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Slake: Los Angeles—The Lost City—A City And Its Stories

The Lost City

By Michael J. Totten

Lebanon broke my heart.

I witnessed the country’s rebirth during the Beirut Spring in 2005, when citizens mounted a peaceful revolution against Syria’s suffocating military occupation, and I witnessed its whimpering end when Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah struck back.

While the Arab Spring of 2011 toppled tyrants in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, and we have seen brave souls continue protesting against the brutal Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution was really the first, and it came six years earlier. It took place in the one Arab country that already had a history of free and fair elections and representative government, but the revolution was still too weak to stick. By early 2011, Syria and Iran were back in the saddle. They don’t govern the country directly, but they control all of Lebanon’s foreign and internal security policies through their local proxies, the most powerful and notorious of which is Hezbollah.

That the radical Islamists of the Party of God—what Hizb Allah means in Arabic—can subvert a popular, nonviolent, people-powered movement in a relatively liberal country like Lebanon demonstrates that even the most tolerant and progressive parts of the Arab world are still places where the ruthless prevail.


Beirut is my favorite city, and I’m not—I swear—crazy for saying so. It’s hardly a Middle Eastern backwater, and it’s not, like some of the Persian Gulf emirates, a steel-and-glass petro-metropolis that decided only yesterday to import foreign labor to graft skyscrapers and shopping malls on top of a Bedouin culture. Nor is it, like Cairo, an ancient Third World megacity choking with poverty and pollution. As a city, it is younger than most, and as an Arab city it is more modern, more cosmopolitan, and more progressive by far than any other, with the possible exception of Tunis. Here is where the region’s taboos about alcohol, sex, clothing, religion, and free speech break down.

The city’s culture is liberal and tolerant (except when it’s not), even anarchic and libertarian. Its pleasures are physical and decadent. It is where Saudis and other Gulf Arabs like to visit when they need a break from their fanatically conservative culture back home.

Beirutis knew how to have fun even during the black years of the 1975–1990 civil war. “We would have war right over there,” one resident told me in 2005, shortly after the Cedar Revolution, pointing across the street. “Right here,” he said, meaning our side of the street, “we would have a party.”

A famous nightclub advertisement captures the balance between pleasure and terror precisely. The cityscape is shown in ruins with thick gray ash falling from the skies, as though all had been annihilated in a nuclear holocaust, yet just below street level, in a club called Basement, young people are drinking and dancing their hearts out. The ad ends with the tagline, “It’s safer underground.” And it’s fun down there, too.

At times while visiting some of these clubs I couldn’t help but imagine an assassination going down there, or masked men barging in and spraying everyone with automatic weapons. The possibility was spectacularly unlikely, and I felt silly even thinking of it, but that sort of thing doesn’t even occur to me in America. In Lebanon it adds a certain frisson to the atmosphere. Beirut, at least most of the time, is a safe dangerous place.

In May 2008, however, one of my favorite café-pubs on the west side of the city was transformed into a neighborhood headquarters for the thuggish Syrian Social Nationalist Party militia during a weeklong civil war. My earlier thoughts of masked gunmen in clubs weren’t quite as off-the-wall as I thought.

Even so, every Westerner I have ever met who has been to Beirut fell in love with the place almost at once. Even the Israelis I know who have sneaked in (and I know several) think it’s fantastic. “Life crackles in the air there like it does here,” Israeli journalist and academic Jonathan Spyer told me after he used a British passport to visit Beirut from Jerusalem. “I think that’s proof of health. And I don’t feel that in Western Europe.”

I’ve had long conversations with American and European colleagues about our dark romance with the city. And Beirut is addictive. Some say those who get hooked are bitten by the “Beirut bug,” but it’s really more of a drug. At its best it’s like a shot of adrenaline. I’ve tried to find a place in America that gives me a similar feeling, but I never have.

Lebanon’s capital, as American journalist and Istanbul resident Claire Berlinski wrote in City Journal, is a “Weimar city … rich in history and culture, animated by political precariousness and by a recent rupture with the past, vivified by a shocking conflict with mass urbanization and industrialization; a city where sudden liberalization has unleashed the social and political imagination—but where the threat of authoritarian reaction is always in the air.

