In the last week, I came across two pieces of media about conflict that impressed me. One is a book called Kenya Burning. The other is a movie called This is Lebanon (Hayda Lubnan) that I saw for free at the Kenya Film Festival (sweet!).
Kenya Burning is a book of photographs from the 2008 post-election violence, published by the Kwani? Trust, a nonprofit publishing house started by a circle of Kenyan intellectuals a few years back. (Separately, they have some amazing collections of African literature.) The book is not for the faint of heart. It made me feel sick to the stomach, actually. And in other contexts the images of ultraviolence in its pages might slip into the category of “a pornography of violence” — especially because it has the look of a glossy coffee table book. But this is a book for Kenyans, by Kenyans, and it seems to me to be an important part of the historical record. I had not been totally aware of how horrific the 2008 violence was. The book is not a call to action as such — very little text accompanies the images. I see it more as a response to the mundane headlines and cold political negotiations that followed the chaos. “This is the consequence,” the book seems to say. “This is the insecurity all Kenyans have in the back of their head.”
Hayda Lubnan has no special relationship to Kenya Burning, except that I also saw it this week. It’s a documentary by a young Lebanese woman, Eliane Raheb. It is not a big budget movie and some of the editing in the beginning is a little choppy. But the movie has some of the most poignant treatments of Lebanese sectarianism I’ve seen. Raheb, a Maronite Christian, feels totally alienated from the Lebanese Forces that supposedly support her sect. She interviews family and friends, and presses them to explain why they are afraid of Muslims when they have suffered more at the hands of other Christians. She shows the pain on the faces of Shia Hezbollah supporters as they listen to a speech, I think by Samir Geagea, announcing Maronite superiority — “We’re not bedouins! We don’t have camels!” (One conclusion I took from this movie is that it’s preposterous that people who feel discomfort with Hezbollah don’t feel equally ill at ease about the Lebanese Forces.) The most memorable part is the closing scene, when Raheb’s father, a pretty stridently sectarian Maronite, tries to explain to her why her non-sectarian thinking is all screwed up. He ends up calling her “errant,” and walking away. The movie was a good peek into everything that’s wrong and right with Lebanon. Worth a watch if you can figure out how to get ahold of a copy.