Lebanon’s many different sects have their own history, which makes formulating a unified national history challenging. The 1989 Taif Accord, which ended the 15-year Lebanese civil war, called for civic education to be uniform across the country in order to promote national unity. But the goal remains unrealized.
Syrian forces withdrew from Lebanon in 2005 after a 29-year occupation.
A series of popular uprisings preceded the withdrawal, culminating in one demonstration which brought an estimated one million Lebanese into the streets. The event, dubbed the “Cedar Revolution,” was seen as a main factor in the Syrian departure.
But Lebanese schoolchildren may never read about it because a ministerial committee recently decided to eliminate the phrase “Cedar Revolution” from a national middle school history curriculum being developed.
Since 1989, the committee dedicated to agreeing on a national history textbook has repeatedly failed to do so.
Maha Kassem is the principal of the Green Space School, an elementary school in Beirut. “The people who are in charge of overseeing the unified history book, they are the ones who are involved in these conflicts," she said.
Most history textbooks stop in 1943, the year of Lebanese independence, leaving recent history interpretation up to parents, which can further cement a child’s sectarian view.
Lebanese University history professor Mounzir Jabber says the issue dates back to the Ottoman Empire. "As long as the feeling of identity in Lebanon remains sectarian, it’s [impossible] to talk about history on a patriotic basis," he said.
At the Green Space School, which lies on the edge of Christian, Druze and Shi'ite neighborhoods, Kassem says sectarian affiliation makes history lessons sensitive "Sometimes we have to skip certain lessons or summarize them, to avoid some discussions that might cause troubles between the students," she said.
Especially when it comes to the 15-year civil war, in which all sects suffered losses and atrocities took place. The country is still recovering physically and emotionally.
Until then, Jabber says, perhaps it is fine to agree to disagree. “Let each group have its own version of history. But let's make sure that they are highlighting on the elements that keep them together, not the ones that tear them apart," he said.
For now, Lebanese schools often choose textbooks according to their religious affiliation.