above, for articles in
Lebanon - Those who argue that the violent Middle East can be turned into a
haven for freedom-loving democrats often point to Lebanon as an example of how a
country in the region can be turned around. That rose-colored view can be
quickly cured with a few days of driving around this diverse country.
the spectacular Mediterranean seaside, my friend Boutros proudly points out the
new condos as he steers his Peugeot from the well-guarded Marriot Hotel.
Boutrous is a good natured middle-aged Christian who has seen way too much
violence in his country. He lost his job running an expensive Lebanese
restaurant and now makes a living driving the few tourists, reporters and
business people. His nephew, a talented cabinetmaker, was murdered by Shi’a men
in Tripoli, a large city that is becoming increasingly militant. Boutrous says
that the economic gap between Christian and Muslim is enormous and growing.
has been awful here since a huge bomb killed Rafik Hariri, the construction
magnate and Prime Minister. Hariri is buried in a not quite finished but
impressive new Mosque that his company built that adjoins the few blocks of a
Disneyesque “restored old Beiruit” that his company also put up. All these new
old blocks of quaintness adjoin the Parliament building and are with in an easy
walk to the seaside Hotel Georges blast site where Hariri and his bodyguards
were blown up in February. The attack has had a profound effect on the working
class of Beirut. Hotels are largely empty even through this year’s high season.
explosion, which most people think Syrian intelligence was responsible for,
knocked the breath out of the post civil war recovery. Everything is the same as
it was just after the blast - the destroyed hotel, ruined cars and closed caf
nearby. Angry Beirut citizens took to the streets in huge numbers to protest.
Syria ended its ugly occupation by pulling out everyone except those in the
Lebanese government it controls and several thousand secret police. In the
spring a top local journalist was murdered.
The one thing Shi’a and Christians
seem to agree on is that Syria was far worse as conquerors than Israel. The
arriving Syrian occupiers had taken the best beachside condos. Now in retreat
the Syrians literally stripped the apartment blocks leaving nothing of value -
including all windows, plumbing fixtures - everything. It was routine for some
Syrian soldier to work with Hezbollah in car-jacking gangs. “Your car would be
taken at a Syrian checkpoint,” Boutrous said. “You could not refuse or you would
be shot. Then weeks later you would get a call telling you where the car was
being left in some Shi’a controlled area of West Beirut. The payment required
would be about $20,000 depending on the car. If you didn’t make the payment the
car would be exported to Syria.” The Shi’a street gangs worked out of a small
town in the beautiful, and for Americans, deadly Bekaa Valley.
I asked Boutrous to take
Baalback, the ancient town in the Bekaa. He advised against such a trip warning
me that this was the heart of Shi’a control.
ruins from Alexander The Great, the Romans and Phonicians are impressive. But
the newest building in town is a Mosque and banners across the picturesque
streets that exhort citizens to Jihad against Israel. Posters of the
dour-looking bespectacled Sheik Marsarallah look down from huge billboards.
Woman here are covered in black with faces hidden. The pink head covers over
fashionable Paris fashions seen on women in Beirut are not seen on woman here.
you get tingly over the idea of democracy engulfing this horribly divided
country and brining Muslims and Christians together, understand the significance
of celebratory gunfire in the Bekaa and in Beirut. It was gunfire from Hezbollah
and its partner, the Amal Militia, celebrating their election victory. The
hopelessness of President’s Bush’s quest for American style democracy in the
Middle East is contradicted by the growing power and influence of an extreme
Islamic leadership that has a history of killing and attacking
success here in using religion to rally unemployed young men into “making the
Jihad” has its roots in the reality of their grim lives. The Christians, who
represent the business establishment here, openly complain that Shi’a Arab’s are
dirty, have no concern for their families and have too many children. The
Christian establishment’s bigotry is open, ugly and is well - un-Christian.
