June 18, 2006

“The Israelis Live Over There, So I Don’t Have to Forgive Them!”

Mount Lebanon Region.JPG

I intended to publish this essay last year, but it got bumped and put into cold storage. Here it is after a too-long delay. – MJT

MOUNT LEBANON - Photojournalist Dan and I hitchhiked from the broiling and humid Mediterranean shore to the cool heights of the Mount Lebanon region where we could walk, breathe, and hang out in the sun without feeling like we had been dipped in a hot tub with our clothes on.

Dan wanted to go sight-seeing in comfort. I had other reasons for going. It would have been extraordinarily irresponsible to spend six months in Lebanon and get all my information from more or less like-minded people in the cosmopolitan core of Beirut. So I talked to random individuals on the street, in bars, and in cafes. I met with Hezbollah and attended one of their events. I spoke to people in the mountains and villages to get a read on the provinces.

It only takes one or two minutes to flag down a ride in Lebanon’s mountains, even if you’re an obvious foreigner. So Dan and I stuck out our thumbs (our open hands, actually) and hailed down two young mountain men in their convertible Jeep.

Roman Bridge Lebanon.jpg
Roman bridge over the Dog River

“Get in the back, guys,” the driver said.

Dan and I hopped in the back and sat on a pile of guns.

“I’m Firas,” said the driver with the Che Guevara style beard.

“I’m Joe,” said his buddy in the passenger seat. (Joe? His name was Joe?) Both spoke English with Arabic accents.

Firas hit the gas and spun around hair-raising mountain turns as though he were playing bumper cars at an amusement park. I tried in vain to get comfortable while sitting on five or six rifles, and tried in vain to pretend Firas knew how to drive like an adult.

“No Taliban here,” Firas said. “Only Hezbollah, ha ha. Too bad for you…we’re going to kill you now.”

Dan and I laughed out loud and introduced ourselves.

“Okay,” Firas said. “We promise not to kill you.”

“We can’t, man,” Joe said. “They’re sitting on the guns.”

"Oh shit," Firas said.

I pulled the notebook out of my pocket and did my best to write down the dialogue while Firas damn near careened us over cliffs and into the river.

Lebanese River.jpg

His driving was ferociously bad even for Lebanon. I suspected he was trying to impress me and Dan. Like most Lebanese, he had ripped the seatbelts out of his car.

“Where are you from?” Firas said.

“We’re Americans,” Dan said.

“I’ve met lots of Americans,” Firas said. “I recently got back from Iraq.”

“You were in Iraq?” I said. “Doing what? Killing the infidel?"

“Ha ha, no," he said. "Working in the Green Zone. I made a lot of money. A lot of money. But I’m glad to be back in Lebanon. It is beautiful here, yes? This is the Valley of Pain. Adonis was killed here and his blood made the river.”

I foolishly had forgotten my camera. Dan had his professional camera with him, but he rarely takes pictures of scenery. The pictures shown here were taken on similar roads on other trips.

“Show them the picture of the fish, dude,” Firas said.

Joe fished the digital camera out of his pocket and browsed through the photos. “Here it is,” he said and passed the camera to me and Dan in the back. Firas was shown holding a fish in his mouth by its head.

“You took this picture today?” I said.

“Yesterday,” Firas said. “We went camping. We’re on our way home now."

Lebanon Forest.jpg

“Man, I haven’t had a cigarette for two days!” Joe said.

“Do you go camping a lot?” Dan said.

“We do,” Joe said. “I want to meet an Americans woman who wants to go with me into the mountains to hunt. But American women never want to come with me. They think it is silly.”

“Nature is my religion,” Firas said. “I make love with the wolf and the sky.”

*

One of the real pleasures of traveling in the Middle East is the almost embarrassingly generous offers of friendship and hospitality from total strangers, especially in the small towns and villages.

Dan and I had spent most of the afternoon lolling around with a random family in the town of Yachouch. We had been trying to make our way to Aqfa, but we ended up on the wrong road and went far astray. A nice man dropped us off in Yachouch on his way home, and the instant we stepped out of the car a family having lunch in their front yard invited us to join them. We accepted, of course.

Christian Village Mount Lebanon.JPG
A Christian village, Metn region, Mount Lebanon

The oldest daughter, a Christian, had a Muslim boyfriend. She told us that every boyfriend she ever had was a Muslim and that her parents didn’t mind as long as she found a Christian to marry.

Her mother was addicted to politics, as most people in Lebanon are. She had her very own conspiracy theory revolving around American neoconservatives that would make an International ANSWER activist blush. As Dan and I left to head back to Beirut, she told me in no uncertain terms that I must bring my wife back to their house to celebrate Christmas.

So by the time Firas and Joe pulled the jeep into their village, the sun was going down and the air was getting cold.

"Time for beer!" Firas said and screeched the jeep to a halt in front of a grocery shack set back from the road. He opened the doors and gestured at a plastic table and four plastic chairs under a grand tree that was older than the republic. "Have a seat."

Dan and I settled in two plastic chairs. What a relief to get off the guns.

Firas and Joe went into the store and rummaged through the refrigerator. They came back with four green bottles of locally brewed Almaza beer with the caps already popped.

"Cheers!" Firas said and we clinked our bottles and began to drink.

"Tell me something, guys," Joe said. “Lots of Americans come here and think we like Hezbollah. Why? We hate Hezbollah!”

I tried to explain that most Americans don't know much about Lebanon, just as most Lebanese don't know much about the U.S. Some Americans who do go to Lebanon can’t quite believe that Sunni Muslims and Druze have as hard a time with Hezbollah as the Christians. It just doesn't compute.

