Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Memories of Lebanon

I lived in Beirut in the early months of 2004, and took the time to learn a little bit about their war history. It's somewhat complicated, but I'll do my best to sum it up, from what I know.

Lebanon is the historic point where the Crusaders started crossing into Islamic territory. Where religions met and mingled and sometimes fought. Thus, there are Sunnis, Shiites, Catholics, Jews, Druze, other Christian sects and more. No one group has a majority.

Several Palestinian refugee camps dotted the southern province of Lebanon in the 1970's and before. With the rise of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, which became based in the Beirut, Lebanon became a breeding ground for their uprising. Naturally, some of the sects sympathised, others were neutral, yet others sided with Israel. When the PLO began their intifada, Lebanon's weak cross-religion alliances cracked. The military took different sides, split apart into militias, and Lebanon broke into all out civil war. Christians fighting Christians, Muslims fighting Muslims. It was a mess.

Then there were foreign forces, namely Syria, who wanted to arm sympathetic Lebanese factions and Palestinian forces to punish Israel. (Syria got creamed by Israel in the 1967 war.)

Anyway, a ceasefire was eventually declared in the nineties. Beiruit was rebuilt, the Paris of the Middle East was reborn. On my first night out in Beiruit there was a music festival. Revillers walked down the street, drinking, laughing. Beautiful women, and I mean stunning, wore stylettos matching their purses, and swaggered from bar to bar.

On weekends, I'd drive south, down to where small patches of beach were turned into chic bars with swimming pools and thousands of sun seekers sprawled out on towels. Loud dance music pumped over the speakers and eight dollar cocktails were sold at the shiny marble and mirror bars.
Lebanon was a party! Religious divides meant nothing when it came to having fun.

This current war bothers me for one reason. Most Lebanese want nothing to do with it. It's Hezbollah and their impossible to achieve ideology - destroy Isreal. Hezbollah started this current round of violence. Most certainly with the express consent, if not authorisation of, Syria and Iran.

But what neither they, nor Isreal who has counter attacked with incredible force seem to care about are the other 80% of Lebanese people who want nothing to do with this war. They are the ones I feel sorry for. It's not Israel or Hezbollah's forces I worry about beating each other to a pulp. It's the different factions of Lebanon's fractured society and their inclination toward all out civil war that scares me the most.

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