Civil War (1975-1989)
In the 15 years of civil war, the impact of fighting, the population movements, the hollowing of state authority, the cantonisation of Lebanese territory, the re-emergence of communities as the primary provider of services to citizens, and the communal quasi-monopoly over education, further undermined the state education system.
During the war, militia leaders channelled state financial resources to areas under their control and instituted ‘para-statal systems’ complete with autonomous education systems.97 Harik argues that the social institutions filling the gap of a retiring state ‘were also set to work on projects that specifically reinforced primordial communal attachments’.98 Indeed, in South Lebanon, Amal opened over 33 state schools and Hizbollah employed Iranian funding to build and operate new theological schools.99 The new schools, beyond adding ‘legitimacy to new elites’, had an important political and military function: they provided rewards for the families of the fallen and strengthened the social fabric so as to ‘keep residents on the land’.100 Moreover, Harik suggests that social institutions created by the rival militias in ‘their’ territories ‘were made to illustrate deliberate models of the new republic that the planners hoped would arise in the aftermath of the civil war’.101 Schools reflected the narratives, identities, political ideologies and visions of the different confessional communities: thus, the communalism ‘of a Maronite [was] projected as Lebanese nationalism, of the Sunni Muslim it [was] Arab Nationalism..., of the Shiite [sic] egalitarianism’.102
Diverging outlooks were conveyed through, for example, the new contents of certain national subjects, such as history. Indeed, the history curriculum emerged as a further ideological battleground in the midst of a war that, to more than one communal leader, was about the establishment of the ‘real’ history of Lebanon.103 In the areas under the control of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), new history books portrayed the Lebanese Republic as the creation of cunning Christian elites at the expense of other sects, and civic education classes conveyed socialist principles. Sunni and Maronite schools generally continued to formally teach history according to the state curriculum, but in practice their textbooks avoided discussing the origins of Lebanon’s ethno-religious communities, thus presenting them as mutually exclusive, immemorial and stable. In particular, the history books portrayed the socio-economic development of each community as a parallel process, taking place in different geographical locations: this conveyed an image of innate Maronite orientation towards Europe and Sunni orientation towards the Arab world.104 Thus, the history curricula reproduced the ideological building blocks of Lebanese nationalism and pan-Arabism on which the National Pact and the very existence of independent Lebanon had been founded.
Finally, in the territories controlled by militias, schools were employed as military recruitment grounds. Teachers persuaded children that their survival, and that of their family and community, was at stake and encouraged them to join local militias.105
Ironically, in 1981 the government initiated an attempt at comprehensive education reform.106 The ambition to create through schools ‘a democratic being’ and to further ‘respect of the other - individual and collective’ was not accorded political priority and was quickly sidelined in the context of civil war.107 In fact, the positions of religious and communal representatives over education are remarkably consistent with their positions in previous decades. Before and during the war, the representatives of Christian schools advocated ‘cultural pluralism’, meant as the provision of equal state funding to religious schools and the promotion of an education furthering mutual recognition, respect and coexistence. Cultural pluralism would teach Christians ‘that Muslims are not carbon copies of them and vice versa’.108 In contrast, Muslim educational councils consistently called for better state education, for state supervision of private schools and for the ‘unification of textbooks and instruction’ so as ‘to strengthen national unity and Lebanon’s identity, and its Arab relationships’.109 Interestingly, and perhaps reflecting Christian weakness at the end of the war, the Muslim position would, almost unaltered, appear in the Taif Agreement.