The Adventures of Dr. Moustache and the Egyptian Gentleman, Pt. I
An American traveler spends three weeks in Egypt, Lebanon and Syria.
by Daniel Chamberlin
It was on my second night in Egypt—a night of shotgun blasts and little
girls throwing explosives at me—that I realized traveling in the Arab
world was not going to be as dangerous as I had led myself to believe. My
reasons for going to the Middle East were fairly simple: I was weary of
hot and crowded Los Angeles. I was spending too many afternoons drawing
correlations between my life and the characters of Six Feet Under. Then, a
week before my 30th birthday, my car was stolen while it was full of
precious book notes, my private journals and all the financial records on
my laptop computer. I was now paranoid about identity theft in addition to
being lonely, depressed and alienated. As the Egyptian novelist Naguib
Mahfouz put it in The Journey of Ibn Fattouma, "The eternal desire for
travel ripened in the flame of continued pain."
My younger brother Paul was spending the summer studying Arabic at the
American University in Cairo (AUC). He invited me to join him on a
three-week jaunt through Egypt, Lebanon and Syria once his classes were
over in late July. As a graduate student studying the history of political
dissidence in Arab countries, Paul would make for an ideal travel
I had little interest in visiting any of these countries, and it wasn't
exactly the safest time for Middle Eastern travel. In April, veiled women
sprayed a tourist bus outside Cairo's Cities of the Dead with machine gun
fire. Just around the corner, a suicide bomber killed three people in
Cairo's Khan El Khalidi marketplace. The State Department maintains an
advisory against travel in Lebanon, due in part to the car bomb
assassination of prime minster Rafik Hariri in February. Syria, which was
suspected of involvement in his killing, was hosting gun battles between
police and Islamist insurgents in the suburbs of Damascus and contending
with escalating tensions with the US. But the air of peril that comes with
traveling under conditions better suited to a Graham Greene novel had its
own romantic appeal.
The day I purchased my ticket, the Egyptian envoy to Iraq was assassinated
in Baghdad and suicide bombings killed 52 people in London. Two days
before my planned departure, there were bombings in a Red Sea resort town
that killed 64 people. My parents called and asked me to cancel my trip.
They called my brother and asked him to come home. My dad offered to buy
my ticket from me, saying that our travel plans were not the plans of
rational people. I tried to reassure him by recounting the perils of life
in Los Angeles: the guy who got stabbed in the park around the corner from
my apartment. My friend whose house was burglarized last week. The theft
of my car. The automatic weapons fire that commemorates major holidays.
The shoot-out between LAPD and a coked-up dad using his infant daughter as
a shield. "You're not helping," he said. I promised him that we wouldn't
take any detours to see how democracy was faring in Iraq. We'd stick to
the safety of the authoritarian police states as much as possible. "At
least we're not going to London," I reminded him.
Part I: Egypt
I gaze out the window throughout the Air France flight from Paris to
Cairo, eager for my first glimpse of the African coastline. From 30,000
feet in the air, Cairo looks like a dusty brown rock garden.
The sun is setting as we touch down on the runway that cuts through the
cracked dirt fields surrounding Cairo International Airport. As I gather
up my bags, I think about the charred corpses being pulled from the
blasted hotel facades in Sharm El-Sheikh and the machine-gun-blazing women
and my stomach turns over. As I step off the Air France plane I am leaving
the West behind. French flight attendants are my last connection to the
European-American culture that I have lived in for 30 years.
A few minutes of standing in line to talk to the English-speaking passport
control personnel is an explicit reminder that I’m not de-plane-ing into a
Bedouin encampment, but a modern city with an economy based in providing
services to eight million tourists a year. There are plenty of Westerners
in the crowds of people making their way into the country. They are easily
given away by their shorts. Most everything I read prior to departure
warned against shorts: some of the more alarmist writing suggested
immediate kidnap by jihadi fashion enforcers. The more realistic
assessment just said that, to the locals, you'd look like you were walking
around in your underpants. I am rocking fresh travel gear riddled with
secret zippered pockets to keep passports and cash hidden from Al Qaeda
Paul spots me easily. He warned me in advance that being a six-foot-tall
white guy with shoulder-length hair would make me stick out like a sore
thumb. Though he's got close-cropped hair, his own pale skin shines
Caucasiod in the arrivals lounge. He holds up his thumb and says "ouch."
We embrace and administer manly backslaps.
"You want a cigarette," he says, as we walk through the parking lot.
"You have to smoke or they'll think you're a tourist," he says.
"Seriously, you're going to alienate a lot of people if you don't."
Our driver is maybe a taxi guy, maybe just somebody who was in the
neighborhood and wanted to make some cash. He picks up a Korean couple to
ride along with us. Paul and the Koreans got in the back and I get in
front. "You'll like this," Paul tells me. The driver floors the taxi out
of the parking lot as I grab the hand-rest. Paul laughs and the driver—
ignoring the out-bound traffic lanes—goes flying around the oncoming
traffic in the incoming lane as we pop onto the freeway.
A sea of automobiles, mostly '70s-era Fiats and Peugots, all coughing out
clouds of diesel smoke and white natural gas fumes. No headlights, though
it's 9 p.m. at night. No lane markers, and the drivers—none of whom would
be caught dead wearing a seatbelt—make little attempt at maintaining the
single-file processional-style driving common to most of the United States
and Europe. When an opening presents itself, the gas is stepped on and the
car jumps forward until another vehicle—automobile, troop transport truck,
horse and carriage, moped—obstructs its path. This is when the headlights
come on, to be flashed in tandem with some horn-honking until the way is
clear and the gas pedal can again be floored. Lurching and braking we fly
by huge murals depicting flights of Egyptian aircraft and battalions of
tanks smashing over the Sinai in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. We narrowly miss
hitting a moped upon which a family of four is riding comfortably. The
mural switches from contemporary military victories to images of the
pharaohs battling Nubian armies. The driver flashes his lights and lays on
the horn as he abruptly swerves so as to not rear-end a donkey. A giant
stone pharaoh sits on a grassy freeway median, towering over a scattering
of families enjoying late night picnics. Traffic only slows when armed
police are in the streets, but only so much that the drivers don't run
them down. The intersections without armed guards bring to mind a southern
Indiana automotive experience: the figure-8 race. It's a pre-or-post
NASCAR treat wherein beat-up older model cars—much like those vehicles
that comprise the bulk of Cairo's traffic—race at top speeds around a
figure-8 track. Intersections here are like that, except nobody's ooh-ing
and ah-ing but me. That, and there's no giant beers.
We head over the bridge to the island of Zamalek, where my brother lives.
The Nile shines with the lights of the high-rise apartment buildings and
telecommunications towers on its banks. The island was swampy marshland
before it was drained by the British and converted into a quiet embassy
district. Paul lives in an AUC student dormitory, a big brown tower in the
middle of the island. AUC has been in Cairo since 1919, and as one of the
most prominent places for Americans to congregate, it has a relatively
high level of security. In fact, all of Cairo seems to have a high level
of security, with an entire police division devoted to looking after
foreigners. Despite their dashing black berets and white uniforms, they're
most likely to be seen picking their noses or napping with their AK-47s
balanced between their knees. The difference with AUC security is that
they're quite awake and alert. Paul thinks some of them might be CIA,
there to keep tabs on the next generation of diplomats, petroleum
executives, military intelligence officers and foreign aid workers. AUC is
the Arab equivalent of the Ivy League all rolled into one campus. It's a
prohibitively expensive private institution whose students are either
wealthy Arabs or the cream of American Middle Eastern Studies departments.
That, and of course, the oil law students, of whom Paul and his cohort
seem less than fond. The dormitory guards carefully check all bags for
weapons and alcohol. Another guard sits by the elevators to the men's
tower to make sure that nobody's getting laid on school property.
After dropping off my bags in his room, we head out for food. We order
magherita pizzas, mango juice and water-pipes—sheeshas—with
cantaloupe-flavored tobacco. Paul suggests I order liberal amounts of food
as it's cheap, and it's unlikely that everything we order will arrive at
the table. The sidewalk patio is lit with green party lights and it looks
out over the Nile where kids and their fathers are fishing and old men in
worn blue gibbayehs and head wraps stare into space. A cool breeze comes
off the water, soldiers snooze next to a truck and horse-drawn carriages
canter by blasting Arab pop filled with manic percussion and sugary
professions of devotion to "habibi," best translated as "my baby."
The next day I am on my own, left to navigate Cairo. My goal for the day
is to head to the Islamic quarter and the Khan El Khalidi marketplace, but
I start by wandering the quiet, tree-lined streets of Zamalek. Zamalek
reminds me of the crumblier edges of New Orleans' Garden District. The
architecture is of the damp, decaying British and French colonial variety.
There are muddy tropical gardens that encroach on the embassies and
foreign schools that sit behind stone walls and wrought-iron gates. Plenty
of Arabic graffiti. One set of English graffiti reads "Mahmoud is
bysexual." The heat and humidity are overwhelming and I am already
glistening with sweat. Visiting the air-conditioned Egyptian Museum seems
like a good plan.
The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities has 136,000 exhibits, none of which
have informative displays. Egyptians need jobs and while the government
helps them out with an array of subsidies it also gives the
tourist-catering industries a subtle boost whenever it can. Thus most of
the exhibits in the museum are not labeled at all. Hamdy, a portly guy in
his 40s, asks me if I need a guide.
In the course of our tour he shows me the first recorded image of a
moustache on a 4,000-year-old stone statue. "He is my great grandfather
many times over," he says, pointing to his own moustache. Hamdy lives in 6
October City with his wife and two kids. He has a degree in Egyptology
from Cairo University. He spent a few years working on archeological digs,
but says that the directors of those expeditions paid incredibly low
wages. He found he could make more money offering freelance tours of the
The meal that closes my first day in Egypt is the Egyptian staple koshari.
It's a carb-heavy feast of macaroni noodles, fried onions, mushrooms and
rice all slopped together in a giant Styrofoam container. It comes with
tiny plastic bags of clear garlic sauce and red hot sauce and it's
delicious. With our nap-inducing dinners in hand, we join a group of
Paul's fellow students for a felucca ride at sunset on the Nile. The
felucca is a graceful sailboat that serves as a place for couples to go on
dates or for families to host birthday parties. The men renting and
sailing these ships are old and gnarled in their turbans and robes. They
rely on younger guys in track suits to do the negotiating. The particular
dock we choose is adjacent to a riverfront TGI Fridays. This might've
spoiled the whole affair with the air of corporate franchise if it weren't
for the Pepsi logos that grace the sails of the entire fleet of ships.
After dinner we adjourn to the Grand Café, a swanky sheesha place in the
relatively well-to-do neighborhood of Mahdi. It's a mellow scene: an open
air Nile-front patio with rattan tables and couches; the peach-colored
walls are lit with low-level lights. I'm enjoying more cantaloupe-flavored
tobacco and feeling fine until "ka-chuk POW!" Shotguns are going off. All
those news reports of suicide bombers and lady assassins in hijabs flash
back as I jump out of my seat. "Aigh!" I say. Everyone laughs at my
reaction, of course, because tonight is clay pigeon shooting night at the
Grand Café. Exploding shards of clay are splashing into the Nile to the
cheers of the water-pipe enthusiasts.
As we enjoy another harrowing taxi ride home I feel like I'm finally
relaxing a little bit. Everyone is friendly and I'm with people who really
know their way around. I glance out the window at a cab running alongside
our own and a little girl smiles at me from her mother's lap. She raises
her arm, as if to wave, and launches a small projectile in my direction.
It falls short of the cab and explodes in the street with a loud bang,
which causes me to jump out of my seat and hit my head on the car's
ceiling. Despite the mother's black veil, I can tell she's laughing and a
little embarrassed. She admonishes her daughter who is totally lost in
giggles. "Welcome in Egypt!" she hollers at me before we speed off again.
One of Paul's fellow grad students, a documentary filmmaker from New York,
puts the students at AUC into what he calls "Team A" and "Team B." Team A
are the people who want to learn Arabic in order to return as aid workers
and diplomats interested in offering a helping hand; Team B are those who
intend to come back in military uniforms or as part of the intelligence
services. Paul, meanwhile, goes on about how much he likes Egypt as is,
how he's not interested in finding ways to fix things. He cites how
messed-up everything is as part of Cairo's appeal, that life continues
despite so much chaos. It sounds like the early stages of the fever for
expatriation, the creeping sensation that living in Cairo is not so crazy.
That it's the people who stay in places like Los Angeles who are the crazy
ones. Paul, it seems, may become a member of Team Egypt.
By the third day of Cairo pollution, I'm not so sure. On our way back from
the AUC campus near downtown, I start to have trouble breathing. The cab
driver is fascinated by my appearance, and discusses it loudly with my
brother. It starts with an explanation of Egyptian cuisine. The dish which
Egyptians seem most proud of is fuul, an oily mess of fava beans and
garlic. "Egyptians eat fuul!" says our cab driver, a big man. "We get so
sleepy! But Americans! You eat hamburgers!" Talking to my brother, he
points at me. "Your brother, his hair is long like a woman, but he has a
beard! And he is big like a man because he eats so many hamburgers!"
My brother is laughing. I feel like I'm having the first asthma attack of
my life. As my lungs cry out for a clean breath, my head gets light and I
can see the dirt hanging in the air.
Though the bomb attacks in the Khan and at Sharm El-Sheikh are dominating
international news coverage, the newly emergent political protest movement
is what people are more interested in talking about. Hosni Mubarak has
been president of Egypt since the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981.
There's no doubt that Mubarak will win the upcoming elections this fall,
but it's the first time opposition candidates are allowed to run. Illegal
anti-Mubarak protests by an ironic alliance of left-wing groups and
conservative religious parties are tolerated in the run-up. We spend the
next afternoon looking for one of these demonstrations with Paul's friend
Blake, a 26-year-old writer who follows the Cairo political scene.
Blake has a vague set of directions, but we find no signs of gathered
dissidents or the government thugs who often harass them. We're still
courting danger though, as navigating downtown Cairo requires plenty of
street-crossing. Pedestrians do not have the right-of-way and generally
speaking, the traffic doesn't stop. This means that in order to cross the
street one must summon a Zen-like confidence in the alertness of all
drivers and simply step into the traffic. As the pedestrian, you rely on
the driver to watch you and calculate the pace at which you're moving—
Frogger-like—through the lanes of buses, trucks, bicycles, taxis and
livestock moving around you. Dash too quickly and you'll throw the whole
thing off as the three lanes of oncoming vehicles are all assuming you'll
keep moving at a walkers pace and they'll swerve just slightly to avoid
you. This will put you in the path of a moped leaden with boxes of corn
and you'll be toast. Everyone has to watch out for everyone else, all the
time, or the constant flow of anarchic traffic will become gridlock. It's
also useful to wait on the corner for Egyptians to cross, and follow their
After a few hours of wandering past book stalls and through street
markets, no protest can be found. We see a lot of bootleg DVDs and VHS of
American movies, Disney cartoons, Egyptian belly-dancers and shark
attacks. The books range from torrid-looking romance novels with Western
women on the cover to religious books and non-descript tomes with Arabic
titles. There are also copies of Mein Kampf and books either by or about
Osama Bin Laden. Blake tries to translate one cover. "It's asking
something like 'Hey, what's this guy been up to?'" he says. And Mein
Kampf? Something about Nazi discipline, the cult of the leader appeals to
the Arabs, Paul and Blake both guess. The obvious resentment held by Arabs
against Zionists—though not always all Jews or even Israelis—seems to jibe
with der Fuhrer's anti-Semitism. Of course one could also generalize about
Americans based on History Channel buffs’ appetite for documentaries about
the Nazis. My favorite book cover features a sketched pair of crossed legs
with a line in between denoting a vague vulva-like space. These lead up to
a detailed skull for a head. It reminds me of how sexless this trip is
likely to be.
