For the War Yet to Come: Planning Beirut’s Frontiers, Hiba Bou Akar’s exceptional book, lays out the role urban planning has played in the city’s development. Bou Akar impressively weaves a complicated story of how Beirut’s sectarian conflicts dictated the city’s growth and, in turn, how that growth and development, what she terms “planning without development,” is used as a tool for supporting sectarian differences and power struggles to control the city. The city’s sectarian power struggles include the Druze, Shiite, Sunni, and Christian populations who influence planning and development to further their territorial claims.
Bou Akar makes an essential contribution to the urban studies and planning fields. She demonstrates the shadow side of planning—that is, how planning is used politically for sustaining and amplifying sectarian differences and violence. Bou Akar argues that in the planning literature, planning is framed as a pathway to progress, peace, order, and freedom.1 However, Bou Akar’s study shows that there is a shadow side of planning—to encourage conflict, emphasize difference, and create fear for the war to come. A central finding of her book is “that planning can be a tool of war as well as peace” (184).
The book focuses on planning as a tool of war. Bou Akar employs a planning logic that she terms “the war yet to come” to uncover the complicated urban planning relationships in Beirut’s sectarian frontiers. As she explains, “The war yet to come thus approaches war not as a temporal aberration in the flow of events, with a beginning and an end, but as a state of affairs expected to reoccur … the anticipation of future war has thus become a governing modality within Beirut’s peripheries” (7). Her astute framing helps us trace planning’s role within Beirut’s geographies of war during times of peace. She demonstrates how fear and the future threat of violence spur specific economic and physical development in neighborhoods on the outskirts of Beirut. Her analysis of Beirut’s planning political economy is fascinating and insightful, as the following quote demonstrates.
Planning for future conflict is also responsible for the ongoing creation of frontiers in Beirut. Structured by past wars and in anticipation of new ones, this new condition involves more than battlefield logics or paramilitary maneuvering. It involves the calculated construction, in times of peace, of a spatial order of sectarian and political difference. Thus, this book has additionally sought to reveal the important role played by religious-political organizations in shaping urban planning and zoning schemes, land and housing markets, and the provision of infrastructure. (177)