“The culture of a Weimar city,” she continues, is “magnificently expressive and creative precisely because the process of liberalization and democratization unleashes vibrant energies, hitherto suppressed. Powerful emotions inspire powerful art. To live in these political circumstances is to experience emotions beyond the normal range, to perceive life in more dramatic terms.”

Berlinski quotes the British Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm about the terrible letdown he felt when returning home after living for a while in Weimar Berlin. He said to imagine yourself “as a newspaper correspondent based in Manhattan and transferred by your editor to Omaha, Nebraska. That’s how I felt when I came to England after almost two years in the unbelievably exciting, sophisticated, intellectually and politically explosive Berlin of the Weimar Republic.”

And that’s how I felt when I packed my things from my apartment in Beirut and returned to America in the spring of 2006. Home felt like a sensory-deprivation tank, and it took me six months to get used to it. I can understand and even relate to Lebanese who came to the United States during the civil war and are haunted by memories of a homeland they love as much as they hate.


And there are good reasons to hate it, or at least to hate the pathologies that make Beirut a sometimes nerve-wracking city to live in.

Soldiers and intelligence agents from the al-Assad-controlled Arab Socialist Baath Party in Damascus had ruled Lebanon like their own private plantation since the end of the fifteen-year-long civil war in 1990, so when an unseen assassin murdered former prime minister Rafik Hariri with a gigantic truck bomb in central Beirut on Valentine’s Day in 2005, almost everyone assumed at once that the Syrian government was at least partly responsible. And in July 2011, the United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon concluded its six-year investigation into the car bombing by indicting the terrorist organization Hezbollah—the local proxy for Syrian and Iranian power. Of course, Beirutis didn’t wait for the tribunal. In the days right after the murder, more than a million people in a country of just over 4 million turned out in the streets to demand the immediate termination of Syria’s occupation and de facto annexation and the banishment of its secret police, the mukhabarat.

It took guts to stand up to al-Assad and his local allies. “There will be no velvet revolutions in this part of the world,” Friedman wrote in The New York Times. “The old order in this part of the world will not go quietly into this good night. You put a flower in the barrel of their gun and they’ll blow your hand and your head right off.”

Al-Assad lacked the nerve to shoot citizens’ heads in front of CNN and BBC camera crews, but Friedman wasn’t wrong to issue his warning. The Syrian ruler’s ruthless late father, Hafez al-Assad, killed as many as 30,000 people in one weekend alone in the city of Hama in 1982 when the Muslim Brotherhood took up arms against his government. Something had changed, though, even if fleetingly. George W. Bush had recently invaded Iraq, and al-Assad the younger was deathly afraid that the seemingly trigger-happy U.S. president might do something crazy in Syria.

In April 2005, just ahead of general elections to form a new government in Lebanon, al-Assad withdrew Syrian troops.

The mood on the streets of Beirut was euphoric. The walls of what Lebanon’s late Druze minority leader Kamal Jumblatt called “the great Syrian prison” had finally been breached. His son Walid, the current Druze leader and a member of Lebanon’s parliament, said a new Arab world was now in the making. “The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it.”

There was no better time in recent history to be an American in the Middle East. Millions of Iraqis had just braved terrorists, militias, and death squads to vote in their first free election, and the Lebanese government, liberated at last from Syrian control, promised and delivered free and fair elections as well.

“Lebanon,” journalist and activist Samir Kassir wrote at the time, proved “that political liberalism can be conjugated in Arabic.” And he was right. That’s why I relocated to Beirut and rented an apartment there. I wanted to stick around to watch and write about the Middle Eastern political earthquake from its epicenter.

Lebanon was a logical, even predictable, place for a liberal revolution to get started. It is, after all, where the East meets the West. “We are inheritors not only of the Persian Empire and the Arab world,” said Salim al-Sayegh, vice president of the Kata’eb Party. “We are also children of the Roman Empire, of the Western tradition.”

A third of its citizens are Sunni Muslims, another third Shia Muslims, and a final third are Christians. Non-Muslim Druze make up another 5 to 10 percent, depending on who’s counting. The eastern half of Beirut is almost entirely Christian and the Western half mostly Sunni, and the two communities exert powerful cultural influences on each other.

