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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

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Civil and Uncivil Violence in Lebanon and

All Honourable Men: The Social Origins of War in Lebanon
Samir Khalaf (Civil and Uncivil Violence) and Michael Johnson (All Honourable Men)

Columbia University Press (Civil and Uncivil Violence) and Centre for Lebanese Studies (All Honourable Men)
(Civil) 224 pp., HB 32.50 ISBN 0-231-12476-7 and (Honourable) 224 pp. 39.95, ISBN 1-86064-715-4



During the 1980s the name ?Lebanon? had become a by-word for protracted, deep-rooted, and seemingly insoluble communal violence. Over ten years after the Ta?if peace accord which agreed new mechanisms to share out political office between the country?s confessional groups, two authors survey the country?s progress since then as well as offering extensive historical backgrounds to the conflict. On their own, both books stand up to the highest standards of readable academic writing and analytic rigour. Together, they make perfect companions.

Samir Khalaf?s book ? part sociological history, part personal reflection- is breathtakingly good. A distinguished Lebanese academic, the authors sees the explanations for Lebanon?s history of communal conflict in the presence of disparate socio-religious confessions and the uneven socio-economic development between them. This latent potential for conflict brought about by the interplay of these factors is inflamed, not dampened by foreign involvement. This is not a detached account and all the better for that. The author?s obvious passion for his land, which infuses throughout the book enhance it still further. His critique of the Ta?if accord is devastating. Rather than ameliorate divisions it has entrenched them. And instead of restoring national sovereignty he shows the accord has parted further with it. The book is not only essential for those interested in Middle East politics but will also be extremely worthwhile for those interested in the roots and effects of ethnic violence elsewhere. With a resonance much wider than Lebanon, Khalaf?s book and cannot come too highly recommended.

Michael Johnson draws from an impressive breadth of reading and wide range of comparative examples to augment his argument that ?an understanding of Lebanese patriarchy and a culture of honour and shame is crucial if we are to make sense of the emotional aspects of confessional conflict?. (p.5). His argument is a lucid and convincing one and he manages to pull it off without coming across as remotely essentialist or orientalist, no mean feat for a Western academic writing about such a topic as honour in the Middle East. Focussing on leadership traditions, Johnson demonstrates how much of the behaviour of the communal groups during the country?s civil wars can be analysed and understood through the lens of honour. For example, he explains revenge killings- a pernicious feature of the civil war- as retributive attempts to salvage community honour. Johnson is also critical of Ta?if. Instead of encouraging the development of an inclusive identity for the country, he shows that it has encouraged the entrenchment of the very same strong communal identities that were so easily mobilised into violence. It has also cemented the ascendancy of political leaders who mobilise around religious and ethnic identity. Johnson shows how many of those warlords integral to the sustenance of the civil war have done well out of its peace as they have been incorporated into high level positions in Lebanon?s executive and legislature. Like Khalaf, Johnson is not a neutral observer and his disdain at this development, and the consequent corruption of the political system it has wrought, is made quite clear.


Gordon Peake, INCORE Research Officer



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