“A Massacre without Precedent”

Pedagogical constituencies and communities of knowledge in Mandate Lebanon

Authored by: Nadya Sbaiti

The Routledge Handbook of the History of the Middle East Mandates

Print publication date:  June  2015
Online publication date:  June  2015

Print ISBN: 9781138800588
eBook ISBN: 9781315713120
Adobe ISBN: 9781317497066

10.4324/9781315713120.ch20

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Abstract

Students in Beirut had had enough. In July 1940, French High Commissioner Gabriel Puaux received a densely worded, three-page letter, in which “étudiants et étudiantes” complained about the impossibility of passing the second part of the baccalaureate and denounced the diploma’s failure to fulfill its promise of a “blossoming future.” The students stated “with regret” that copies of the letter had already been affixed to the “doors of both French and Lebanese schools.” It is worth quoting from the letter at some length in order to illustrate the different elements the students identified as worthy of a fight:

We have lain dormant twenty years, hoping for a better life and waiting for a blossoming future, believing the chimerical pretensions of some and blindly placing all of our confidence in those who hold our money, we accepted their laws, their pressure and … we find ourselves finally, after 20 years of sleep, facing the impenetrable obstacles knowingly prepared by our republican regime, or rather by those who pretended and still pretend to be “ZEALOUS PATRIOTS.”

….

[T]he bounty, the beneficence and the devotion of the French … wanted us to form our ideal government and to perfect us in modern civilization, to hurry us at every moment to put an end to or even to limit the pressure of some and to justify the rights of others. …

However, weary of life in this state, we can no longer support such pressure. And since it is time to react, we react; because it would be better to die with the dignity of our family and of our country than to live as slaves of some “ambitious charlatans.”

….

To avoid a true massacre we appeal to the government to eliminate the baccalaureate, second part, math and philosophy sections, for all those candidates who have not had the good fortune to succeed on their exam, in order that they can do justice to their families, because many find themselves in the impossible [situation] of not being able to continue their studies or to prepare a second exam [i.e., to retake it]. … The government is well within its right to triple the tax (on this “morsel of paper”) …; but it does not have any right to make us lose our future and [cause] our families to suffer.

If the government takes our demands into consideration, it will have avoided a frightening massacre and saved the lives of those who would be victims of these bad rulers.

[Then] the youth in its entirety will rally to the side of its government and march with it, saluting the state and glory.

So there you have it, Sirs, the result of twenty-five years of occupation and ten years of study. … The French [language] awaits you to support our just cause. Our love for France tyrannizes us. … Perhaps far from our families, far from our friends, the sword will dictate our destiny.1

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