"Do you guys want peace with Israel then?" I said.

"So the embassy sent you!" Joe only half-jokingly said.

“Making peace between states is not the same as making peace between people," Firas said. "We may be sitting here as friends at this moment, but I am thinking of the time in the future when I will kill you.” Then he checked himself. “I am not talking about us, this is just a general example of what sometimes happens.”

“Why do we have to be at war with Israel all the time?” Joe said to Firas.

"Don't say it, dude," Firas said.

“I know people from the south who did very well under the Israeli occupation," Joe said. "They made money, they were safe, and they were happy. Under Hezbollah it is hell.”

“Those are just personal stories,” Firas said.

“Don’t believe everything you read, dude,” Joe said.

Firas took off his shirt, walked over to the jeep, and pulled out a rifle.

“Shoot this gun,” he said and tried to hand it over to Dan.

“I don’t want to,” Dan said. “It’s dark and I can’t see.”

It was pretty dark now. And we were inside a village. It really wasn’t the best time and place to fire a rifle.

“He is afraid,” Joe said.

“Just shoot at the mountain, dude,” Firas said to Dan. “You won’t hit anybody.”

Dan is a nice liberal from the American Midwest with a low opinion of weapons. I’m from ideologically ambiguous Oregon, where Republicans smoke pot and liberals shoot guns.

“I’ll shoot it,” I said to Firas, “if you shoot it first.”

“I want Dan to shoot it,” Firas said.

They went round and round for several minutes.

"Come on!" Firas said. "Just point the rifle up and shoot at the mountain!"

"It's night," Dan said, getting annoyed. "And we're in a town."

Urban Village Mount Lebanon.jpg
Most Lebanese “villages” are actually small semi-vertical towns

Firas finally just pointed the thing at the night sky and BANG fired a round into the dark side the mountain.

"Hey!" someone yelled from a house down the street.

Firas wordlessly put his gun back in the jeep. Dan was off the hook, and I did not get to shoot it.

"There sure are a lot of guns in this country," I said.

Firas, still shirtless, returned to his plastic chair. "We all have guns," he said. “Lebanese women are tough, too. My mother can shoot any weapon at all with one hand.”

Joe and Firas invited me and Dan to go camping with them next weekend.

“If you come with us I’ll bring my M-16,” Joe said.

“You have an M-16?” I said.

“Yes,” Joe said. “It is normal.”

I asked him now normal it is for Christians and Muslims to date and to marry. I was slightly surprised a young Christian woman from higher up on the mountain had only dated young Muslim men.

“My girlfriend is Muslim,” Joe said. “We have no future. I don’t care about her religion. She doesn’t care about my religion. Only our parents care.”

“Have you met her parents?” I said.

Joe laughed. “What am I supposed to say? Hi I’m Joe and wait for her dad to get his gun?”

Inter-religious marriages are becoming slightly more common, mostly among the urban elite and middle class. But civil marriage doesn’t exist in Lebanon yet. If a Muslim wants to marry a Christian they have to go to Cyprus where secular marriage is legal – a real irony considering Muslim-Christian relations (actually Turkish-Greek relations) are far worse on Cyprus right now than they are in Lebanon.

“Why doesn’t Lebanon have civil marriage yet?” I said.

“It’s Lebanon, man,” Firas said. “We will have another war soon. Every 15 or 20 years we have to have a war.”

“Do you want a war?” I said.

“Lebanese people are always ready for anything,” Firas said. “If you lead us to peace, we are ready for peace. If you lead us to war, we are ready for war.”

Joe was more certain that he wanted peace. Many of his family members had been brutally massacred by Palestinian gunmen in Damour south of Beirut. Every Christian house in that town was destroyed on January 20, 1976. The inhabitants were murdered, mutilated, and raped.

Damour Massacre.JPG
Damour at the time of the massacre

Both Joe and Firas forgive their old Palestinian enemies as well as their old enemies the Druze in the Chouf mountains. Some of the worst rounds of fighting during the entire war were between Christians and Druze for control of the mountains.

“Why did you forgive the Druze but not the Israelis?” I said to Firas.

Chouf War Damage.jpg
Leftover destruction from the war of the Chouf.

The Druze were the fiercest fighters of any nationality or sect during the war. They believe in reincarnation, and they believe they will be reborn as Druze. Druze don’t even think of surrender. No group of warriors terrified other Lebanese militias quite like the Druze. “Eat with the Druze, but sleep with the Christians,” is a Lebanese saying that persists to this day, based on the (not reasonable) fear that a Druze might cut your throat in your sleep.

Beirut 1982.JPG
West Beirut during the Israeli invasion in 1982

“I forgive the Druze because I don’t have any choice,” Firas said as he hardened the muscles in his jaw line. “Because…they live here.” His voice sounded anguished now as though he were remembering horrors I can only imagine, horrors that he tried not to think about but could never ever forget. “The Israelis don’t live here. The Israelis live over there so I don’t have to forgive them!

Post-script: I’m trying to put together enough money for trips to Iran (if the mullahs let me in), Afghanistan, and Algeria – the most under-reported post-Islamist place in the world. Please hit the tip jar and make this all possible. And thanks so much for your help so far.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at June 18, 2006 04:58 PM
Comments

“Making peace between states is not the same as making peace between people," Firas said. "We may be sitting here as friends at this moment, but I am thinking of the time in the future when I will kill you.”

Firas said it for me. I wanted to post the same remark in the comments after your meeting with Lisa Goldman but decided it wasn't the right time to challenge a beautiful illusion. Reality will arrive home soon enough and the innocent will grow up.