On the cab ride back from our failed attempt at finding the protest, the
driver offers to take us to his cousin's brothel. We decline. Instead my
companions talk about how Middle Eastern strip clubs are full of desperate
women from the former Soviet Union.
Later that night Blake takes us to The Greek Club, a rooftop bar in the
Talaat Harb or "Third War" neighborhood. The place is above a massive
pastry shop in a falling-down building on a large square full of late
night foot-traffic. On our way across the square two young men approach
us. There are thousands of Western tourists visiting Cairo on any given
day, but we're far from the resort hotels and ancient Egyptian rock piles.
White people stand out, and my shoulder-length hair continues to draw
stares from adults and laughter from children. Very often it's people
looking to sell things, but these are just two guys who want to know where
we're from. We tell them we're Americans and they're stoked, which is an
increasingly common reaction. They want to know what we think of Egypt.
Paul enthuses about the city and how much he likes the people here. "You
see we are not all Osama," the Egyptian man says. He gives me his phone
number and an open invitation to call him for assistance while we're in
the country. Or if I just want to help him practice his English and drink
The Greek is an established gathering place for Western ex-pats. Lately
it's also been a place where journalists mingle with members of the
leftist and secular protest movements. We're headed there with a friend of
Blake's who's clearly on "Team B," a scrawny white man-child who uses
words like "intel" and talks about a trip he took to one of the oases in
the Western desert like it was some kind of Special Forces operation. I'm
particularly disdainful of him because I recognize in his fetishization of
Arab violence my own fascination for the same thing.
Our ride home features a wild-eyed taxi driver who manically dabs the
sweat from his round pale face. It's not uncommon for drivers to pull out
of traffic and dash into bodegas for a drink, or better yet grab a slug of
water or tea from the many communal jugs and dispensers left on corners,
and he does this repeatedly. While he's in the cab he holds forth with
proclamations and conveys in sign language what Hosni Mubarak would do if
he found out his political views—cut his throat and put out his eyes!
"Aggggh!" he says, taking his hands from the wheel and clawing at his
eyeballs. He'd like to drive a taxi in America eventually, but the
American police would have an unpleasant reaction to his driving: They'd
cut his throat and put out his eyes! "Aggggh!" he says, drawing a finger
across his throat. The Egyptian police don't pose the same threat. Each
time the cab slows for snarled traffic and there's a cop around he hangs
his head out the window and shouts something Arabic that Blake translates
as: "Hey lazy guy! Why don't you stop napping and fix this shit!" This is
an opportunity for Blake to practice his favorite Arabic phrase; he
follows our driver's insults by asking the cops, "Where's the party?"
Paul's classes are winding down and he's eager to get out of Egypt for a
little while. We have plane tickets for Beirut and one more day in Cairo
before our departure for Lebanon and then Syria.
"We should definitely go to the pyramids," he says. While there are over
90 pyramids spread across Egypt's 40 kilometer-long pyramid field, the
Pyramids at Giza are the largest and most accessible. The
hotel-and-nightclub-strewn Cairo neighborhood of Giza runs right up to the
plateau where Herodotus (450 BC), Napoleon (1798 AD) and Jerry Garcia
(1978 AD) have basked in the heavy vibes that, in addition to bringing
millions of dollars into the Egyptian economy, have inspired goth rock
tattoos, Egyptian Lover's old school electro jams and American currency
In an effort to engage with Egypt and not just interact with its old
rocks, we're happy to chat with most anyone who talks to us, which out
here means the Egyptian camel guys looking for clients. Every camel, every
horse and pack animal upon which a tout wishes to place us is named
Michael Jackson. When Paul challenges one of the camel wranglers—"But I
thought that camel over there was named Michael Jackson"—he doesn't bat an
eye. "That camel is his brother," he says. "Just sit on the camel and take
a picture for free!"
I join a crowd of sweaty tourists for a trip into the Pyramid of Chephren,
the second tallest pyramid at Giza. It was blown open in 1818, by Giovanni
Battista Belzoni, an Italian weightlifter turned amateur Egyptologist. In
addition to exploding his way inside, he signed his name in giant graffiti
in the burial chamber. Elsewhere in Egypt, this Hulk Hogan of temple
desecrators stole a bust of Ramses II from the temple at Thebes and
shipped it to England, where it is still on display at the British Museum.
The Pyramid of Cheprhen is hot and crowded inside; its mystique is
dispelled by the press of Western flesh all around me.
The other big draw in Giza is the Sphinx, the mysterious evil
man-lion-pharoah sculpture that used to dispense riddles and now serves as
the narrator for the nightly cheeseball light shows. To the east of the
pyramid field there's nothing but sun-baked sand and hot wind until the
Siwa Oasis and the Libyan border, but to the west sits a complex of
tourist-oriented businesses; the Sphinx gaze rests upon the local
two-story KFC/ Pizza Hut duplex.
We get a bit off the path and end up in an off-limits area above the
Sphinx. Fat British people with sunburned thighs amble around in front of
it. Italian tourists in short-shorts and pink cowboy hats force their
video cameras on tour guides. Two tourist police ride their camels over to
us, to direct us down a long, circuitous path to the on-limits Sphinx
viewing area. Paul asks them a question in Arabic. "You speak Arabic!" one
of the officers says, obviously tickled. He lifts up the barbed wire. "You
don't have to go all the way back around," he smiles. "You are an Egyptian
gentleman and you may pass where the Egyptians pass."
We spend the afternoon in Islamic Cairo, in the large Khan El Khalidi
market, an area frequented by tourists who wish to be immersed in gold,
silver, spices and shabby pyramid paintings. It's also where a lot of
Cairenes come to shop for food, bras, sandals and bath towels. The streets
are crowded and narrow, with piles of donkey shit slowly liquidating in
runoff wastewater. Guys pushing carts charge through, hissing at people to
let them know that they're not slowing down. More polite are the men and
boys running between coffee houses and shops with trays of Turkish coffee
and tea held high to avoid the jostling crowd. Blake, Paul's friend, moved
here on a whim earlier in the summer and said he spends a lot of time
wandering the Khan just to get a sense of the city. "There's always dudes
doing weird shit there," he says.
And this is true. We see closet-sized offices with nothing inside but a TV
and a tray of coffee where exasperated looking men sit staring into space.
In the jewelry district, ancient, jerry-rigged furnaces burn metal inches
away from the passing crowd. In the back alleys animal carcasses hang in
unrefrigerated glass cases, gathering flies. In other places men cluster
together making repairs to noisy, unrecognizable engines. Homosexuality is
officially illegal, but platonic man-on-man affection is found everywhere.
Young boys walk by tangled up in each other's arms, while hirsute men hold
hands and whisper into each other's ears.
After a few hours, we make our way over the freeway and into the Cities of
Though their existence predates the arrival of Islam in Egypt in the early
600s, the Cities are basically Islamic cemeteries inhabited by hundreds of
thousands of squatters and tomb-watchers, a funerary sprawl that spreads
out southeast of Cairo until running up against the Muqattam Hills. There
are several well-traveled walking tours where one can take in dozens of
famous gravesites. We wander in and start poking around on our own.
The tombs house rich and poor alike, some of the crypts seem
indistinguishable from houses; cinder block structures where apparently
someone is buried, but also where families live and raise their children.
Others look like abandoned churches or temples. A crusty-eyed puppy growls
at us from underneath the blackened chassis of an ancient Fiat. Kids play
in a pile of burning garbage.
Professional mourners nod at us from their perch at the front of freshly
occupied chambers. Theirs is not an enviable job—they help coordinate the
mourning for the bereaved or in a worst case scenario, sob and wail as
stand-ins for absent relatives—but it must be convenient to live and work
in the same neighborhood. "Welcome in Egypt," is the stock phrase. It's
quiet here, and though the Cities are a tourist attraction there are
absolutely zero other Westerners about the place. We're a spectacle. A
woman dressed in full black robes and head scarf sees us from the window
of her squat and comes running out of the front door to holler "Welcome in
Egypt!" It's the first time a woman has approached us since I’ve been in
this country. We smile and I mangle toddler compliments. "Thank you! Egypt
pretty!" Shokran! Misr gamil!
We round a corner and find an outdoor taxi garage that runs the length of
several blocks. I have long wondered (well, since Tuesday) where the taxis
come from, and now my questions are answered. Taxis in Egypt seem to be
primarily French-made sedans from the '70s and '80s. They're all painted
black and white with a taxi license number printed in Arabic numerals on
the side. They're further customized with heart-shaped neon lights in the
cabin and all manner of Islamic trinkets on the dashboard or hanging from
the rear-view mirror. Mini-Korans seem to be the Muslim equivalent of the
dashboard Jesus. By far the finest of the Egyptian taxi accessories is
"musical brakes," a tricked-out brake system that plays a tinny electronic
version of "It's A Small World After All" each time the brakes are applied.
We watch kids gopher, their arms blackened with grease, wielding wrenches
or handfuls of nuts and bolts. A garden courtyard opens off this taxi lab
with a domed tomb at its center. Lots of the mechanics have noticed us
standing around gawking, and one approaches. He says a few things in
Arabic that Paul doesn't understand. He gestures that we should follow him.
He takes us past a group of men sitting around a table and drinking tea,
and delivers us to two old men sitting at the locked wooden door of the
The two men smile at us and put down their sandwiches. There's a homemade
sheesha pipe in front of their picnic and the air smells of fragrant
tobacco. They're both dressed in gibbayehs and the shorter man of the two
talks to Paul in a gentle voice. The man smiles and unlocks the door. "I
think this is a Mamluk tomb, but I'm not sure," he says as we step into
the musty darkness.
His Arabic is extremely pleasant to listen to, but Paul doesn't understand
much of it. His voice is too soft and his dialect unfamiliar. He thinks
we're in the tomb of one of the sons of a Mamluk general. Mamluks were a
class of slaves who were captured as children and raised to become
warriors in the 11th Century. They eventually seized power in Egypt and
occupied leadership positions both in military and civilian life until
they were massacred by the Egyptian governor Mohammed Ali in 1811. Our
guide shows us a framed manuscript, the entire Koran hand-written in
script so tiny that it only takes up one 10 x 12 piece of parchment. There
are chairs embossed with mother of pearl that he insists we take a picture
of. He points us to a staircase leading down under the tomb. We have no
flashlight, and decline his offer to poke around alone in the darkness. He
laughs and leads us out of the building. We wind through a garden where a
cat is shitting. He points us to an iron staircase leading to the top of
the tomb. We ascend and survey the Cities of the Dead and the freeway that
leaves a smoggy haze hanging over its domes and spires.
We end the day at Al Azhar Park, a newly renovated green space on the
southeastern hills overlooking the city. "This is the first grass I've
walked in all summer," says Paul. We watch the sunset. Flights of pigeons
take off from roosts sitting on top of apartment buildings. Their keepers
guide them in formation in the sky with red flag signals. Hundreds of
mosques light up as the sun disappears and the muzzeins call to prayer
echoes out over the city; an amplified cacophony of songs, chants and
prayers from a thousand devout Cairenes. Young kids in the park are flying
kites as we head down to the freeway to catch a cab ride back to Zamalek.
Tomorrow we fly to Beirut.
Part II: Lebanon
Arriving in Beirut is like arriving back in Europe. The airport is fresh,
orderly and clean. No one is yelling. Beer is for sale in the airport
concession stand. "Haram!" says Paul at the sight of the booze. Forbidden!
Women are dressed in Western fashions and the men are hip and young and
cool. It's the most dangerous place we've been so far in terms of the
recent political violence, but I immediately feel comfortable and safe.
All the countries we are visiting on this trip border the Mediterranean.
My dad is the one person who referred to our travels in "the Mediterranean
region," which is probably the most accurate geographical terminology to
describe our itinerary. I suppose Beirut is an easy introduction to the
Arab world. But it's a hard sell after the
Africa-meets-Arabia-in-a-haze-of-exhaust-and-donkey-farts madness of
Cairo. Here, the cab driver rips us off after dropping us at our hotel.
Cab drivers in Egypt ripped me off, too. But in Egypt the cab driver was a
crazy old man blasting tinny dubbed Koranic readings and guzzling
non-alcoholic Birell beer. He took me for a dollar, and I knew the extra
money was going to buy a week's worth of fuul. In Beirut the driver is a
cocky 18-year-old in designer jeans who’ll use his extra five bucks to buy
more hair gel and fake gold chains. Beirut and I get off to a bad start.
Beirut harshes my Orientalist fantasy by being thoroughly modern and full
of wealthy vacationing Saudis. The women dress like babes in Los Angeles.
The dudes with them are Euro-trash Fonzies with expensive shirts. They
drive Porsches and Ferraris, asshole cars, not the vintage French clunkers
favored by Egypt's genius jalopy mechanics. True, we're not visiting the
Shiite slums of the city, but we do cover a lot of ground on foot on our
first day. It feels like the grossest parts of America, and that sucks.
Supposedly it's for this Western-ness that wealthy Arabs flock to Beirut
to let their hair down. Even those women who choose to keep their hair up
do so in haute couture hijabs. The city has a thriving nightlife of bars
and clubs. The food is amazing. But the inklings of camaraderie that I
felt in Cairo are gone. In Cairo we were well-to-do Americans who needed a
hand finding our way around and were happy to spend some time sharing
cigarettes in a cab, swapping American slang for Arabic phrases. Our
haplessness with the language and culture, coupled with our openness to
talking about politics or food or whatever meant there was a comfortable
level of exchange going on with the locals. Here in Lebanon I feel like a
scrub, a filthy traveler with sweaty clothes and an unshaved face. People
scoff at Paul's Arabic and are pissed that his French isn't fluent. It's
like all the trouble and strife of the Middle East rolled up with the
snooty attitude of Europe.
We spend our first night in Beirut walking from dinner in the gentrified
Achrafiyeh neighborhood to the Central District. During the Civil War this
downtown area was bombed to rubble and occupied by PLO gunmen and rotting
bodies of civilian casualties. Now it's been remodeled, retrofitted and
rebuilt. We sit at the central square. The lack of explicitly foreign
vibes reminds me how far away from home I really am. There are few
Westerners here—there's still that worrisome State Department travel
advisory—and we don't see many Africans either. There are soldiers and
police in green and grey camouflage. They carry M-16s rather than AK-47s
and, unlike the sleepy Egyptian teenagers that make up the ranks of
Egypt's urban authorities, they look alert and on edge. It was only a few
months ago and a few miles away that former prime minister Rafiq Hariri
was assassinated in a car bomb attack that killed 15 pedestrians and
injured 120 more.
