Book Reviews: The Social Life of Memory. Violence, Trauma and Testimony in Lebanon and Morocco.

Norman Saadi Nikro and Sonja Hegasy, eds. The Social Life of Memory. Violence, Trauma, and Testimony in Lebanon and Morocco. Palgrave, 2017.

The volume is a part of a book series exploring the relationship between cultural heritage and conflict. It derives from the research project Transforming Memories: Cultural Production and Personal/Public Memory in Lebanon and Morocco (2012-2014). The volume brings together scholars from various theoretical backgrounds, including social anthropology, geography, comparative literature, Middle Eastern studies and cultural studies, to contribute to the field of social-memory studies. The key theme of the volume is the different meanings of memory in its relations with time and place. In eight chapters, the reader finds examples from literature, journalism, films and urban landscapes that constitute the social life of memory in various aesthetic forms, political mobilization and intergenerational relationships.

In the introductory chapter, the editors provide a rationale for studying Morocco and Lebanon together. Despite their distinct political and social contexts, Morocco and Lebanon have similar experiences of violence that were often characterized by enforced disappearance and direct clashes. The editors argue that, despite the different trajectories of the respective postcolonial histories of Lebanon and Morocco, the people in both countries have experienced repeated violence, patterns that persist despite many positive initiatives in education, cultural production, the economy and public welfare. In both Lebanon and Morocco, the political situations are characterized by protest movements of new generations, who discover new forms of preserving and transforming memory in both private and public realms. These practices show that dealing with the past is not a prerogative of the states and cannot be limited to formal practices of commemoration.

Chapter two suggests a novel understanding of waiting as a prolongation of violence after the period of political repressions during the reign of Morocco’s Hassan II between 1961 and 1999, known as the Years of Lead. On the other hand, waiting is also conceptualized as a political position taken by the family members of the disappeared. By giving a detailed account of one disappeared political activist’s and his family’s experience of waiting, Laura Menin brings to the fore the potential of waiting as a form of protest and political mobilization. She shows the multiple meanings of waiting in order to capture the effects of the politics of disappearance.

Temporality is a key theme in the intergenerational transformation of memory. Chapters seven through nine approach what Marianne Hirsch calls “postmemory” from different perspectives, partly through the storytelling and testimony of older generations who bear witness and new generations that have different (if any) knowledge about what happened. The authors show how sectarian narratives reveal different layers of memories (within family, political parties and sectarian communities, cultural memories and students’ own reinterpretations) and influence the intergenerational transformation of memory.

In Chapter nine, dealing with local activism in the Rif region of Morocco, postmemory takes another form. The narratives of those who experienced and participated in uprisings (including the uprisings in 1984 and 1987, known as the Bread riots) constitute a foundational ground for the contemporary activism both in Morocco and among the Moroccan Berber diaspora.

The comparative mode of the volume emerges in the two empirical contexts of Morocco and Lebanon and within the conceptual level. The foundational conceptual discrepancy originates from Pierre Nora’s thesis that memory has become concentrated as lieu, that is a formal practice of commemoration. Contrary to Nora’s thesis, the contributors to the volume suggest that their research shows, firstly, how different social and cultural practices put forward a broader understanding of memory as social environment or milieu. Secondly, they suggest that memory takes place as tensions between lieu and milieu, i.e. tension between official practice of commemoration and other practices of preserving memory that are initiated in societies.

Several chapters of the volume contribute to the field of memory studies by bringing a critical perspective on the ways that memory is understood and how the past may be reinterpreted through the future. A number of “how” questions are stated in order to specify the focus of the volume: e.g., “how emerging, local practices of social exchange and cultural production involve re-socializations of memories of trauma and violence” (p.8).

