The Lebanese novelist reflects on the civil war engulfing the Middle East and what it takes to forgiveby Sameer Rahim / July 20, 2015 / Leave a comment
The great Lebanese novelist Elias Khoury is not only one of the giants of Arab literature, he is also one of the sharpest observers of a region that has been coping with dictatorship and civil war for decades. Born in 1948, he was raised in a mainly Christian area in East Beirut. During the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990), he sided with the Palestinians, volunteering with the PLO’s military wing. He has worked as a journalist and commentator for many years, and has published more than a dozen novels in Arabic. His name is regularly mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize. His most famous work in English is “Gate of the Sun”, which describes the lives of Palestinians after the founding of Israel in 1948. Khoury’s new novel, “The Broken Mirrors: Sinalcol”, follows Karim, who returns to Lebanon at the end of the civil war after years spent in France, hoping to reconnect with his divided family—and his divided country. I spoke to Elias Khoury in Beirut down the phone about the state of the Middle East, the death of Arab nationalism and what the role of the novelist can be in commenting on political events.
Sameer Rahim: It’s 25 years since the end of the civil war in Lebanon. Your new novel The Broken Mirrors deals with its legacy. Is Lebanon still living with the aftershocks?
Elias Khoury: I don’t think the civil war has ended. What’s happening in Syria shows the decomposition of the old nationalist, fascist system in the Arab world. The questions of Islamic fundamentalism and the despotism of the state are becoming a major problem for us and the world. Maybe our civil war was the rehearsal.
SR: You talked about the rise of Islamist extremism. Being an Arab Christian, do you feel Christianity is at risk in the Middle East?
EK: Firstly, I’m not an Arab Christian. I’m only an Arab. I come from a Christian family but I am not Christian. I’m just a citizen. I do not define myself through these terms. Also, it’s not only the Christian heritage being threatened: look at the catastrophe of the Yazidis. As for the Islamic fundamentalists, they have killed…