Espacio virtual creado realmente por Nicanor Domínguez. Dedicado a la historia del Sur-Andino peruano-boliviano.

domingo, 1 de abril de 2007

Uso y Abuso de la Historia: Líbano

Tomado del "New York Times"

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Beirut Memo
A Nation With a Long Memory, but a Truncated History

The New York Times: January 10, 2007

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Jan. 9 — 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.

[ Photo: Lebanese students, like these in a suburb of Beirut, often complain that they are given a distorted view of history. Tamara Abdul Hadi for The New York Times ]

[ Photo: Masks of recent Lebanese political figures are displayed in a Beirut shop window. In Lebanon, textbooks generally avoid mention of such leaders, and of events since the early 1970s, especially the country’s long civil war. Tamara Abdul Hadi for The New York Times ]

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.”

Students are frustrated by the omissions, knowing they are getting a distorted view of the past. “We keep asking them when we’re going to learn the real history,” said Fatima Taha, a ninth grader at Hara International College, a secondary school in Beirut’s southern suburbs. “The history just suddenly stops.”

Private schools, which educate about half the country’s one million or so students, teach history based on books of their choosing, but approved by the Ministry of Education; public schools teach about two hours per week of history, based on textbooks virtually unchanged since they were written in the 1960s and 1970s.

In one textbook, the students get to know the Ottomans as occupiers; in another, they read about them as administrators. In some, they study the French as colonialists; in others, they study them as a examples to emulate.

In some Christian schools, history starts with the ancient Phoenicians, whom many Christians believe are their original ancestors, and the dawn of Christianity. In many Muslim schools, the Phoenicians are glossed over and emphasis is placed on Arab history and the arrival of Islam.

Whether Lebanon was occupied by the Ottomans, subjugated by the Ottomans or was simply a principality of the Ottoman Empire depends on the sect and region, much like whether the French, who oversaw the country until the 1950s, are depicted as colonialists, administrators or models of emulation.

“If they would just give us a national history, this country’s entire outlook would change,” said Jawad al Haj, Hara’s principal. Mr. Haj, who says two of his students were killed while fighting Israel last summer, has banned his students from attending protests in Beirut, fearing they could be indoctrinated by various political parties.

He has also prohibited any talk of politics inside his school, and is especially strict on any hint of sectarianism. About half of his 1,500 students are Shiites and the rest are mainly Sunnis, along with a few Christians.

“The kids need realities, a history they can believe in,” he said. “Otherwise, they will never learn the meaning of citizenship.”

Under the 1989 Taif accords that ended the civil war, Lebanon was supposed to unify its history and civics curriculums with the hope of building a national consensus and a more solid national identity.

Nearly two decades later, however, the history and civics curriculums are the only subjects that have not been revamped, still seen as the third rail of Lebanese politics. Beginning in 1997, a committee put together by the Ministry of Education spent three tumultuous and argumentative years trying to arrive at a common history curriculum.

In 2000, it released guidelines for a new curriculum that sought to depoliticize the history, several committee members said, focusing on the effects of scientific and economic development on the country, with lessons in sociology and economics in addition to teaching techniques of historical analysis.

The curriculum was to delve deeply into the civil war, its causes and the sectarian differences, and explain how those differences were finally resolved — without any group coming out ahead, several committee members said.

“You have to emphasize the costs of the war, to show it is a losing cause,” said Antoine Messarra, director of the Lebanese Foundation for Permanent Civil Peace and a member of the committee. The published curriculum simply sat on officials’ desks, however.

In 2001, another committee, this one headed by Mr. Frayha, the former research group director, managed to publish one textbook, a third-grade history, and was preparing to publish several others.

But the text avoids any discussion of the civil war, switching to international history after the 1960s. Even so, one chapter, lumping the “Arab arrival” with all the other occupations and conquests of Lebanon, touched a nerve. Abdel Rahim Murad, then minister of education, banned the book.

“There were mistakes in the pictures, the content and the material,” Mr. Murad said in an interview last week. But most of all, he said, the book detracted from Lebanon’s Arab identity, a central tenet of the Taif accords. “In Frayha’s book, Lebanon has no identity,” he said. “It was lost or blurred.”

Critics of Mr. Murad say he banned the books to please his Syrian backers, who were against cultivation of a nationalist Lebanese identity. Syria, which controlled Lebanon until 2005 and micromanaged much of its politics since the end of the civil war, also sought to control the country’s historical narrative, critics say.

The issue became so controversial that Mr. Frayha was fired from his position and subsequently summoned to Syria for questioning, he said. Rather than submit to that, Mr. Frayha said he left Lebanon to teach elsewhere.

“Typically the victor writes the history,” said Milhem Chaoul, a professor of sociology at the University of Lebanon. “The problem with the civil war was that nobody won, and you still can’t write its history because we are still not at peace.”

Nada Bakri contributed reporting.

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