The diverse theoretical backgrounds of the contributors lead to various methodologies being applied and some authors are more transparent with the way they approach the material than others. Pamela Chrabieh in Chapter seven is particularly clear, while the others are less well articulated—Chapter three is an example. Some chapters are more theoretically substantive than others, which augments their contribution. Chapter eight, written by Norman Saadi Nikro, offers an excellent example bridging the conceptual and empirical domains, as he analyzes interviews of an older generation conducted by high-school students within the oral history project Badna Naaref (we want to know) through the relational prism of bearing witness.

Even though each chapter provides insight into the studied contexts, it may be challenging to draw conclusions about the conceptual relevancy of individual experiences, works of art and other examples for a broader context of managing postcolonial history. Moreover, the volume offers controversial and diverging evaluations of one and the same entity, including, for example, the Moroccan Equity and Reconciliation Commission (ERC). While Laura Menin focuses on the shortcomings of the ERC’s failure to name the perpetrators and the absence of criminal prosecution, Sonja Hegasy and Brahim El Guabli describe the positive effects of the ERC on the Moroccan civil society, media landscape and its potential for bringing mnemonic justice. Those different approaches to the same process exemplify the core thesis of the volume. The chapters of the book do not provide guidelines for historical judgements, instead they show the multiple ways of interpreting and engaging with the past, where it is not truth that shapes the history, but the future and its needs.

The overall impression of the book is positive. Contributing to social-memory studies, the volume is also a contribution to the transitional justice literature. Even though the concept of memory takes central place, the chapters reflect on problems of justice, forgiving and living together. The book attempts to bridge gaps between the theoretical concepts and practice, where individual experiences from real people give a face and voice to the abstract notions of memory and history, time and place. After reading the volume, reader gets a palette of different meanings of memory as a social practice, as an event. Having shown different examples of the social life of memory in postcolonial Morocco and Lebanon, the authors succeed in elucidating the idea of memory as milieu and show the tensions between the formal official account of memory and radical social and political practices.

That said, in order to grasp the multifaceted contexts, methodological and conceptual nexuses, the reader would benefit from being familiar with the Moroccan and Lebanese contexts before reading the volume. Moreover, I wish there were more interaction between the chapters, specifically within the introductory chapter. Different methodological and theoretical explanations leave an impression of incoherency. Although the separate chapters have value in themselves, they are not happily assembled in one book. Alternatively, there could have been a concluding chapter that would tie together all the various ideas and projects the volume contains.

Uppsala University– Source:

Book Review 2: (March 2019):Imai, H. (2019). In: International Sociology34 (2), 178–180.

Caravan project of the Order of Malta at Saint Joseph University in Beirut. Intensive course on Interreligious Dialogue in the Middle East.

Glad to be part of this amazing project – – Certificate of Study in the Historical and Religious Reality of the Middle East – “Caravan” Project of the Order of Malta with German students, at the Faculty of Religious Sciences, Saint Joseph University, Beirut-Lebanon, February 2020.

Expertise : Intensive course on Challenges, Opportunities, and Praxis of Interreligious Dialogue
in the Middle East: The Case of Lebanon.

With guest speaker Ms Nada Raphaël
Dabke session – Common cultural heritage in the Levant
Maamoul – Food as a tool of dialogue

Peace Education: A Priority for our Youth and Society

My latest article published by Executive Women

December 9, 2019

Peace Education
Dr. Pamela Chrabieh-Director of SPNC Learning & Communication Expertise, University Professor, & Visual Artist

Much has been said about social responsibility in the last two to three decades, and many non-governmental organizations have created programs and organized youth camps in the Arab world to encourage individuals and groups to act for the benefit of society at large. However, ongoing political disorder, wars, and economic crises in several countries have contributed to the implementation of national security-based strategies, whereas any society’s survival depends on a social responsibility strategy, and this strategy should include peace education. 

Peace education encompasses a variety of pedagogical approaches within formal curricula in schools and universities, and non-formal popular education projects. It aims to cultivate the knowledge and practices of a culture of peace, and plays an important role in individual and collective mindset changes.