Posted by: chuck at June 18, 2006 05:26 PM

Hmm. You think they wanted you to shoot first so they'd be able claim self defense? But then some unknown person was too close.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at June 18, 2006 07:25 PM

What are you getting at, Josh?

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 18, 2006 07:31 PM

That insisting that you fire a gun might have been a set up. I have no idea if that's likely, what do you think?

Posted by: Josh Scholar at June 18, 2006 07:32 PM

Sorry for the paranoia. It's what happens when I read you with 24 playing in the background, I guess.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at June 18, 2006 07:51 PM

It's an interesting question, to what extent the Druze belief in reincarnation affects their behavior, makes them brave soldiers, etc. For sure, they are not kamikazees or suicide bombers, and it certainly doesn't seem to ease the grief of parents who have lost a son in battle. Occasionally, a Druze child who was born the same day a soldier was killed will claim to be his reincarnation, and actually becomes part of the family. As many as 20% of Druze children claim to recall a past life.

Posted by: MarkC at June 18, 2006 08:09 PM

Mark, I had a friend who was an ex-Marine and a Christian fundimentalist.

He claimed that in the Marines you won't be promoted at all unless you're religious. There's an assumption (that he agreed with) that non-religious people will put too much value on their own lives.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at June 18, 2006 08:50 PM

Josh: That insisting that you fire a gun might have been a set up. I have no idea if that's likely, what do you think?

Definitely not. (Dan did go camping with these guys the following weekend. I couldn't go. And he's still alive.)

Sorry for the paranoia. It's what happens when I read you with 24 playing in the background, I guess.

Ha ha, understood.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 18, 2006 09:35 PM

I could say this is a story of your typical Lebanese Joe :)

Posted by: Lira at June 19, 2006 06:32 AM

"I forgive the Druze because I don’t have any choice," Firas said as he hardened the muscles in his jaw line. "Because…they live here."... "The Israelis don't live here. The Israelis live over there so I don’t have to forgive them!"

Michael, I'm not sure how to take that statement. Does it indicate despair in that this "typical Joe", ostensibly representative of other citizens in his country, is so hardened against Israel that forgiveness -- arguably, a necessary component of peace, although not necessarily a prerequisite -- is impossible? Or does it indicate a hopeful future, in that once the "typical Joes" get past objectifying Israelis as people "over there" and start really viewing them as individuals, that peace can start?

Yes, I know that the argument can be made both ways, that Israelis should stop objectifying Arabs as people "over there" too. But you're post was about a couple of Lebanese guys, so I was trying to stay on topic and not digress too much. Adding the subject of the Israeli "typical Joe", as valid as that would be, would really expand the scope of this post. At any rate: In my mind, the statement is unforgiving in a way, but at the same time it shows the anger is directed more conceptually and less personally. But I wasn't there; you were. How do you think we should take that statement? Recall that some of us (me, in particular) are stuck in places lacking information, and therefore do not have the perspective and the context with which to judge statements like that.

Posted by: ElMondoHummus at June 19, 2006 10:12 AM

ElMondoHummus: How do you think we should take that statement?

I think it explains why Lebanese are making peace with Israel last, and with each other first. They still haven't made peace with each other. Hezbollah is outside the post-war culture entirely.

Sometimes I suspect - although I don't actually know - that some of the built-up civil war era trauma and rage that can no longer be safely directed at their own countrymen is projected onto the "safe" target of Israel instead.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 19, 2006 10:20 AM

As far as the one guy being named Joe, isn't the local version of Joseph (I'm thinking Yusuf or Yossef) a very common name in that part of the world?

Posted by: Stacy at June 19, 2006 11:04 AM

some of the built-up civil war era trauma and rage that can no longer be safely directed at their own countrymen is projected onto the "safe" target of Israel instead.

Well, I guess that makes it all right then, doesn't it?

Since you can't safely hate the people who, you know, actually massacred your family (since if you didn't forgive them they might keep killing you) you hate the Jews instead. I mean, come on: how many people have had their throats cut in their sleep for hating the Jews? But, hey, gotta watch them Druze, man, they'll fuck you up. Safer to hate the Jews.

Pretty neat gig if you can get it.

Posted by: Ephraim at June 19, 2006 12:16 PM

There seems to be no overall leading light for good in the ME.

Osama Bin Laden is more of a world pirate than a real Muslim leader.

It would be refreshing if a tolerant wise and gifted Muslim leader were to come forward and lead followers to a more moderate practice of the faith.

It would be great if a peace loving charismatic Muslim leader were supported by good Muslims world wide.

A leader who was the antidote to the evil diseased leader known as Osama Bin Laden.

This is an invitation to Muslims who follow this blogsite to appoint and support the good and wise leader that you know could lead Muslims back to worldwide respect.

Who may that be? Is the Muslim faith doomed to be used by many warring chieftans for clawing out their own power and wealth? TG

Posted by: TonyGuitar at June 19, 2006 12:20 PM

Ephraim: Well, I guess that makes it all right then, doesn't it?

I didn't say that.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 19, 2006 12:22 PM

Ephraim, I noticed that long ago. It's extremely sick, but probably true. That's the price of acting civilized among bullies, you become everyone's bitch. Israelis are the most hated people in the middle east because they're the least feared.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at June 19, 2006 12:24 PM

TonyGuiter: Think Ali Sistani.

Posted by: Omega80 at June 19, 2006 12:29 PM

stacy-- yes, youssef is a very common name in this part of the world. but "joseph" itself is actually a fairly common name among lebanese christians (and is often shortened to joe).

Posted by: carine at June 19, 2006 12:29 PM

Josh,

It's not that Israelis are the least feared. (They are very much feared in South Lebanon.) It's that Lebanese were all but forced to make peace with each other because they live together in the same miniscule country. But they don't live with Israelis so peace is less strictly necessary.

