Yesterday night, Al Manar aired a documentary on the history of Dahyeh (Beirut’s suburb area) that I could never finish because my friend Cara had some weird craving for a bloody mary at Evergreen. But I happened to watch enough of it to be able to formulate a couple of open ended ideas.
It may well be one of the few TV documentaries ever made on a Shi’a dominated region, especially marginal ones such as the suburbs. Even when Shi’as are mentioned, Lebanese documentaries if I may permit myself such generalization (judging from LBC’s productions) revolve around elites history, their families, their politics, and how this contributed to the rise of a particular version of the history of the country. Let’s call this, the elite version. Most of the time in the case of Lebanon it is a “confessional” history. Classical (or typical) histories of Europe and other parts of the world (that you learn in school) are about just that, Kings and their wars, important shift in political directions, and the rise of a nationalist vision that go hand in hand with the consolidation of a specific power.
Of course, today, in ‘developed’ countries you have what we call ‘social historians’ writing the stories of the people, their working habits, how this created dispositions, mentalities and forms of social consciousness, and ultimately how this is inscribed in a political and power-intrusive environment. Well, if I may permit myself, Manar TV was airing this type of documentaries. Of course, this was not a detailed archival work that described all of the above, but at least it gave a glance at how history could have been viewed by the average people who started arriving in these regions of Dahyeh. It was the history of a forming popular area that developed because of economic and social imperatives. It is a history of the different crafts present, the different jobs that people would practice, but also it is the history of changing streets and areas, the history of an olive tree field that disappears for a Souk to develop etc.
Once this description established, the documentary subtly introduces Lebanese elite politics from the back door. Once you are immersed in the daily lives of these people, then your reading of political decisions (such as demolishing houses under the presidency of Chamoun, or claiming others to the state etc.) will change. Something that to my knowledge has never been done by other TVs.
But above all, this is a new history because it narrates tales never told. These are the tales of the Shi’a. “They” actually “speak”. And this can come as quite a shock. The spoken, the “uttered” is a political weapon. it signals first the presence of “the other”, but also a whole set of logics that his discourse follow. When the other goes out of being this inert ‘thing’ and actually inscribes himself in a discourse, then its presence becomes more and more political.
This may be the most important function played by Al Manar TV.