Some of the young activists insisted their struggle was larger than themselves and their own country, that there was more to the independence movement than elections and the eviction of Syrian power. Lebanon was a place where Catholics named Pierre lived alongside Sunnis and Shias named Omar and Ali, and if they could work out a formula to resolve their differences peacefully, they just might save the world.

Christians and Muslims, activist Nabil Abou-Charaf told me, “stay up all night strategizing and getting to know each other. It’s amazing, but it’s also sad. We never really knew each other until now. Hariri’s assassination broke down that wall. We are talking together—really talking and getting to know each other—for the first time.” And I’ll never forget what he said next: “You want to know what we’re doing? I’ll tell you what we’re doing. We are resolving the clash of civilizations.”

Even those with more moderate ambitions thought they could set the region on fire.

“The Arab tourists might have fled Beirut after the assassination of Rafik Hariri,” Samir Kassir wrote in Lebanon’s An-Nahar newspaper during the revolution in March 2005, “but they will return with the Beirut Spring. And this time they will not only shop and have fun, they will come seeking the red and white that today crowns the capital of the Arabs. Our Syrian brothers, from laymen to cultured businessmen, might have been startled for a second by what they mistook as hostility toward them. But it is the product of a tyranny that chokes them just as much as it does the Lebanese. They will be happy to return because they know more than others that when the Arab Spring blossoms in Beirut, the roses will bloom in Damascus.”

Roses never bloomed in Damascus, for the Middle East has a near-infinite capacity to smash idealists like Kassir. Shortly after he wrote those words, his car exploded when he turned the ignition on his way to work in the morning. He was only the first since Hariri in a long line of journalists and officials who would be blown into martyrdom by the Syrian regime.


While the overwhelming majority of Lebanon’s Sunni Muslims, Christians, and Druze either participated in or supported what Westerners call the Cedar Revolution and Lebanese call the Independence Intifada, the majority of Lebanon’s Shia Muslims had other ideas.

Syria’s occupying military force disarmed most militias at the end of the civil war, but left Hezbollah, the biggest armed Shia militia, intact. The Party of God is primarily an overseas instrument of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, but it’s also a useful tool for al-Assad’s foreign policy. As historian William Harris put it, “Hezbollah could persist as both a check on the Lebanese regime and as a means to bother Israel when convenient.”

From the point of view of most Shia Muslims, Hezbollah, as the last militia standing, could be used to promote their narrow sectarian interests in a system they felt would otherwise be stacked against them. The Sunnis and Christians had long politically and economically marginalized the Shia of Lebanon, and Hezbollah was their bitter revenge.

For the Shia, the Cedar Revolution was agony. Despite vast religious and ideological differences, the Sunnis and Christians were united, and they were united at the Shias’ expense. The main thing the Sunnis and Christians agreed on was the eviction of Syrian and Iranian power—which could only hurt the Shia who depended on Syrian and Iranian power.

Now that Syria was out, the top priority for Lebanon’s government was Hezbollah’s disarmament and its integration into the mainstream. Hezbollah, though, threatened to “cut off any hand that reaches out to our weapons” and to “fight them like the martyrs of Karbala.”

The leaders of the Party of God desperately needed to direct their countrymen’s ire away from them and their Syrian and Iranian masters and toward a different set of outsiders instead. A “resistance” army is useless without an enemy to resist, after all, and Hezbollah managed to briefly unite the majority of Lebanese around it by igniting a devastating war against Israel in the summer of 2006.

Three Israeli soldiers were killed and two others kidnapped when Hezbollah guerrillas launched a sneak attack over the border fence. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert launched artillery and air strikes at Hezbollah’s positions in south Lebanon and at the command and control centers in the suburbs south of Beirut. Hezbollah retaliated with rocket and missile barrages into civilian population centers in northern Israel. The Israeli air force then targeted infrastructure throughout Lebanon, including roads, bridges, and Beirut’s international airport. Hundreds of thousands of refugees were driven from south Lebanon toward Beirut, and hundreds of thousands more were driven from northern Israel toward Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Though most Lebanese went easy on Hezbollah while Israeli bombs were still falling, a terrible reckoning awaited once this was over. Some Lebanese couldn’t even wait that long.