It's only logical that they make peace with each other first. It could not possibly have gone the other way around. And since there is still no national unity in Lebanon (Hezbollah is still armed, dangerous, and outside the mainstream) resolving the conflict with Israel isn't yet possible.

I'm not saying you should like it, that's just the situation. It's fluid and changeable, though. I know a couple of Lebanese whose attitudes softened considerably since I first met them.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 19, 2006 12:31 PM

I know. I'm just needling you. But it cried out for a comment, and since you did not make your position on this clear, I thought I would direct some snark at what seemed to me to be pretty low-hanging fruit.

It's just another example, albeit a minor one, of the effect that the unarticulated assumption that everyone makes about this conflict has on pretty much every aspect of the discussion: the Arabs are crazy, stubborn, proud and violent, and so pressuring them to be realistic won't work. I know! let's lean on the Jews instead. They at least listen to reason.

I know you didn't mean it like this, so I am not accusing you of holding this view, since I don't think you do. The connection is very subtle, but it is there.

Of course, you may put it down to Jewish paranoia if you wish.

Nice pix. Lebanon looks like beautiful place (albeit filled with some pretty crazy people).

I got a kick out of the Christian Mom's "you can date them but don't marry them" attitude. I know a Christian Palestinian-American guy whose parents immigrated to San Francisco from Ramallah in 1957. He used to travel a lot on business to places like Indonesia and Malaysia, and every time he left he told me that his mother warned him in no uncertain terms against bringing a Muslim girl home with him.

But it was sad to read that Joe has accpeted the fact that the Christian community in Lebanon has no future (he's probably right, unfortunately). The same is true of the Christian community in "Palestine". My friend's family left Ramallah not because of the Israelis (it was 10 years before the '67 war), but because of the Muslim government in Jordan. There was no development money for the "West Bank", much less for Christian towns like Ramnallah, and his father saw no future for the Christians under the Hashemites, so he left and went to America. The Jews had nothing to do with it.

And the same thing is happening now. The Christians of Lebanon and "Palestine" have been abandoned by their fellow Christians who have all drunk the PLO (and now Hamas) "liberation" Kool-Aid. It must be a very bitter pill for them to swallow to know that their fellow Christians care more about the Muslims than they care about them.

Posted by: Ephraim at June 19, 2006 12:47 PM

Ephraim: But it was sad to read that Joe has accpeted the fact that the Christian community in Lebanon has no future (he's probably right, unfortunately)

Wait, that's not what he said. He said he and his Muslim girlfriend have no future together because their parents won't allow it.

This is how attitudes change, one generation at a time. Joe probably will not harrangue his own children about this.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 19, 2006 12:54 PM

Oh, OK.

But I still think that my point about the Christians, at least in the nascent "Palestine", still stands. They are emigrating at an alarming rate, and towns that were once majority Christian are quickly becoming Christian-rein, to coin a phrase.

I'd like to see a post from you on that, if you have any information.

And it is an open secret that all of the Palestinian homosexuals run away from "Palestine" to live in Tel Aviv with their Jewish lovers.

Posted by: Ephraim at June 19, 2006 01:04 PM

MJT: Wait, that's not what he said. He said he and his Muslim girlfriend have no future together because their parents won't allow it.

Its like Romeo and Juliet except its about Holy War.

Posted by: Billy Shakespeare at June 19, 2006 01:33 PM

elmondohummos and others-- i think you may be reading too much into joe's statement.

the over here/over there dichotomy isn't some figurative objectification, it's a literal observation. he has to interact with druze on a daily basis, whereas the israelis live across an impenetrable border. there's no tangible impetus to forgive israel -- it's not like peace is on the table (yes, of course, it would be very constructive if everyone could just forgive everyone else for the sake of goodness and humanity, but that doesn't often enough in any country).

what counts, maybe, is that joe DID forgive the druze. if the day comes when he "has" to forgive the israelis, he and the other joes just might grit their teeth, do it, and move on.

ephraim-- too many people are leaving, but christians have a much, much stronger foothold in lebanon than in palestine. don't expect lebanese christians to vanish anytime soon. you may be right about palestine though-- i have no idea, but i wouldn't be surprised (esp. with hamas in power).

and yes, lebanon is a beautiful country. some people here can be a little crazy (in that half-charming half-infuriating mediterranean way) but lebanese are always hospitable-- i encourage you and everyone else to come and visit :)

Posted by: carine at June 19, 2006 01:44 PM

What Carine said. Lebanese Christians aren't going to wither on the vine any time soon.

It's also true that lots of Westerners loathe the Lebanese Christians for no good reason at all. The Maronites (but not the Greek Orthodox) have a reputation for being "fascists" because of their behavior during the war. But everyone behaved badly during the war. The truth is that the Maronites (and Druze, to an extent) are the most liberal people in the entire country.

The least liberal - as a whole, although there are lots of exceptions - are the Shia. But they have that revolutionary cachet that produces a vicarious thrill in some people.

(That said, the Shia do have legitimate historical grievances. They were given only scraps in the original power-sharing arrangment, and they are still overwhelmingly the largest demographic in the "belt of misery" south of Beirut.)

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 19, 2006 02:12 PM

re: intersectarian romance-- like michael, i'm very optimistic that things will be easier for the next generation. i don't think i have a single friend who hasn't dated across sectarian lines. parental reactions vary, but it's safe to say not a whole lot are too enthusiastic.

but i also have several jewish and hindu friends in the states whose parents totally flipped out when they learned their daughters were dating muslim guys -- rejection of interfaith dating isn't a lebanese/arab/developing world thing, it's a religious/marginalized group thing.