Unfortunately, most academic curricula in the Arab world do not offer peace education courses, and little attention has been paid so far to the inclusion of peace programs in universities — they are considered to be low priorities.

In addition, many avoid giving too much attention and too many resources to Peace Studies programs out of fear that they may become politicized. The emphasis is usually placed on subjects considered to be tangible and have practical value for competition in the local, regional, and global marketplaces.

Peace education’s advantages are numerous:

  • It develops cultural awareness and effective communication strategies in intercultural/interreligious settings,
  • It leads to increased and differentiated understandings of cultures and a desire to expand one’s own knowledge of cultural customs, concepts, and values,
  • It helps deconstruct stereotypes and fight against xenophobia, discrimination, and ethnocentrism,
  • It helps the youth to reflect on the subjectivity of their own thoughts and language as they learn to step outside boundaries and develop more critical thinking,
  • It helps students to understand and experience unity in human diversity.

I have developed my own peace education approach and applied it in universities in Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates with thousands of students from 2007 to 2018. The results of my research were published in several books and academic journals, proving the positive impact of peace education.

The basis of this educational approach is dialogue, which is not used as a mere technique to achieve some cognitive results, but to transform social relations. Through interactive practices and an emphasis on cooperation, students are provided with space in which they can undergo constructive analysis, build bridges, and develop a sense of national inclusive belonging. 

Nonetheless, peace education faces many challenges and obstacles in our region, starting with the context itself that makes it hard to disseminate — such as the context of continuous physical and psychological wars in Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Iraq,… 

Furthermore, it still is a socially isolated affair. For peace education to have a large-scale impact, there are many conditions that need to be fulfilled, such as support from private institutions and public authorities, sustained interaction between students and their professors, interdependence in completing common tasks, etc. 

In the context of both formal and non-formal education, funding for projects and their sustainability are two major challenges. Only elite schools and universities can offer sufficiently long training and the much needed follow-up support as inequalities and discrimination are a major challenge. In fact, they do not disappear when the classroom doors close or when they open again; students may continue pursuing opposing agendas, especially when they have unsupportive home environments.

Even when they are equipped with a new way of perceiving themselves and the “others”, the students enter into a collision course with their social surroundings and their “unquestionable truths” through their homes, neighborhoods, sectarian communities, political parties, and the media. In my opinion, peace education should be considered a public good and, as such, should be offered as a free service to all. 

Youth represent the largest group in the region, and they are exposed to an increasing number of vulnerabilities, threats, and challenges. The lack of economic, educational, and leadership opportunities limits the youth’s full potential for contribution to their families and communities, and for sustainable development and peace.

Facing these challenges requires investment in youth education, active participation, visibility and empowerment. Such investment must target youth from all cultural and religious backgrounds, including young people from disparate communities, as well as young people with disabilities and vulnerable or marginalized youth.

Clearly, this investment will not be a waste, for a culture of peace is needed to build prosperous countries and inclusive societies, and this culture is not an unattainable ideal. It is a culture we can make, embody, and share.

By, Dr. Pamela Chrabieh, Director of SPNC Learning & Communication Expertise, University Professor, & Visual Artist.

عن الحوار الإسلامي المسيحي، ذاكرة الحرب وبناء السلام في لبنان

Interested in the subject on Interfaith Dialogue, War Memory and Peacebuilding? This is the full version of my article, and you can have access to the PDF file on Telos’ site:

Artist Pamela Chrabieh’s “Peace Collection” in Indelible Dubai

I was born and raised in the 1970s-1980s war in Lebanon. My experience as a war survivor has marked my writing and art, as has fueld my quest for peace. As I see it, peace is not only about ceasefires, the end of bloodshed, the absence of hostilities, and a state of mutual concord between governments, as war is both “physical” and “psychological”. Peace is about accountability for violence, openness, generosity, clemency, and catharsis. Peace is and should be a transformation process within mindsets, a celebration of interconnected life and unity in the diversity of complex identities. As long as the legacy of violence is not addressed within ourselves and our societies, we will remain lost, cut off from connection, living in a never-ending apocalypse of carnages and tortured souls and bodies.

