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.

SOURCE: EUROPEANMEMORIES.NET

Pop Culture and Social Media in the Arab World

I was interviewed by Terrance Mintner about Pop Culture and Social Media in the Arab World. Here are excerpts of the interview: 

Dr. Pamela Chrabieh, a Beirut-based writer and activist, told The Media Line that young people in the Arab world are using Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, WhatsApp and Snapchat at an increasingly faster rate despite government controls and restrictions.

“Several studies conducted in the last decade have shown that pop culture and social media have helped Arab youth express and promote alternative political and social discourses and practices to the ‘official, normative, and institutional’ ones,” she said.

Although social media offers opportunities for creative expression and interaction, Chrabieh explained, there are many young people who must use these mediums while constantly negotiating complex and layered pressures to maintain online identities that meet the expectations of their societies, especially in the Gulf region.

“Fageeh’s work [generating online videos, for example] is one of many initiatives in the Arab world that addresses social and political issues. In fact, there has been an explosion of artistic and cultural productions since the 2000s in the forms of music, poetry, theater, graffiti, movies, etc.,” Dr. Chrabieh noted.

“There are of course cultural icons or ‘figureheads’ but we are witnessing the rise and proliferation of cultural democratization and transnational cultures [global cultures], especially when it comes to street art, videos and digital expression.”

Popular culture in the Arab world should not be viewed as byproduct of the Arab Spring, she explained. Even before the uprisings, it played a significant role in creating social and political transformations in response to what she termed “Ottoman and European colonialization.

“Lastly, it is hard to characterize Arab pop culture as one category given the diverse political institutions, regional history and the many different discourses about identity. Nevertheless, popular culture can help make sense of this complexity.”

READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE

Peace, Islam and the Arts in Dubai

My “Peace, Islam and the Arts in Dubai” was recently published in Hawliyat, the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Journal at the University of Balamand, Lebanon. Issue 18, 2017-2018, p. 111-134.

Intercultural Leadership Workshop

I gave this afternoon a workshop on Intercultural Leadership for students at the American University in Dubai. This activity was part of their Leadership Training Program. Intercultural Leadership has become a must for our institutions and companies’ development and success. It’s time to think of leadership in terms of a combination IQ-EQ-InterCQ instead of alpha-male/female leadership. Multicultural contexts require a balance between one’s core cultural values, flexibility and the disentanglement of knots [misconceptions], as well as authentic listening, humility, empathy, knowledge of cultural intricacies and behaviors, getting out of one’s comfort zone, openness, respect, and the search for unity in diversity.

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AUD Women’s Day Event Recap By Rebal Abdul Rahim

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Right as the first half of the semester approached its conclusion, and students of the American University in Dubai were preparing for their Spring Break, Professors Pamela Chrabieh and Nadia Wardeh gave the university’s students something to contemplate and to cherish as they hosted a Women’s Day event.

The constant strive for a progressive future encourages us all to battle for equality. One of the daily battles we must involve ourselves in is of course, to fight for women’s right and equality. The never ending dispute is personal to us all, and on Women’s Day we all had a chance for us to reflect and empathize with each other.

From a live play where the traditional gender norms were reversed in order to put certain issues in perspective, to poetry recitals where students addressed and shared their personal struggles, the university event successfully made its students witnesses on the daily issues that women go through.

Besides the live performances, students from Professor Chrabieh and Wardeh’s classes brought in home made dishes and shared their own stories about how those foods had feminist connotations, be it on a societal or personal level. The food included; Vine Leaves, Kunafa, Cupcakes, hummus among other things.

While the food could have been the main attraction that motivated the students to partake in the event, the Arabic music playing in the background accompanied by several relevant activities and the artwork on display created a vibe that encouraged the students to stick around for the entire hour. Other than students, professors and faculty members also joined in on the annual event.

While the event was meant to be enjoyable to those in attendance, Professor Pamela Chrabieh also wanted there to be an educational factor. “As I see it, the engagement of governments in Southwestern Asia and North Africa is important for gender inclusiveness and equality progress, but certainly not enough; any top down change initiative needs to be communicated appropriately through official and non-official channels such as education (in schools and universities), knowledge production and dissemination (research centers, independent scholars), media campaigns and continuous awareness programs (traditional media, social media), along within the private sphere” she said.

Equality, or lack thereof has created an ubiquitous problem in this particular region, and while there are a plethora of men who refuse to even address this issue, it was uplifting to see so many men from the younger generation show interest in having a progressive future where equality is expected and common.

The success of this year’s event leaves us all hopeful to what the Professors and their students have in stored for next year.

SOURCE: http://www.mbrsc.aud.edu/MBRSCPost/aud-womens-day-event-recap/

 

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

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It’s been an honor and a pleasure to be working with this wonderful team. A special thank you to Norman Saadi Nikro and Sonja Hegazy.
 
The Social Life of Memory: Violence, Trauma, and Testimony in Lebanon and Morocco. Published by Palgrave Studies in Cultural Heritage and Conflict, December 2017.
 
The book stakes a critical claim for attending to the tension between the lieu and milieu of memory, a tension implicating site-specific social practices. It brings together research from scholars across the humanities and social sciences within a cohesive framework. It addresses themes of violence, trauma, and testimony to illustrate how they accrue conceptual relevance, and consequently a careful consideration of how concepts and theories “travel” and come to be exposed in different contexts and subsequently modified.
 
My contribution: “Ressouvenirs in Dialogue: University Students Tell Their War Stories” (p. 169-194)