"I left because I didn't feel safe anymore as a Christian," a woman from Lebanon told me recently at dinner, explaining why she and her husband and three children moved to the United States in 2002.
"The religious hostility was getting worse," her husband explained. "You become discriminated against for what you believe about God. You're separated into camps. Muslim West Beirut, Christian East Beirut."
Memories aren't short in this part of the world. It's as if the 11th century were yesterday and Pope Urban II had just declared a Holy Crusade to seize Jerusalem from the Arabs.
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a 19th-century fabrication purporting to describe a secret plan by the Jews to achieve global domination, runs as a mini-series on Iranian and Egyptian television, and the book continues to top the "nonfiction" best-seller lists in Syria and Lebanon.
Iranian writer Ali Baqeri explains that the alleged Jewish conspiracy for world domination outlined in the protocols is only part of a much larger out-of-this-world Zionist plot: "The ultimate goal of the Jews, after conquering the globe, is to extract from the hands of the Lord many stars and galaxies."
The year after the aforementioned family fled Lebanon, The New Yorker published "In the Party of God" by reporter Jeffrey Goldberg. Penetrating the underground world of extremist Middle Eastern politics, Goldberg's article provides insight into the fear this family felt as well some background to the current crisis in Lebanon.
Rather than advertising cars or concerts, posters, and billboards in the village of Ras al-Ein, situated in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, celebrated bloodshed and martyrdom, Goldberg reported. Posters of the Ayatollah Khomeini, political leader of the 1979 Iranian revolution, were especially popular.
The political and military control of Ras al-Ein at the time of Goldberg's visit fell under the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Syrian Army, and Hezbollah, a.k.a. the Party of God, a name that comes from a passage in the Koran: "Verily the party of God shall be victorious."
On his way to a meeting with the leader of a local Hezbollah faction, Goldberg saw no flags of Lebanon flying anywhere in Ras al-Ein. Instead, the flag of Hezbollah, with its spiritual quotes and AK-47s, was everywhere. So too was the artwork from the Party of God.
"Like the rest of the town, the park was crowded with ferocious Hezbollah art. One poster showed an American flag whose field of stars had been replaced by a single Star of David," i.e., the Great Satan and Little Satan, united.
Another poster showed a pile of dead soldiers whose uniforms were marked with Stars of David. Another portrayed Jerusalem being gripped by a figure with a grotesquely hooked nose.
Goldberg's taxi driver, a Christian, was hesitant about the destination for the meeting in Ras al-Ein. "Lebanon's Christian minority is fearful of Shiite gunmen," explained Goldberg.
A meeting with Hezbollah spokesman Hassan Ezzeddin provided Goldberg with an introduction to faith-based terrorism. "To us, there is real life after death," explained Ezzeddin. "Reaching the afterlife is the goal of life. Once you have in mind the goal of dying, you stop fearing the Jews."
Ezzeddin, not satisfied with the withdrawal of Israeli forces in 2000 from southern Lebanon, told Goldberg that the goal was to liberate the 1948 borders of Palestine. The Jews, he said, "can go back to Germany, or wherever they came from."
At Beaufort, a 12th-century castle in Lebanon that served as a platform for rocket attacks on Israeli towns before Israel's 1982 invasion, Goldberg's guide was a Hezbollah guerrilla in his early 20's named Na'im. "The Jews are sons of pigs and apes," Na'im said to Goldberg. It's the kind of talk that comes easily to people who belong to groups with names such as the Movement of the Deprived and the Organization of the Oppressed on Earth.
At a Hezbollah position on the Lebanese-Israeli border, buses brought tourists to a spot that overlooks a concrete Israeli fortress called Tziporen. Israeli soldiers were only a few feet away. One Kuwaiti tourist, excited, yelled "Jews!" Others took out video cameras to film the enemy.
"Rock throwing from a comfortable distance was encouraged, and the Palestinians aimed for the roof of the fort," reported Goldberg. "On weekends, when the crowds are thicker, villagers drive in tractors, full of rocks to supply the tourists."
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