It was my hope during my three-day visit to Lebanon to accomplish two things: I wanted to learn the whereabouts of a friend of a friend. My acquaintance at the American Embassy had not heard from her boyfriend in weeks. He had come to Lebanon to write a story on some peculiar aspect of the war. I assumed he was still alive. If a war correspondent was ever shot, killed or kidnapped, it was immediately reported in the international media. I was reasonably serious about looking into the promotion of tourism in this country. I had some difficulty with this because I was proceeding on the premise that someday the fighting in this country would end. The longer I stayed the more convinced I became that religious wars have a timeless quality about them.
I asked my driver, Haruk, if he could possibly assist me in locating the journalist. He said, "How we spend our time is up to you - so why not find this man!" We spent the whole day driving around Beirut. It was a curious thing to observe this most peculiar of men, Haruk, conduct an investigation.It was difficult to always know what he was doing when he talked to the natives. Haruk would pull up to a marketplace or a sidewalk cafe, step from the taxi, and with a certain sense of flourish deliver a preliminary oration that lasted maybe five minutes. This would immediately draw a dozen or so people around him. Then each of them would speak in turn (Arabic mixed with French - occasionally I would recognize an English word or two like "shopping mall" or "roller skates").
There would then follow a protracted period of gesturing, some laughter, much arm clasping, back slapping and handshakes, and then a long speech by the eldest most prominent bystander. These remarks would be pondered by all for several moments. Then Haruk would make an impassioned soliloquy. This would be answered at length by each member of the audience and anybody else who happened by. Another flurry of arm grabbing, back slapping, shoulder shaking and hand grasping would follow. This was succeeded by a series of protracted and emotional goodbyes. Haruk, wiping his eyes, would return to the taxi.
"What did you ask them?"
"Do they know your friend?"
"And what did they tell you?"
My attempts to generate any interest in post-war tourism met with similar frustrations. It was difficult for the Lebanese to grasp something as abstract as the phrase "post-war." Haruk convinced me I would have better luck in Northern Ireland.
In order to appreciate the anarchy that was loose upon this tortured land I should like to briefly list the various radical and reactionary political factions that were present when I visited Lebanon in the fall of 1985. I have only included in this grouping the largest organizations. They include the Shiite Islamic Amal, the Sunni Muslim Mouranbitoun militia, the Druse militia, the Marionite Phalangists (Christians), the Syrian Socialist National militia, the pro-Iralian Hizballah, the Israeli Army, the Lebanese Army, the Palestine Liberation Army, the United States Marines and 32 other minor, one-issue oriented radical and reactionary groups.
It was almost impossible to adequately describe the political and religious differences of these various factions. I am, however, willing to risk a comparison that just may begin to approach the extremes one finds in this country. If you were to take Weber, Davis, Salt Lake, Wasatch and Utah counties and place in them the Ku Klux Klan, the American Nazi Party, the Black Panthers, the White Aryan Resistance, the hispanic and black street gangs of New York and Los Angeles, and throw in for good measure all the Swapp and Singer families - all armed with the most advanced firepower available on the market, then and only then would you have something that begins to approach the absurd situation in Lebanon.