Monday, July 15, 2002

The Locals

I have been walking up to people I meet and saying to them: ``I'm in Beirut.". Usually they just look at me and tell me that they
are too. They seem not to get the fact that for me it is a much more interesting proposition. I do not really explain because
they might reply that they are from Hezbollah or something, and that would not be pretty.

Actually when you talk to some of the people who are from here, even those who live in western countries, you realize that they are quite mired in these bizarre myths that are told to them in childhood. Now I am not really talking about matters of right and wrong, or your perception of facts vs mine, not like a questions of history or debatable stuff, but rather over things that thousands of people experience daily.

Last night I was having a conversation with "G". He lives and works in England, so he has met people who are not local to Beirut. The question came up over what Hezbollah does to people who are caught taking pictures in Hezbollah controlled sections of Beirut. He told me it was a simple matter of you get taken an interrogated to make sure you are not a spy or something. "It is just like going to Israel," he insisted, "Where everyone has to show up for a four hour interview before entering or leaving". Now I wasn't going to explain that the only people who got these special 4 hour interviews were people who were card-carrying members of Hezbollah, and no one else. But I thought that it is not prudent to explain that I have been in and out of Israel about 10 times in the last 10 years, and I never went through one of these "interviews". Moreover I wonder how being taken in to a dark basement while people sit with kalashnikovs and a seething hatred for westerners, and more-or-less no accountability to
anyone is the same sort of thing as a group of people who have amnesty international breathing down their necks.

I really thought of mentioning that I was Jewish and taken my chances. I thought that it might generate some good discussion here in Beirut among the people I spoke with. I thought that people might be more free with their feelings. They might have a good question, or something worth discussing. I thought that I might learn more about the people here if I did that. I know that for the most part I am dealing with educated people, and that might be worth something. But I decided not too. Maybe I got cold feet, maybe I am just scared, and maybe I thought that it might hurt "B". Her friends have been very generous and friendly. So has she. She is spending a whole week showing me around. I thought that it best not to offend anyone.