It's the nearness of the civil war that makes Beirut faintly terrifying.
In the window of the convenience store next to our hotel there's a comical
"Welcome to Beirut!" poster with cartoon renderings of dead bodies in the
street, RPG-toting PLO militiamen drinking beer in the rubble and snipers
hanging from the windows. That a place so orderly and civilized was home
to such bloody anarchy that only reached its "official" end in 1990. The
damage to the buildings is evident as we walk through some of the
neighborhoods. Buildings are riddled with bullet-holes and walls are
scarred with blast marks. The most striking evidence of the war is the
Holiday Inn in the Ain Al-Mreisse neighborhood. New developments ring this
high-rise, which is supposedly still structurally intact so that it will
be remodeled, not demolished. There are cavernous artillery-fire wounds
high on its east-facing wall. It seems this structure was favored by
snipers, peppered as it is with hundreds of thousands of bullet-and-mortar
holes. Our guide Kate Seelye, a friend from Los Angeles who relocated to
Beirut and is now a freelance reporter and producer on PBS's Frontline,
tells me that they used to toss people off the deck of the revolving
restaurant on top.
From the handful of books written about the Lebanese Civil War, I've
chosen to read Robert Fisk's 700-page Pity The Nation. Fisk is a war
correspondent for the British Independent newspaper and his account reads
both as a decent first draft of the historical record, but moreso as a
first-person account of an outsider's perspective on the conflict. My
brother thinks it's overlong and a little too personal; he recommends The
Breakdown of the State in Lebanon, 1967-1976. Any way you cut it, the
civil war is long and violent, its terribly confusing chain of atrocities
extends back to power-plays made by British and French colonial powers in
order to shift the balance in far-distant European wars. It's depressing
to see how deeply fucked up this region is as a result of so much foreign
meddling. How clueless Western leaders were then with the implications of
re-drawing national borders, undermining tribal loyalties and ruthlessly
manipulating ethnic and religious factions. It seems that history is
doomed to repeat itself until the West runs out of cash to run ill-fated,
impossible-to-win wars and occupations. It also seems like people in the
American government are refusing to learn from history.
The one thing that remains clear is that Israel is the enemy, and this
manifests itself in strange ways: They don’t even care if you have tourist
money—if you have an Israeli stamp on your passport, or any other sign of
having visited Israel on your person, you will be denied entry into
Humans are vicious animals and their civic and religious leaders, when
given the right circumstances, only make them more so. But it's hard to
see that in the faces enjoying the holiday atmosphere of this city. To see
this up close, we’ll have to leave its limits.
We leave in the morning for the Bekaaa Valley, the last place Syrian
troops were stationed prior to withdrawing earlier this year. Our
destination is the Roman ruins at Baalbeck, the former Hezbollah
headquarters. Hezbollah—The Party of God – is the primary armed
Shia-Lebanese political party: formed in 1982 they drove the last Israeli
forces out of South Lebanon in 2000.
We catch a mini-bus to Baalbeck in Cola, a bustling transportation hub in
one of the grittier neighborhoods of Beirut. It's choked with taxis and
the Russian-built mini-vans that seem to be the most common form of
inter-city mass transit. We ride with a van full of furloughed soldiers
through Beirut. A teenager in a white T-shirt hangs out the open sliding
door barking our destination, trying to fill the vehicle before we hit the
The drive to Baalbek takes us through winding mountain roads. Our driver
is Welcome Back Kotter's Gabe Kaplan and he has has no fear about passing
slower vehicles on the freeway by crossing into oncoming traffic lanes.
The soldiers pass a bottle of water around and laugh as we swerve back
into safety. Nobody wears seatbelts except Gabe Kaplan, who only puts his
on when we pass through military checkpoints.
We switch to another mini-bus for the drive up the Bekaa Valley to
Baalbek. The young man I'm sitting next to in the back asks me if I'm
American. I respond in Arabic—aiwa—yes. "Don't speak Arabic," he tells me.
He introduces himself as Jaffar.
The Bekaa is a rich agricultural area. There are people working in fields
and vineyards on either side of the road. The towns that continue in an
uninterrupted chain out of Beirut look as if they are comprised of food
stores, auto repair shops and clothing stores constructed exclusively with
cinder blocks. "All these people," says Jaffar, "make their money from
drugs." The Bekaa is famous for its cannabis production. According to
Fisk's Pity The Nation, during the war the Syrian Army protected marijuana
fields, the revenue from which was allegedly channeled through Damascus.
Fisk tells the story of one farmer who installed an anti-aircraft gun next
to his crops.
"My girlfriend in Beirut does a lot of drugs," Jaffar says, giving me a
weird look. "She's an American too." I don't know if he's dropping hints
here, but I don't feel like making drug deals in Hezbollah country. Jaffar
is a little creepy, so I'm happy when our conversation turns to his
relatives in Detroit. As he's getting ready to disembark he gives me his
mobile number. "If you need anything in Baalbek, give me a call."
The closer we get to Baalbek, the more posters of Shiite leaders—from the
ecstatically beneficent visage of Hezbollah's Sheikh Nasrallah to the
reserved faces of various Iranian ayatollahs—line the streets. Baalbek is
a quaint town with Hezbollah graphics everywhere. In addition to being an
armed militia, Hezbollah is also a legitimate political party. They’re
also in charge of the electricity ministry.
The temple ruins here have been a draw for tourists and pilgrims since the
first millennium BC. Most of them date from the Roman era and include a
set of huge columns that change color from brown to pink in the setting
sun. There's a nearly intact Venus Temple that dates from AD 150 and is
allegedly one of the most ornate temples in all of Roman antiquity. The
walls are rosy brown and covered in intricate carvings as well as graffiti
dating from the 1800s to the present. The entire complex was used for of
all sorts of fantastically decadent rituals in tribute to the pagan god
Baal's consort Astarte. The temple orgies continued once the site was
transferred over to the Roman goddess Venus. Of course, not so much horny
partying goes down in the Hezbollah era. I’m late to the party by about a
Hezbollah’s Museum of Lebanese Resistance is in the parking lot out front.
Paul and I dip inside to check out diorama displays of blood-soaked
Israeli and American flags and cases full of weapons and other military
equipment stripped from the bodies of Israeli soldiers. As we cruise
through the Hall of Martyrs, my first bout of dysentery—which I’d been
holding off since this morning with a drug cocktail of Immodium,
Pepto-Bismol and the napalm of anti-diarrhea medicines, Cipro—begins to
manifest itself. The drugs are wearing off as I view the diaries and
personal effects of Hezbollah suicide bombers and machine gun attackers. A
video of bomb attacks plays in the corner. The museum's curator watches us
closely, his attention aroused by my uncontrollable belching. Paul is
trying to keep a straight face as I beeline for the door and dash back to
My condition, kept under control by fresh drugs, gets more tenuous when we
realize there's no late-night dinner to be had. So we subsist on beer and
nuts at the Palmyra Hotel, a huge World War I-era stone building that has
hosted military officers, archeologists and celebrities. The laidback
proprietor shows us rooms where Nina Simone, Placido Domingo and the
legendary Lebanese singer Fairouz have slept.
In the morning we eat delicious syrupy sweet-cheese-filled sesame buns
from a pastry shop where it looks like everyone in Baalbek goes for
breakfast. The shop falls silent as we enter. I realize that we haven’t
seen any other Westerners except for a handful of French tour bus people
at the ruins. Conversations start back up again but the regulars keep a
close eye on us. We smile back and slurp our cheese appreciatively.
After breakfast we walk back to the hotel to make a phone call. We're
headed to South Lebanon tomorrow and I need Kate's assistance with getting
the proper military permission. The owner of the hotel was quite
gregarious the night before, but this morning he is fuming. The army has
parked a water truck in front of his sign and is refusing to move it. This
will hurt his business, he says, and no we cannot use his phone. He's on
the line with Hezbollah, asking them to join him in a declaration of war
on the army, or perhaps just move this truck. In addition to coordinating
martyrdom operations in South Lebanon, Hezbollah is also a social
organization not unlike the Kiwanis Club.
Blake is due to fly in from Cairo today, and we meet up with him at the
gates of the American University in Beirut after returning from Baalbek.
The AUB campus, like every other place we've been in both Egypt and
Lebanon, is crawling with cats. Apparently the prophet Mohammed was fond
of cats and these animals, while feral, don’t seem to fear people. It's
not uncommon to see people leaving out dishes of food, and I don't see a
single mouse or rat during my journey.
Traveling to the south can be a bit complicated depending on the level of
escalation between the Lebanese— more specifically Palestinian or
Hezbollah fighters—and the Israelis on the other side of the border. Kate
has placed a call on our behalf to a colonel in charge of some southern
checkpoints, and it seems we're on the list of people who are allowed to
pass. Just in case there's trouble, she puts us in touch with Hosni, a
friend of hers who drives a taxi and hails from outside of Sidon, the
largest city in South Lebanon. In case the checkpoints turn us down, he
knows enough back roads and can likely take us on our tour of "Liberated
The drive to Baalbek was a grim trek through denuded hillsides and mile
after mile of drab cinder-block construction projects. The drive south
along the coast is tropical and mellow. There are banana fields and vistas
of the Mediterranean; there are also tank convoys and Palestinian refugee
camps. We drive through Sidon and head southeast at the roundabout in the
city center. During the invasion of 1982, the Israeli forces killed
thousands of civilians in retaliatory strikes against PLO positions. Hosni
points out the neighborhood where he is from. How many people did he lose
in the war? Instead of trying to get Blake or Paul to translate such a
personal question, I compliment him on the pin-ups of smiling women that
he’s got on the dashboard's speedometer and fuel gauge.
We arrive at our first checkpoint and Hosni is flagged down. He pulls his
ancient black Mercedes into the parking lot of a military office. We sit
in the car while he talks to the officers in the building. Fifteen minutes
later he rejoins us and we're off. Hosni speaks only Arabic and doesn't
tell us what transpired inside. We drive on through a storybook Bible
landscape of rock-strewn hills, tree-lined valleys and the occasional
flock of sheep.
Our first stop is Beaufort Castle, a thousand-year-old military outpost on
a desolate hilltop. From Beaufort there are views of northern Israel and
southern Syria as well as all of South Lebanon. The castle’s crumbling
walls have been battered in conflicts between Crusaders, Ottomans and
Arabs. It was occupied by Palestinian guerillas until the Israeli invasion
in 1982. When the Israelis withdrew in 2000 they blew up portions of the
castle and turned it over to the Lebanese. A Hezbollah flag flies above a
metal shelter pockmarked with bullet holes that has been erected on top of
the rubble. Pieces of mortars lie in the grass and there's a large sign
erected by "Hezbollah Military Media" in the parking lot. We are advised
not to wander off from established roads, as the hillsides are mined.
Blake, Paul and I confer and agree that this is where we would also build
a castle: in this way, three America tourists validate a thousand years of
military history by way of a thousand hours of video game strategizing.
After clambering around the castle we head to the Kalaa Rest House, a
family-themed restaurant just below the former PLO mortar positions.
There's a small Ferris wheel and playground. It's deserted today, but
apparently crowded on the weekends with families interested in surveying
Israeli listening posts—the arrays of radio towers and satellite dishes
used to monitor Lebanese communications. We eat shawerma and shanklich and
Hosni teaches Blake and Paul some sort of Arabic phrases that nobody
bothers to translate for me. He tells us there was trouble at the
checkpoint because the Lebanese don't want Americans to get caught in the
crossfire if there's any shooting with the Israelis.
The next stop on our tour is the Fatima Gate, a former border crossing
with Israel that has been closed since Hezbollah's victory in South
Lebanon. It's next to the town of Kfar Kila, a desolate settlement of
half-built structures. At the site of the former gate, there's a blown-up
Israeli troop transport, several stone pillars representing Israeli
leaders that Lebanese tourists cast stones at, and a Hezbollah gift
shoppe. The angry looking dudes at the shoppe eye us as we step out of
Hosni's rusty Benz. They pop in a cassette and start blasting martial
music out of an unnecessarily large PA. "This music makes me feel pumped
up for some martyrdom operations," says Blake. There's a billboard
detailing just such an operation, recounted in curiously militant broken
English, "Hezbollinglish," if you will. It speaks of a guy who blew
himself up "transforming Israeli soldiers into masses of fire and limb"
and features an artist's rendering of the violence. We're told we can take
pictures of the Israeli side of the border, but nothing on the Lebanese
side for Hezbollah security reasons. Of course there's nothing but empty
buildings all within view of the Israeli lights and cameras and listening
equipment just a few dozen feet away.
Further down the path running along the border there's an abandoned house
on the Israeli side. It's covered in protective grills and fences to
deflect anything that might be thrown at it, and there are lights and
other equipment protruding from its windows. There's nothing on the
Lebanese side to see beyond a bit of graffiti that reads, in English,
"Sharon is a dog."
On our way back we buy some keychains adorned with their striking green
and yellow Hezbollah logo: an arm clutching a Kalashnikov raised defiantly
over stylized Arabic script. My favorite is one shaped like a heart that
has Nasrallah with an AK smiling wildly, Photoshopped underneath a picture
of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. What are the ethical implications of
spending our money with armed organizations considered to be terrorist
groups by many outsiders, and especially by the Israelis? Paul suggests
that we've already given plenty of money in income tax to the Israeli
military by way of American aid, and they have inflicted far more civilian
casualties than Hezbollah. Thus we're kind of evening things out between
two vicious sides in a horribly depressing conflict. While I imagine that
Shin Bet keychains would be just as much of a controversial commodity,
there are no Israeli souvenir stands on their side of the fence.
Though I find the Lebanese civil war to be hopelessly confusing, one grand
irony that sticks out in my mind is the Israeli alliance with the
Christian Phalangist militias. The Phalangists were formed in 1936 by
Pierre Gemayel after visiting Germany for the Olympics. "In every system
in the world, you can find something good," he told Robert Fisk in a 1982
interview. "But Nazism was not Nazism at all. The word came afterwards. In
their system, I saw discipline. And we in the Middle East needed
discipline more than anything else." Of course Muslim leaders were not
exactly opponents of National Socialism either. But in a cynical move
during the war, the Israelis allied themselves with these militias against
the array of native Lebanese Muslim forces and the PLO. Under the guise of
the South Lebanese Army (SLA) these Phalangists perpetrated some of the
worse civilian massacres of the war—particularly in the Palestinian camps
of Sabra and Chatila. They also administered the notorious Khiam Prison
where Hezbollah guerillas were interred and tortured alongside Shia
villagers guilty of little more than living nearby.
There's not much to the prison, which sits on top of a hill overlooking
the town of Khiam. It serves as a memorial and what looks like a Hezbollah
conference center. The prison itself is drab and white. The halls are
empty but for a few signs indicating prisoner quarters in their tiny
pre-Red Cross inspection condition, and the slightly roomier
post-inspection state. If people died in a room, there's a sign indicating
just where and how they were "martyred." Signs in Hezbollingish denote the
rooms for "the boss of whippers," and "for investigation with the help of
traitors." Though the museum is supposedly staffed by former inmates, the
only people here besides a busload of French tourists are some guys lazing
around in the shade in the main courtyard.
