The shop-owner is looking for a pen and a piece of paper. Meanwhile I notice a wrapped up flag in yellow and green, placed on one
of the desks behind him. It prompted me to dig deeper.
"What's the situation like down south? I have heard that it is dangerous."
"Who has told you that it is dangerous?", he asked me with a smile that expressed disbelief.
"You can go to the south without any worries", he assured me. The flag probably belongs to him.
Time to change the subject, a more sensitive subject.
"What about Sabra and Shatila? I was thinking about heading there."
He is the first local that I meet, but certainly not the last one who would warn me:
"Be careful, if you decide to go there."
He has finished drawing the map, passes the piece of paper to me and gives me further instructions to find the next ATM.
"Here, that's for you". Generously, he gives me 2000 pounds to get myself something to eat before doing so. After dropping off my
luggage, I make my way to the city center.
Little children, who are being watched by amused soldiers, are playing with some pyros on the streets. Fallen martyrs are being
honored with posters that hang on numerous walls. You don't have to look around for too long to spot the scars of war. The last time that I saw so many bullet holes, was in Sarajevo. But the atmosphere in Beirut is different. While in Bosnia people try to move on after a brutal war, in
Lebanon you feel like it is not over, not by a long shot. Beirut's extra-ordinary nightlife, which is very unusual for the Middle East, does not hide this collective vigilance. This is not
surprising, considering the fact that the war against Israel took place not long ago. There is a concern that the Israeli government will not accept its defeat in 2006. If there is more to come,
it should not surprise anyone, if these people will put their fate into the hands of the one group that is represented by the green and yellow flag. They would do so not only because of the
group's donations to the poor, but because they have proven to be capable of protecting the Lebanese people in case of an invasion.
Hezbollah - Especially in the eyes of their supporters, the "Party of God" is the spirit that had been summoned by the occupying forces. An Israeli soldier who was involved in the war in 2006 stated that fighting Hezbollah was like "fighting ghosts". This description was not only used metaphorically. To this day stories are being told of metaphysical forces who were involved in the war. There is a reason why the fighters of Hezbollah have earned the nickname of "Ninjas", since many combatants would never get to see them, as if they were invisible, like a UN-official once described.
All the sophisticated technologies that the IDF posesses failed against Hezbollah in 2006. Ironically, Hezbollah took the role of
David, fighting Goliath. Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the "Party of God", explained to Julian Assange in an interview how simplicity can defeat complexity.
With respect to encryption and decryption, this was a topic of particular interest to the whistleblower who has been under surveillance since his revelations on Wikileaks. According to
Nasrallah's view, the most sophisticated technologies are not able to see through locally bound idiomatizations. No computer analyst could figure out, what a local living in a village means when
he refers to the "father of the chicken", the leader of Hezbollah gave as an example.
To its supporters, Hezbollah epitomizes the heroic resistance that the statue on the martyr square in Beirut symbolizes. Despite of the many bullet holes, which stem from civil war times, the statue triumphically stands in defiance. The riddled figures, combined with their expression of a passionate fighting spirit and a posture that expresses the certainty of victory, form a picture of indestructibility, as if its enemies could destroy the whole environment, but never the steadfastness, for which the statue is standing, figuratively and literally. To those who believe in God, this steadfastness is paradoxically proven nowhere more than in the moment when falling during a battle, finding immortality in martyrdom for God and fellow human-beings, an ideal that was promoted by Ruhollah Khomenei, who once allegedly said: "You cannot defeat a people that sees death as the gates of heaven."
Not even one year had passed until yet another war in Lebanon would potentially come about, as extremist forces would gain more and more influence in the neighbour country of Syria during its civil war, and terror blasts in Lebanon would accumulate. While the military action of Hezbollah was harshly criticized by Western politicians, a clear majority of the Lebanese people considered Hezbollah's involvement in the Syrian civil war as justified.
In the West, far away from the immediate threat coming from extremists at the Syrian-Lebanese border, it was decided that Hezbollah should be put on the EU-terror list, because one year earlier Hezbollah was allegedly involved in a terror attack against Israeli tourists, a claim made by the Israeli government, albeit even the new Bulgarian government distanced itself from those allegations. Because such allegations were used to condemn Hezbollah in times, when - contrary to the prognosis of Western intelligence - they were successfully fighting the Al-Nusra Front and other extremist forces, the 'Axis of Resistance' interpreted the measures taken by the EU as a political means to pressure Hezbollah. By doing so, the international reputation of Hezbollah was damaged all the more.
Critics saw the repetitive accusations against Hezbollah as a propaganda campaign and pointed out that their enemies constantly talk about evidence, but fail to show any evidence. In the months that followed, however, Hezbollah's popularity among the Lebanese people diminished as well, one of the reasons probably being the support of the Alawite president in Damascus (Alawites belong to the Shia branch), which in the given constellation can easily be interpreted as a confessionally motivated step among the Sunnis in Lebanon, who - like the Shia in Lebanon - constitute roughly one quarter of the whole population. However, regarding the terror image that Hezbollah has in the West, not only its supporters seem to be puzzled. "You know, if you ask me, I don't like Hezbollah", a local in Beirut told me, when I asked him about his stance towards them. "But during the war Hezbollah targeted military bases. Israel bombed schools, mosques, hospitals and the airport of Beirut. So who is the terrorist?", he asked and illustrated that among the Lebanese people Israel has always been much more unpopular than Hezbollah, who as a matter of fact were supported by roughly 70% of the whole population before the Israeli Invasion in 2006 and even more than 80% after the invasion. It is therefore self-explanatory that to this day, Israel is not just unpopular among the Lebanese people, but regarded as the biggest threat.
It would not take long until a new threat would arise in the region, of which one could assume that it poses a much bigger threat to Israel than to Hezbollah. This was not the case. Only a few months after Hezbollah fought extremists close to their borders, the newly formed and self-proclaimed "Islamic State" would occupy parts of Syria and Iraq, drive people out of their homes or murder them, recruit foreign extremists and enslave the Yazidi minority. From then on it must have dawned to several sceptics that if Hezbollah had not intervened militarily, IS would now also reek havoc in Lebanon, as Shayan Arkian, chief-editor of the German initiative Irananders, pointed out.
On the one hand, the multiconfessional constitution of the Lebanese population may raise concern that by fueling confessional hatred, conflicts can easily break out in Lebanon in particular. On the other hand, the cohesion of the Lebanese people has been fostered by the long persisting co-existence between different confessions, which implicated knowledge and understanding of other religious groups, not to mention the collective trauma of the most recent wars that has united a multiconfessional people against foreign invaders. After the occurence of the most recent threat, which in the West is known as the "Islamic State" and in the Islamic World as "Daesh", the people in Lebanon will be put to test yet again.