Dr. Pamela Chrabieh is a scholar, writer, visual artist, and activist. Author of several books and papers with a 20+ year experience in higher education, communication, content creation, and the arts, she has exhibited her artworks in Canada, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and Italy. Previously Associate Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the American University in Dubai, she currently owns and manages a Beirut-based company offering expertise in Learning and Communication. and

Source: Indelible

The Social Life of Memory: Violence, Trauma, and Testimony in Lebanon and Morocco

Saturday, 2nd March 2019 Magazine of the European Observatory on MemoriesISSN 2565-2931 | DL B 27726-2017

Nikro, Norman Saadi; Hegasy, Sonja (Eds.). Palgrave, 2017

By Tsjalling Wierdsma, Master Student on Heritage and Memory Studies, University of Amsterdam. Fellow at EUROM (2018).

The Social Life of Memory: Violence, Trauma, and Testimony in Lebanon and Morocco, edited by Norman Saadi Nikro and Sonja Hegasy, is part of the larger Palgrave Studies in Cultural Heritage and Conflict Series, which focuses on themes such as heritage and memory of war and conflict, contested heritage, and competing memories. Contributors to the book include Joey Ayoub, Pamela Chrabieh, Brahim El Guabli, Ali Hamdan, Norah Karrouche, and Laura Menin. While the book focuses on the specific contexts of Lebanon and Morocco, in this short review I would like to reflect on some broader memory and heritage issues addressed in the book, while still keeping the particular contexts to which they refer and in which they were addressed in mind.

One of the main thematic parameters of the book concerns the interaction between, and “transformation of private memories into publicly shared memories, according to efforts claiming public acknowledgment and public redress” (2-3). Memory, in the process of this exchange, according to the authors of the book, “is acted on as a transformational site, a milieu, whereby social and political engagement takes place, situating memory as a public event” (3).

The book points to an interaction and tension between Nora’s famous concept of memory as lieu, as a memorial or other form of formal commemoration, and memory as the milieu. By addressing memory as milieu the book enables a focus on overlooked processes of memory that otherwise might not be classified as such. An example of this is given in Laura Menin’s chapter, in which she focuses on the process of waiting experienced by the families of victims of political violence that disappeared during the Years of Lead. Instead of viewing waiting as a purely passive process, she instead views it as a “multifaceted temporality that entails both passivity and proactive engagement” (27). Menin describes how waiting in this context is perceived as an additional state-imposed source of pain, trauma, and loss of agency, but simultaneously brings with it novel political subjectivities and specific modes of activism where personal memories of violence are re-socialized, made public, and act towards specific political and transformative goals (27).

Hariri Memorial | Picture: upyernoz, uploaded by Albert Herring [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Chapters such as Ali Nehme Hamdan’s, which focuses on the Hariri mosque in Martyrs Square Beirut as a site of memory, highlight the usefulness of the concept milieu for engaging with the everyday “messy stuff of contention” (146). It further allows for a focus on the simultaneously conflicting and collective cultures of memory, without “assuming the centrality of the nation-state to their production” (146), which is necessary in a context such as Lebanon, but also more generally enables a focus that highlights the multiple actors and the ways in which they engage, negotiate, and create sites and spaces of memory. It allows for an engagement with the “many cultures of memory that coexist at any one time” (147), and not just at the level of the nation-state.

Pamela Chrabieh’s chapter, focusing on the war stories of university students in Lebanon belonging to the 1990’s generation, adds a generational component to these cultures of memory, and problematizes Hirsch’s notion of post-memory, stating that “many memories that were transmitted not only constitute the memories or are part of the ressouvenir processes of the new generations in their own right, but also intermingle with other memories to the point of not having clear boundaries” (189).

