“There is a river in the south of Lebanon that Israel occupied. Then they went through the nearby villages and abducted every male above the age of 18. They locked them up for days maltreating and torturing them. They would even stomp them with combat boots in the testicles in some cases to prevent them from having children. After days of this they would come through and distribute copies of the Quran to the captives, in the ultimate hope that the Lebanese men would find justification in its pages for a jihad against Israel and the occupation. The logic was that with such jihadis at the gates, Israel would then be justified in taking overt action against Lebanon, including but not limited to annexation of its lands, regardless of the the actual danger posed by these rag-tag paramilitaries. Thus Hezbollah was born”
“Hezbollah started as a movement to take back these occupied lands in the south and was granted authorization to carry weapons. As things calmed down and efforts were made to revoke this authorization, Hezbollah was unwilling to give up their power.”
“So you plan on going to see the southern part of Beirut? There is a lot of Hezbollah there…”
-A Lebanese Perspective
This morning as I dozed before breakfast I had the most wonderful dream that I stumbled upon a pep-rally of sorts being conducted in a warehouse in South Beirut. I entered the building and stood quietly in a corner while the MC shouted things in Arabic and English. However I could not remain incognito and I got caught up in the group effervescence. I began cheering as the guest of honor, the head of Hezbollah incidentally, ascended the dais. One of the ushers indicated that it was my section’s turn to approach the dais, dancing exultantly for review by the supreme Hezbollah commander. I remember dancing my monkey ass off for fear that if I didn’t my foreignness would become clear. Still, I remember thinking as we approached the platform in a conga line of sorts, “Goddamn, I got a bad case of the white boy rhythm today!.” Still, what I lacked in rhythm, I made up for with enthusiasm.
As I passed the dais I looked into the eyes of this man who had all of these people exultant and he looked a lot like Russell Peters,
“Some Israelis gonna get a’hurt real bad”
…or even my friend, Sammy Kunty.
Kunty, you got some ‘splainin to do…
I woke up from these visions of jihad which danced in my head, resolved to head to ‘souf-side’ Beirut and see what was really good.
I apologize for the lengthy pre-amble, but I felt it necessary to contextualize the mission I set upon today: I wanted to find me some Hezbollah. Not a lot of Hezbollah mind you, just enough. Thats it, thats about as far as my plans went.
I’m a dog chasing cars; I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it!!”
I knew what I wouldn’t do though: I wasn’t looking to infiltrate the group or anything, and I certainly wasn’t looking to argue the merits of an inclusive and tolerant Middle East. I just wanted some evidence that one of the big, bad names I heard on the news actually existed in real people land. I remember drinking at a bar in Hamilton one time and I got to talking to this old guy who said he used to be IRA during “the Troubles.” That is the kind of off-hand boast I would have settled for. It could have been a guy talking shit at a bar to pick up chicks and I would have been happy, regardless of whether or not I suspected he was lying.
So I set out south around 11:30 am. I left my passport, notebeook with addresses, and credit cards at the apartment and only took the equivalent of around $40 USD. I figured there was no point in losing all of my documents (again) if I got abducted for asking too many questions. But then, asking questions wasn’t really my strategy: My strategy, such as it was, was to find a south-side watering hole with a television screen, wait until something about Israel came up on the news then feign utter and voluminous disgust, potentially ingratiating myself to anti-Zionists. We would talk from there I assumed and I would mostly listen, satisfying my curiosity in the process. It had all the makings of a successful venture. But first I had to find said watering-hole…
There is a major east-west thoroughfare one block from the apartment I am staying at, and although I don’t know if it bisects the city into northern and southern halves, I certainly felt like I was crossing the Rubicon when I sauntered south across it. Since I had no notebook, I scrawled observations on the back of some song lyrics I had printed off. They observations were a little excited and veered slightly into the realm of paranoia:
11:45 – crossing the street into South Beirut
-people looking at me
-barber giving a straight-razor shave OR concealable-weapon melee practice?
-guy working under the hood of a car OR installing a bomb?
-two guys sitting out enjoying a Sunday afternoon OR plotting death to Israel?
-shop selling air rifles OR shop selling air rifles for jihad?
-children’s playground OR paramilitary obstacle training course for youth indoctrination?
I made eye-contact with some guy at this point and he said something to me in Arabic while he opened his shop. I explained that I spoke only English and he asked me what I wanted. I said I was just looking around and he responded, “Good luck, sir.”
