The Runaway to the Future

Constructing the Myth of an Asectarian Lebanon in Postwar National Currency Images

In: Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication

Between 1920 and 2000, Lebanon’s national currency changed both in shape and form over six times, the last being during the post-civil war era of the 1990s. But despite their eventful chronicle, the country’s banknotes preserved the same oriental ornamentation and theme of cultural tourism. It was not until the 1990s, with the end of the civil war and the advent of a new non-feudal leadership, that the iconic character of the Lebanese pound changed completely. This paper explores the currency change using semiotic analysis developed by Barthes and Baudrillard in order to compare the currency designs of the 1960s and the 1990s. It proposes that the postwar replacement of national currency reflects, among other things, a conscious effort on the part of the new Lebanese leadership to change Lebanon’s national identity and slowly deemphasize sectarian tensions in the collective memory of its people. To achieve this objective, the postwar government resorted to postmodern banknotes, almost void of social and political meaning. However, as this paper argues, the effort to overcome the divisive issues of the war was attempted solely at the level of the simulacra. The new Lebanon—as reflected in the new currency—is void of history, sectarian tensions and divisive issues; it only exists on the banknotes.

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    For this reason, Barrett (1995) argues, people were very skeptical when first asked to use paper money. Only emergency and necessity succeeded in imposing the new medium as a widely used currency.

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    Personal communication, October 2008.

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    Personal communication, October 2008.

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    Interview, 18 October 2008.

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