National Geographic : 2009 Jun
wooden cross on the sidewalk and plastered a plywood wall behind it with huge posters of Jesus. Then they installed floodlights so that Hezbollah ghters across the road would get the following message 24 hours a day: "Ain al- Rumaneh is Christian. Keep the hell out." By age 12, when he joined the LF, Milad had the swagger of a shabb, or tough guy. He has no idea how many men he killed during the war. He s been in and out of jail dozens of times and even now, at 40, hasn t given up the adrenaline- fueled life of a ghter. His thinning hair is slicked back, Elvis style, and he wears the big LF cross on a gold chain around his neck and tattooed on his le forearm. Like many Arab Christian guys, Milad pumps a lot of iron, and though carrying a slight paunch, he has a powerli er s chest that he s proud of, wrapped tightly in a white Ar- mani T-shirt. He exes his biceps and chest con- stantly. He carouses in a souped-up SUV, drinks too much, breaks a lot of hearts. Since the July 2006 war with Israel, which ruined the Lebanese economy and strengthened Hezbollah, his tile business has taken a hit, but Milad is hoping to ride this crisis out, just like all the others. Countrywide, this chronic instability has pushed unemployment to 20 percent, scared away foreign investors, and dimmed the nation s once vibrant commercial life. A week before, in the Maronite heartland along the Qadicha Val- ley, I d stopped at a shop in Bcharre, a town on the edge of a cliff that was home to the poet Khalil Gibran. "First customer of the day," said the dark-haired woman behind the counter, whose name was Liliane Geagea. It was 11 a.m. on a sunny Saturday in April, prime tourist season, but the place was empty. "With all the troubles, people have just stopped coming," she said. "Everybody s saving their money so they can leave this crazy place. I know I am. I ve given this country 45 years of my life, most of them in a war, and that s enough. I m exhausted, and so is my family. My daughter is studying at Beirut University. When she graduates, my advice to her is: Go to America, go to Europe or Australia, it doesn t matter where. Just get out and take me with you." Milad doesn t have the option of leaving, and neither do thousands of other tough guys just like him who meet in militia clubhouses to dis- cuss the "situation" and abide by their party s de- cision to make political alliances instead of war. But if there s anything that makes them nervous, it s being outgunned. Milad exes his biceps, pats the stock of his ri e, and grins. "We still have our weapons," he says, ngering one of the M16s he keeps oiled and ready in his basement. "But these days the Shiites have more." He gestures out the window, to shot-up apartment complexes just beyond the four-lane road that might as well be a hostile international border. "Hezbollah con- trols everything on the other side of that road," he says. "And those guys are crazy. ey ve got rocket launchers, RPGs, you name it, all supplied by Iran. We ll always protect our neighborhoods and our families, no questions asked. But these days, if it turned into a shooting war, we d lose. So now we believe in peace." of the battle lines between Muslim and Christian in Beirut, communities Muslims worship at the tomb of John the Baptist in Damascus--- a reminder that Islam reveres Jesus, Mary, and prophets of the Old and New Testaments. In Syria the faiths have mingled since the seventh century, when Arab Muslims conquered lands of the Christian Byzantine Empire. Some church fathers even mistook early Islam for a form of Christianity. ARAB CHRISTIANS ARE THE GOBETWEENS, A VITAL LINK BETWEEN THE CHRISTIAN WEST AND THE ARAB MUSLIM WORLD.