Even after 15 years, the Lebanese conflict has never taken the form of mass communal violence, of ethnic riots and massacres. There are no cases where the population of one neighborhood raided another, looting and killing. Exactly the reverse: Groups have found shelter from the fighting among other groups. In Lebanon, the militias caused the violence, random and otherwise, among the population. At any point in the conflict the number of fighters participating in all the different militias never exceeded 30,000. Over the 15 years, at one time or another, maybe 90,000 or 100,000 out of a population of 3 million were ever part of this. So 80 percent of the population has not participated actively in the conflict. They may have been partly mobilized behind or against one faction or another at various times. But the war society as such is certainly less than one fifth of Lebanese society. Civil society has persisted through it all. Professional associations and trade unions functioned, even if many activities were curtailed. Dozens of protest movements have emerged in the last few years against the war system — sit-ins, strikes, marches, symbolic acts small and large. This is an undocumented part of the history of the conflict. This is why Lebanese society has not collapsed and why reconciliation is feasible.

How to cite this article:

Salim Nasr "The Militia Phenomenon," Middle East Report 162 (January/February 1990).

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