We ride back to Beirut and watch the billboards pass by. If one were to
gauge the interests of South Lebanon based on roadside advertising, one
would imagine a community concerned strictly with shampoo, Dutch Boy-brand
paint and Hezbollah. Blake points out posters featuring the disguised
swastika of the Syrian National Socialist party. Hosni takes a call on his
mobile phone, then hands it to me. It's Kate on the line. She tells me
that the colonel she was supposed to contact never returned her phone
calls until we were well into Southern Lebanon. Hosni vouched for us as
non-troublesome travelers and then bribed the guards on our behalf. She's
warning me that he's going to ask for an extra 20 dollars or so, which we
will of course gladly pay him.
We're leaving the next day for Damascus. I spend the night in our hotel
room watching Melody Arabia, Arabic music television. The videos depict
colorful parties with lots of dancing and occasionally a lonely man or
woman pining for an absent lover. They play out on a screen where text
messages from around the Arab world are displayed on a scrolling ticker.
Most of the racy, fun videos are shot here in liberal Lebanon. Kate tells
me they often challenge societal rules in subtle ways, with women falling
for men not of their social class, or by sliding in a few explicitly gay
characters in the background. Saudi Arabia's King Fahd died a few days ago
and there are dozens of channels on the satellite feed commemorating his
expiration by reading the Koran in its entirety in voiceover while
broadcasting his picture.
Later, on my own, I head down to Rue Bliss, the main drag in the Hamra
neighborhood. I’m hungry as my stomach is still instantly liquefying
everything I eat. I get a shawerma sandwich and I stop in an Internet café
populated by hyperactive Lebanese kids playing network games. I check my
email as they stalk each other with machine guns through a maze of city
streets. The wiser ones sit high above in sniper positions, picking off
their fellows with ease.
The journey to Syria from Lebanon begins with a hijacking.
Paul and I order a taxi from a service that my friend Kate, a Beirut-based
freelance reporter and producer for PBS' Frontline, said may be helpful at
negotiating our passage into Syria with the border guards. After a few
minutes of the taxi drive—I’m just settling in, taking in the sights—our
driver suddenly stops the car under a freeway underpass, where some
Lebanese fatsos are chilling. In broken English he lets us know that these
guys in their sweaty Chevy sedans will be taking us on the hour trip to
Syria. For more money, of course. Our guy had hoodwinked us: he was not
really part of the service that he had said he was when he picked us up at
In the yelling that ensues I am useless. The only Arabic I know that
conveys my frustration is muhahafa, or car bomb, so I end up saying
variations of "bad, not what I want!" Paul knows a few heavy curses like
"May god destroy your home in a wave of hellfire,” but you never know when
something that sounds funny in translation might come across as a bona
fide threat, and it wasn't so long ago that Westerners were regularly
kidnapped here in Beirut, so we yell our "no good!" phrases for another
round and then pay the guy.
The ride to the border is uneventful, which gives me plenty of time to
worry. Tensions between Syria and Lebanon have been high since the
assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister Rafik Hariri, an
outspoken opponent of Syrian influence in Lebanese politics, in February.
There have been widespread allegations of Syrian involvement in his death,
which of course Syria denies. Also, we've received conflicting information
about getting Syrian visas. The Lonely Planet guidebook and some of Paul's
contacts say there's no way for Americans to get visas at the border. But
Kate travels across the border all the time, and she says that since Syria
still considers Lebanon to be part of its territory, we should be able to
pass through with relative ease—as long as I don’t indicate that I’m a
journalist on my entry card. Syria is an authoritarian police state with
strict media controls and if I let on that I'm writing about my
experiences it's possible that I'll be delayed or assigned a minder. So
starting today I'm a high school English teacher. I come up with a list of
authors to talk about if somebody decides to quiz me.
It turns out that Kate was right. As I shift fitfully under fluorescent
lights in the hot, dirty border security station, the guards stamp our
passports and ask us for the Syrian equivalent of $15. Nobody asks me to
expound on Ernest Hemingway.
The actual border security checkpoint is a real mess. The line of
commercial semis, cargo vehicles and taxis stretches back for miles.
Pomegranate juice vendors with giant silver canteens work the crowd. Our
driver is getting fed up waiting and gestures for us to walk with him
through the cars to the actual border checkpoint. We wonder if maybe he
"knows a guy" or something. He presents us to the Syrian border guards and
then says to Paul, in Arabic, "Talk to him." It becomes clear that our
driver wants us to negotiate with this Syrian soldier for permission to
walk through the checkpoint and hail another cab on the other side. We're
of the same mind with the soldier: No thanks. The idea of trying to hail a
cab and negotiate another fare in the no-man's land between these two
countries is not an attractive option. After another hour we make it
through the crossing. We descend from the Anti-Lebanon mountain range onto
the plain below where Syria's capital Damascus sits beneath clear blue
Damascus is full of Asads. The cult of the leader is in full effect here.
There were a lot of pictures of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt,
but it's nothing compared to Syria.
The rule of Hafez Asad, which ended with his death in 2000, is synonymous
with Syria's stability and domestic safety, and its sense of itself as a
defender and champion of pan-Arabism. Asad’s reign was also characterized
by massacres, censorship, repression of dissent by the secret police and
state control of the media. Asad was a Baathist, as was Iraq's Saddam
Hussein, but he was neither as decadent nor as brutal a leader. He was
also an Alawite—a member of an Islamic minority often viewed with
suspicion by both Sunni and Shiite Muslims. His rule was generally secular
and socialist and although he expanded the civil rights of oft-persecuted
Syrian Jews, he also remained staunchly anti-Zionist: Syrian forces played
a considerable role in both the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars which,
curiously, Syria seems to believe they won. In the photos that sit in shop
windows Asad is a genteel, gray-haired old man; in the poster-size
portraits atop buildings and overlooking intersections, he’s a crafty
deal-maker with kind eyes.
Upon Asad's death in 2000, his 34-year-old son Bashir inherited the
presidency. This was not the way it was supposed to happen. Bashir’s older
brother Basil was being groomed as Syria's next dictator, but he died in
an automobile accident in 1994. There are pictures of Basil everywhere.
You gotta admit he looks right for the job, in combat fatigues with a Pete
Townshend beard underneath his aviators. It's easy to imagine a
nationalist fantasy of this bearish soldier-president leading tank
divisions to recapture the Golan Heights area lost to Israel in 1967.
But Bashir? This Arab dictator is a would-be ophthalmologist who returned
home from school in London to take over the family business when his
brother died. Even in the propaganda images meant to bolster confidence in
his regime, he looks every bit the pensive nerd: a sad, chinless fellow in
a drab suit who would rather be outfitting patients with contacts than
negotiating mutual protection agreements with Iranian ayatollahs. His
pictures are as common as his father's, and you get the sense people are
pulling for the guy. One image has his melancholy face surrounded by
purple hearts. There are even sparkly red Bashir decals that people stick
to the windows of their cars.
Damascus seems mellow, and not at all European like Beirut. The cabs in
Damascus are all new and yellow and while the traffic is still chaotic,
it's not nearly as deadly as Cairo. Even the cab drivers agree. When we
tell them that we've just been in Egypt, their eyes get wide and they make
jokes about hash-crazed Egyptian cabbies. They poke fun at Paul for
speaking Arabic with an Egyptian accent.
The Damascus souk is closed on Friday when we first walk through, Friday
being equivalent to Sunday in Christian cultures. It's a beautiful old
market that blends in with the residential portion of Damascus's Old City,
which is possibly the oldest continually inhabited human settlement in the
world. We pass by Roman columns and huge fortified doorways in the former
city walls. The souk is covered as well, which means it's a welcome refuge
from the heat of the day. There are bullet holes in the arched metal roof,
apparently from French airplanes suppressing an anti-colonial uprising in
the 1920s. The light that pierces through from above makes lovely patterns
on the pavement.
We spend the day eating fattouch salads and cheese pies and smoking
flavored tobacco from ornate water pipes at a café set in the courtyard of
an old Damascene house. The walls are a dazzling pattern of black and
white bricks and there's a fountain in the center of the dining area. A
huge antique mirror sits on one wall, and partway through our meal a lute
player descends from somewhere within the house and completes this lush
fantasy of an Arab luncheon by strumming away on a balcony. The rooftops
of the surrounding buildings overflow with gardens and a sun-shade is
pulled out three stories above us, diffusing the light into a sleepy, soft
The third most holy site in the Muslim world is the Umayyad Mosque, which
is here in Damascus. We head over there after our leisurely noontime meal.
Paul finds the marriage of culture and religion in Islamic societies to be
remarkable, but his enthusiasm for Arab culture has zero spiritual
dimension. The Koran, he tells me, is a dull, repetitive book, and he’s
non-plussed by mosques. "Portraying people or other living things in the
artwork is forbidden in Islam," he says as we wander into the mosque.
"With such limited subject matter, Islamic religious art gets boring
We're dressed appropriately for a tour of the mosque, but in case we
weren’t—in other words, if we had a bare ankle or forearm—there's a guy at
the entrance gate dispensing brown sackcloth robes. Some French teenagers
have taken the robes and fashioned them into hippie skirts over their
cargo shorts. The marble courtyard of the mosque gleams in the afternoon
sun. The courtyard is lined with a colonnade and families are gathered
both to worship in the prayer hall, as well as to enjoy picnics in the
shade of the courtyard walls. Children play.
The prayer hall of the mosque is carpeted with thousands of Oriental
carpets. Shoes aren't allowed, so there are shoe-racks all over the place.
One is full of combat boots, and a squad of young soldiers sits nearby.
The curious pilgrim can visit the tomb of Saladin, the great Muslim
military commander and bane of the Crusaders; the shrine of Hussein, the
son of Ali, the founder of the Shia sect of Islam; as well as a box
allegedly containing the head of John the Baptist. This box sits in a
larger enclosure, illuminated by nauseous green lightbulbs. There is a
grate in the front through which the visitor is encouraged to push
donations, correspondence or pictures of loved ones. This is one of
several boxes in the Middle East containing the head of John The Baptist.
I'm wary of my message not making it to the true skull of John, so I
decline to pass him a note.
Besides the pilgrims praying or reading the Koran, there are a lot of
sleeping men lying around. I guess it’s a lot like an American church:
kids play outside, mom chills with the ladies while preparing some food
and dad snoozes in the sanctuary. Sleeping is a real problem here—the
hundreds of ceiling fans create a soporific hum—so the mosque employs
stern bearded guys to wander round the halll with paddles, smacking the
walls to keep people awake. If that doesn’t work, they start whacking the
sleepers directly. When I try to clandestinely take a picture of one guy
who's really laid out—snoring, legs splayed, belly peeking out from his
shirt—one of the mosque minders gives me the stink eye, and then really
lays into the poor sleeping oaf. I head for the door.
Later than night, we take a cab north of the city, into the foothills of
Mt. Qassioun. Near the summit, cars line the streets. There are scores of
people gathered here to take in the view of the city. Teenagers run around
in groups. Two little boys slide down the grassy hillside to retrieve a
large Styrofoam container from the underbrush. They hold hands and walk up
the dirt path that leads back up here to the street. A family sits at a
card table playing a game and smoking water-pipes. One of Paul's friends
points out landmarks. "The mosques have green lights on the minarets," she
says. "The churches have blue lights on their steeples." A woman and her
father sit down next to us and crack open a big bag of potato chips.
We like it here in Damascus, more than anywhere that we’ve been on my
visit here. Paul wonders what it means that we're so comfortable in a
police state, and neither of us have an answer.
We end up talking to more people in Damascus than anywhere else.
Everywhere, as soon as we identify ourselves as Americans, people want to
talk politics. The conversations —whether with taxi drivers, pizza
restaurant owners, students or old men sitting in the street—follow a
distinct pattern. They tentatively ask what we think of Syria, and seem a
little surprised at our enthusiastic response. This is followed by a
similar outpouring of enthusiasm for Americans. Once our mutual admiration
is established, the question "What is up with your President Bush?"
follows. This conversational sequence occurs in all the countries we
visit, but in Syria, it takes on a particularly urgent character. Syrians
seem concerned about imminent American aggression. One cab driver who
speaks hardly any English puts it this way: "Iraq. Syria? Iran?" We reply
with "no good" "no way" and "Bush is crazy."
Such exchanges reinforce the eerie feeling that we're interacting with the
kind of people who would be the inevitable “collateral damage” in a
U.S.-sponsored regime change. And yet we feel no hostility from them, and
they get none from us. In fact, of all of the places on our itinerary,
Syria is the place I'd most recommend that Americans visit. It's widely
considered to be the safest country in the Arab region. A secular,
Baathist dictator is nominally in charge, but at a certain day-to-day
level, how much does that really matter? There are women architects on the
covers of magazines, there's plenty of food in the stores and water in the
faucets, and the cigarettes are subsidized by the government. Unlike Iraq,
there are no car bombs in the streets or U.S. soldiers taking pictures of
charred bodies to trade for Internet pornography.
And Damascans know all about what is going on in Iraq, because the city is
a destination for those Iraqis with the wherewithal to flee their
homeland. There are plenty of first-hand accounts here of the chaos and
violence that has plagued the country since the U.S. invasion and
subsequent occupation. If the people here were curious about
American-backed democracy initiatives before, they're much warier now.
Before heading north from Damascus to meet Blake in Aleppo we decide to
take a day trip to visit Quinetra, a bombed-out ghost town at the Syrian
border with Israel that’s just a stone's throw from the world-famous Golan
Heights, a series of strategically important hills that overlook the
Israeli settlements to the south. Visiting Quintera requires same-day
government permission, so we rise early and take a cab to the offices of
the Ministry of the Interior.
Once somebody has your passport, they basically have your balls. Paul
doesn't mind this so much, but every time I hand over my passport I
imagine the dude looking it over, checking a computer and apologizing as
he tell me that they'll just have to hold onto this for the time being—at
which point I will be stranded in a foreign nation with only my Los
Angeles Public Library card in terms of official identification. At the
Syrian Interior Ministry offices we turn our passports over to AK-47
sporting youths in T-shirts and jeans. They disappear behind wrought-iron
gates, through a door beneath a portrait of Bashir. One dude comes back
out with a bucket and a rag and, ignoring us, starts to wipe down the new
Mercedes parked out front. Paul and I start to get nervous. Paul is a
budding young Arabist scholar over here on U.S. State Department money. If
one of us is of interest to the Syrian government, it's him. Maybe they’re
going to need to question him more. Maybe he’ll have to pat dry the
Mercedes. It’s hard to say. We run different scenarios, until, eventually,
we’re approved and our passports are returned.
We head immediately to Baramke, a transportation hub near the center of
Damascus, to catch a microbus to Quinetra. We have to fill out a lot of
information into the driver's log book; Paul thinks this is because the
government is keeping tabs on people, trying to catch would-be draft
dodgers. We are the mircobus’s only passengers.
The drive to Quinetra takes us past the cinder-block housing developments
that are ubiquitous in each of the countries we've visited so far: the
Levittowns of the Near and Middle East. We ride past tree farms, olive
orchards and fields of wheat tended by farmers in red keffiyeh
headscarves, driving ancient tractors spewing clouds of black exhaust.
Goats try to cross the road on their own.
At a farmer's market in one of the town, I see my first Syrian record
store. It has a huge Nirvana poster in the front window.