Posted by: carine at June 19, 2006 02:17 PM

Carine, I hope you're right about the Christians of Lebanon. But I am still astonished at the lack of concern for their co-religionists on the part of people who claim to be Christians.

The press and the "cultural elite" in general have been in thrall to the "Muslims Good, Christians Bad" mantra for decades. It's really quite simple: if you are on the Left, you have to hate the US, Israel, and everything that goes along with the "doiminant Western hegemonic paradigm". So anyone who fights the US and Israel, regardless of how fascistic, intolerant, violent, racist, and retrograde they might be, must be right since they are "resisting Western imperalism".

The Christians made the mistake of being Christians, which many people in their stupidity associate only with Europe and the West. They also made the mistake of making common cause with the Israelis to protect themselves from Muslim depradations, which pretty much sealed their fate, public image-wise, anyway. If you want to be "authentic", you have to hate the West and all it stands for.

Posted by: Ephraim at June 19, 2006 02:44 PM

Well, just to add to the mix, Syria signed a deal with Iran; so Lebanon will be getting Persians (fodder I guess?) to create some fire power over the border with Israel. Cute.

But it will hurt the Lebanese, more. Since Iran isn't looking to set out a welcome mat. just fait accompli.

Anyway, there should be a dead pool on Nasrallah-la-la, if push comes to shove. And, the front opens. With so many guns, everyone can shoot at everyone else. (No, Israel doesn't send tanks or men over the border, ever again.) But normal? The last thing you'll see coming back to life, after the flowers sprout again, is normal.

Posted by: Carol Herman at June 19, 2006 03:49 PM

The Syria-Iran thing is unsettlingly reminiscent of the Egypt-Syria-Jordan joint defense pact just before '67. This is really bad news.

Posted by: Ephraim at June 19, 2006 03:57 PM

Ephraim, you are ... making shit up. I am as Left as you can get and still be a Democrat, and I LOVE the USA, my country. You have NEVER heard a Leftist say they hate the USA, you have only heard Right-Wingers say that we Leftist do that. You Righties are wrong with your own ideas and policies, so what makes you think you can divine your opposition?
Like the mother of an alcoholic son, I love my country and hate what it has done.

Posted by: Richard W. Crews at June 19, 2006 06:21 PM

Richard,

You could be a rare exception. Hundreds of thousands of Stalinist International Answer types clearly state they hate America. Sheehan and Moore are 2 examples.

Posted by: Charles at June 19, 2006 08:30 PM

From the malicious cynic:

See no much charm in this wordy comments on and description of a primitive, quasi-exotic frolicking
males of a specices with no cultured thinking or
dedicated honest effort to any modern achievement
just a motley fith rate, brainless demagogic jigallos, mediteranian style.

Posted by: zov at June 19, 2006 08:41 PM

Hi Zov,

You're an asshole, apparently. Want to get banned? You're on the right track, buddy.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 19, 2006 09:22 PM

aw zov, c'mon... "malicious cynic" isn't really a strong enough description for you, is it?

if you thought you could disguise your bigotry by making your comment borderline gibberish, bad news.

Posted by: carine at June 19, 2006 09:32 PM

Ephraim,

Lebanese Christians have lost an immense amount of influence, and the trend is continuing.

In fact, it's gotten so bad that the Maronite Patriarch is giving sermons condemning Christians for emigrating and selling their property.

The irony is that Lebanese Christians continue to have an immense amount of influence on the region. Most of the major firms in the Gulf are owned or managed by Christians. Even if you can't make any sense of the last names, the first names often give away the religious affiliation of the person with which you interact: Joe, Philip, Michel, Maroun, Charbel, Tony, George...

Middle Eastern Christianity has the same problems as Judaism in terms of the numbers game. You can't really convert to being a Maronite or Syriac Orthodox, etc. I guess it's technically possible, but rarely happens. The Protestants are the only ones evangelizing, but they're sect is a Western import.

Posted by: lebanon.profile at June 19, 2006 10:00 PM

their sect.

BTW, Michael, next time you're in Lebanon you should definitely visit Afqa for fantastic hiking, spelunking, and ropes courses.

Posted by: lebanon.profile at June 19, 2006 10:04 PM

Totten, I doubt that it is in Portland, but there is a political party in the NW (only Idaho as far as I know) for people who are bored with the party system. "Common Cause" The platform is mostly about not being retarded. I was going to mention it a few weeks ago in your comment thread because you and the common cause guys seem to share similar attitudes about national politics. It's like the libertarian party without insane people.

Posted by: Mike at June 19, 2006 10:10 PM

Carine, Totten:

Glad getting your lively responses. Although
jibberish invites jiberish, I will not insist
on other grading of my thoughts. As for being banned, Michael, it can be reported, that, to wit

Polibureau of Peoples Republic of China,
Polibureau of Vietnam Peoples Democratic Republic
and The Greatest Leader of the Visible Part of
Universe, the father of all living, the wisest
Marshal Kim Ir Sen of Korean Peoples Democratic Republic, all enthusiastically support your profound love of and dedication to a free speech at all their manifestations and hews.

Posted by: zov at June 19, 2006 10:12 PM

MJT's psychoanalysis of Israel hatred sounds quite plausible. Hating Israel is the only thing all of them can agree on, and it doesn't cost them anything, so why not? Helps them forget how dangerously fractured their own society is.

