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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2005, Vol. 5 No. 1 .


Civil and Uncivil Violence in Lebanon. A History of the Internationalisation of Communal Conflict
Samir Kahlaf

New York: Columbia University Press, 2002
224pp PB 12.00 ISBN 0-231-12477-5


In this book Kahlaf examines the complex and often violent history of Lebanon in order to demonstrate the strong association between both internal and external factors, which have been influential in Lebanese politics, and conflict. This connection is referred to by Kahlaf as ?inside-outside dialectics? and remains a constant argument throughout this book. Kahlaf states that the tension between inside and outside or internal and external can be viewed as destabilising forces when he states that ?two decades of bloody strife makes it abundantly clear that unless we consider alternative strategies for neutralizing external sources of instability and pacifying internal conflict, Lebanon?s precarious polity will always be made more vulnerable to such pressures? (p.15).

Running parallel to this argument is an interconnected argument which views the conflicts overtime within Lebanon as an interplay between the ?internal dislocations and external pressures? (p.107). Kahlaf continually demonstrates that due to this juxtaposition between internal forces and external pressures civil unrest often escalates into uncivil violence that bear no relationship or direct connection to the original parties or grievances.

In order to demonstrate this thesis, Kahlaf refers to three specific periods in Lebanon?s past that of 1820-1860, 1958 and finally from 1975 onwards. Also, the five pacts from 1843 to 1989 are examined in the context of internal and external factors, highlighting the fact that on each occasion there was a foreign broker. Although Kahlaf does not re-examine any of the violent periods in Lebanon?s past to any great length, he does refer the reader to more than one source, in each period. For Kahlaf, the exhausting of already existing material is not a priority, what is of importance is understanding the effects upon society of extended violence, the consequences of such violence upon civilians, the geographical changes due to the number of displaced persons and the strengthening of communal and confessional ties within a new context and place.

The importance of this book lies in the comparative analysis of conflict over time by emphasising the interplay between the internal and external components, the dangers of not addressing the initial grievances of a given group and the devastating consequences of escalating violence on the greater society as a whole. This in-depth analysis broadens the appeal of the book beyond that of those whose interest is in Lebanon and the Middle East, to those who wish to gain a greater understanding of the effects of protracted violence upon civil society, and the potential opportunities within civil society for reconciliation and eventual stability.


Bernie Parry MA, Phd Student at Magee Campus, University of Ulster.



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