An Interview with Eliane Raheb (Director)
The Real Lebanon—Everyone Has a Story
Q: What was your thinking behind the title “This is Lebanon”?
ER: That was something my father always used to say. In the film, he says “This is Lebanon” about the different parliamentary factions to describe the fact that political parties don’t exist in a true sense because at the end of the day they are connected to different religion sects. Often people will say “That’s Lebanon” like it’s an inevitable situation. That’s definitely the reality, but what I wanted to get across in the film was that there are people like myself and my friends who dream of a Lebanon that has moved beyond religious sectarianism.
The media in Lebanon project images of a glorious nation, while the western media portray it as being synonymous with war. I think that neither of them are the true face of Lebanon. I wanted to voice my objection to such superficial depictions. Everyone who lives in Lebanon has their own little story, and it could be a beautiful story, or it might be a terrible story. That is the true face of Lebanon, and it was with that meaning that I gave the film the title “This is Lebanon.”
Q: Afif made a powerful disclosure about losing his younger brother to mortal hatred, and losing a friend when his religious affiliation was discovered.
ER: Israel is no less than religious sectarianism brought into the Middle East. My father always says that Zionism’s scheme is to weaken the resistance of the entire Arab world by agitating various religious sects and using them. At the same time, when the media talk about the war with Israel, Hezbollah always comes up. Hezbollah certainly is a resistance movement, but it is also a religious sectarian organization. Originally, the war with Israel began because many communists and leftists wanted to restore justice in the region. The new generation themselves have to overcome that which we call religious sectarianism in order to resolve the problem of Israel. I think that by becoming self reliant as individuals, some new possibilities could emerge that would enable us to free ourselves from Israel.
Q: In the part near the end where your father struggles with the contradiction that you are his daughter, I felt that there was hope for your relationship.
ER: You’re right. My father is full of contradictions. He realizes that he is a religious sectarian. But he is afraid to deviate from the systems of family, church and society. He doesn’t repudiate me, in fact he is proud that I am trying to transcend this environment. I think that’s because even though he himself wasn’t able to overcome it, part of him wanted to. While he understands me, he also worries about me. The present situation is that religious sectarianism in Lebanon has not been overcome, and because that is the reality he is concerned that I will become isolated, like Zeina and Afif.
Q: What kind of future do you want for Lebanon?
ER: I want religion to be a matter of personal belief, and I want a society where it’s not a principle of governance or a deciding factor in everything from social structure to individual character. I hope that extremely narrow-minded identity will become more open, that politicians representing this new generation will emerge, and that our society will be one where a citizen can say that they are a citizen.
(Compiled by Tsuruoka Yuki)
Interviewers: Tsuruoka Yuki, Kimuro Shiho / Interpreter: Mori Shintaro / Translator: Don Brown
Photography: Hozumi Maki / Video: Hiroya Motoko / 2009-10-10