This is the same road that Israeli tanks took after smashing the Syrian
forces in the 1967 war, a drive that put them within shelling distance of
the capital. There hasn't been any shooting here since the Syrians
launched a surprise attack against the Israelis, setting off the 1973 war,
but there are a lot of UN soldiers around anyway. Though the Syrians
somehow count the '73 war as a victory, their army and air force were
humiliated by the Israeli forces and their US-supplied arms, and Syrians
make no secret of their desire to eventually retake the Golan Heights.
They've taken no direct action in over 30 years, but they're still
technically at war with Israel, and the government provides haven to
several militant Palestinian groups and supports the activities of
Hezbollah in Lebanon.
At the outskirts of Quinetra we stop at a final checkpoint. Our driver
delivers us into the hands of a middle-aged man with salt-and-pepper hair,
a deep tan and dressed completely in black. He asks for our passports and
we oblige. He looks them over and puts them into his pocket. This is our
guide—most likely a military intelligence officer, according to Paul's
friends in Damascus. Paul introduces himself in Arabic. The man in black
raises his eyebrows and nods, smiles and pulls a cigarette out of his
Quinetra was a Syrian city of considerable size that was lost to the
Israelis during the 1967 war. They occupied the city until it was ceded
back to the Syrians as part of a cease-fire agreement following the 1973
war. The Israelis had used Quinetra as a military command post in the
interim period, and they demolished what remained upon their withdrawal.
Syria has not made repairs to the ghost town, instead maintaining it as a
sort of propaganda theme park and monument to the suffering of Syrians at
the hands of Israelis. Our guide leads us in a circuitous route through
its ruins. We stop in front of a rubble-filled church and our helpful
minder sets the tone of his minimalist commentary, saying to Paul, in
Arabic, "This is a church." There are several checkpoint-type buildings
that I am not allowed to photograph, presumably so as not to give away the
positions of Syria's teenage soldiers who all seem busy making tea and
listening to pop music on portable radios.
We walk past the local UN compound to a destroyed hospital. A sign out
front reads in English, Farsi and Arabic, "Golan Hospital: Destructed by
Zionists and changed it to firing target!" Every surface inside is chipped
and pocked with war damage. The walls are full of thousands of
indentations from bullets, the floor is strewn with glass and broken
concrete. There is obscene graffiti on the walls of several of the
hospital's rooms, the most interesting being a crude rendering of a nude
woman's torso, seemingly drawn by a man who has not seen naked breasts
since the day he was weaned.
We wander through more bullet-marked buildings. Some are half-collapsed,
others completely bulldozed. Quinetra's main street leads to a strange
café that faces the Golan Heights to the south. Our silent guide indicates
that we'll be stopping here for something to drink. When the Israelis
occupy land, they cultivate orchards (or take over the orchards of the
former owners) and set up military surveillance stations. When the Syrians
and Lebanese occupy land, they build cafes for their citizens to sit and
watch the Israelis. It’s a sort of tourist surveillance station. We drink
coffee and the guide offers us his strong Syrian cigarettes. He orders us
a pair of field glasses and we take turns studying the Israeli positions
on the Golan Heights and the UN trucks that drive back and forth in the
mined no-man's-land on the other side of the barbed wire. A trip to the
bathroom leads through a huge banquet hall with leather-bound chairs and
guns and animal hides displayed on the walls.
After a while, we continue our tour. The guide hasn't done much "guiding"
so far, more just silently leading us down the road and shaking his head
every time I point my camera at Syrian military personnel. Now we follow
him away from Quinetra's main street. We walk for a good half mile through
a monotonous landscape of completely demolished and bulldozed concrete
buildings. It's a beautiful day with big white clouds scattered over the
dry prairie. It's not clear where we're headed and our guide is still
holding our passports. He's silent and still smoking. I know we're fine,
but I keep thinking about how this must be what it feels like just before
getting disappeared. The long walk to nowhere with the dispassionate
We approach a small white building and a gate lowered across the road. In
the distance I can make out a fortified blue and white building and a
massive yellow gate. "Welcome to Israel" is painted on the wall of the
building. There's another UN base in between the two border control
checkpoints. More teenage Syrian soldiers, spindly and acne-ridden, smile
at us. Their lieutenant, a slick guy in his 20s, emerges from the
checkpoint and the guide presents us to him for consideration. He speaks
perfect English and asks us strange questions. How would we feel about
Syria re-taking the Golan Heights? Aren't they beautiful, these hills?
He's excited that Paul speaks Arabic and asks him convoluted questions
about whether or not he's visited a certain river. "It's very beautiful
there," says the Lieutenant. "You're sure you've never been?"
He asks me about my job as a high school teacher. I count for him in
Arabic, and feel like a dog doing a trick. I'm happy when the conversation
wanes and we stand silently looking across the "DANGER! MINES!" signs
toward the Israelis. Awkward small talk picks up again. Are we married?
No. Girlfriends? No. According to official policy, there are no
homosexuals in Syria. My long hair suggests that perhaps we're illegally
sexually oriented. It's unclear whether we're free to leave or not, so
Paul and I exchange glances and force handshakes out of our hosts.
"The lieutenant was asking me if I'd ever been to Israel," Paul tells me
as our guide leads us away. "He was trying to get me to admit to visiting
the Tiberius River, which is just over the border." Had Paul answered in
the affirmative, it's not clear what would've happened. Just as with
Lebanon, it's Syrian policy to deny entry to foreigners with Israeli
stamps on their passports, or any other sign of having visited Israel.
Syrian citizens who clandestinely visit Israel are subject to imprisonment
The guide takes us back to the main road out of Quinetra, hands us back
our passports and hails a passing microbus for us. We thank him and he
does what he always does: nods and drags on his cigarette.
The ride back to Damascus is strange and goofy. Paul gets to ride up front
with the driver. He is a rude and very funny Syrian man with a buzz cut
and a big moustache. He is absolutely delighted at Paul's halting command
of Arabic and takes advantage of this by instructing Paul in the
pronunciation of handy words like "penis" and "vagina." I ride in the back
making casual conversation with a Syrian law student. The rest of the van
is full of a couple Syrians and a handful of other travelers on their way
back from Quinetra. He's from Quinetra, and asks us what we thought of it.
I say it's a sad place, that it reminds me of the ghost towns I've visited
in the American Southwest. He asks what I think of Syria. I run through
the stock response of enthusiasm. His responds by loudly announcing "I
hate Syria. Just look at these people," he gestures to the other Syrians
in the vehicle. A young woman in a light blue head scarf. A dapper old man
in slacks, a dress shirt and a keffiyeh. I tell him they seem nice enough
to me. This is the first time any Syrian we've spoken to has disparaged
the country. "I'm getting out of this country as soon as I can. Even if it
has to be done illegally!" My new law student friend's lack of discretion
is making me nervous. He keeps looking to me for reaction. "It's good to
move around sometimes," I say. "Damascus is so dirty," he says. "The
Syrian people are selfish and deceptive."
After we return to the city, the law student offers to walk Paul and I
back to our hotel. Along the way he talks more trash and says he wants to
move to the Gulf States where he can make more money. Paul offers him a
cigarette and he declines, one of the first people I've met who doesn't
smoke. We part ways outside the hotel. He gives me his mobile number.
"Maybe we can share a hubble-bubble later on," he says, using the cheesy
British term for the water-pipe.
We order some flatbread pizza-like things from a bustling storefront
across from the hotel and head inside. We both wonder if our law student
pal was some kind of intelligence agent, or a provocateur. That's the fun
thing about vacationing in a police state: You just never know. [Addendum
from Chamberlin, 7/14/2006: I had the good fortune of chatting about
Syrian travel with Mark Gergis of Sublime Frequencies at ArthurBall in
February of 2006. I mentioned this particular incident and Gergis’s eyes
bugged out: He had the same experience on a microbus bound from Quinetra
to Damascus. Like, same script and everything. So yes, dude was a spy. If
you’re digging this story, you’ll definitely flip over his collage of
Syrian audio, I Remember Syria.]
We take a bus north to Aleppo in the morning. It's a long ride and there's
a TV on the bus playing a low-budget Syrian sketch comedy. Aleppo is
Syria's second largest city. Its souk is supposed to be the least touristy
in the region. According to some assessments, Aleppo is a depot for young
Saudis and Egyptians who want to fight in Iraq. There are several famous
radical mosques in the city, and the highway is a straight shot to the
volatile Iraqi border.
The cab drivers that wait for us at the Aleppo bus station snatch our bags
and run off to their cabs. A small argument ensues while Paul attempts to
wrestle his suitcase out of a cab in which we do not wish to ride. There's
more honking here than any other place. The streets are choked with cars
and they all honk together, all the time. We drop our bags at our hotel
and take a walk through a large public park just a few blocks away. It is
cut down the middle by a black river that stinks of sewage. It's mostly
men in the park. Paul and I are both tired and Aleppo feels mean. "I'm
ready to go home," says Paul.
He's tired of getting stared at all the time, as am I. I'm also tired of
the all-guys-all-the-time atmosphere of so many public places. With the
exception of Lebanon we've not interacted with any non-Western women. No
waitresses in the restaurants, few female cashiers in the stores. We sit
on a decrepit bench and watch lottery ticket vendors walk from bench to
bench. A booth in the middle of the park rents water pipes and blasts
tinny, droning Arabic music. Soldiers spread out on the grass exhaling
clouds of perfumed smoke.
The travel is starting to wear both of us down. The pollution, anger and
desperation of the Arab world seems more evident here, albeit in subtle
ways rather than outright violence. There is much to be celebrated here,
of course, but I'm sick of sheisty cab drivers and having the same
conversations with everyone we talk to. Yes, we like Syria. We're glad you
like Americans. We hate Bush too. I'm annoyed at the European tourists
here—the only Americans we meet in Syria are students that Paul already
knows—with their ugly shorts and short-sleeved shirts. But I'm also
annoyed that conservative Muslims here are so deeply offended by something
as benign as an ugly pair of shins. And I’m depressed again at the
repressive tactics the Syrian government uses to keep those easily
offended religious radicals under control. Why are humans so endlessly
horrible about everything? And why won’t anyone wear a seat belt?
We meet Blake that afternoon at the hotel bar for a much needed drink. The
Baron is the nicest place we've stayed so far. It was built in 1911; T.E.
Lawrence's bar bill is under glass in a wall display, and they say Agatha
Christie wrote part of Murder on the Orient Express in one of the
antique-filled rooms. Syria is the only country on our itinerary that
doesn't import American-brand-name products like Coke or Fritos. Same goes
for the Scotch, so I order the first off-brand scotch since my college
days. We find Blake in a stuffed chair drinking Arak, the Syrian variant
of the aniseed-derived Ouzo. I order another scotch. The soundtrack here,
and everywhere we go in Aleppo, is heavy on soft rock hits from Bryan
Adams and Whitney Houston.
The local economy is somewhat depressed apparently. Aleppo reminds me of
other second cities—Lyon in France, Manchester in Britain, Chicago in the
United States. We walk around in the souk. I buy a tablecloth. The Aleppo
souk is rumored to have the most flagrant of Syria's clandestine gay
scenes, and our travel guide says not to be surprised should we get
cruised while we're here. There are some creative shopkeepers—one sidles
up to me with the common, but very funny come-on of "Your English is
excellent!" And it's still Paul and Blake's theory that my long hair
definitely implies that I'm homosexual. "It's probably kind of confusing
with the beard though," Paul says. "Like that cab driver back in Cairo was
saying: You've got long hair which women don't even flaunt like you do.
But you've also got a big beard. I think you're confusing, sexually, for a
lot of people."
After walking through an under-construction mosque at the edge of the
souk, we're invited by a teenage guy to join him for tea at his store
around the corner. He's friendly enough and we're tired of walking in the
heat, so we agree. His store is air-conditioned and comfortable and his
younger brother goes out of his way to act like a wisecracking queen. He's
dressed in a pink Polo shirt. When we're asked to guess his age—he's 17, I
guess 20—he rolls his eyes, raises one hand to his face and sighs, "I
guess I forgot to apply my foundation this morning." They ask our ages.
I'm 30, I say. "I would've guessed at least 40, but that's just me," he
snaps. There's a giant Oscar Wilde poster on the wall in the back of the
store. After declining to buy hand-made silver jewelry or $3,000 carpets,
we make our exit.
We head across the street to visit Aleppo's citadel, a huge Muslim castle
in the center of the town. It's an interesting in the way that all
well-preserved castles can be with fortified walls, towering keeps and
dank underground passageways. "I think you have to be kind of sadistic to
be into Medieval Studies," says Blake. "Those guys are always describing
castle walls in relation to the manner in which hot oil was poured off of
them." We make our way from the amphitheater on top of the structure down
to the dungeon. It's dark down here, and there's a musty stench. There's a
short line to view the cistern, an even darker pit. A guard stands in
front of the stairway that leads down even further under the Citadel. We
take our turn gazing down into the darkness. The guard cracks a weird
smile. "Abu Ghraib!" he hisses, and takes a step back, bugging his eyes
out. We decide to skip the rest of the dungeon tour and head back up the
stairs and across the street to a café for cheese pies and chocolate
From Aleppo we head south to Hama, Syria's fourth largest city and a place
that will be all over the news if the U.S. ever attempts to rationalize
military action against the Asad regime. Hama is a conservative town and
has long been a source of resistance to the ruling powers. The French had
plenty of problems here while most of Syria was under their control, and
little changed during the coups and counter-coups that eventually put
Hafez Asad in power in 1970. During the early '80s, the Muslim Brotherhood
was gaining considerable ground in the city, and their resistance
culminated in February of 1982 when rooftop snipers attacked Syrian
soldiers patrolling the city. This was followed by a full-scale uprising
during which the governor was besieged in his residence and scores of
Baath party officials were killed. Asad responded by sending his brother
Rifat to subdue the rebellion with his tank divisions. The bombardment of
Hama continued for weeks, and though there was no official accounting of
the dead, various estimates put civilian casualties in the range of
several thousand to tens of thousands. Bodies and buildings alike were
bulldozed over and a new city center was constructed shortly afterward. On
the way into town Paul had a conversation with a first year medical
student on the bus. The student asked Paul what he knew about Hama. Paul
said he knew "about what happened in 1982."
"That's the problem," said the student. "But nobody wants to talk about
it." Then he said goodbye and got off the bus.
Hama is also famous for its nourias, water wheels in the Orontes River
that have helped irrigate the surrounding farms since 500 AD. It's also an
inexpensive base camp for exploring the ruins that are hidden throughout
the mountains to the east. It's a good place to unwind, a slow-moving
refuge that Paul and I have both been ready for for a few days now. Its
friendly streets and family values make me think about American truck
commercials. Kids climb on the nourias and jump off into the water. Parks
line the river and families relaxing in the grass stare at my sexy
transvestite Jesus hairdo a lot. Crying children stop and gaze in wonder.