Chrabieh employs Rothberg’s concept of multidirectional memory, to enable a generational conception of a malleable discursive space in which groups, their memories, and their positions come into being through dialogical interaction. Similarly, Norah Karrouche’s chapter, detailing how local memories of war and violence in the Northern Riff region of Morocco have shaped the agencies and identities of several generations of Berber activists in both Morocco and its diaspora, shows how newer generations of activists can attempt to inscribe themselves into and simultaneously construct larger mythological and symbolic histories of activism. Like Chrabieh, Karrouche shows how multiple episodes of violence interact. Karrouche further discusses how these histories of activism can act as mythomoteurs, grand narratives about the specificity of a place in history and (trans)-national narratives (232-233). In combination, the two chapters however also highlight the large contextual differences in the generational transmission of memories.

The interaction and the contradictions between the different chapters is one of the book’s largest strengths. Instead of taking away from the individual arguments, these contradictions work to show the many nuances and contradictions attached to institutions, spaces, and milieus of memory, when approached from different levels of analysis and with different focus points.


Du choc des titans et de la culture de la guerre

Mon article paru ce matin dans l’Orient-le-Jour (Beyrouth – Liban) sur la nécessité de déconstruire la culture de la guerre et d’édifier une culture de la paix. C’est le énième article que je publie sur ce sujet depuis les années 90. La guerre est continue au Liban. Elle n’est pas que physique, elle est surtout psychologique et culturelle.

Voilà des années que le Liban vit au rythme de guerres de paroles, de mémoires meurtries, d’identités meurtrières, d’autoritarisme et de crises sociopolitique, économique et environnementale.

Dans cette saga libanaise aux allures de choc de titans, les héros ont bel et bien disparu, laissant la place aux fanatiques, démagogues, corrompus, méduses, sorcières du Styx, montagnes de détritus, scorpions monstrueux, sacrifices humains et maléfices de Hadès.

Près de trois décennies après la fin des combats, il est triste de constater que le pays n’est pas en mode « postguerre ». En fait, la guerre est continue, et les leçons qui auraient dû être tirées n’ont pas pu l’être, justement parce qu’une véritable construction de la paix n’a pas eu lieu, et ce en dépit des initiatives de certains groupes et individus œuvrant pour la convivialité et un système sociopolitique aconfessionnel assurant l’unité dans la diversité des voix(es) libanaises. Une chose est de faire taire les canons, de faire disparaître les frontières territoriales et de constamment faire miroiter bonheur et prospérité ; une autre est de renouer le contact entre les communautés et d’établir des liens solides au-delà des dissensions et des clivages.

Comment penser et vivre une catharsis salutaire lorsque le Kraken de la culture de la guerre constitue la toile de fond du Liban contemporain? Cette culture s’impose comme réalité du quotidien physique et virtuel. Avec son cortège de djinns et de démons, elle enflamme les esprits, sème la zizanie et ravage les vies. Elle est à la fois le produit et le producteur de choc de titans, un cercle vicieux formé d’oppresseurs et d’opprimés, d’accapareurs de pouvoir, de démunis et de boucs émissaires.

Chaque instant qui passe sous l’emprise de la culture de la guerre creuse davantage le fossé entre Libanais, sanctifie l’assassinat du semblable et du différent, transforme le meurtre en devoir, banalise les suicides individuel et collectif, et interdit toute réflexion critique, toute évolution et toute richesse émanant de la diversité.

Tant que la culture de la guerre sévit dans les cœurs, les criminels continueront de perpétrer leurs crimes et les victimes de mourir par omission. Tant que cette culture existe, l’étripage des dieux se poursuivra. Tant que l’hégémonie culturelle est celle de la guerre et non de la paix, on ne pourra garder l’espoir face aux bouchons inextricables du passé et à la léthargie étouffante du présent, révéler les non-dits, muer la douleur en souvenir fondateur et retenir la principale leçon de la guerre, de toute guerre : qu’elle ne se reproduise plus.