That being said, let's not pretend that Israel was snow white during the occupation. Israel gave a lot of people good reason to hate her. I knew people who served in Ansar prison, and it sounded like the last level of Dante's inferno. Just as the Vietnam war gave rise to the Khmer Rouge, so the Israeli occupation is directly responsible for the rise of hezbollah.

Posted by: MarkC at June 19, 2006 10:40 PM

Just as the Vietnam war gave rise to the Khmer Rouge, so the Israeli occupation is directly responsible for the rise of hezbollah.

Huh?

WTF did Israel have to do with the Viet Nam war?

Please go down to your local community college and enroll in some logic courses.

Posted by: rosignol at June 19, 2006 11:13 PM

Maybe Lebanese Christians are weaker than before, but they are not weak. They are less than 50% of the population but their share of the pie in the State is 50/50, that is a pretty good deal if you ask me.

The head of state is still a Christian, the head of the Army still has to be a Christian, as does the head of Military Intelligence. The community is still very wealthy and constitutes a large portion of Lebanese economic wealth.

It is just that the community's power has decreased compared to the past, so now everyone is screaming about how Christians in Lebanon are powerless, which is not the case. To be honest, the old system wasn't fair because you could say it gave Christians too much power. Earlier, there were 6 Christian members of Parliament for every 5 Muslim, and the same ratio applied in the Council of Ministers. Now, the ratio is even. I really don't see how that means Christians are weak now.

Also, some of the power that the President had was not given to the Prime Minister, who has to be Sunni, but rather to the Council of Ministers as a whole. Since the Prime Minister is the head of the Council of Ministers, then in a de facto way he has gained influence, but it was not as if some power was stripped from the President and given to the Prime Minister just like that. The highest post that the Shia have in the State, although they are the largest sect in terms of numbers, though not a majority, is the post of Speaker of Parliament, whose power is nothing compared to that of the President and Prime Minister.

Also, they are the most economically marginalized group. So if anyone in Lebanon should be complaining about not having power and influence, it is the Shia of Lebanon who have long been forgotten by the State. Hezbollah doesn't want to give up its weapons so easily because it feels that its weapons make up for the community's lack of political and economic power in the country, simple as that.

Posted by: Omega80 at June 19, 2006 11:25 PM

What do you guys think of Michael Young's article "Lebanon's Christians must manage their decline"?

A copy could be found here:

http://www.lebanese-forces.org/vbullet/showthread.php?t=12737

Posted by: Lira at June 20, 2006 12:27 AM

So I'm Lebanese. I have lived practically all my life in Lebanon, and I have a very hard time believing a couple of guys driving a jeep loaded with guns picked you guys up for a ride.

First of all, I don't know of anyone who owns guns in Lebanon, well OK there's the Lebanese Army, Hezbollah and the Palestinians but that's about it. And those people don't hang around with their guns.

And, assuming that a couple of guys did have riffles, which is really not likely. I would doubt they pick two complete strangers up for a ride, and a fortiori make them sit on the riffles. When did your little adventure take place anyway?

Anyway, concerning what those two Lebanese told you guys: you have to be very careful when interpreting their words. A lot of stuff taken out of their cultural context would seem really awkward. The Lebanese way of speaking is very ironic, I know it because I live in France and I had a bad time getting people to understand what I really meant when I first arrived here. So Firas and Joe's words shouldn't be taken literally.

And one last thing, there is no such thing as a Lebanese point of view, there is no Druze or Christian or Muslim, or Maronite... points of view neither. What I mean is what those guys said isn't representative of Lebanese people but only of themselves. And I know you never said the contrary, I'm just pointing this out.

Posted by: Emilio at June 20, 2006 01:55 AM

ummm emilio...

no, not a lot of lebanese are running around with AKs or handguns, but pretty much every guy who lives outside beirut has bird rifles (and the beirutis have them stored in a closet in the da3ya).

hunting birds/being morons and shooting at your cousins instead is like the national pastime for adolescents boys in the mountains.

Posted by: carine at June 20, 2006 02:14 AM

Rossignol;

I was not claiming that the Khmer Rouge has anything to do with the Israeli occupation of Lebanon. I was making what I thought was the rather clear analogy of the violence and brutality of a military invasion giving rise to extremist groups and leading to unhappy results unforeseen by the original planners. Actually, I think that the analogy is rather apt.

Perhaps you are the one who needs to brush up on his reading comprehension?

Posted by: MarkC at June 20, 2006 02:53 AM

Reading comprehension isn't the issue. Knowledge of history is.

Consider the following: the Khmer Rouge was originally the Communist Party of Kampunchea, which was a front for the government of North Vietnam (which wished to destabilize the non-communist government in Cambodia). This was not a rebellion against brutal european colonial masters- Cambodia had become independent over a decade before the armed revolt began.

Eventually, the communists siezed control of Cambodia, and implemented an even more extreme form of Communist Agricultural Policy than the Soviet Union or China had imposed, with even more extreme results. Somewhere between one and two million people died- this was about 20% of the population.

Eventually, the Vietnamese got sick of the flood of refugees coming from Cambodia and invaded, deposing the Khmer Rouge and installing a somewhat-less-insane government.

The idea that the Khmer Rouge arose as a result of invasion is garbage, and the parallels between that mess and the current situation in Israel/Lebanon/Syria are few.

Posted by: rosignol at June 20, 2006 04:28 AM

Rossignol;

Consider this. In April, 1970, the U.S. launched a ground invasion of Cambodia, accompanied by a massive bombing campaign which devasted the country. U.S. troops were withdrawn three months later, but the bombing continued until 1973. During this period, a civil war was raging in Cambodia, which was basically a proxy war between the U.S. and North Vietnam. In spite of the U.S. bombing, the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Pen in 1975, and then began the systematic genocide. Anti-American sentiment at the bombing campaign had swelled the ranks of the khmer rouge considerably.
Many regard the victory of the khmer rouge, and the genocidal direction it took, as resulting from chaos and trauma in the wake of the U.S. intervention in Cambodia.