I rarely make it more than a half hour before tying it up in to a tight
Our first destination is Muysaf, a stone fortress that is said to have
been an outpost of Hassan i Sabbah’s notorious Ismaili mystery cult in the
middle 1100s. According to legend, Sabbah was the original “old man of the
mountain,” a kind of Medieval Osama Bin Laden who directed a far-reaching
network of intensely loyal assassins—dubbed hashisheen—who would die at
his command, assured as they were of reaching in death the Islamic
paradise that they had already tasted briefly in a drugged state during
orgiastic rituals at Sabbah’s castle gardens in what is now northern Iran.
Most of the facts of this legend—first told in the West by Marco Polo—are
impossible to verify, but Sabbah has been a beloved and inspirational
figure to many Western radical liberationists in the last two hundred
years, among them Aleister Crowley, William S. Burroughs, Robert Anton
Wilson, Hakim Bey, Patti Smith and Bill Laswell, especially for the
“Nothing is true—everything is permitted” epigram that is often attributed
to him. We spend the morning exploring the castle, which is a powerful
sight to behold, rising high over a tiny mountainside hamlet. There's not
much to it inside though: several crumbly hallways and the obligatory
expansive views from its ramparts. No ancient hookahs are to be found,
though this does not stop Paul and Blake from channeling their extensive
knowledge of Arab history into stoner-friendly humor: Paul and Blake Go to
The most spectacular of the ruins in this area of Syria is undoubtedly
Krak de Chevaliers, a 12th-century fortress that lived up to every
expectation that I have ever had for a castle. The feeling of returning to
some vestige of European culture was a surprise, and an unexpected relief.
It sits on the edge of a range of mountains with lovely contoured
terrace-style farms. Though the houses are still all made of cinder
blocks, things look decidedly "country" here.
The castle feels like Lord of the Rings and the Crusades and the old Lego
castle building sets all at once. We follow along with the guidebook at
first, but soon cast it aside. There is enough space here to really get
lost. More than once we wander off down dark passageways where it feels
like nobody has set foot since the days of Saladin. The views from its
ramparts give me the undeniable feeling of ownership of the land. We comb
over all of its hallways, chambers and staircases and I hanker for a sword
to brandish. Later, we walk around its exterior searching for a supposed
secret entrance. Paul and Blake discuss battle strategies like a pair of
Medieval John Maddens. We are three little boys here.
The Dead Cities are the last stop in Syria. They're also the first place
we've been so far that has me wishing I could just wander off with my
backpack for a few days. Living in California in such close proximity to
profound natural beauty has spoiled me for much of the rest of the world.
Lebanon's Mediterranean coastline has got nothing on the sequoia-studded
cliffs of Big Sur. The treeless, overdeveloped peaks of Lebanon's Chouf
Range pale in comparison to the Sierras. I wish we'd made it deeper into
the Egyptian desert, but the brown skies and blowing garbage in the dunes
near Giza leave me cold after spending time camping in the Mojave National
Preserve. But the Dead Cities are different.
The Dead Cities are Byzantine ghost towns. Limestone houses, taverns,
temples and tombs that were built in the fifth and sixth centuries and
then abandoned when trade routes shifted. They're unmarked and only
half-explored. The first one we visit—Al-Bara —is just outside of a dusty
little nowhere town. This is the first place, tellingly, where we have
trouble finding bottled water in any of the stores. The huge gray
buildings rise out of miles of olive orchards and fig trees. Their
architecture is unlike anything I've ever seen, but again, I’m reminded of
the abandoned mining settlements and cowboy ruins of the American West.
The rest of the tourists don’t find these buildings as compelling as I do,
and the driver is in a hurry. But I want to wander over the hillsides by
myself. I walk a ways off into the olive tree orchards. The dirt is red.
The call to prayer from the town echoes over the hills, followed by a
passionately delivered sermon.
The next Dead City is Serjilla. It's the largest and most well-known, and
there's even somebody here to collect a nominal entrance fee. It's the
same style of buildings as Al-Bara, but it's spread out over a blasted
heath. Serjilla immediately brings to mind the treeless rock-strewn Eiran
Isles off the coast of Western Ireland. There's a family squatting in one
of the ancient buildings. They ask us if we want to see their sheep.
We've been eating the same food since the beginning of this trip. Every
meal but breakfast is mezze: hummos, baba ghanoujh, shanklich, fattouch
salad and sometimes this spicy mashed up pepper stuff. Since my brother's
vegetarian and our meals are communal, I only occasionally indulge in a
chunk of chicken or sheep. For our last night in Syria we eat at a
riverfront restaurant that we choose somewhat randomly. Tired of pureed
and smashed vegetables and legumes, I go out on a limb and order the house
special. It sounds good, like some sort of meat pie. But it was more like
meat pudding, a mixture of lamb and rice and some sort of creamy greasy
stuff all on a bed of some Frito-like chips. I have the distinct
impression that the concoction had already been digested, perhaps by a
cow. I ended up horning in on Paul's hummus which is, as usual, quite
Epilogue: Egypt again.
During our overnight stay in Beirut on the way back to Cairo from Syria, I
tune the TV to Melody Arabia again. A video from Los Angeles rapper The
Game comes on. The shots of the Los Angeles skyline make me homesick and
apprehensive about going back. The helicopters flying over the sun-baked
sprawl of segregated housing, the wide-open freeways with their orderly
procession of vehicles, the home town pride of West Coast hip-hop: they're
all things I love about Los Angeles but also things that make me wonder
why more people aren't terrified of Americans.
We have two days and one night to pass in Cairo before Paul and I both
return home -- him to Ohio State University in Columbus, me to Los
Angeles. We stay in a great old residential hotel in the Garden City
district. The only other resident is a batty old ex-pat, a woman dressed
in flowing robes with a scarf tied around her head. She smokes a lot, and
we make small talk about a soccer match on TV.
Paul and I sit on the balcony of the hotel drinking cans of watery
Egyptian beer, keeping an eye on a small garden and the nearby freeway
on-ramp. As with any open patch of vegetation in the city, the grass at
the center of the traffic on-ramp has a few people sleeping on it. A few
other people are there, enjoying an 11 p.m. picnic. Cars drive by honking
in tandem, usually the sign of a wedding party. A horse-drawn carriage
blasting Egyptian pop tunes heads under an overpass and up toward the
freeway. The people inside are throwing firecrackers at passing cars and
everyone is laughing. "I feel like I'm home," says Paul.
The next morning we take a cab from Cairo to the south end of the Egyptian
pyramid field. The pyramids start at Giza and extend 40 miles south. The
southernmost pyramid complex is at Dahshur. Supposedly it's usually quiet
there, even though its pyramids are older and as well preserved as those
at Giza. Our cab driver—a guy in his mid-20s named Osama —has never been
there, and is as excited as we are to make the drive.
Dahshur is indeed empty of tourists, as expected. Just blowing sand, the
locked gates of a nearby military base and a squad of five tourist police.
Their commander approaches us, his arm raised in greeting. "Greetings Dr.
Moustache!" he hollers at me.
Mohammed the tourist policeman is as gregarious as anyone we've yet
encountered here. He slings his AK over his shoulder and tours us around
the temple complex on the side of the Red Pyramid, the main attraction at
Dahshur. "This is original," he points to a piece of rock wall. "Very old."
"This is not original," he points to a restoration built with mud and
straw. "Not so old."
After the tour we walk back to the camp—a tiny gas stove surrounded by two
camels and four more guards—and our guide asks me, "Dr. Moustache, do you
have any sugar for Mohammed?" He's after the customary baksheesh tip for
showing us around, letting us illegally climb the side of the pyramid and
for taking our pictures. I give him the remaining small bills I have in my
wallet—the Egyptian government can't afford to mint very many coins, and
small bills get passed around a lot. They're usually warm, damp and
falling apart, so not something I'll be bringing home as a souvenir. He
spies a few American dollars. "How about some American souvenirs, too?" he
asks. I pass some bills to him, and to his camel-riding companion. Now
he’s worried that I might feel taken advantage of. "You're okay now, Dr.
Moustache?" he asks. "Perhaps you like whisky in your tea?"
I decide to try a joke, and in the low, gravely voice Paul uses when
impersonating Egyptian cab drivers I say "Haram!" Forbidden! Mohammed
laughs andwe pass around a glass jar full of sugary tea.
Osama, Paul and I decide to climb the staircase that leads to the pyramid.
A guy sits at the top, making sure everyone who goes in comes back out. We
duck down low and descend along a sloping ramp that leads to the burial
room antechamber. Inside there's graffiti torch-burnt onto a wall from the
1800s. The burial chamber is up a short staircase. Paul and I stand there
feeling the weight of the building all around us. The absolute silence
makes for a very intense Indiana Jones moment. Egypt is fucking old, dude.
On the ride back to Cairo Osama tunes the radio to the local rock station.
"Love Me Two Times" by the Doors comes over the speakers. It's the first
American rock music I've heard in three weeks and it's awesome to hear as
we fly by irrigation canals leading from the Nile to cornfields and
forests of date palms. Children see us in the car and wave. Chickens play
in the side streets. Caravans of camels hauling palm fronds share the road
with tractors and other cars.
We spend the afternoon in Cairo wandering around an eight-story mall
packed with wealthy shoppers. Paul considers buying some clothes, but
instead we check out Private Alex, the first attempt by Egypt's huge film
industry to branch out from slapstick comedy into the "thriller" genre.
Predictably, it’s as boring as most Hollywood big-budget thrillers. The
mall is full of wealthy Arabs; we're still covered in the dust of
4,000-year-old? pyramids. I feel weird and I look it too: when I check
myself in the mirror in the men's room, I see a frazzled traveler. I'd
never think of going shopping looking this raggedy back home.
That evening, as Paul and I watch the sun set over the Nile, a young,
preppy-looking guy and his girlfriend approach us and want to know where
we're from. We stand and talk and the guy tells us some racist jokes about
Jews and Japanese. He tells us about how his wife doesn't like his new
girlfriend, but she'll have to deal with it because soon this new
girlfriend will be his second wife. I try and talk to the woman standing
beside him, but she doesn't speak English and he won't translate. He wants
to know if I believe in God. I would hate talking to this asshole in
California, so why am I humoring him now? Just because he's Egyptian? I
want to go home.
The guy asks me and Paul to join him for dinner on a felucca. We decline
and head to the Mohandiseen neighborhood, where we have some world-beating
fuul at Paul's favorite restaurant.
There's a store selling textiles and perfume next to the hotel where we
had stashed our luggage for the day. The proprietor, a nattily attired man
in his 50s, is sitting out front with several other men. We stop to check
out some of his wares—we've still got time to kill before our flights home—
and in keeping with the hospitality we've been shown throughout the Arab
world he offers us some tea. This man is a descendent of Egyptian Bedouins
and, in addition to his retail business, he's made money capturing rare
snakes for Israeli herpetologists and leading handicapped-accessible tours
to remote desert oases. He laughs at Paul when he tells him his major:
History. "Your country is so young! You Americans don't even have history
yet. Your history is nothing more than a yesterday." Paul clarifies that
he studies the history of US-Arab diplomacy, so he's here studying
Egyptian history as well.
"It's important that you understand that we Arabs don't hate you
Americans," he says. "We don't hate the Israelis either—I have Israeli
business partners and Jewish friends. It's the things your governments do
that we object to." We nod in agreement and fumble with the hot glasses
full of boiling water and tea leaves. I say something about the
disjunction between the people who live in a country and those who lead
it, and he nods. "This gap between government and their people, this is
something we understand quite well here." He gives me his card and
suggests we get together the next time I’m in Egypt. He has a very strange
novel that he's written about "people of all nationalities transported at
once to a remote location in the middle of the Egyptian desert." It's
unlike any book ever written, he says, and he'd like some help translating
it into English.
"You are welcome in Egypt," our host says, and we make our goodbyes.
On the ride to the airport we pass over a bridge that's under
construction. In another country, there might be three guys with
jackhammers doing the work. In Cairo, it’s 30 guys with ball-peen hammers.
"That's what I love about Egypt," says Paul. "It might take a while to get
it done, but they're working on it. Don't worry. They're working on it."
Paul and I are both worried about crossing back through US Customs with
the small cache of Hezbollah swag we picked up in South Lebanon. We're not
aware of doing anything illegal, but so many key chains adorned with
turbans, beards and AK-47s might take a little explaining.
Once I'm on the ground at LAX, it doesn't look like anybody at US Customs
is going to search my luggage. The official at the "nothing to declare"
line looks at my passport and his eyes go wide. "Egypt, Syria and
Lebanon," he says,. "These are certainly some interesting choices of
places to visit," he says.
"Yes they are," I say.
He holds on to my passport and gives me a very serious look: "Why did you
I smile back. "My brother was spending the summer in Cairo, and he invited
me to come visit him."
"AAll right then," he says. He hands me back my passport and I walk out of
the airport and into the sunshine and smog of Los Angeles.
Check out what we Americans think are:
Terrorist attacks throughout history:
* 1st Century - The Sicarii and other groups generically termed Zealots
begin a covert campaign against the Roman occupation of Judea,
characterized by assassinations of "collaborators".
* 661 - Ali ibn Abi Talib assassinated by Kharijites.
* 11th Century, Syria & Iran : The Hasaniyyin, followers of Hasan-i
Sabbah, formed a radical group that murdered important enemies. The group
is more widely known by the derogatory name of Hashshashin, i.e. partakers
of Hashish. Many say that their name is the source for the word
* 1605 November 5 Failed Gunpowder Plot to blow up English Parliament with
James I in attendance.
* 1831, Jan van Speyk detonates his own ship in the harbor of Antwerp.
* 1840, Benjamin Lett destroys a monument to British general Sir Isaac
* 1856, 1858, 1859, raids by John Brown in his fight against slavery.
* 1881 Tzar Alexander II of Russia is assassinated by a People's Will
(Narodnaya volya) terrorist.
* 1886 Bomb at Haymarket Square, Chicago during a labor rally kills 12.
* 1904 May 18: Ion Perdicaris and Cromwell Varley kidnapped and ransomed
by bandit Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli in Morocco.
* 1910 October 1: A bomb at the Los Angeles Times newspaper building in
Los Angeles, California, United States, killed 21 workers.
* 1914 June 28: Assassination in Sarajevo of Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of
Austria and his wife, precipitating World War I.
* 1916 July 30: Black Tom Explosion, allegedly caused by German saboteurs,
causes heavy damage to Jersey City, New Jersey and Ellis Island, but kills
only 3 or 4 people.
* 1920 September 16: Wall Street Bombing kills 40 people and wounds 300
* 1927 May 18: Bath School Disaster Andrew Kehoe's bombs kill 45 people,
mostly children, and wound 58 more.
* 1934 October 9: Assasination of King Alexander I of Yugoslavia and
French Foreign Minister Louis Barthou in Marseilles by Ustashas and IMRO
* 1945, August 6th and 9th: The United States sent off Fat man and Little
boy on to Nagasaki and Hiroshima
* 1946 July 22: Bombing of King David Hotel, the British Military HQ in
Jerusalem, by the Zionist group Irgun.
* 1950 November 1: Puerto Rican nationalists fail to assassinate President
* 1954: Lavon Affair – Mossad agents bomb targets in Egypt, attempting to
discredit the Egyptian government.
* 1954 March 1: U.S. Capitol shooting incident by Puerto Rican
nationalists, wounding five Congressmen.
* 1955, August: Members of the Algerian FLN massacre civilians in the town
* 1956 September 30: The FLN sets off bombs at the office of Air France
and elsewhere in Algiers.
