Christopher Hitchens is visiting Lebanon, and apparently was attacked and beaten by pro-Syrian neo-Nazis after he wrote some ... unflattering graffiti on an SSNP...
Weekend In Lebanon: A Dispatch From Beirut
Lawrence Osborne, 02.18.09, 04:40 PM EST
BEIRUT--Valentine's Day was a big day in the Middle East, as Lebanon mourned the fourth anniversary of the assassination by car bomb of its former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. On a junket of journalists from the West, I flew into Beirut to see the street party on a piece of waste ground called Martyr's Square above Beirut's port. Martyr's Square lies next to a Roman archaeological site and is dominated by the severe outline of the Al-Amine mosque and its four towers.
We walked all along the Corniche first, passing the war-ruined Holiday Inn and the new Dubai-style condo towers of Waffic Sinno: children carrying flagpoles bigger than themselves, old women with faces painted red and blue, teenage girls in blue hats crying "Saad! Saad!"--the name of Rafiq's son, now the anointed hero of what has come to be called the "March 15 movement." That movement has brought Sunnis and Christians together to try to turn Lebanon into the Arab world's first self-organized democracy, and in 2005, it forced the Syrians to withdraw from the country they had pacified and occupied for nearly 30 years.
Beirut is a schizophrenic city these days. Driving along its coastal roads near Juneirah it looks like Genova or Nice. Its Levantine sophistication has returned; the night clubs open at midnight, and you can drink your Chateau Musar with a Wagyu steak at an Argentinian restaurant at 2 a.m. surrounded by polyglot women who are the liberated marvel of the region. Walking around areas like Hamra and Verdun, it is reassuring to see the lurid windows of lingerie stores with names like Jour Et Nuit and mannequins wearing almost nothing. The Bulgarian girls in the "super night clubs" with names like Excalibur will take off their clothes for a lot of money.
But in the Shia slums of Dahiye, images of Hezbollah's Sheik Nasrullah and martyred teenagers are as common as those of Hariri. No lingerie or Bulgarian strippers there--though the Amal militia allied to Hezbollah own many of the city's brothels. The city is split by a kind of moral apartheid.
Like the denizens of an Evelyn Waugh tale, the "March 15 movement" is opposed by the "March 8 movement" of Islamicists, and ubiquitous armed checkpoints keep the two Marches apart. The Beirut papers that weekend reported Nasrullah's opinion that his men now needed "air defense weapons," and as Hezbollah's power rises, there is a feeling among the non-insane citizens of the city that bad times could return at any moment. Beirut is the crucible of the Middle East's future.
No one knows what the "March 15" demonstrators' numbers were on that Valentine's Saturday, and the televised speeches of the reform movement's luminaries dragged on for hours. Sunnis, Christians and Druze danced together during cacophonous intervals of street party, and the atmosphere was more Notting Hill Carnival than demonstration. Muezzins, church bells and finally a live performance of "Ave Maria." (I turned to a Muslim guy selling melted cheese sandwiches and asked him who was singing. "Some chick called Maria," he said laconically. "I think she's praying.")
But later that night, three of our "scoop" brigade--Jonathan Foreman, Michael Totten and Christopher Hitchens--got involved in a street brawl with some thugs of a Syria-loving skinhead party called the SNPN after Hitchens rather gallantly insulted their swastika flag. On our way to a meeting with Minister of State Nissib Lahoud, Hitchens showed me the gashed knuckles and bruises suffered during the punch up. The attackers had apparently come out of nowhere on posh Hamda Street, where they had gone to buy shoes. "I was on the ground," Hitchens said, "and getting it in the head." It was a miracle they didn't pull Kalashnikovs.
Click to view image: '01085489f75b-ssnp.jpg'
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