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Dickinson Professor Probes Links Among War Crimes, Terrorism and Gender Issues

mireille rebeiz

Photo by Dan Loh.

Mireille Rebeiz explores the connections between such issues as war crimes, terrorism, Lebanese women writers and sexuality

by Tony Moore

Mireille Rebeiz is well versed on a dizzying array of topics, and she's adept at tying them together in ways that might be surprising. The assistant professor of French & francophone studies and women's, gender & sexuality studies' first book, Gendering Civil War: Francophone Women’s Writing in Lebanon (Edinburgh University Press, 2022), examines French-language narratives published since the 1970s by Lebanese women writers, focusing on the Lebanese civil war of 1975-91. And her next will center on terrorism, international law and war crimes, another extension of her scholarly and academic focus. 

It's a lot to consider, but Rebeiz is clearly the right person to tie it all together.

The law, the French language, women's and gender studies, terrorism, the Middle East/North Africa. Your interests seem boundless. What motivates you to dive into so many seemingly disparate fields? (Or are they even disparate to you?)

They are not disparate to me! I come from Lebanon, home of cedar trees and the first law school in the world! Historically, Lebanon had always had a unique relationship with France. After WWI, Lebanon was placed under French mandate, and today, Lebanon is a key player in the International Organization of La Francophonie. French is the main language of education in Lebanon. On a personal note, my maternal grandfather served in the French military, and I have family in Lebanon and France. This explains my interest in France/Middle East/North African relations.

As to the law, women, gender and sexuality issues, in addition to my doctorate in francophone studies, I hold a master’s degree in international law and human rights, and I worked in the legal field before shifting into academia. I worked in refugee camps in the Middle East, where I interviewed asylum seekers and refugees and translated their legal cases from Arabic to French or English. Law and gender issues continue to be my focus inside the classroom and in my academic work.

Your books—the 2022 release and the new one you’ve begun—seem to tie these areas of study together. Did you have to in a sense figure out how to connect some of these issues, or are the connections clearly there already?

In my mind, the connection is clearly there. Identity issues, whether they are related to gender, religion or language, played a major role in the 1975-91 civil war in Lebanon and in the rise of terrorism in the Middle East. Toxic masculinity, religious intolerance and conflicted postcolonial identities clashed and created the perfect storm that killed over 120,000 Lebanese, displaced 1,000,000, forced into disappearance an estimated number of 17,000 and sustained billions of dollars in damages to infrastructure and properties. Today, these issues remain unresolved in Lebanon and the Middle East in general. They must be examined, so we learn from our mistakes and avoid repeating them in the future.

Tell me about Gendering Civil War: Francophone Women’s Writing in Lebanon. What inspired it, and what can the readership expect?

Writing Gendering Civil War: Francophone Women’s Writing in Lebanon was simultaneously an enjoyable and painful experience. It was enjoyable because I love doing research and writing. It was painful because I had to read and write about the civil war in Lebanon. I witnessed it as a child, but to academically read about it was a whole different experience. I wanted to learn about my own past but also to listen to women who rejected violence, who stood up for justice and who decided to write to bear witness to what happened.

As to what readers can expect, the book examines war narratives by six Lebanese francophone women writers and studies gender and trauma issues from historical and literary angles. Some aspects of the book are technical, but overall the book remains accessible to a wide audience.

And your new one—which focuses on crimes in war in Lebanon, terrorism and international law—sounds ambitious and fascinating. What inspired it?

Reading about the civil war in Lebanon inspired me to continue researching the subject but from a different perspective this time. The first book is more literary based. The second book focuses on history and law. To be honest, anger is what inspired me to pursue this line. When the civil war ended, Lebanon adopted a General Amnesty Law, which basically forgave all crimes committed prior to 1991. There was no prosecution to all the gross human rights violations that happened during the civil war period, there was no transitional justice nor reparation, and the militia members and warlords of yesterday are today’s politicians and elected officials. It is outrageous. My desire to research and write are simply motivated by this frustration against the Lebanese public figures and this injustice that my people have witnessed and continue to witness today.

You’re headed to law school here in Carlisle. How will you fit a law degree into your professional life?

Yes, I am proud to say that I am enrolled in the doctoral program (SJD) in law at Penn State Dickinson Law. I am a firm believer that one is never done learning. Also, in my mind law, language, gender and sexuality, war and trauma are related. For me, a doctorate in law is a natural extension of my previous work. Concretely, it helps me with my research, as in my second book focuses on issues of domestic law, international law and armed conflicts. Additionally, it helps me become a better professor. In fall 2020, I audited a course on the 19th Amendment taught by the dean and Donald J. Farage Professor of Law, Danielle M. Conway. The readings I did for this course not only stimulated my intellectual curiosity—making me appreciate the American women that came before me—but also helped me improve my own teaching of the 19th Amendment.

On a lighter note, I enjoy being a link between Dickinson College and Penn State Dickinson Law. I have the unique experience of being a full-time professor in one institution and a full-time student in another! Today, I relate differently to my students as I share some of their experiences, especially the stress of submitting homework on time!

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Published October 6, 2021

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