Clashes broke out in Beirut’s flash-point neighborhoods where Sunni areas abutted Hezbollah-controlled territory in the suburbs south of the city. Farther north, Christian mobs smashed cars displaying Hezbollah logos. The atmosphere reeked of impending sectarian conflict like never before.


I first met democratic activist Eli Khoury during the Cedar Revolution in 2005, and I met up with him again after the war with Israel. He looked as though he belonged in California with his ponytail and unbuttoned shirt, and he had actually lived in Los Angeles for a while before returning to the Middle East.

“Have you seen our ‘I Love Life’ billboards?” he said, smiling.

I had. They were ubiquitous in the Christian, Sunni, and Druze parts of the country, and their message could not have been simpler. Clean white letters spelled out “I Love Life” in English, French, and Arabic on a red background.

Shortly after the 2006 war I also saw little round stickers that said “No War” stuck in some of the windows of shops and cafes. A friend of mine photographed a Muslim woman wearing a conservative head scarf at a rally downtown who held up a placard that said “War No More.” In the suburbs north of Beirut, an enormous mural on the side of a commercial building urged citizens to “Wage Peace.” A series of billboards all over Beirut between the revolution and the war said, “Say No to Anger,” “Say No to War,” and “Say No to Terrorism.”

Hezbollah would never allow anything of the sort to be erected in the parts of Lebanon it controls, even though I know lots of Shias who agree with those sentiments. Almost all of Hezbollah’s roadside propaganda glorifies terrorism, “resistance,” and “martyrs” killed in battle with Israel.

“Hezbollah intimidates me on their TV channel,” Khoury said. “They are calling me a racist now because of this campaign, because I’m implying that they love death.”

The Hezbollah leader himself, though, claims his party’s greatest advantage is its romance with death and destruction. “We have discovered how to hit the Jews where they are the most vulnerable,” Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah famously said in a 2004 interview. “The Jews love life, so that is what we shall take away from them. We are going to win because they love life and we love death.”

In his brilliant book The Strong Horse (2010), Middle East expert Lee Smith applies British historian Albert Toynbee’s observation that “most civilizations die by their own hand” to the modern Arab context. Writes Smith, “The issue with the Arabs is not that they will not fight, but their appetite for warfare disguises the fact that the Arabs are losing their will to live. Never before in the annals of history has suicide played such a large role as it has in the last quarter century of Arab warfare.”

Khoury’s “I Love Life” campaign would not be even slightly controversial in the West, yet it enraged Hezbollah’s partisans even as it resonated powerfully with the country’s liberals and moderates. Palestinian suicide bombers have been said to subscribe to a “death cult” mentality for their willingness to annihilate themselves and others, and the holy warriors of Hezbollah pioneered the use of suicide bombers in the Middle East in the first place.

Journalist David Samuels in The New Republic quoted a Lebanese man who was despondent about Hezbollah’s necrotic obsessions. “Did Hassan Nasrallah ever have an espresso at a café in Beirut?” the man said. “Did he ever go out to a restaurant and eat a steak? He was talking about death [in a recent speech]. He was asking, ‘Have you ever heard of the last moments before death? You have no idea how terrible these moments are.’ He was describing the very precise nature of this pain. His point was that the only way to die is as a martyr. He said, ‘As you know, everyone dies. So why not choose to die as a martyr, and save yourself the pain of these awful moments between life and death?’ I am driving my 2009 car, and this guy is telling me how to die better. Two hours before, I was talking with my financial adviser in Boston. So, practically, you see, this is our problem.”


“For the past two decades, two competing projects have been running in parallel in Lebanon,” wrote Nadim Shehadi, a scholar at the British think tank Chatham House, in August 2006. “One aims at building a Riviera, a Monaco of the eastern Mediterranean; the other a Citadel or bunker, at the frontline of confrontation with Israel and the United States.”

And those parallel projects take place practically right on top of each other. While Beirutis enjoy the good life on the Mediterranean, radical Islamists outside the gates aim daggers at the heart of the capital. Hezbollah controls the suburbs just south of the city near the country’s only international airport and takes its orders from Iran. Its fighters will shoot any Lebanese soldier who so much as sets foot there on a mission to seize its Iranian weapons.

In the spring of 2008, the government decided to disable Hezbollah’s vast illegal telecommunications network and fire the head of airport security, Brigadier General Wafiq Choucair. Choucair wasn’t a Hezbollah member, but he helped Hezbollah receive clandestine shipments from abroad and monitor everyone who flew in and out of the country.

