Day 2/16 My Father, the Militia Man

Leen Hashem

I asked my father once if he would mind me writing about his experience. "What experience?" he inquired. "Your experience in the Civil War",[1] I said. He responded immediately "I did not participate in the Civil War". My father does not count himself as a participant in the Civil War, despite the fact that he spent half of his life carrying a rifle in Beirut's "Western" and "Eastern" suburbs, and he spent the other half paying for the first half.

He preferred me not to write about it, but his experience is also mine; present in my present as in my past. I feel my chest tighten when I see pictures of the dead, or mothers of the disappeared, or when former militia men appear on TV as the "new" statesmen. When my mother speaks to me of long nights waiting for my father to come home, my own head aches.

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A woman glimpses at a child soldier in Beirut, 1976.  Courtesy of

My father is a simple but intelligent man. He taught me that the world does not end if I skip school to accompany him for a breakfast by the sea. He taught me to choose freely what shoes to wear each day, how to defend myself from my rowdy cousins. He also tenaciously wished I was more of a stereotypical girl.

During the Israeli invasion of South Lebanon 1982, my father, then fifteen, fled to Beirut where he worked to support his mother and seven siblings first as a blacksmith and then a concierge, before joining armed resistance forces against Israeli occupation, and then the Civil War in 1975. When he married my mother they had countless fight to stop him participating in battles, and after many nights of tears, endless waiting, fear and gunfire, he agreed. But in May 2000 when Israel withdrew from South Lebanon, he carried his rifle again and was the first to enter our liberated village.

My father always tried his best to provide us with a "life better than that he lived", as he constantly says. He worked once in trade but he ended up broke, once opened a vegetable shop, then a mobile phone shop. And between this and that, he experienced long periods of unemployment when my mother was the sole breadwinner for many years. She worked inside and outside the house. She did everything. I don't know how she managed.

I do not understand this nostalgia mixed with sorrow in his eyes, when he tells the stories of a dirty, ugly war. I do not understand my mother either, when she reminisces her nights in the building's refuge. "Those were good days, Rizq Allah", she says. Maybe they yearn for their childhood, and their childhood is Civil War; just like I yearn for mine, and mine is a lot of things, including stories of Civil War. My father talks about the details of battles like I talk about the details of my first school. He tells funny stories about his comrades, before he moves on to checkpoints, armed confrontations, types of weapons used, the smell of gunpowder, and the tales of his capture and his love for my mother. I wonder if he ever thinks of those who died, even if they were the "enemy", or those who ran to hide.

He cringes when I call it a "Civil War", or when I call him a "militia man". It makes him face a savage truth that he has arduously escaped for the past twenty years. He says "we were forced to defend ourselves and our regions". When I insist on calling it a "Civil War" he naively responds, "but my closest friend is Christian", as if that is his legit certificate of innocence. I stubbornly ask "would you approve of me marrying a Christian man?". He remains silent for a while, both embarrassed and angry, then responds; "baba, one who marries from another religion dies in sorrow [2]... I am not sectarian, but this is the way our society is". I feel enraged. I have not reconciled myself to his past yet. I still have countless questions left unanswered.

I never saw him as a militia man, only as a dedicated father; an aggrieved man struggling to make a living for his family. I do not know of his past except what he and his comrades and sisters have told me. He always swears that he never killed anyone. Is that really true? Did he not aggress anyone when he was responsible for the neighbourhood's security? How did people feel when they saw him move around with his rifle? Maybe he did not kill, but he did befriend and defend people who killed.

I think of my father as a victim. He lost his youth and opportunities of education and work. But what of those who were killed? Of those who lost loved ones or those who still suffer anxieties because of a war they did not take part in? I have never asked him these questions. Perhaps I do not want to ask him. What of the child who lived with scarce food and water, living in a devastated Beirut, dead bodies around her house, whose memory holds the silhouette of militia men with rifles. My father may sympathise but will he realize that he, his comrades and their "enemies" were the reason behind that?

Were they really the reason? His mother, sisters and brothers could be that child. Was my father only an ideologized tool for a war that he made no decisions about, or was he a decision-maker? Who was the decision-maker? How do I draw the lines?

If another civil war breaks out, will my father "defend the area" again? He swore to me numerous times that he will not, and perhaps this time he will be busy with his new business. Only then, maybe, I will believe that he did not enter the first war with his own free will.


This blog series is an initiative of the Stop Stoning Women Campaign hosted by WLUML - campaigning to bring an end to Stoning.


[1] The Lebanese Civil War (1975-1991) between Muslim militias (in Western Beirut) and Christian militias (in Eastern Beirut), funded and orchestrated by external powers including Syria, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States. It ended in 1991 with the Taef Agreement that stipulated a new governmental system in Lebanon, leaving the country with a completely destructed infrastructure, more than 120,000 dead, tens of thousands injured, disabled and disappeared, and hundreds of thousands of immigrants.

[2] A famous Lebanese saying.