-“Good luck, sir” OR “Try not to get killed white-boy?”
As is evident I was seeing things that probably weren’t there. I kept walking south and west and came across a large cemetery. I decided to pass through it because after all of this intrigue I needed a rest and cemeteries are statistically the safest places in the world, everyone being dead and such. I got an uneasy feeling in this cemetery though, as my scraawlings reflect:
-cemetery OR Burial site of the martyrs in the struggle against Israel?
All the headstones were written in Arabic after all, so it must have have been a terrorist cemetery. I got out, still in possession of my life, and against my better judgment, kept heading south. Winding my way through the alleyways and side-streets I came to an open-air market on a broad, north-south avenue. I proceeded down it and was overwhelmed by what a claustrophobic affair it was: not only were there people everywhere and loud noises, but unlike most open-air markets I have been to, traffic was not blocked off. There were scooters buzzing around everywhere, sidewalks included, and even the occasional car passing through the fray. The people of Beirut truly have a freestyle, make-it-up-as-you-go-along style of driving (more erratic than Turkey or Italy I can assure you) and it was a bit much.
Sadly, my scrawlings at this point reflect a sobering observation made during all of this bustle.
12:15 – stumbled upon market in street
12:30 – little girl with a black eye and her friends sifting through garbage dumped in empty lot
Fuck! This is the sorta shit I hate to see. In a country where there is already a dearth of opportunities and social mobility, you get little urchins like this young girl (doubly-fucked for being poor AND female) poking through garbage and obviously getting rough usage at home. And in the midst of all of this poverty and misery I come through all starry-eyed and enthusiastic about the adventures I am having and eager to find danger so I can give it a “mushroom-slap”in the face. I felt guilty for being out there in grand pursuit of whimsy and exploits while this young-girl was getting beaten and living below susbsistence-level.
Then I thought, “Tough-break, nigga. Thats what you get for fuckin’ with a rough set like Hezbollah,” and I felt better. Kept south and came to the appropriately-named “Cafe Bob;” a wretched hive of scum and villainy if ever there was one.
12:50 – smokehouse SW of market => lots of green (colour of Islam) and militant-looking posters
I ordered a water-pipe and a cha and just sat back taking it all in. There was a poster on the wall of a bearded old Arab dude and I asked the proprietor (didn’t get his name, lets call him “Bob”) who it was. The “Hez-bells” (Hezbollah bells) were ringing in my head but the guy explained that the bearded dude was a Lebanese guy who had been imprisoned in Libya by Qaddafi. At least thats what I think he said. I got Bob to write the name down so I could google it later. Bob asked me a little about myself and I learned that he was Syrian. In fact, he had a much more intriguing picture of Asad Jr. up in the cafe as well but I didn’t notice it because Asad didnt look as menacing as the first guy did (no head-scarf). I thought this was interesting but things got a little busy in the cafe and I didnt get a chance to ask Bob his feelings about Asad. Also, the TV was playing American movies and soccer alternately so I didnt get a chance to react to Israeli aggression in the news in a theatrical manner as per the strategy. I just kinda sat there smoking and eventually pulled out my book, “The Return of Sherlock Holmes.”
The excitement of the book helped maintain the excitement of the quest I was on when things had obviously took a turn for the boring. In fact, the excitement of the book was such that I almost jumped when Bob tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I wanted some food. I said no thanks and kept reading. Half an hour later though, Bob’s nephew Ali tapped me and said “come eat with us…bring your chair.” Oh shit, son! I was being invited into the inner circle to break bread with made men. Except we didnt talk business (business being death to the Zionist scourge); I just kinda talked to Ali about travel and Canada and stuff. Then it occurred to me that perhaps this wasn’t an invitation to the inner circle but my last meal. But it didnt taste like poison, and they were eating it too. No no no, this was all wrong! I had gone looking for trouble and found only goodwill and friendship. Story of my fucking life!!
When the food was done I resumed smoking and talked more with Ali. I got his contact info and we may hang out before I peace out to Egypt. It was on the walk home that I got my only sign of any political extremism, and that was just some faded posters of Yasser Arafat stuck to the wall of an empty lot. It wasnt Hezbollah but it would have to do. I hadnt found the wild jackalope I was looking for but I made some new friends and had gotten a good meal. A day well well spent.