Hezbollah’s shadow telecom system ran from south Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley to the suburbs south of Beirut and the airport, and all the way to the city center, where government buildings were located.

In May, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said during a press conference that he and the former prime minister’s son Saad Hariri were being stalked by assassins. He added that Hezbollah was surveilling the jets of Lebanese politicians and foreign dignitaries and was possibly passing on intelligence to hit squads.

A few years earlier, parliament member and An-Nahar newspaper publisher Gebran Tueni made a secret trip to Lebanon during his semi-exile in France and was murdered by a car bomb just hours after he landed. Somebody at the airport alerted the killers he’d landed, and Jumblatt wasn’t the only one wondering if it was Hezbollah.

Jumblatt pushed back, not only against Hezbollah, but also against the party’s patrons and armorers in Tehran. “Iranian flights to Beirut should be stopped,” he said, “because Iranian planes might be bringing in money and military equipment.”
Iranian planes certainly were bringing in money and equipment, and none of it ended up in the hands of the government or the army. “The Iranian ambassador should be expelled,” Jumblatt added.

Hezbollah’s secretary general announced on the morning of May 8 that he would hold a press conference that afternoon. A sinking, even cloying, feeling of dread washed over much of the country. “The [government] decisions,” Nasrallah said, “are tantamount to a declaration of war, and the start of a war on behalf of the United States and Israel.”

Then Lebanon came apart.

Hezbollah fighters stormed out of the southern suburbs and attacked west Beirut with automatic weapons, sniper rifles, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. They charged up the Chouf Mountains and hammered the mostly Druze region of Aley with mortar rounds and artillery fire. Lebanon was at war again, though this time it was almost entirely one-sided. The weak and politically divided army stepped back and out of the way lest it break apart along sectarian lines into mutually hostile factions as it did in the 1970s.

Irregular Druze fighters repelled Hezbollah’s attack in the mountains, but west Beirut fell with little resistance in a matter of days. The government had no choice but to surrender and give Hezbollah and its allies in parliament veto power—something they could not earn at the ballot box—over cabinet decisions.

My old neighborhood of Hamra on the west side of the city looked like the same place on the surface after the war, but it had been violated. The ground no longer felt stable. Beirut’s most cosmopolitan and international district felt much like my house once did after a burglar had broken in. What happened in Hamra, though, was much worse than a mere breaking and entering. Hezbollah and its militant allies shot the place up and killed people.

“People I knew,” Lebanese-American political analyst and Beirut resident Charles Chuman told me after the fighting was finished, “stopped looking at me as a person. I became a political position in human form. They stopped thinking of me as Charles and could only see me as a function of politics. And they took up arms against me. Instantly. Everything I held dear in Lebanon and in my neighborhood was destroyed. All the trust I had was destroyed. You can work really hard at being nice and being friendly, and you can do it for years, but when they decide they want to kill you, they’ll do it.

If I hadn’t already left Lebanon and returned to live in the United States, I surely would have left after this. I’m willing to work in war zones and have done so a number of times, but it takes a special kind of person, though, to voluntarily live in a war zone.

Beirut wasn’t the same even a year after the guns fell silent. I visited again in early 2009, and was attacked right on Hamra Street by a half-dozen members of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party—a quasi-Nazi party and militia aligned with Hezbollah and the al-Assad regime—when one of my traveling companions, the late Christopher Hitchens, defaced one of their signs with his pen. The SSNP’s merry band of thugs has been known to kill people, including by suicide bombers, and the only reason Hitchens and I didn’t end up in the hospital at the very least was because we were foreigners.

He and I didn’t dare go within blocks of Hamra Street after that lest we get spotted and attacked yet again. This was Hamra Street! One of the main shopping streets in the heart of the city’s international district and the main avenue through my old neighborhood. I was always an outsider when I lived in Lebanon, but my neighbors went far out of their way to make me feel welcome. I felt more welcome in Beirut, in fact, than I have ever felt in an American city, where most people these days know only a handful of their neighbors at best. But I knew I could never feel truly at home in Hamra again, not when the streets are patrolled by violent political maniacs aligned with a terrorist organization and the Assad regime next door, which, by 2011, would be committing war crimes en masse against its own citizens.


