Monday, April 22, 2013

Lebanon - A stressful peace

I'm back from Beirut. 

Before I tell you how powerfully God is moving in Lebanon, it would be helpful to give you some geopolitical background on the country.

Lebanon is an amazing place with a deep history. I bet it's hard to dig anywhere without uncovering Greek ruins or unearthing Roman coins. The alphabet was invented there and exported to the world by the Phoenicians. Elijah walked there, as did the Apostle Paul. Jesus talked about Tyre and Saidon, two Lebanese cities, in the Gospels. The Romans, Greeks, Alexander the Great, the French Foreign Legion, Syria, Iran, and the US Marine Corps have all laid claim to Lebanon in one way or another over the last few thousand years.

Many have taken a piece of Lebanon and very few let go without a fight. And that's the problem. Lebanon is deeply scarred by war.

Lebanon is a small country. It's 10,000 square kilometers and it feels like a three-hour drive could get you almost anywhere, if it weren't for the horrific traffic. There are only 4 million Lebanese but over 1 million Syrian refugees who have arrived in the past year -- an incredibly destabilizing force that I'll write about in subsequent blog posts.

Of the 4 million Lebanese an estimated 30 per cent are "Christian." Most of these people are Maronite Catholics and since you're born into the faith with many having no personal relationship with Jesus, it seems like the term Christian in Lebanon is mostly an ethnic designation rather than a stamp of faith.

The other 70 per cent of Lebanese are mainly either Shiite Muslim or Sunni Muslim. And they hate each other. Sunni Islam is the state religion in Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, Sunnis are more often linked with the small but infamous terrorist organization, Al-Qaeda.

Shia Islam is the state religion in Iran. Iran funds the large terrorist organization Hezbollah, which control most of southern Lebanon. It's a state within a state, funding health care, building roads, and, of course, running it's own military, which periodically picks fights with Israel.

Going to Tyre or Baalbek, two Hezbollah strongholds, is a surreal experience. Outside Baalbek the road suddenly becomes a four-lane divided highway, funded by Iran. Large posters of famous Shiite martyrs line the road, including a picture of the man who was the mastermind behind the bombing of the US Marine Corps barracks in Beirut in 1983 that killed 299 people. The Ayatollah, the supreme religious leader in Iran, also gets big play.

There isn't any fighting in the streets right now but everyone is ready to dance should the drumbeat for war start up. One of my American friends told me of a dispute over a parking space in Beirut between a Shiite and Sunni a couple of years ago. It escalated quickly from yelling and fist-shaking to handguns to AK-47 assault rifles. Then someone pulled a rocket propelled grenade launcher out of their closet. That's when clerics from both sides got on the radio and TV telling everyone to stand down. Keep your guns handy, but for now, stand down.

Tourism has dried up in Lebanon since the last war with Israel in 2006. The Canadian and US state departments tell citizens not to travel there. But when you're there, it feels safe as long as you stay in the right neighbourhoods. 

Lebanon is a beautiful, fascinating country. I can't wait to tell you more about it. The people are incredible.

1 comment:

  1. Andrew, your mother and I really enjoyed this post. We look forward to your next post on Lebanon.