Quantcast IMOW - Identity and Loyalty
Relationships in changing times. See the Stories>>

Working women talk finances. See the Stories>>

Culture and Conflict
Are we destined to disagree? See the Stories>>

The Future
Envisioning the next 30 years. See the Stories>>

Highlighted stories in film, art, music and more. See the Stories>>

War & Dialogue
Speaking from war. Advocating peace. See the Stories>>

Young Men
Our generation: young men speak out. See the Stories>>

Women get candid about pregnancy, parenting and choice. See the Stories>>

Image and Identity
Appearances aren't everything, or are they? See the Stories>>

Online Film Festival
31 films from women directors around the world. See the Stories>>

A Generation Defined
Who are young women today? See the Stories>>

Best of Contest
You came, you saw, you voted. Here are the winners. See the Stories>>
What Defines Your Generation of Women?
selected theme

REGISTER  |  LOGIN Change Language»    Invite a friend »
Darfur: Stop Violence Against Women
Women are being targeted as victims of systematic rape in Darfur. Don’t let it continue. Join Amnesty International’s campaign to send in peacekeepers to stop the violence.
16 Days of Activism: Nov 25-Dec 10
Be part of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. Click above to find an event in your community, or for the toolkit to organize your own.
As of August 30 2006, the Government Of Lebanon Higher Relief Council (HRC) reports that 1,187 Lebanese have been killed and approximately 4,080 injured.
The 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict killed over 1,500 people, mostly Lebanese civilians, severely damaged Lebanese infrastructure, displaced about one million Lebanese and 500,000 Israelis, and disrupted normal life across all of Lebanon and northern Israel.
Identity and Loyalty
Joumane Chahine
I was in Beirut on July 12, 2006, the day two Israeli soldiers were captured by Hezbollah, thus sparking the “34 day war,” as it is now called, and bringing all of my questions about identity and loyalty to a boiling point.

Was I Lebanese or Canadian? Would I choose my family, my country, or my British fiancé? Would I stay in Lebanon to work and contribute –“to give” – or flee back to the comforts and ease of the West – “to take”?

As a child, I never really felt a particular attachment to Lebanon. I was born in Beirut, but left when I was a few months old, mainly growing up in France or North America, and going back for vacations. Having lived in the West all my life, when I said “we,” I more often meant “we” as “we Westerners” than as “we Arabs.” I always thought the idea of prioritizing one’s roots and ethnic identity was a bit overrated. In fact I generally viewed the whole issue of identity and the need to wear it on one’s sleeve as overvalued.

Sometime after college, I decided maybe I could wear both identities: Lebanese and Western. In order to do that though, I needed to brush up on my “Lebanese-ness.” I moved back to Beirut in 2004, to work for a communications firm. It was a time of ebullience and hope. After nearly thirty years of civil war, and the pivotal shock of Rafk Hariri’s assassination in February 2005, the streets were bursting with a contagious sense of optimism and feeling of long-overdue deliverance. I grew attached to the country, fell under its chaotic yet strangely bewitching charm, and buoyed by the intensity of the unfolding events, felt that I, maybe, could make a difference.

And I thought it was possible to maintain two lives. John, my boyfriend (who has since become my husband) was living in London at the time and was slowly growing impatient. He kept asking me to leave Beirut, to make a choice. First they were polite requests. Then they became ultimatums. I kept ignoring them and delaying, thinking I could get away with going back and forth between Lebanon and the UK, even envisaging, in my most irrational, reality-denying moments that maybe he would come and sample Beirut and fall under the charm.

You see, as much as I was lured by the comfort of Western life, I felt guilty about leaving Lebanon. Your country is not a hotel. You don’t wait for it to be completely finished with a little chocolate on the pillow and all the towels warm in the bathroom before you decide you’re going to make a home there. Leaving your country when it is most in need of you is a form of betrayal, or at the very least abandonment. If everyone runs away to easier skies while the rebuilding is in process, then who’s left in charge?