I think that this supports an analogy with Israel and the hezbollah. Certainly, it isn't "garbage".

Enough said (I hope).

Posted by: MarkC at June 20, 2006 06:05 AM

Good story... but why no pictures of "Joe" and "Firas"?

Posted by: altec at June 20, 2006 06:07 AM

Because they're JoooOOOOoooOOOoos!!!

Posted by: Carlos at June 20, 2006 07:34 AM

lebanon.profile:

It is not possible to convert to Maronite or Syriac Christianity? Interesting.

Just to correct a common misunderstanding: it is quite possible to convert to Judaism, even Orthodoxy. Not that simple, but possible. My wife is a convert, and I know many converts in the Orthodox community. This explains why Jews from Arab countires look like Arabs, Persian Jews look like Persians, Ethiopian Jews look like Ethiopians, European Jews look like Europeans, and Jews from India look like Indians. While we see ourselves as a single people, there is a tremendous amount of ethnic diversity within the Jewish community, strange as this may seem to outsiders.

Correct me if I am wrong, but wasn't Lebanon created by the French under the terms of their UN mandate specifically as a Christian-majority country? It is my understanding that this was done specifically for the purpose of giving Christians in Lebanon some measure of independence from their Muslim overlords. That is the impression I am under, at any rate.

Posted by: Ephraim at June 20, 2006 09:49 AM

ephraim, reread what LP wrote:

You can't really convert to being a Maronite or Syriac Orthodox, etc. I guess it's technically possible, but rarely happens. [emphasis mine]

people do it for marriage, but rarely otherwise. if a religious awakening prompted you to convert to catholicism, you'd probably become a roman catholic, not a maronite.

Posted by: carine at June 20, 2006 11:02 AM

Emilio: I have lived practically all my life in Lebanon, and I have a very hard time believing a couple of guys driving a jeep loaded with guns picked you guys up for a ride.

What a bizarre thing to say. Have you ever hitchhiked in the mountains? I've done it several times. Like I said, it takes almost no time at all to find a ride. And these guys had guns because they had been camping and hunting.

First of all, I don't know of anyone who owns guns in Lebanon

Geez, man, where in Lebanon did you live? (You're in Toulousse now according to my Site Meter.) I only spent seven months in Beirut and I met too many people to count who own guns. There are more guns in Lebanon then there are in Oregon where I live now, and Oregon has more guns than people.

Bird hunting is like a national sport. How can you possibly not know this? Or did you just forget?

When did your little adventure take place anyway?

From Yachouch and down the mountain to Jounieh where they dropped me and Dan off.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 20, 2006 11:02 AM

"... I have a very hard time believing a couple of guys driving a jeep loaded with guns picked you guys up for a ride."

Come to Indiana some time. Substitute "pickup truck" for "jeep" 3 times out of 5. You'll see this a lot.

:)

Posted by: ElMondoHummus at June 20, 2006 12:55 PM

Seems as if emilio doesn't really know what he is talking about...

Posted by: Omega80 at June 20, 2006 06:40 PM

She had her very own conspiracy theory revolving around American neoconservatives that would make an International ANSWER activist blush.

MJT, care to share? That's a bold statement :-). Are Stalinist apparatchiks even capable?

/Egypt's latest (and saddest): "The training program for these (Ghanaian) children starts every morning with a salute to the Israeli flag"

Posted by: SoCalJustice at June 20, 2006 08:01 PM

IT'S THE JOOOOOOS FAULT!!!!

Posted by: Carlos at June 20, 2006 08:10 PM

SoCalJustice: MJT, care to share?

I didn't write it down. We were eating while she shared her grand theory. It was, perhaps, the most convoluted conspiracty I have ever heard. I couldn't begin to explain it if I tried, and that would have been true even if I did write down what she said.

Nice lady, though. She wasn't hostile or deranged, just very very weird.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 20, 2006 08:28 PM

Did it involve Lizard people, David Ickes, shadows or greys?

Posted by: mike at June 20, 2006 10:28 PM

"“Okay,” Firas said. “We promise not to kill you.”

“We can’t, man,” Joe said. “They’re sitting on the guns.”

"Oh shit," Firas said. "
===================

Hahahaa... I like the humor bits the most. I think humor, after music, is the most recognizable characteristic bonding people (even sometimes against their will, hahaha).

I agree though that it isn't that much necessary to make peace with Israel before reaching peace within a country. As long as both stay outta each-other's hair (not like Hizballah provoking Israel to retaliate) it's - I believe - the ONLY way to ever have peace if so wanted with your neighbours.

Look what's happening in the PA : while three-quarters of the people living there want to find a peaceful solution to the conflict with us (Israel) the politically involved factions are fighting each-other and dragging those peace-wishing people into more and more misery - by the hands of Israeli's retaliating actions provoked by terrorgroups not listening to ONE VOICE.

Tse.

Posted by: tsedek at June 21, 2006 01:23 AM

Thanks again Michael for another great article about meeting the average Joes (sic) of the Middle East. Very few Americans get out there, even fewer beyond the "safe" big cities. (I am a small-town Midwest boy and regard ALL cities as dens of iniquity. :))
This article is why I look forward to seeing a post with your name attatched. It gives me some real understanding of the people who live in the Middle East, and some hope that they can/will see things our way, not the jihadi-men's way, in the future. Although Jesus's command to "love thy neighbor" can be difficult, "respect thy neighbor" and "forgive thy neighbor" is a good start.

