Burning tires: Symbol of conflict to sign of peace

Story highlights

  • A Lebanese activist group has been painting tires to promote peace and national unity
  • Tires, piled and burned to create road blocks, are a symbol of Lebanon's conflicts
  • The group, based in Hezbollah's heartland, uses art to lure youth away from sectarianism
  • It was founded to help young people traumatized by the 2006 conflict with Israel
With years of bloodshed in its recent past, Lebanon doesn't want for symbols of conflict. But if one image conjures up the country's fractious political climate better than any other, it's the burning tire.
A common sight during the civil war that ravaged the country from 1975 to 1990, these impromptu roadblocks have re-appeared with regularity in the decades since, whenever flashpoints arise between Lebanon's diverse religious communities, or grievances swell up against the government or army.
But an activist group in the country's Hezbollah-dominated south is reclaiming what has become a wearying symbol of division and conflict, and is recasting it as a symbol of national dialogue.
In recent weeks, tires painted in bright colors have appeared in the center of the southern city of Nabatieh -- arranged not as barricades, but as coffee tables, chairs, flower pots and book shelves.
"When people first see the tires, they laugh and say 'Wow, are you planning to burn them?'" said Layla Serhan, one of the organizers of the project, through a translator. "But then they would sit and talk, and ask us to do more all over the town. Because we don't need more burning -- we need something beautiful, something that brings happiness."
Serhan is the president of the Youth Network for Civic Activism (YNCA), a group formed four years ago