Beirut

I am one of the first onto the Emirates flight from Dubai to Beirut. Lebanon is the replacement for the cancelled Iraqi trip and if one reads any of the official government foreign affairs websites, this is a highly dangerous place, a no go area. Sitting down and watching the passing parade of passengers I expect that the demographic on this flight will be swarthy, terrorist look alike males and heavily veil concealed Muslim females. Nothing could be further from the truth. A couple of grey haired elderly western women sit behind me. A 20 something woman in a revealing black outfit flits between empty seats. All around are the same varied demographic that would appear on any flights. Arriving in Beirut the immigration and customs formalities are just that and in the blink of an eye I am having to negotiate the rapacious third world taxi drivers demanding extortionate fares. I guess some things are universal. First impressions here are positive. This is  green leafy cosmopolitan city with an abundance of attractions going back before the time of Christ. The people are the same as would stroll down central Sydney or Melbourne. Veiled women are outnumbered by western women wearing low cut dresses  by a factor of 4:1. My initial perambulations here show no signs of conflict nor anything out of the ordinary. Then suddenly I am confronted by a barrier across the street I want to walk up. A young soldier carrying an AK 47 mans this barrier. Respectfully I ask permission to cross and he smiles broadly and motions me through. Further along there are more barriers and entire lengths of footpath covered with rolls of barbed wire. I get to a point where I am blasé and just wander through. No one seems to care. As a kid I grew up in the late 60s and 70s to ongoing news broadcasts about an interminable civil war in Lebanon. I challenge any of my other readers who grew up in those times to define the ongoing battles between the colourfully named Druze and Phalangist militias. I sure as hell had no idea what they represented but I was aware that modern day Lebanon, in biblical times the Phoenicians, had a celebrated role in civilisation. Having researched the history of this country since, I can’t help feeling sorry for these people. There is an all too familiar history of Christian Lebanese jostling for control with what initially was a Muslim minority. As the Muslim numbers grew colonial meddling by France to maintain a Christian ruling class fails spectacularly as does every other French adventures. Remember any one of a number of cot case West African nations. If not how about Indochina and in particular Vietnam! In the last 40 years the main destabilisation has come from over 100,000 displaced Palestinians who have set up bases in southern Lebanon and have rebadged themselves as Hamas and Hezbollah. Add in some Israeli retaliation and Syrian meddling and the DFAT warnings are placed in perspective.

Muhammed Amin mosque, Beirut

Muhammed Amin mosque, Beirut

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Martyrs Square

Martyrs Square

St George's Cathedral and Roman ruins

St George’s Cathedral and Roman ruins

Clock tower

Clock tower