Hiba Bou Akar talks about her latest book, For the War Yet to Come: Planning Beirut’s Frontiers, with Marc Lynch on this week’s podcast. The book examines urban planning in three neighborhoods of Beirut’s southeastern peripheries, revealing how these areas have been developed into frontiers of a continuing sectarian order.
Bou Akar explains, “So I start looking at the planning and how these residential complexes ended up mushrooming in an agricultural area but also next to inductees and eventually like a whole world starts opening to me about how… war displacement has shaped the housing market. There are political organizations that are fighting over territory after the war. And how planning is a tool in that conflict. It would sometimes be of negotiation and sometimes of contestation.”
She goes on to say, “So the [idea of], For The War Yet to Come ends up being like this expectation of war that is either going to be like an Arab-Israeli war…or sectarian war, a regional war or whatever; that ends up shaping how people make decisions about where they live. Religious political organizations end up using this idea to keep people in strongholds. They intervene in the housing market…access to, for example, airports or to the waterfront etc…As a person who grew up in the Civil War and was personally displaced six times, I think I was haunted by the idea: What does it mean to live in a place where we were always expecting something disastrous to happen in the future?”
“It was interesting to me because if you want to take a theoretical l lens I was like, people don’t talk about when they think about land as Christian land you know like thinking about for example New York or other places in the world. And the fact that the land is talked about in…a religious terminology was interesting to me. And then when you map religion and sectarianism to land then anyone who is trying to just secure housing becomes like oh what is your religion, oh you’re taking over , you’re Islamizing. And then you go from Islamizing for example the neighborhood to Islamizing the Middle East…It goes from one apartment or building blocks to becoming, on TV, Islamization of Lebanon…And so I got fascinated by the idea how people, without even blinking, assigned religion to land,” said Bou Akar.
Hiba Bou Akar is an Assistant Professor in the Urban Planning program at Columbia GSAPP. Her research focuses on planning in conflict and post-conflict cities, the question of urban security and violence, and the role of religious political organizations in the making of cities. Bou Akar’s research has been supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), the Wenner- Gren Foundation, and the Arab Council for the Social Sciences (ACSS). Bou Akar received her Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning with a designated emphasis in Global Metropolitan Studies from the University of California at Berkeley. She holds a Bachelor of Architecture from the American University of Beirut (AUB) and Master in Urban Studies and Planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).