several words and phrases come up continuously in my course on the history of lebanon — "plausible," "legends say," "if we are to accept," “infer,” "supposedly," and "possibility." although the class is studying the history of a country dating back thousands of years when sources were scarce, i am also discussing the "uncertain" history we are still encountering in class now, halfway through the semester, as we reach the 16th, and 17th, and 18th century.
first off, it is important to note how difficult it is to define “lebanese history” because lebanon did not exist specifically as a proper nation-state with a history dedicated to its borders until the 1920s. instead, it fell under the rule of greater forces, whether the mamluks, safavids, the ottomans, the church of rome. you name it, lebanon’s got it. therefore, the histories discussing these greater empires and regions may mention mount lebanon or cities in the area in passing, without going into much detail.
so instead, we have bits of pieces of first-hand accounts, mostly written by historians with agendas, trying to complete a mosaic that we can call lebanese history. the speculation is everywhere. you read in one book about an event which happened in the region now known as lebanon, and in the next an author argues that the other source was broadly exaggerated and the event may not have happened at all. how each sect came to be in lebanon is also widely debated, as well as the idea of lebanon as a refuge for persecuted minorities. the sources are all subjective, whether defending a faith, discussing only constructive facts, or exaggerating a legacy.
i come to lebanon from a nation that just celebrated its 235th birthday, one with a history engrained in my mind, full of facts, sources and documents. although the meaning of the history is oftentimes debated, it is at least there for one to analyze. here, we are discussing a history centuries old, where the question of when to begin the narrative still goes unanswered and other gaps are filled with mere speculation. the history, like beirut’s sidewalks, definitely exists, but there remains uneven holes everywhere. it cannot be debated or analyzed because there isn’t always a commonly defined narrative to begin with.
why is this history important? after all, who really cares about how the people in this region got to where they were and how they lived thousands of years ago when there are issues to be faced presently? it matters because today, there are still arguments about who is right and who is wrong. and it happens daily in class. it’s important, here in lebanon and throughout the region, because with continued argument over a common history, it seems impossible that there can be agreement on a unified future.