In the early hours of September 13, 1997, the Israeli army killed one 45- year-old woman, two Hezbollah fighters, and six Lebanese soldiers in the mountains of southern Lebanon. Later that day, Hezbollah officials viewed video footage of the bodies and confirmed that one of the slain was a precious kill indeed: 18-year-old Hadi Nasrallah, son of Hezbollah's leader, Secretary-General Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah. That evening, Nasrallah was scheduled to give a speech in Haret Hreik, the southern Beirut suburb where Hezbollah's offices are located.
Four stories below the earth, in an abandoned parking garage, the families sprawled on blankets and on straw mats, with diapers and rumpled clothes ranged around them. Enormous generators circulated the stinking air. It reeked of staleness, human waste, and the recycled exhalations of thousands of refugees, most of whom had been there for days.
For a return visitor, Baghdad International Airport offers a fitting portal into the new Iraq. Unlike the military side of the airport, where U.S. transport planes and helicopters operate in an industrious roar, the civilian side, which USAID renovated in 2003, now languishes in disrepair. Iraqi Airways flights, on which it was possible to light up a cigarette until recently, still come and go. But, in the terminal itself, the rest room floors are smeared with excrement, wires hang from the ceiling, and pay phones have been ripped from the walls. An emblem of war and poverty? Not really.
I’ve had close calls working in the Middle East (rocket attacks, roadside bombs, food poisoning), but nothing beyond the usual occupational hazards of an American journalist—until Sunday, when I was mistaken for a Dane. I HAD RECENTLY RETURNED TO BEIRUT from an assignment in northern Iraq and was thinking of spending the morning in my pajamas, when my friend Katherine, a reporter for a U.S. newspaper, calls. There’s an angry demonstration forming a few blocks from your apartment, she says. They’re heading for the Danish Embassy to protest the cartoon defamation of the Prophet.
The riots currently engulfing the Islamic world, prompted by a Danish newspaper’s decision to caricature the Prophet Mohammed, require two responses. The first is easy: horror. In the physical assault on Denmark’s embassies and citizens, and in the diplomatic assault on Denmark’s government—all because a free government won’t muzzle a free press—multiculturalism has become totalitarianism. Religious sensitivity, say the zealots marching from Beirut to Jakarta, matters more than liberty. Indeed, it matters more than life itself.
Lila Says (Samuel Goldwyn) and My Summer of Love (Focus) Sex can be very helpful. For a screenwriter who wants to treat a subject that might seem insufficiently interesting to some viewers, a strong sexual element can serve as hook and medium. As multiple instances have shown, that sexual element can bring along the background material that may have been the first reason for making the picture. The latest example is Lila Says. The screenplay of this French film is by Ziad Doueiri, who is Lebanese-born and has done a lot of technical work in Hollywood, particularly for Quentin Tarantino.
TO AMERICANS DESPERATE for good news from abroad, the Beirut Spring is the apotheosis of a Middle Eastern perestroika. To the White House, and many American pundits, the crowds in Martyrs’ Square have vindicated the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq. The image of Iraqis voting freely, so the narrative goes, struck a chord in other Arabs that finally gave them the courage to reach for the prize.
IT'S HARD TO find anyone who hasn’t gotten excited about what has taken place in Beirut since the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister. For the hip young demonstrators who gather downtown every evening to protest the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, the collapse last week of their country’s pro-Syrian government was a big step closer to the modern political culture they desire. For weary foreign journalists stumbling in from Iraq, this is the best riot they’ve ever covered.
For many months now, since the beginning of the second intifada (and, truth be told, for years before that), I had suspected that Americans simply couldn't grasp Israel's human losses. The numbers weren't big enough to truly register: three one day, thirteen another, maybe one the next. Up and down, ad infinitum, interrupted occasionally by a stretch of quiet (which meant, of course, not that bombs weren't sent—simply that Israel's sappers had defused them). So I began to make the gruesome calculations in my head. Given that there are roughly six million Israelis and roughly 300 million Americ
In the lobby of Likud headquarters hangs a plaque with a quotation from Samson, a novel written by the party's mentor, the late Zionist leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky: "Tell them three things in my name, not two: Gather iron, anoint a king, and learn to laugh." For many years Ariel Sharon—the iron-willed general and Likud hard-liner—seemed faithful only to Jabotinsky's first two imperatives. He appeared at once aggrieved and combative; even his massive physical presence seemed provocative. Yet, at age 72, the public Sharon has learned to relax and even to laugh.