Posted by: exdem13 at June 21, 2006 07:17 AM

Consider this. In April, 1970, the U.S. launched a ground invasion of Cambodia,

...look, if you want to talk about who invaded Cambodia, you need to at least mention why the US invaded. Otherwise, you look like another one of the 'everything is the US's fault' crowd.

accompanied by a massive bombing campaign which devasted the country. U.S. troops were withdrawn three months later, but the bombing continued until 1973.

...because North Vietnamese forces continued to use the Ho Chi Minh trail, which was in Cambodia, to supply forces fighting in South Vietnam.

The history books you read mentioned this, right?

During this period, a civil war was raging in Cambodia, which was basically a proxy war between the U.S. and North Vietnam. In spite of the U.S. bombing, the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Pen in 1975,

...about two years after the bombing stopped...

and then began the systematic genocide.

...reports of which were initially dismissed as propaganda by many in the media and on the left.

Anti-American sentiment at the bombing campaign had swelled the ranks of the khmer rouge considerably.

That's odd. Most of the books I've read about it say that the ending of aid to Cambodia and the stopping of the air support were what convinced a lot of Cambodians that the US was an unreliable ally- the communist insurgents basically won because the Cambodian forces ran out of supplies.

Many regard the victory of the khmer rouge, and the genocidal direction it took, as resulting from chaos and trauma in the wake of the U.S. intervention in Cambodia.

...and not as resulting from a vietnamese-backed insurgency, the Maoist version of Communist ideology, and the usual result of Communist agricultural and land 'reforms' (famine and starvation, as seen previously in China and Ukraine)?

Apparently there are a lot of people who have decided that the reason communism doesn't work is because of the US.

I think that this supports an analogy with Israel and the hezbollah. Certainly, it isn't "garbage".

No, it's still garbage. It's just a different variety of garbage (anti-US garbage) than I had originally thought it was (anti-Israel garbage).

Enough said (I hope).

:-)

Posted by: rosignol at June 21, 2006 08:31 AM

The Israelis live over there so I don’t have to forgive them!

So perhaps, had Israel remained in Lebanon after all, Israel would have earned Lebanese forgiveness?

Would he have been able to forgive the Israelis if he didn't consider himself forced to forgive the Druze (and others) instead?

Posted by: Solomon2 at June 21, 2006 11:52 AM

So perhaps, had Israel remained in Lebanon after all, Israel would have earned Lebanese forgiveness?

More like he would have had to forgive them because continuing to hate them would have consequences.

With the Israelis on the other side of an uncrossable border, they are safe to hate- there are no consequences.

People who advocate 'disengagement' as a way of defusing hatred in the region should keep this in mind. The wall between Israel and the Gaza Strip/West Bank will reduce suicide bombings, but it's not going to reduce the hate.

Would he have been able to forgive the Israelis if he didn't consider himself forced to forgive the Druze (and others) instead?

I doubt it.

Posted by: rosignol at June 21, 2006 11:21 PM

Thanks dude- good post, very informative. I especially knew what he was talking about when he said 'someday we might be killing each other'. I'm an American, many of my friends over here in London are Arabs and Muslims and I'm going to be joining the Army next year. I can relate to that tragic feeling.

Posted by: Matt at June 22, 2006 09:49 AM

I find it a bit awkward that an average Maronite Joe in Mount Lebanon would in fact forgive the Druzes but not the Israelis. People there barely suffered from Israelis at all, but got massacred by Druzes big time, and several times throughout history.

It could be a case of not wanting to sound pro-Israeli. It's taboo to speak very favorably of Israel in Lebanon with strangers, even if they're Americans.

But of course I could be wrong, and it seems the guy's friend was more forgiving.

Emilio, your post made me wonder whether you're talking about the same Lebanon everybody else is talking about!

Posted by: Paranoid_Android at June 22, 2006 03:01 PM

As a Lebanese named Joe, I can attest to the fact that some of us are namef Joseph, or Joo-zayf if you want to be more linguistically precise.

Posted by: Joe at June 23, 2006 03:27 PM

"Inter-religious marriages are becoming slightly more common, mostly among the urban elite and middle class. But civil marriage doesn’t exist in Lebanon yet. If a Muslim wants to marry a Christian they have to go to Cyprus where secular marriage is legal"

Ahhh, well something else Israel and Lebanon have in common. No civil marriage here either and Cyprus is destination #1 for the (many many) Israelis who want a secular wedding or to have an inter-religious marriage.

Posted by: Yael at June 24, 2006 04:14 AM

Rossignol'

I think we're back to reading comprehension again. I'm not anti-American or anti-Israel. Quite the opposite. I am simply stating that the invasion of Cambodia and the invasion of Lebanon (both of which were occasioned by cross-border raids by guerilla groups) led or contributed to the rise of extremist groups and a deterioration in security, contrary to the expectations of the U.S., and Israel, respectively. Most of your counter-arguments are irrelevant to this simple point.

Posted by: MarkC at June 24, 2006 06:51 AM

The reasons extremist groups 'rose' was because other governments decided that it was in their interest for an extremist group that would cause problems for (someone) to exist. So those governments recruited some militant types and set up funding, training, and sanctuaries for them to operate from.

Blaming Israel for Hizbullah or the US for the Khmer Rogue is a very one-sided way of describing what happened.

You are welcome to your opinion. Please understand that my opinion is that the cause of the deterioration in security is the failure to hold the governments backing these extremist groups accountable for the actions of their agents.

It looks like we are going to have to agree to disagree on this.

Posted by: rosignol at June 27, 2006 04:26 AM
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