“The Bush administration,” Lee Smith writes in The Strong Horse, “thought that the region was ripe for democracy and pluralism, and that its furies could be tamed by giving Middle Easterners a voice in their own government. Syria countered that the Middle East could only be governed through violence.” Al-Assad’s support for terrorism abroad, he writes, “was, at least in part, intended to give Washington no choice but to put away dangerous ideas like Arab democracy.”

Democracies don’t hold up well in seas of autocracy. Beirut in 2005 wasn’t Berlin in 1989. It was Prague in 1968. For Beirut’s Spring died the same death as Prague’s, which was crushed under the treads of Soviet tanks. Prague was finally free when the wall came down and the world around it changed. Though the world around Beirut is changing, how much and how far is yet to be seen.

In early 2011, as revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt toppled calcified dictators from power, and as the tumult spread from there to Libya and Syria, I found myself hoping the upheaval would eventually deliver a little rough justice in Iran as well as in Syria and take down the two repressive regimes responsible for smashing the revolution in the one foreign city I had briefly called home. Maybe, just maybe, 2011 would emerge as 1989 for Arabs and Persians.

Syria’s Assad regime, though, mounted a vicious campaign of mass murder against peaceful demonstrators using snipers, tanks, and artillery. Children were snatched off the streets and tortured to death. Before Gaddafi’s death, Libya’s revolution almost instantly degenerated into civil war, with NATO intervening on behalf of the rebels. Nothing remotely like this happened during Lebanon’s revolution.

Egypt’s revolution looked, at least on the surface, a great deal like Lebanon’s before it was undone by Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria. Hosni Mubarak was toppled from power after just a few weeks when the army took the side of the protesters and forced him from power. An election should be held shortly. That, however, is where the similarity to Lebanon’s ends.

I returned from Egypt last summer and felt little of the optimism of Beirut in 2005. Lebanon is moderately prosperous, but Egypt is appallingly poor. And it is much less culturally democratic than Lebanon. “We’ve had 7,000 years of civilization,” a socialist activist told me at a demonstration in the sweltering heat of Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo, “and 7,000 years of oppression.”

Egypt is also much more Islamicized, not only compared with Lebanon but compared with every other Muslim-majority country I’ve visited. Unlike Lebanon, where a huge percentage of women dress like Europeans, nearly all of Egypt’s Muslim women wear the Islamic head scarf or even cover their face with the veil.

The authoritarian Muslim Brotherhood is by all accounts the most popular and best organized movement in Egypt, and it would like nothing more than to replace Mubarak’s secular tyranny with an Islamic one. The party may not be armed like Hezbollah and Hamas (the Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch), and Egypt’s politics may not be militarized the way Lebanon’s and Iraq’s tragically are, but at this point it may not matter because the Brotherhood and its allies in the totalitarian Salafist movement (from which Al Qaeda springs) have the strength of sheer numbers.

Each of these revolutions differs as dramatically from one another as their respective countries do. They seem to have only two things in common. They all take place in Arabic-speaking countries. And the liberals are not the most powerful movement in any of them. In Lebanon and Egypt, the Islamists are significantly stronger, thanks to either their head count or their guns. Western-style liberals have never been thick on the ground in Libya, and every faction in the country is now armed to their eyeballs. And the tyrant of Damascus still hasn’t fallen.

No one can know what’s next for Egypt and Libya, but it doesn’t bode well that the revolution in Lebanon—a much better developed and more culturally democratic country—was undermined not just by dictatorships on the outside but also by Islamists with a serious base of support on the inside. Hezbollah’s totalitarian ideology of Islamic law at home and “resistance” abroad may not represent the majority view hardly anywhere, but there’s no denying that it stirs within the hearts and minds of a disturbingly large number of the Middle East’s people.

I have friends in Beirut. I make new ones there all the time. But almost all the friends I made in 2005 have left the country. Aside from brief occasional visits, most will never go back. They share the fears of political analyst Abu Kais, who wrote on his website in 2008—too pessimistically I hope—that “the dark age of Hezbollah is upon us.”

This article was originally published in Slake No. 4. To read all of the stories from that issue, purchase the issue or subscribe at

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