* 1963: 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. A member of the Ku Klux Klan
bombed a Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four girls.
* 1966: Ulster Volunteer Force declares war on the then-quiescent IRA; on
June 26 commit three sectarian murders.
* 1968 December 26: Two Palestinian gunmen travel from Beirut to Athens,
and attack an El Al jet there, killing one person.
* 1969: A bomb in a bank killed 16 people in Milan
* February 21: A bomb explodes in the rear of Swissair Flight 330, causing
it to crash near Zürich, Switzerland, killing 38 passengers and all 9 crew
* May 8: Avivim school bus massacre by Palestinian PLO members, killing
nine children, three adults and crippling 19.
* August 24: the Army Mathematics Research Center on the University of
Wisconsin campus was blown up resulting in 1 death
* September 6: Coordinated hijacking of four jet aircraft. One hijacking
is foiled in midair and two planes are diverted to Jordan’s Dawson Field.
Nicaraguan hijacker Sandinista Patrick Arguello was killed and all
passengers were freed after negotiated release of captured hijacker Leila
Khaled and three PFLP prisoners. The following day a fifth airplane was
also hijacked. See Dawson's Field hijackings, Black September in Jordan.
* October 5 – 17: October Crisis (Quebec): FLQ murder of Pierre Laporte,
kidnapping of James Cross.
February 21 is the 52nd day of the year in the Gregorian Calendar. ...
Swissair Flight SR330 was a regularly scheduled flight from Zurich
International Airport in Kloten, Switzerland to Tel Aviv, Israel. ...
ZÃ¼rich (in English often Zurich, IPA ) is the largest city in Switzerland
(population: 366,145 in 2004; population of urban area: 1,091,732) and
capital of the canton of ZÃ¼rich. ... May 8 is the 128th day of the year
in the Gregorian Calendar (129th in leap years). ... An ambush attack
known as the Avivim school bus massacre took place on May 8, 1970 near
Avivim, an agricultural community in Israel founded in 1963 by Moroccan
immigrants. ... The Palestinians are a mainly Arabic-speaking people with
family origins in Palestine. ... The Palestine Liberation Organization
(PLO) (Arabic Munazzamat al-Tahrir Filastiniyyah is a political and
paramilitary organization of Palestinian Arabs dedicated to the
establishment of an independent Palestinian state to consist of the area
between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, with an intent to
destroy Israel. ... August 24 is the 236th day of the year in the
Gregorian Calendar (237th in leap years), with 129 days remaining. ... For
the University of Wisconsin system, see University of Wisconsin System.
... September 6 is the 249th day of the year (250th in leap years). ...
Sandinista! is also the name of a popular music album by The Clash. ...
The only hijacker killed in the Dawsons Field hijackings of 1970, Patrick
Arguello had the distinction of being a Nicaraguan fighting alongside the
Palestinian PFLP Arguello in an undated photo // Youth After spending his
childhood in Nicaragua, Patricks parents Rodolfo Arguello and Catherine
Ryan, were forced to flee... Leila Khaled in the 70s Leila Khaled (born
April 9, 1944) is a former member of George Habashs Popular Front for the
Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), part of the secular, leftwing Palestinian
rejectionist front. ... The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
(PFLP) (Arabic Al-Jabhah al-Shabiyyah Li-Tahrir Filastin is a secular,
Marxist-Leninist, nationalist Palestinian organization, founded after the
Six-Day War in 1967. ... Main article: Black September in Jordan The
Dawsons Field hijacking occurred on September 6, 1970. ... This article,
Black September in Jordan, describes the events surrounding September,
1970 in Jordan. ... October 5 is the 278th day of the year (279th in Leap
years). ... October 17 is the 290th (in leap years the 291st) day of the
year according to the Gregorian calendar. ... The October Crisis was a
series of dramatic events triggered by two terrorist kidnappings that
occurred in Quebec, Canada, during the month of October, 1970. ...
Beginning in 1963, a terrorist group that became known as the Front de
libÃ©ration du QuÃ©bec (FLQ) launched a decade of bombings, robberies and
attacks on government offices and at least two murders by FLQ gunfire and
three violent deaths by bombings. ... The Front de Libération du Québec
(Quebec Liberation Front), commonly known as the FLQ, was a separatist
group founded in the 1960s and based primarily in Montreal, Quebec,
Canada. ... Pierre Laporte (February 25, 1921 - October 1970), was a
Canadian politician who was assassinated by members of the FLQ. Pierre
Laporte Pierre Laporte was born in Montreal, Quebec. ... James Richard
Cross (September 29, 1921-) was a British diplomat in Canada who was
kidnapped by the Front de libération du Québec during the October Crisis
of October 1970. ...
* December 4: UVF bomb in McGurk's bar in Belfast's North Queen Street
kills 15 people.
* May 30: Lod Airport Massacre by the Japanese Red Army terrorists,
killing 26 and injuring 78.
* July 21: Bloody Friday nine are killed and 130 injured as Provisional
Irish Republican Army (IRA) sets off 22 bombs.
* July 31: Provisional Irish Republican Army set off three car bombs in
Claudy killing six.
* September 5: Black September kidnaps and kills 11 Israeli Olympic
athletes and one German policeman in the Munich Massacre.
* December 17: Pan Am Flight 110: 30 passengers were killed when
phosphorus bombs are thrown aboard the aircraft as it prepares for
* December 20: Basque ETA group kills Spanish Prime Minister Admiral
Carrero Blanco bombing his car in Madrid.
* January 31: * JRA–PFLP attack on a Shell Oil facility in Singapore and
the simultaneous seizure of the Japanese embassy in Kuwait.
* April 11: Kiryat Shmona massacre at an apartment building by the Popular
Front for the Liberation of Palestine members, killing 18 people, 9 of
whom were children
* May 15: Ma'alot massacre at the Ma'alot High School in Northern Israel
by Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine members: 26 of the
hostages were killed, 66 wounded.
* May 17: UVF detonates 3 car bombs in Dublin and one in Monaghan; 33 dead
– the deadliest toll of any one day in Ireland's 'Troubles'.
* September 8: TWA Flight 841: Bomb kills 88 on jetliner.
* September 13: Basque ETA group bombs the "Rolando" cafeteria in Madrid
and kills 12.
* October 5: Guildford pub bombing by the IRA leaves five dead and 44
* November 21: Birmingham pub bombing by the IRA kills 21, 182 people are
* January 24: FALN bomb the Fraunces Tavern, killing four and injuring
more than 50
* February 26: London police officer Stephen Tibble, 22, is shot dead as
he chases an IRA gunman escaping from a bomb factory.
* March 5: In the Savoy Operation PLO gunmen from Lebanon take dozens of
hostages at the Tel Aviv Savoy Hotel eventually killing eight hostages and
three IDF soldiers, and wounding 11 hostages.
* July 31: Three members of Ireland's popular Miami Showband killed in UVF
* December 29: Bomb explodes at New York's LaGuardia Airport, killing 11
and injuring 75.
* February 3: Somali Coast Liberation Front hijack a school bus in
Djibouti, killing one girl
* February 16: Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia
assassinate Turkish diplomat Oktay Cerit in Paris.
* June 26–July 4: Hijacking of Air France Flight 139 (Tel-Aviv-Paris) and
the following Operation Entebbe; 4 hostages and one IDF soldier killed.
* September 21: Orlando Letelier assassinated in Washington by Chilean
* October 6: A Cubana aircraft was bombed while flying from Barbados to
Havana, killing 73.
* December 4: In the Netherlands, members of the RMS movement occupy the
Indonesian diplomatic consulate in The Hague. One Indonesian official was
* December 14: In the Netherlands, near Beilen, a passenger train was
hijacked by members of the RMS movement, passengers were kept hostage.
Three passengers were killed by the hijackers.
* March 9: Three buildings in Washington, DC are seized and over 100
hostages taken. Washington city councilman Marion Barry is shot in the
chest during the incident and after a standoff all hostages are released
from the District building, B’nai Brith, and the Islamic Center.
* April 7: Federal Prosecutor Siegfried Buback and his driver were shot by
two Red Army Faction members.
* May 23: In the Netherlands, RMS activists kept 105 children and 5
teachers hostage in a school in Smilde.
* June 11: In the Netherlands, near Groningen, a passenger train was
hijacked by members of the RMS, 55 passengers were kept hostage. In an
army attack six hijackers and two passengers were killed.
* July 30: Jürgen Ponto, then head of the Dresdner Bank, was shot and
killed by the Red Army Faction in a failed kidnapping.
* September 5: Hanns Martin Schleyer was kidnapped by the Red Army
Faction. He was executed by the Red Army Faction on October 19, 1977.
* October 13: Lufthansa flight LH 181 was kidnapped by a group of four
Arabs around the leader "Captain Martyr Mahmud".
* 1978–1995: The Unabomber kills three and injures 29 in a string of
* February 13: Hilton bombing: A bomb is detonated outside the CHOGM
meeting in Sydney, Australia, killing 2 people. 3 Ananda Marga members are
later arrested and jailed for the attack.
* March: In the Netherlands members of the RMS movement occupy a
provincial office in Assen. 67 persons were kept hostage, one official was
killed on the spot, another died of injuries a month later.
* March 11: Coastal Road massacre: Fatah gunmen killed several tourists
and hijack a bus near Haifa; 37 Israelis on the bus are killed.
* March 16 – May 9: The Red Brigade kidnapping of Italian Prime Minister
Aldo Moro and assassinate him 55 days later.
* July 29: Basque ETA members bomb two railway stations in Madrid, killing
* August 27: Lord Mountbatten and three others are killed by IRA bomb on
board his boat off Mullaghmore. The same day two IRA bombs kill 18 British
Soldiers near Warrenpoint. After the explosions a heavy gun battle ensued
between the Soldiers and the Bombers firing from their position inside the
border with the Republic of Ireland. One civilian was caught in the
crossfire and killed.
* March 24: Archbishop Óscar Romero assassinated by death squads in El
* April 30: Iranian Embassy siege Iraqi agents take over the Iranian
Embassy in London, gaining hostages. After a number of days, one hostage
was killed by the Iraqis, and the Special Air Service assaulted the
building to rescue the remaining hostages. One hostage died during the
* August 2: Strage di Bologna A terrorist bombing at the railway station
in Bologna, Italy kills 85 people and wounds more than 200.
* December 2: Four US nuns killed by death squads in El Salvador.
* December 11: U.S. trained Salvadoran Army unit executes 800 civilians at
the village of El Mozote.
* October 6: Assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat by Islamic
* March 29: A bomb on board the Paris-Toulouse train, kills 5 injures 27.
Carlos usually assumed to be responsible.
* July 20: Two bombs in Hyde Park and Regent's Park, London by the IRA
kill 8 members of the Household Cavalry and the Royal Green Jackets. Seven
horses are also killed.
* August 7: Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia set off
bomb in Ankara airport, killing 9 people and wounding 70.
* August 9: Rue des Rosiers, Paris gunning and bombing of Goldenberg
restaurant : 6 killed 22 wounded - Fatah - the Revolutionary Council
* September 14: Assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Bashir Gemayel
and twenty-five others in an car explosion at the Kataeb headquarters.
* September 17: Sabra and Shatila Massacre: the murder of hundreds of
Palestinian civilians at refugee camps by Israeli-backed Christian
* October 14: Direct Action bombs a Litton Industries factory.
* April 18: U.S. Embassy Bombing in Beirut, Lebanon kills 63.
* July 15: Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia bombed a
Turkish airline counter in the Orly Airport, killing eight people and
wounding over 50.
* September 23: Gulf Air Flight 771 is bombed, killing all 117 people on
* October 9: Rangoon bombing by North Koreans targets South Korean
President Chun Doo Hwan, killing 21 persons and injuring 48.
* October 23: Marine Barracks Bombing in Beirut kills 241 U.S. Marines. 58
French troops from the multinational force are also killed in a separate
* December 17: Harrods bomb by the IRA. Six are killed (including three
police officers) and 90 wounded during Christmas shopping at the West
London department store.
* December 31: On the way to New Year's Eve 7 persons are killed and 70
wounded by bombs on the Marseille to Paris TGV and at the St-Charles
station in Marseille. The attack is attributed to Carlos on behalf of the
* October 12: Brighton hotel bombing by the IRA: 5 are killed in an
attempt to kill members of the British cabinet.
* October 31: Two Sikh bodyguards assassinate Prime Minister of India
* February 28: IRA mortar attack kills nine Police officers in Newry.
* June 14: TWA Flight 847 hijacking.
* June 22: Air India Flight 182 is blown up by a bomb put onboard the
flight from Canada by Sikh nationalists. All 329 people on board are
killed. The single most deadly terrorist attack prior to September 11,
2001. A second Air India flight from Canada was targeted on the same day,
but the bomb exploded at the Tokyo airport, in the luggage outside the
aircraft, killing two baggage handlers, bringing the total death toll of
the act to 331.
* October 7 – October 10: Achille Lauro cruise ship hijacking by
Palestinian Liberation Front, during which passenger Leon Klinghoffer is
* November 23: EgyptAir Flight 648 hijacked by Abu Nidal group, flown to
Malta, where Egyptian commandos storm plane; 60 are killed by gunfire and
* December 27: Rome and Vienna Airport Attacks.
* Investigators associated with the WHO reported that U.S.-funded Contras
repeatedly destroyed health-care facilities and murdered health-care
workers in Nicaraqua.
* April 2: TWA Flight 840 bombed on approach to Athens airport; four
passengers (all of them American), including an infant, are killed.
* April 6: the La Belle discotheque in Berlin, a known hangout for U.S.
soldiers, was bombed, killing three and injuring 230 people, for which
Libya is held responsible. In retaliation, the US bombs Libya in Operation
El Dorado Canyon and tries to kill Colonel Qaddafi.
* June 14: ANC bombs Why Not Restaurant and Magoo's Bar in Durban, South
Africa, 3 people killed, 73 wounded.
* July 15: ETA Basque militant group bombs a Guardia Civil police truck,
* September 5: Pan Am Flight 73, an American civilian airliner, is
hijacked; 22 people die when plane is stormed in Karachi, Pakistan.
* December 25: Iraqi Airways Hijacking
* December 31: New Year's Eve fire at the Dupont Plaza Hotel in San Juan,
Puerto Rico, claimed 97 lives, mainly in the casino area. Fire set by 3
hotel workers, trying to make tourists stay away from Puerto Rico as a
protest to their working wages.
* April 21: Car bomb at bus terminal in Colombo, Sri Lanka kills 110
* June 19: ETA Basque militant group bomb in Hipercor Mall's parking in
Barcelona, kills 21, 45 injured.
* November 8: Enniskillen massacre. Remembrance Day parade in Enniskillen,
County Fermanagh is bombed by the IRA and 11 are killed and 63 injured.
* November 29: KAL Flight 858 bombed by North Korea.
* December 11: ETA Basque militant group bomb a Guardia Civil police
bedrooms in Zaragoza, kills 11, 40 injured.
* December 21: Pan Am Flight 103 bombing over Lockerbie. The worst act of
terrorism against the United States prior to September 11, 2001.