The President should pay special
attention to the June 2005 Lebanese elections because what is going on here in
Lebanon is a picnic compared to what we face in Iraq. Three large mafia style
gangs are now political parties - albeit with armed thugs who like to drive
around in vans and look menacing. Both basically hate the United
States. The boys in Amal like to make money and have given up, at least in
recent years, kidnapping Americans. Hezbollah here is run by a religious
extremist who wants to end modern Society
and wants to make all Jews disappear.
both give money to the poor but not their money. The Saudi’s funnel the cash
through Sunni controlled parties and Iran takes care of the Shi’a. Nabih Beeri’s
Amal claims to take care of Beirut’s working people. Most working folks have two
jobs and have to commute from tiny villages in order to earn enough to feed
their families. The only way to afford living in Beirut for working class people
is take a slum apartment.
rich of Beiruit, Christian or Shia, can produce terrorists. One of the 9.11
hijacker pilots was getting a $2,000 monthly allowance while training for his
mission against America from his family in Beirut.
you walk the streets of cities in South Lebanon you see the unpleasant
indicators of an overwhelming love for Islamic fundamentalism that is being paid
for on the back of Iranian taxpayers through Hezbollah. You can pretty much
surmise this is not just about religious differences. In the Southern towns the
martyrs faces are on portraits on light pole after light pole. Our President is
not unfamiliar with the technique of firing up your religious base by pitting
the sainted against the secular.
Southern towns the martyrs faces are on portraits on light pole after light
pole. That’s what the local Shi’a religious leaders are up to. The difference
here is that someone will be glad to kill you for a tank of gas or for an
imagined slight of Allah. The Christian’s are just as bigoted as the Muslims.
They charge the Muslims with being unclean and leaving garbage everywhere. The
truth is no one picks up the street trash in poor Muslim areas. The gangsters
who run Lebanon - all of them - including the late and now semi-sainted Rafik
Hariri, consider using their militias and connections in order to build fortunes
as a perk of office.
Pandora’s Box that President Bush opened with the Iraqi war was not done blindly
by the President or his advisers. Among the best case scenarios for Iraq sited
in secret documents arguing for the removal of Saddam was the example of a
“working democracy” that has “evolved” among the Christians, Shi’a, Sunni and
Droze in Lebanon.
the rosy scenario painted of Lebanon as a nation that has gone from violence to
one of “freedom lovers” is patent nonsense. Relations between Christian’s and
Muslims here are deteriorating rapidly. The bombs are going off here again. The
tension between the Shi’a majority and wealthier European/Christian minority is
increasing day by day. Hezbollah, sponsored by Iran and buoyed by its incredible
success in grabbing power in Iraq, is making its move in Lebanon. In the June
05′ elections. Hezbollah’s alliance with Nabih Beeri - the very clever Amal
Militia leader and Parliament Leader has resulted in a place in Lebanon’s
cabinet for Hezbollah. Considering how many Americans Hezbollah targeted and
killed and the fact that they are now part of the government in Lebanon requires
us to do much more than raise the voice of protest. President Bush allowing this
to stand is just one more contradiction of his hollow declaration that we will
fight those who harbor terrorists and support them. The truth is our policy has
put most of Iraq and its resources in the hands of the same Shi’a Hezbollah
goons who killed hundreds of our best citizens.
the Pandora’s Box of Bush’s policy has resulted in a new boldness in Lebanon
among the Shi’a majority. The Shi’a here, as in Iran, Iraq, Syria are aligned
with Hezbollah - or the Party of God. It was Hezbollah that kidnapped Americans,
bombed our Marines, killed our entire CIA station of 17, tortured CIA officer
William Buckley and hijacked aircraft. The money that was funneled in the 1980’s
through Shi’a clerics in Lebanon still flows in from revolutionary Iran.
The Sunni’s funnel it in from Saudi
Arabia. Ironically, we worked with Saddam Hussein to counter Hezbollah and Iran
by encouraging him to undertake the Iran-Iraq War. By President George W. Bush’s
actions in Iraq in removing Saddam we have had traded brutal dictators for
violent theocracies from Iran to the Mediterranean.
war lords who terrorized United States citizens in the 1980’s and who came to
this once beautiful and energetic city are beginning to exercise “freedom and
democracy” and the result can be very ugly.
friend Boutros the beauty of Lebanon helps make up for what he and his family
and friends have gone through. Over lunch at a beautiful outdoor restaurant in
the Bekaa Boutros picked a cherry from a bowl of locally grown fruit. “You
know,” he said, “Lebanon is a beautiful country. Too beautiful to let politics
and religion destroy it.”
Copyright © 2003-2005 Public Education Center, Inc. All rights
spent more than 35 years as an investigative journalist, working with both print
and broadcast outlets and writing extensively on national security issues.
Before joining the National Security News Service in 1991, Trento worked
for CNN's Special Assignment Unit, the Wilmington News Journal, and
prominent journalist Jack Anderson. Trento has received six Pulitzer nominations
and is the author of five books, the most recent of which is The Secret
History of the CIA. He regularly publishes a blog at www.storiesthatmatter.org
This essay is herein reprinted with the author's
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