Former Detainees and the Politics of Recognition in Postwar Lebanon


Peterson Hall Room 116, 3460 rue McTavish, Montreal, QC, H3A 0E6, CA

A guest lecture by Professor Roschanack Shaery-Yazdi of the Antwerp Institute for the Arts.  Co-sponsored by the Institute of Islamic Studies.

The Syrian military security, often in collaboration with local militias and state functionaries, was involved in the abduction and illegal transfer to Syria of thousands of Lebanese and Palestinians during its three decades of de facto occupation of Lebanon. Lebanese released from Syrian detention centers help shed some light on the mystery that surrounds the fate of the missing and demystify some war episodes in Lebanon. This talk discusses the ex-detainees’ struggle for state recognition and monetary compensation and allows for yet another way to analyze the interplay between state and citizenship in postwar Lebanon. While I spare the audience the graphic details of torture methods, I look at how the victims hope their suffering, in particular their physical torture, may become a vehicle for attaining state recognition. Through a series of testimony practices such as writing autobiographies, public lectures, visits to rehabilitation centers, and public reenactment of their torture experiences they desire to create public sympathy and capture the attention of those in power. With the help of a particular NGO these detainees portray their ordeal in theater performances under the banner of keeping the memory of the war in the public sphere. I discuss how the memory boom in post 2000 Lebanon plays into this politics of recognition and conclude that paradoxically the memory discourse allows for airbrushing the very details of the war and allows for its presentation as a time of total chaos and random acts of violence.

Roschanack Shaery-Yazdi is assistant professor in the history department at the University of Antwerp in Belgium. She received her MA in Anthropology and Education from the University of Heidelberg in 1998. In 2005 she graduated with honors from the University of Chicago, where she had studied the history of the modern Middle East. Her research interests are transnationalism, Islamism, violence, and memory politics in the Arab East and Iran. Her book Shiite Lebanon was published with Columbia University Press in 2008. Shaery’s new monograph Missing Recognition. Syrian Military Security and Enforced Disappearances in Lebanon is forthcoming. Her new project is tentatively called Middle Eastern Lives. Dreams Against all Odds. Based on a series of biographies she will write a comparative social history of Lebanon, Syria, and Iran from the early 1970s.