6 Feb 2013

My Neighbour, My Enemy: Lebanon's Mirrored Fears

I can't recommend 'My Neighbour, My Enemy' enough, I think it should be essential viewing. The documentary by Darius Bazargan and Wadih el-Hayek examines the permanent state of war between the Sunni neighbourhood of Bab al-Tabanneh and the Alawite Jabal Mohsen in the Lebanon's second city, Tripoli. The sectarian conflict which started in 2008 and explodes periodically has its roots in Lebanon's civil war and the massacres carried out against civilians from both neighbourhoods during the 15-year long conflict.

What is particularly insightful about the film is how it depicts the 'mirrored' fear and anxiety on either side. Much like other 'fault lines' elsewhere in Lebanon, close proximity between two communities has turned into a source of simmering tensions and frequent eruptions of violence. The futility of such struggles is perfectly illustrated through the almost exact language that combatants on either side use to express their point of view. The dwelling on past grievances and existential threats are constant features, highlighting both the roots of the conflict and its open-ended nature.

The most troubling aspect of the film is the impact of the conflict on the younger generation, as you see children rehearsing future battles with their toy guns. It's a powerful symbol of how the conflict is perpetuated by feeding into the lingering sense of grievance. The crisis in Syria has no doubt exasperated the situation, but the Lebanese state and the political class bear the main responsibility for allowing this conflict to continue. It is self-consuming, destructive and utterly futile, yet there are no serious attempts to deal with it.

Watch the film below or on Youtube:


  1. Thanks so much for posting. I think the character portrayals are really powerful and kudos to the filmmaker for having the guts to get in the middle of a war zone. But while watching the film I began to wonder how representative the respective militiamen were of their neighborhood and Tripoli at large. At some points it seemed the terms "Tripoli Sunni" and "Bab Tabbaneh resident" were used interchangeably. Then there was the cool kids in the coffee shop going on about how the entire city was being "eaten" by the disease of religiosity or Islamism. I'm not sure the two groups--the fighters and the well-to-do more liberal youth are representative of the hundreds of thousands that live in Tripoli and its suburbs.

    While I laud the filmmaker for his access and effort-- and think more docs like this should be made by local TV--I would have liked more specific focus on the gunmen and how they came to being and are sustained, but that was left vague here as it is in most news reports.

  2. I think that's a natural limitation of documentaries like that, you can't talk to everyone and I don't think the film makes claims about the extent to which those characters are representative of the entire city. In fact, I think the way they dealt with the 'liberals' kind of exposes their disconnection from the others in the city.

    Your suggestion is good for the logistical side which definitely needs to be investigated. This film deals with another level that I personally feel familiar with, a certain narrative that sustains the conflict beyond manipulation, funding and political cynicism.


Karl reMarks is a blog about Middle East politics and culture with a healthy dose of satire.

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