Lebanon: A Nation With a Long Memory, but a Truncated History

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History classes across the globe serve two purposes — they educate the young and they shape national identity. They also often sidestep controversy to avoid offense.

It is the same here as elsewhere, but the controversy being avoided is the vicious, 15-year civil war that started in 1975 in which Lebanon kidnapped, killed and bombed itself nearly into oblivion.

The bizarre results are evident in any schoolbook here — history seems simply to come to a halt in the early 1970s, Lebanon’s heyday. With sectarian tensions once again boiling here, some educators fear that the failure to forge a common version of the events is dooming the young to repeat the past, with most of them learning contemporary history from their families, on the streets or from political leaders who may have their own agendas.

“America used the school to create a melting pot; we used it to reinforce sectarian identity at the expense of the national identity,” said Nemer Frayha, the former director of the Education Center for Research and Development, a research organization that develops Lebanon’s curriculum. “From the start, I am forming the student as a sectarian person, not as a citizen. And what’s worse is that the people who are encouraging this are the intellectuals themselves.”

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