New Wars

Cathy Sultan focuses on Lebanon once again

Abi Zimmer |

While at first glance, this may look like a textbook from World History class, local author Cathy Sultan’s new release, Tragedy in South Lebanon: The Israeli-Hezbollah War of 2006, convinces her readers that this seemingly unknown war and its aftermath can be greatly impacted by us, even in the Midwest. In it, Sultan lays out in detail the story of the war, how it came to be, and its implications for the civilians of South Lebanon, northern Israel, and even U.S. citizens.

Sultan is able to write with firsthand experience of the people and culture in Lebanon because she lived there peacefully for a number of years with her Lebanese husband and two children. In 1975, however, Lebanon’s civil war began. For eight years, Sultan raced under bombs to help her children home from school and supported her husband, who was a physician treating the wounded. Though they eventually settled in Eau Claire, Sultan has continued to make trips back to the Middle East. On one visit, she was compelled to tell the story of Hezbollah victims, but did not find opportunity until her latest book on South Lebanon’s 34-day war. “Tragedy has given me a chance to talk about a region of the country long neglected and ignored, one that has borne the burden of repeated aggression and devastation,” says Sultan.

When Sultan and her family came to the Midwest, people were reluctant to take interest in her stories because they could not relate to her war experiences. Their attitudes, though discouraging, pushed her to write as a way of personal healing. Now, with three books published on the subject, people are responding differently and with greater interest. “My readers appreciate hearing the unheard voices and their stories,” Sultan says.

Two such unheard stories are given voice in Tragedy. Sultan recounts the narratives of a Hezbollah fighter and an Israeli soldier, who both describe the same battle with similar hopes of peace with each other. Relating these honest interviews is one way Sultan tells it as it is, refuting the media’s skewed images of the event and showing a more accurate picture of the conflict.

Sultan’s wish for those who read her book is that they will become better educated and continue to be knowledgeable on Middle Eastern events. “The war in Iraq is not an isolated event taking place in one country. Its repercussions are felt throughout the entire Middle East,” says Sultan.

To encourage a continued awareness of Middle Eastern events, Sultan, along with Kate Lang of the UW-Eau Claire history department, established the Arab World Lecture Fund open to the community. “People around the world follow these events very carefully, even if we don’t, and they understand that the policies of this administration have greatly harmed and impacted an entire region. This realization doesn’t make us safer.” The lecture fund will bring speakers to talk specifically about Arab world issues. The first speaker will present next spring.

In the mean time, Sultan plans on traveling to a book signing in Beirut, where hundreds of copies of her book have been sold already, and then will continue writing. She jokes, “I may tackle the challenge of learning how to write fiction. Inchallah! (If God wills).”