The civil war erupted 38 years ago because the Lebanese people were unable to find the answers to two questions: What holds our country together? And what are the state’s tasks? Today a solution is as far off as ever. As before, the ties to family, clan and religious denomination are deeper and stronger than identification with a “nation”. 17 religious communities, none of which strong enough to dominate all the others, live side by side as states within the state. This gives rise to tensions, which the war in Syria is ratcheting up still more.
And as the war goes on, hope that Lebanon will not be affected, that it will not become the next country in the crisis- and faction-ridden Middle East to be threatened by civil war, is dwindlng. At that time, during the civil war, they fought one another: Men from the Shiite AMAL militia, from the Palestinians under George Habash, the Druze PSP, the organization for Communist action, the Communist Party – and men like Assaad Chaftari from the right-wing conservative Christian militia. Today they are on the same side, call themselves Fighters for Peace and make joint appearances in the media and on the occasion of national holidays, in seminars and schools. Their workshops revolve around biographical work; they organise retreats in which former combatants can meet in a protected space, and arrange meetings of the Reconciliation Commission.
Assaad Chaftari raised in the Christian militia to the level of Second in command of the intelligence services. At a certain level around the end of the civil war he met the Group called Moral Rearmament/ Initiatives of Change which helped him to make a total change in his moral, national and humanistic life.
“The war began with a joke,” says Assaad Chaftari today, “when I was five.” At the time, as a Christian, he considered it completely normal to tell dirty jokes about Muslims and, like others in his family and on the street, saw himself as superior to both Sunnis and Shiites. In 1975, when the war began for him, he was 20 and determined to defend his Christian community against the Muslims. He finished his degree in electrical engineering in his spare time and worked his way up the ranks of the Forces Libanaises. To the level of judge – and executioner. When the war finally came to an end after thousands of deaths, with 17,000 people still missing and hundreds of thousands displaced to this day, he was able to go out on the street for the first time without a bodyguard. And he enjoyed it.
Assaad Chaftari recently also published a book in French entitled: La Verite meme si ma voix tremble. (The truth even with a shaking voice). Peace Counts reported on the work of the Fighters for Peace, and a project sponsored by zivik is currently underway.