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Lecture revives stories of Lebanese bandits

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Dr. Youssef Mouawad talks about two bandits from Zgharta.

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Dr. Tarif Khalidi narrates the story of bandit Milhim Qasim.

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A photo of Milhim Qasim (center) with his two sons shown to the audience during the lecture.

Click on any photo above to view all three images

June 11, 2009—

Some of Lebanon’s most well-known bandits were peasants, such as Milhim Qasim from the Beqaa Valley, and Sleiman Mouawad and Mousa al-Aquri from Zgharta, explain two professors, Dr. Tarif Khalidi, professor of Islamic and Arabic studies, and Dr. Youssef Mouawad, professor of law.

Coming from varying backgrounds, Khalidi and Mouawad offered different perspectives on the legacy of bandits in Lebanon at a lecture organized by LAU’s Humanities Department on the Beirut campus, on May 7.

Khalidi based his research on historian Eric Hobsbawm’s theory, according to which social bandits are esteemed by peasants as heroes — although considered as criminals by the authorities.

A bandit is “admired and helped by his community, and takes from the rich to give to the poor,” said Khalidi.

But Mouawad argued that bandits are peasants who oppress and exploit others from their class.

“In the Mediterranean mountains, there is special type of banditry that doesn’t apply to Hobsbawm’s theory,” said Mouawad.

The two academics, who teach at AUB and LAU, became interested in the topic for different reasons.

While Mouawad was born in a clan of bandits in North Lebanon, Khalidi’s interest in the subject began when he heard a policeman shouting “Who do you think you are? Milhim Qasim?” at a person parking his car on a street in the Beqaa during the Lebanese Civil War (when parking was closely monitored).

Although Khalidi and Mouawad disagreed on several points, they both argued that bandits rise in reaction to violent acts committed against them or injustice in the society in general, and become legends with time.


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