But then you also need to look out for your own interests. Lebanon’s past three decades were swallowed by civil strife and a very precarious and tense post-war era. When I was a kid, living in Paris, I would often hear friends of my parents who refused to leave Lebanon, always repeating that “It will be better next month, it will be better next year.” And it never did get better. It often got worse in fact. And their life passed, wasted, swallowed by a thirty-year black hole.

When the war started, John was actually with me in Lebanon. The previous day, I had gone to the British embassy to get a fiancée visa so we could be married in the UK. They had wanted to keep my passport for a few days, but for some strangely prescient reason, I refused to part with it. I argued with them and insisted I would not leave without it until they finally accepted.

The next day two IDF soldiers were kidnapped. And then the Beirut airport was bombed and the city was in flames. We waited for two weeks, thinking the violence would stop, trying to figure out what was happening (the sheer suddenness and brutality with which the events had spiraled out of control had left us all shell-shocked) and of course what to do. I wanted to stay. John wanted to go. He wouldn’t leave without me.

Eventually I realized I had to choose. I had to choose between England and Lebanon, between my personal life on one side, and my attachment to my country on the other, between the instinct of duty and that of self-preservation. The hesitation was torturous until finally – and to a large extent aided by mother who urged me to go, I decided to leave with John. We escaped through Syria.

When I arrived in London, finally free of having to think of immediate physical needs and survival in a war zone, a tidal wave of fatigue washed over me and I collapsed. All I was suddenly left with was anger and the 24-hour news networks to fuel it. Witnessing my country being ravaged with impunity and international support, used as the proxy killing field of external warring forces who at the end of the day were strangely united in their utter disregard for it made me hateful. The formulaic and powerless words of pity and support only added to the bitterness. I could barely recognize myself – my usual temperate humanist self – in the ugly ball of rage I had suddenly been reduced to.

But then time – the great healer – passed. And strange, positive things started happening as well. Experiencing the war first-hand had transformed John. He, who was not Lebanese and didn’t before seem to care much about Lebanon, suddenly felt very concerned. Our bond was deepened for having gone through that traumatic experience together; somehow we both understood each other’s perspective a little bit better.

And my family started to accept him more, too. Whereas before they harbored a certain sadness about our wedding — as if they were giving me up to someone foreign and distant, now our marriage was simply about joy. He had become one of us, somehow.

Today I sit here, writing from my apartment in London, months later, thinking about my decision to flee with John.

I chose to leave. But I also know I will choose to return.

Because during those days and weeks of sadness and rage that followed the war, somewhere in that relentless period of 24-hour-a-day grief over all that destruction, there were strange moments of resolution. I knew that I had to go back to work — and that I could work anywhere in the world, in London, in Singapore, in Paris… But somehow, it didn’t excite me so much anymore to make a contribution to Western society. It didn’t need me. I didn’t want it.

It may be the love. It may be the guilt. It may be the sense of outrage and gross injustice. It could mean moving back there or it could mean working for it from a distance. But I know I am not done with Lebanon yet. And it isn’t done with me.
Choosing Sides
Ani Rosemarie
Latest Comment
Forgive me for sounding biased, but i think the US of A is`nt helping any.... all they seem to want is the heavy attention they are getting from the media over this Iraq business. Frankly, Iraq might just have been able to solve the Shite...

Amira W. Pierce
I have trouble answering the question: “Where do you...
Mina Farid Malik
Most Lahoris, whether natural or naturalized, are indolent...
Randa Mirza
Suomenlinna is an island located 10 min from Helsinki...
Mona Ali Khalil
Saudi Arabia
I woke up laughing this morning... was it real? It was a...

©2008 International Museum of Women / Privacy Policy and Disclaimer / Translated by 101translations / Change Language
The content in this exhibit does not necessarily represent the opinions of the International Museum of Women, or its partners or sponsors.