An effort to remind ourselves that we are not alone in our lonely trails of thoughts.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Buffallo Soldiers

Collin Powell was in town

Thursday, August 10, 2006

A moment for Lebanon

One of the rare faces of montreal is when it protests, especially about things that most montrealeans would find out by fluke, thanks to its vibrant ethnix identity. Here I put out a photo journal of 'Montreal in protest', showing solidarity with lebanon, that took me on a journey with students of concordia, my recent place of study and a highly charged lebanese community on two separate weekends, which I hope will continue in the face of Israeli aggression on a tiny mediterranean country, Lebanon. A very dear friend of mine who was in one of these protests and continues to go because he believes its our religious duty to do so, Fred, has memories of an intellectually fertile country, in his most recent book, 'Shattered Images', a soul-searching journey which took him to the crossroads of the early conversations between Islam and Christianity. I am posting ( hopefully with his permission) an english translation (done by the author himself) of one of his recently published articles, 'Farewell, Lebanon', in Le Devoir, a french daily from montreal. Fred's is a voice of hope and fortitude in a world which is fast becoming politically dishonest with its dealings with those who have been wronged, duped and blamed for their own misfortune, especially from where I earn my bread.

Farewell, Lebanon!

I’ll never again see Sidon, the ancient town that opens so gracefully onto the Mediterranean. Never again stroll through its central square, Place d’Étoile, where ambulant vendors clicking tiny cups tempt passers-by with thick, cardamon-laced Arab coffee from dawn to dusk.
But Sidon for me is, above all, the image of the man with whom I share an unconditional love for a five-year old girl: his son’s and my daughter’s daughter. In his pharmacy, overlooking Place d’Étoile, we talked of her often, and of the city he refuses to leave.
My last visit was five years ago. I was passing through then, on my way back from a research trip through southern Lebanon. It was impossible not to be overwhelmed by the warmth of hospitality for which the Arabs, of whatever confession, have an innate and infinite gift. The fresh-caught fish we ate together that evening melted in our mouths. A few drops of pungent lemon-juice and a drizzle of olive oil made it redolent of the salt of the sea, and the flower of the earth.
The fighters of Hezbollah had just expelled the Israelis from South Lebanon after eighteen years of occupation. It may have arisen from the Shi’a community, but the “Resistance” now belonged to all the Lebanese. For the first time, an armed Arab force had inflicted military defeat on the Zionist state, that illegitimate child of the 1917 Balfour Declaration. My host had nothing but praise for the men who had liberated his country.
Farewell Lebanon!
Never again will I visit the port city of Tyre, with its fragrant flowering orange groves and banana gardens. Never again will I step into the tiny ice-cream parlor just off the main street, where Imam Musa al-Sadr, founder of the Movement of the Disinherited, which went on to become Amal, then evolved into Hezbollah, once stopped for a bowl of ice cream. It had been a Friday, after the midday prayer, one summer day in the mid-1970s.
“But, respected Imam,” the proprietor had protested, “Muslims are forbidden to eat my ice-cream. I’m Christian, you know.”
“Your ice-cream is hallal for us,” said the Imam, and finished off the contents of his bowl, bringing down a centuries-long confessional wall as he did.
You could feel the presence of Imam al-Sadr everywhere in Tyre, Lebanon’s southernmost city, and today cut off from the world. It was home to the school run by his sister Rabab, which taught girls from the poorest families of the border region handicraft and home-making skills. Most of all, you could feel the resurgence of Shi’a pride that he had breathed into a group long scorned and deprived, and which today may well make up almost half of Lebanon’s population.
It was Musa al-Sadr, the man who vanished on a trip to Libya in 1978, who said: “Lebanon is too small to break up, to big to swallow.”
Farewell Lebanon.
Downtown Nabatiyeh is a field of ruins, of apartment buildings bombed into rubble by Israeli air-raids. Never again will I see the upland city where resistance to the Israeli occupation began in earnest, on October 16, 1983. The Israeli army was on the march, north toward Beirut, in another one of its operations to “cut out the cancer of terrorism.” It was campaigning to eliminate the Palestine Liberation Organization, then set up a buffer zone in the South.
The entry of the Israeli troops into the city coincided that day with Ashura, the holiest day on the Shi’a calendar, commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, champion in the universal struggle against injustice. Angry citizens reacted by stoning the troops and overturning a military vehicle. The Israelis opened fire, killing two and wounding seven. It was the start of the long, bitter war that would lead, seventeen years later, to the retreat of the occupying forces. A defeat that Israel would never accept, and for which it today seeks revenge.
Never again will I see the humble house of Ahmed Obeid, who welcomed me into his home in Nabatiyeh. I suspect that it, too, has fallen beneath the bombs. I still remember the deep sadness in Mr. Obeid’s eyes; he had spent nine years of his life in an Israeli prison. The same commando unit that kidnapped him from his home had seized his brother, Sheikh Abd al-Karim Obeid, a leading Shi’a clergyman. Sheikh Obeid is still being held captive in Israel along with hundreds of Lebanese, and thousands of Palestinians. Obtaining his release was one of the reasons for the capture of two Israeli soldiers on July 12.
Farewell Lebanon.
Nothing remains of the “Felfel al-Khalife” restaurant in Haret Hreik, in southeast Beirut, but memories. The neighborhood that surrounds it, a humming, vital testimony to human resiliency, exists no more: it is now reduced to wreckage. It was from the restaurant, famous for its falafel, that I once set out for an interview with Sheikh Hussein Fadlollah, Lebanon’s senior Shi’a cleric and a Grand Ayatollah in his own right. Sheikh Fadlollah had miraculously escaped an attempt on his life in the early 1980s. He was out when the powerful car-bomb exploded, killing at least eighty passers-by and destroying his residence. Washington and Tel Aviv were convinced that the Sheikh was Hezbollah’s spiritual advisor, that he had given the green light for the taking of American hostages. He had to be silenced. No international investigation was ever held to find the bombers.
Only a few streets from the restaurant was a small pastry shop where the staff of al-Manar TV, the voice of Hezbollah, would meet after hours. Al-Manar’s studios, in the heart of Haret Hreik, were obliterated in the first air attacks on Beirut, but it has continued to broadcast. Al-Manar upset certain people. Its version of events and its analyses didn’t match the official—that is, the U.S.-Israeli—version. Labelled as a “terrorist” target, its death warrant remained only to be carried out by Israeli F-16s. No more bad news from that source.
Farewell Lebanon!
Between my fingers I click over the fine dark amber beads of a tasbih—the Muslim rosary—with a filigreed silver chain. Monsieur Nizar, the Sidon pharmacist, my grandfatherly counterpart and a connoisseur of amber, had selected it for me. Now it brings back, in a rush of emotion, the words and glances we traded, the laughter and the tears we shared.
Every morning he leaves his apartment high on the hillside above the town to open his pharmacy, on Place d’Étoile. The Israelis had destroyed it, along with much of the town, during the previous occupation; he rebuilt it. Every day his old friends drop by, for a glass of tea and small talk about the state of the world.
The Israeli army is drawing nearer. Bombs are falling. Even though he is a passport-holding Canadian citizen with most of his family in Montréal, he refuses to leave. There comes a time in every man’s life when he must say “No.” When he must take up his duty of honor. Reclaim his liberty.
Lebanon, farewell.

By Fred A. Reed