Orthodox churches are also restrained from using their premises for other than Gregorian Chants and religious choral recitals. The gargantuan Al-Amin Mosque, about to be completed, occupies a massive space of about m 2.

    It literally dwarfs everything around it. Because of its colossal proportions it has been a source of contested negotiations to scale down its height and number of its protruding minarets so that it will not overshadow the adjoining Maronite Saint George Cathedral 1. If the sacred features have become more conspicuous and redoubtable but then so are the profane, to invoke Durkheim's classic dichotomy.

    Any land use mapping of the district is bound to reveal the dominance of mass consumerism, retail shops, boutiques restaurants, coffee shops, side walk cafes, night clubs and bars. But here as well the global and postmodern i. Quite often global franchises i. Likewise, traditional outlets often fain the scintillating features of their global counterparts to validate their own public images and marketing ploys.

    Such realities must be borne in mind as we explore or anticipate the future national image or collective identity Beirut's central square is likely to assume at this juncture in its checkered history. We are, after all, dealing with the convergence or interplay of three problematic and tenuous realities or considerations: postwar Beirut, regional uncertainties and global incursions.

    Hence the emergent identities in Beirut are blurred and are in perpetual states of being reconstituted and redefined. The views of a growing circle of recent scholars — Ulf Hannerz , H. Bhabha , A. Appadurai , John Short , among others — are in support of such expressions of cultural diversity and hybridity.

    Beirut, is not only grappling with all the trials and tribulations of a postwar setting, local fragmentation and the unsettling manifestations of unresolved regional and global rivalries.


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    5. These are not new to Beirut. What is fairly recent, however, are some of the compelling consequences of postmodernity and globalism: a magnified importance of mass media, popular arts and entertainment in the framing of everyday life; an intensification of consumerism, the demise of political participation and collective consciousness for public issues and their replacement by local and parochial concerns for nostalgia and heritage.

      Within this context, issues of collective memory, contested space and efforts to forge new cultural identities, begin to assume critical dimensions. How much and what of the past needs to be retained or restored?

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      By whom and for whom? Common as these questions might seem, they have invited little agreement among scholars. Indeed, the views of perspectives of those who have recently addressed them vary markedly. To Ernest Gellner , collective forgetfulness, anonymity and shared amnesia are dreaded conditions resisted in all social orders. Perhaps conditions of anonymity, he argues, are inevitable in times of turmoil and upheaval.

      But once the unrest subsides, internal cleavages and segmental loyalties resurface. MacCannell goes further to assert that the ultimate triumph of modernity over other socio-cultural arrangements is epitomized not by the disappearance of pre-modern elements but by their reconstruction and artificial preservation in modern society. Similarly, Jedlowski also maintains that a sense of personal identity can only be achieved on the basis of personal memory.

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      Paul Connerton likewise argues that it is collective memory — i. To the extent that peoples' memories of a society's past diverge, then its members will be bereft of sharing common experiences, perspectives and visions. These memory claims figure significantly in our self-perceptions. Our past history, imagined or otherwise, is an important source in our conception of selfhood. In the final analysis, our self-knowledge our conception of our own character and potentialities is, to a large extent, shaped by the way in which we view our own past action Connertoon , These become the venues for creating and sustaining shared memories.

      We often forget that for man, as for no other creature, to lose his past to lose his memory is to lose himself, to lose his identity. History, in this case, is more than just a record of how man becomes what he is. It is the largest element in his self-conception. Persuasive as such pleas on behalf of collective memory are, particularly with regard to their impact on reconstituting the frayed symptoms of social solidarity and national allegiance, a slew of other scholars make equally persuasive claims on behalf of collective amnesia and social forgetfulness.

      What Barber is, of course, implying here is that if the memories of the war and its atrocities are kept alive, they will continue to reawaken fear and paranoia, particularly among those embittered by it. Without an opportunity to forget there can never be a chance for harmony and genuine co-existence. David Lowenthal, in his preface to an edited volume on The Art of Forgetting , goes further to underscore the close etymological connection of "amnesia" with "amnesty. Lowenthal advances, in this regard, another compelling inference: that much forgetting turns out to be more beneficient and enabling than bereavement; a "mercy" rather than a "malady"… "To forget is as essential as to keep things in mind, for no individual or collectivity can afford to remember everything.

      Total recall would leave us unable to discriminate or generalize" Ibid. To reinforce his plea in favor of forgetting as a merciful as well as a mandatory art, Lowenthal makes a distinction between individual and collective forgetting. While the former is largely involuntary, collective oblivion, on the other hand, is mainly:. Adrian Forty , in supporting the view that forgetting is an intentional, deliberate and desirable human response, invokes the classic tradition, particularly the perspectives of Durkhiem, Freud, Ernest Renan, Martin Heidegger and a sampling of a few contemporary cultural theorists and philosophers like Michel de Certeau, Walter Benjamin and Paul Connerton.

      By fulfilling this universal need to forget, which to Forty is essential for sustaining normal and healthy life, groups normally resort to or take shelter in two rather familiar and well-tried strategies. They either construct an artifact, by building monuments, war memorials and the like, i. The trauma, senseless destruction and sacrifices are in this case redeemed.

      Or, and more likely, society resorts to iconoclastic predispositions, by effacing and destroying much of the relics and material heritage of the past. Both these traditions, as we shall see, have been quite salient in Beirut. Indeed, they have provoked an ongoing, often heated, polemics over the architectural heritage of the city and how to memorialize the country's pathological history with protracted civil strife. Critics of Solidere's massive rehabilitation scheme of down-town Beirut continue to decry and berate how much of the city's distinctive archeological heritage was needlessly destroyed in the process of reconstruction.

      If the belligerent and recurrent cycles of random violence had devastated much of the city's center and adjoining urban neighborhoods, the reconstruction schemes, the critics often charge, compounded the ruthless destruction by acting more like a merciless bulldozer. When the more divisive issues associated with the war's collective memory; i. They always generate and reawaken sharp and heated debate and, thereby, give vent to layers of hidden hostility and unresolved fear.