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The bitter memories of war

Is forgetting better at resolving conflicts than an active collective memory?

Diana Moukalled

Published: Updated:

Is forgetting better at resolving conflicts than an active collective memory? American author David Rieff raises this question in his book In Praise of Forgetting. He says the modern world has developed a pathological obsession with memories, and it is time to give forgetting a chance. Rieff discusses conflicts that the West has overcome, such as World War II, the Bosnian war and the Irish civil war.

I recall this as the debate over the 101st anniversary of the Armenian genocide surfaced in Lebanon this week. This debate has been accompanied by media and political controversy for a century now. Some are keen to attack efforts to commemorate this anniversary, and have launched social-media campaigns to consider the genocide a matter of historical controversy.

Before we discuss remembering and forgetting, we need to address the issue of moral double-standards. We cannot but ask why this genocide is still a source of international, ethnic and sectarian tensions. The mass murder committed by the Ottomans during World War I is a matter of historical fact, yet to this day it is still questioned by Turks, and by Arabs and Muslims who are enthusiastic about the Ottoman Empire.

Reviving the memory of war does not prevent it from happening again. Syria teaches us this lesson every day

Diana Moukalled

History repeating

Armenians insist on remembering the genocide - as is their right - to ensure it never happens again. However, has this not happened to other peoples since? What lessons can we draw when massacres continue to be committed?

If we have not been fair to the Armenians after 100 years, do we really expect the world to be fair to the victims of current massacres? The Syrian regime’s shelling of Aleppo, which has become routine, continues to massacre civilians, and no one has acted to help them.

Remembering is a moral duty toward victims and truth. We believe that reviving a painful tragedy may contribute to not repeating it. This is legitimate and sometimes necessary, especially when denial dominates.

However, reviving the memory of war does not prevent it from happening again. Syria teaches us this lesson every day. Keeping the memory alive can turn the past into a source of hatred, especially when facts are painful. This further complicates our current reality.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on May. 02, 2016.
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Diana Moukalled is the Web Editor at the Lebanon-based Future Television and was the Production & Programming Manager with at the channel. Previously, she worked there as Editor in Chief, Producer and Presenter of “Bilayan al Mujaradah,” a documentary that covers hot zones in the Arab world and elsewhere, News and war correspondent and Local news correspondent. She currently writes a regular column in AlSharq AlAwsat. She also wrote for Al-Hayat Newspaper and Al-Wasat Magazine, besides producing news bulletins and documentaries for Reuters TV. She can be found on Twitter: @dianamoukalled.

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