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World Society in Literature and Film: Arabic 0868

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Aissatou Kone

Dr. Waiel Abdelwahed

World Society in Literature and Film: Arabic 0868

May 2nd, 2013

Impacts of the civil war - West Beirut and The Story of Zahra

With its extreme atrocities, the Lebanese civil war, which has ravaged the country for fifteen years, is one of the horrible historical events that have destroyed much of the physical infrastructure of the country. Besides, the war has affected in one way or another the traditional order of the society and the personality of its inhabitants. This period in the history of Lebanon raises several questions and views on the causes and consequences of war. Thus, the civil war has become a constant source of inspiration for Lebanese literature and cinema in order to represent what their society underwent during the war. Thereby, Ziad Doueiri in the film West Beirut presents a unique vision of the civil war by reflecting its impact on the life of three adolescents. Hanan Al Shaykh’s in the book The Story of Zahra demonstrates that war has not only affected the society patriarchal system, but also affected people psychology and personality.

In West Beirut, Ziad Doueiri presents the experience of teenagers, who discover the war brutally through the clash between a group of Phalangist and Palestinian passengers in a bus in Ain el Roumaneh. In the first part of the movie, we see that although war breaks out, it does not prevent Omar and his friend Tarek from living fully their teens. Careless of the conflict that occur in the country and has divided Beirut between Muslim and Christians, both Omar and Tarek continue to be interested in sexuality, rock music and smoking cigarettes. Then we meet May, Tarek’s neighbor who joins the two friends in their adventure. The three teens do not realize the seriousness of situation. For them, war is a subject for adults, but in their universe, the only way to discuss about war; it is through the relationship between Muslims and Christians, as shown in Omar attitude towards May and his discomfort before the cross that she wears. The second part presents the evolution of the action through the discovery of a new environment by Tarek, which is Oum Walid’s place, a house of prostitution. This place represents a symbolic environment in the story, since Oum Walid tells Tarek that, "there is no Beirut East Beirut - West. At Oum Walid, there is Beirut only”. This lets understand that there is no war in her place and war cannot attack or affect sex activities. Tarek pleased to know that there is a part in the country and a community of hope where the war is not yet arrived, wants to bring his friends to Oum Walid’s place. But once arrived, he faces Oum Walid in despair who asks him to leave the place with his friends. Oum Walid, the lady considered as the representative of a certain perspective of hope in peace in Beirut, is strongly distressed by the consequences of the tragedy that is installed in her place. Oum Walid, who considered her place away from war, lost hope and tells Tarek "the country is finished,” as for her, sex activity was the only mean to stop war, but it actually fails. This scene is the key to the transformation of the adolescents and their passage into the adult world. Leaving the place, Tarek says to Oum Walid: “I thought there was still hope in Beirut.” Oum Walid’s place represents a new background for the teenagers where they face the adult world that was far from their concerns up to this point. Then, they realize that the war has affected all areas, and they become aware of the seriousness of the situation. They begin to understand the effects of war on their lives. Finally, in the third part of the film we see through their discussion that the three teenagers have learned much about the gravity of the war. Tarek says to Omar: “Do you remember at the beginning of the war, we had fun. But now I'm afraid of losing my parents.” Also when Omar asked May her opinion on Beirut, she says: “Beirut is crazy!” The three adolescents are now concerned about the war as a real fact that dramatically changed their life. Tarek, who at first refused to leave the country, asked his father to leave. He is profoundly affected by the war as he loses his mother at the end of the film. Tarek and his friends are faced with the cruelty of war which has affected their minds. At the beginning of the scene, Tarek speaks with irony about war. Leaving the scene, he admits that Beirut which was a field for their games, eventually became a city where one loses all hope.

Similarly to Doueiri, Hanan Al Shaykh in The Story of Zahra presents the changes that war has led in the society. She brings out the effects of the civil war on the traditional patriarchal system and the mores of the society in general. Through Zahra the principal character, Al Shaykh particularly draws the reader’s attention on the intervention of women during the war, and shows how this role has affected her either positively or negatively. On the one hand, we see Zahra who has been greatly influenced by the war. The war helps her to escape the patriarchal society and the rules which are imposed upon her. The war is represented as the direct result of the violence of the patriarchal tradition. Women are presented as the ultimate victims. They then seek alternatives to seek peace in non-violent actions, such as the commitment of Zahra in an affair with the sniper. Zahra’s reaction against war and violence through her engagement with the sniper shows that she wants to free herself not only from the civil, but also from all the grief and oppression that she has endured so far. She proclaims “When I heard that the battles raged fiercely and every front was an inferno, I felt calm. It meant that my perimeters were fixed by these walls, that nothing which my mother hoped for me could find a place inside them (125)”. Zahra withhold herself apart from the patriarchal system in order


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