* July 9: Two bombs explode in Mecca, killing one pilgrim and wounding 16
* September 22: Deal barracks bombing: Ten Royal Marines bandsmen are
killed and 22 injured when base in Deal, Kent, is bombed by the IRA.
* September 19: UTA Flight UT-772 kills 171 people.
* November 27: Avianca Flight 203 bombed over Colombia.
* December 6: Truck bomb kills 52 and injures 1,000 outside a security
building in Bogotá, Colombia; blast is blamed on drug lord Pablo Escobar.
Forgotten here (or intentionally left out) are the murders of ALFRED
HERRHAUSEN and DETLEF ROHWEDDER, both blamed on the R.A.F. (german red
army fraction), but both carried out by CIA/Wall Street. Both influential
members of the elite wanted to limit the profiteering of the western
elites.. See Wikipedia entries.
* October 24: A series of car bombings directed by the IRA in Northern
Ireland leave 7 people dead and 37 wounded.
* May 29: Basque ETA group bombs the Guardia Civil police barracks in Vic
(Barcelona), killing 10.
* November 15: Two IRA members are killed by their own bomb in St Albans.
* January 17: Eight Protestant builders killed by an IRA bomb on their way
to work at an Army base near Omagh.
* March 17: Israeli Embassy bombing by "Islamic Jihad" in Buenos Aires,
Argentina; 29 killed, 242 injured.
* January 25: Mir Aimal Kansi, a Pakistani, fires an AK-47 assault rifle
into cars waiting at a stoplight in front of the Central Intelligence
Agency headquarters. Two died.
* February 26: World Trade Center bombing kills 6 and injures over 1000
* March 12: Mumbai car bombings in India
* March 20: IRA bomb in Warrington kills two children (Warrington Bomb
* April 24: IRA detonate a huge truck bomb in the City of London at
Bishopsgate, killing two and causing approximately £350m of damage.
* June: Failed New York City landmark bomb plot.
* June 21: ETA Basque terrorist group bombs a military truck in Madrid,
kills 7, 36 injured.
* July 5: the IRA detonate a 1500lb car bomb (the largest used in Northern
Ireland) in the centre of Newtownards in Northern Ireland, no one is
killed but massive property damage is caused to the town centre.
* October 23: A bomb at a fish and chip shop on the Protestant Shankill
Road, Belfast kills 10 people, including two children.
* October 30: Seven people killed in a Loyalist UFF gun attack in a bar in
Greysteel, Co Derry.
* February 25: Baruch Goldstein kills 29 Palestinian civilians in an
attack in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.
* June 18: Six Catholic men shot dead by Loyalists in a pub in
Loughinisland, Co Derry.
* July 18: Bombing of Jewish Center in Buenos Aires, Argentina kills 86
and wounds 300. Attributed by the judge who tried the case, Juan José
Galeano, to Hezbollah acting on behalf of Iran.
* July 19: Alas Chiricanas bombing kills 21 people. Generally attributed
* July 26: Israeli Embassy Attack in London and a Jewish charity are
car-bombed, wounding 20. Attributed by Britain, Argentina, and Israel to
* December 11: A small bomb explodes on board Philippine Airlines Flight
434, killing a Japanese businessman. Authorities found out that Ramzi
Yousef planted the bomb to test it for his planned terrorist attack.
* December 24: Air France Flight 8969 is hijacked by GIA members who
planned to crash the plane on Paris but didn't succeed.
* January 6: Operation Bojinka is discovered on a laptop computer in a
Manila, Philippines apartment by authorities after an apartment fire
occurred in the apartment.
* March 20: Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway by AUM Shinrikyo cultists
* April 19: ETA Basque militant group tries to kill José María Aznar (then
leader of the Popular Party, later a Spanish Prime Minister) bombing his
car, kills a woman.
* April 19: Oklahoma City bombing kills 168 people, 19 of them children.
* Bombings in France by a GIA unit led by Khaled Kelkal kill seven and
injure more than 100.
* August 27: Suicide bomber in Colombo, Sri Lanka kills 24, injures 40.
* October 9: An Amtrak Sunset Limited train is derailed by anti-government
saboteurs near Palo Verde, Arizona.
* November 11: Suicide bombing of army headquarters in Colombo, Sri Lanka
* November 13: Bombing of military compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia kills 7
* November 19: Bombing of Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan kills 19.
* December 11: ETA Basque militant group bombs a military truck in Madrid,
killing 6 civilian public servants.
* January: In Kizlyar, 350 Chechen militants took 3,000 hostages in a
hospital. The attempt to free them kills 65 civilians and soldiers.
* January: Provisional Irish Republican Army plants a bomb that police
defuse at the Canary Wharf towers in London.
* January 31: Central Bank Bombing in Sri Lanka kills 90 and wounds 1,400.
* February 9: IRA bombs the South Quay DLR station, killing two people.
* February 25 - March 4: A series of four suicide bombings in Israel leave
60 dead and 284 wounded within 10 days.
* June 15: Manchester bombing by IRA.
* June 25: Khobar Towers bombing.
* July 24: Bomb on commuter train in Sri Lanka kills 57.
* July 27: Centennial Olympic Park bombing, killing one and wounding 111.
* December 17: Japanese embassy hostage crisis begins in Lima, Peru; it
ends April 22, 1997 with the deaths of 14 rebels, two soldiers and a
* February 24: An armed man opens fire on tourists at an observation deck
atop the Empire State Building in New York City, United States, killing a
Danish national and wounding visitors from the United States, Argentina,
Switzerland and France before turning the gun on himself. A handwritten
note carried by the gunman claims this was a punishment attack against the
"enemies of Palestine".
* November 17: Luxor Massacre – Islamist gunmen attack tourists in Luxor,
Egypt, killing 62 people, most of them European and Japanese vacationers.
* December 22: Acteal massacre – 46 killed while praying in Acteal,
Chiapas, Mexico. A paramilitary group associated with ex-president Salinas
is held responsible.
* January : Wandhama Massacre - 24 Kashmiri Pandits are massacred by
Pakistan-backed insurgents in Indian controlled Kashmir city of Wandhama .
* January 25: Bombing of Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy, Sri Lanka kills 17.
* August 7: U.S. embassy bombings in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi,
Kenya, killing 225 people and injuring more than 4,000.
* August 15: Omagh bombing by the so-called "Real IRA" kills 29.
* January 3: Gunmen open fire on Shi'a Muslims worshipping in an Islamabad
mosque, killing 16 people injuring 25.
* April: David Copeland's nail bomb attacks against ethnic minorities and
gays in London kill three people and injure over 160.
* August 31 – September 22: Russian Apartment Bombings kills about 300
people, leading Russia into Second Chechen War.
* December: Jordanian authorities foil a plot to bomb US and Israeli
tourists in Jordan and pick up 28 suspects as part of the 2000 millennium
* December 14: Ahmed Ressam is arrested on the United States–Canada border
in Port Angeles, Washington; he confessed to planning to bomb the Los
Angeles International Airport as part of the 2000 millennium attack plots
* December 24: Indian Airlines Flight 814from Kathmandu, Nepal to Delhi,
India is hijacked. One passenger is killed and some hostages are released.
After negotiations between the Taliban and the Indian government, the last
of the remaining hostages on board Flight 814 are released.
* The last of the 2000 millennium attack plots fails, as the boat meant to
bomb USS The Sullivans sinks.
* German police foil Strasbourg cathedral bombing plot.
* June 8: Stephen Saunders, a British Defense Attaché, was assassinated by
Revolutionary Organization 17 November in Athens.
* October 12: USS Cole bombing kills 17 US sailors.
* February 5: A bomb blast in Moscow's Byelorusskaya metro station injures
* August 9: A suicide bomber in Jerusalem kills seven and wounds 130 in
the Sbarro restaurant suicide bombing; Hamas and Islamic Jihad claim
* "9/11": The attacks on September 11 kill almost 3,000 in a series of
hijacked airliner crashes into two U.S. landmarks: the World Trade Center
in New York City, New York, and The Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. A
fourth plane crashes in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. The "attacks" were
carried out by CIA/Wall Street...
* Paris embassy attack plot foiled.
* October 1: A car bomb explodes near the Jammu and Kashmir state assembly
in Srinagar, India killing 35 people and injuring 40 more.
* Anthrax attacks on the offices the United States Congress and New York
State Government offices, and on employees of television networks and
* December 13: Terrorist attack on Indian Parliament.
* Jewish Defense League plot to blow up the King Fahd Mosque in Culver
City, California, foiled.
* Richard Reid, attempting to destroy American Airlines Flight 63, is
subdued by passengers and flight attendants before he could detonate his
* Singapore embassies attack plot foiled.
* January: Kidnapping and murder of journalist Daniel Pearl.
* March 24: Twenty people die and 93 are injured in three bomb attacks on
Russian towns near the border of Chechnya.
* March 27: A Palestinian suicide bomber kills 30 and injures 140 during
Passover festivities in a hotel in Netanya, Israel in the Netanya suicide
* March 31: A Hamas suicide bomber kills 15 and injures over 40 in Haifa,
Israel, in the Matza restaurant massacre.
* April 11: A natural gas truck fitted with explosives is driven into a
synagogue in Tunisia by an al-Qaeda member, killing 21 and wounding more
than 30 in the Ghriba Synagogue Attack.
* May 8: Bus Attack in Karachi.
* May 9: A bomb explosion in Kaspiisk in Dagestan kills at least 42 people
and injures 130 or more during Victory Day festivities.
* June 14: Attack outside U.S. Consulate in Karachi.
* July 4: An Egyptian gunman opens fire at an El Al ticket counter in Los
Angeles International Airport, killing 2 Israelis before being killed
* September 25: Two terrorists belonging to the Jaish-e-Mohammed group
raid the Akshardham temple complex in Ahmedabad, India killing 30 people
and injuring many more.
* October 2002: Beltway Sniper Attacks around the Washington metropolitan
area kill 10 people and leave the region paranoid for weeks, caused by
* October 6: Limburg tanker bombing in Yemen.
* October 12: Bali car bombing of holidaymakers kills 202 people, mostly
Western tourists and local Balinese hospitality staff.
* October 17: Zamboanga bombings in the Philippines kill six and wounds
* October 18: A bus bomb in Manila kills three people and wounds 22.
* October 19: A car bomb explodes outside a McDonald's Corp. restaurant in
Moscow, killing one person and wounding five.
* October 23: Moscow theater hostage crisis begins; 120 hostages and 40
terrorists killed in rescue three days later.
* November 28: Kenyan hotel bombing.
* February 7: Car bomb kills 36 and injures 150 at the El Nogal nightclub
in Bogotá, Colombia; FARC rebels are blamed.
* March 4: Bomb attack in an airport in Davao kills 21.
* May 12: Bombings of United States expat housing compounds in Saudi
Arabia kill 26 and injure 160 in the Riyadh Compound Bombings. Al-Qaeda
* May 12: A truck bomb attack on a government building in the Chechen town
of Znamenskoye kills 59.
* May 14: As many as 16 die in a suicide bombing at a religious festival
in southeastern Chechnya.
* May 16: Casablanca Attacks by 12 bombers on five "Western and Jewish"
targets in Casablanca, Morocco leaves 41 dead and over 100 injured. Attack
attributed to a Moroccan al-Qaeda-linked group.
* July 5: 15 people die and 40 are injured in bomb attacks at a rock
festival in Moscow.
* August 1: An explosion at the Russian hospital in Mozdok in North
Ossetia kills at least 50 people and injures 76.
* August 19: Canal Hotel Bombing in Baghdad, Iraq, kills 22 people
(including the top UN representative Sergio Vieira de Mello) and wounds
* August 25: At least 48 people were killed and 150 injured in two blasts
in south Mumbai - one near the Gateway of India at the other at the Zaveri
* August 29: Car bomb outside Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, Iraq, kills more
than 80 people, including SCIRI leader Sayed Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim.
* September 3: A bomb blast on a passenger train near Kislovodsk in
southern Russia kills seven people and injures 90.
* October 4: A Palestinian suicide bomber kills 21 and wounds 51 in a
Haifa restaurant in the Maxim restaurant massacre.
* October 15: A bomb is detonated by Palestinians against a US diplomatic
convoy in the Gaza Strip, killing three Americans.
* November 15 and November 20: Truck bombs go off at two synagogues, the
British Consulate, and the HSBC Bank in Istanbul, Turkey, killing 57 and
wounding 700 in the 2003 Istanbul Bombings.
* December 5: Suicide bombers kill at least 46 people in an attack on a
train in southern Russia
* December 9: A blast in the center of Moscow kills six people and wounds
at least 11.
* February 1: 109 Kurds are killed in 2 suicide bombings in Arbil, Iraq.
* February 6: Bomb on Moscow Metro kills 41.
* February 27: Superferry 14 is bombed in the Philippines by Abu Sayyaf,
* March 2: Ashoura Massacre: Suicide bombings at Shia holy sites in Iraq
kill 181 and wound more than 500 during the Ashura.
* March 2: Attack on procession of Shia Muslims in Pakistan kills 43 and
* March 9: Attack of Istanbul restaurant in Turkey.
* March 11: Coordinated bombing of commuter trains in Madrid, Spain, kills
191 people and injures more than 1,500.
* April 21: Basra bombs in Iraq kill 74 and injure hundreds.
* April 21: Bombing of a security building in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia kills 5.
* May 29: Al-Khobar massacres, in which Islamic militants kill 22 people
at an oil compound in Saudi Arabia.
* August 24: Russian airplane bombings kill 90.
* August 31: A blast near a subway station entrance in northern Moscow,
caused by a suicide bomber, kills 10 people and injures 33.
* September 1 – 3: Beslan school hostage crisis in North Ossetia, Russia,
results in 344 dead.
* September 9: Jakarta embassy bombing, in which the Australian embassy in
Jakarta, Indonesia was bombed, killing eight people.
* October 7: Sinai bombings: Three car bombs explode in the Sinai
Peninsula, killing at least 34 and wounding 171, many of them Israeli and
other foreign tourists.
* December 6: Suspected al Qaeda-linked group attacks U.S. consulate in
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, killing 5 local employees.
* December 12: A bombing at the Christmas market in General Santos,
Philippines, kills 15.
* February 14: A car bomb kills former Lebanese Prime Minister BILLIONAIRE
Rafiq Hariri and 20 others in Beirut.
* February 25: A suicide bombing in Tel Aviv kills 5 Israelis and
undermines a weeks-old truce between the two sides.
* February 28: About 125 Iraqis killed by a suicide car bomb outside a
medical centre in Hilla, south of Baghdad.
* March 19: Car bomb attack on theatre in Doha, Qatar, kills one Briton
and wounds 12 others.
* April: April 2005 terrorist attacks in Cairo – On April 7 a suicide
bomber blows himself up in Cairo's Khan al Khalili market, killing three
foreign tourists and wounding 17 others. In two further attacks on 30
April, suspected accomplices detonate a bomb and spray a tourist coach
* May 7: Multiple bomb explosions across Myanmar's capital Rangoon kill 19
and injure 160.
* June 1: A suicide bomber blows up in a mosque in Kandahar, Afghanistan,
killing 20 people.
* June 12: Bombs explode in the Iranian cities of Ahvaz and Tehran,
leaving 10 dead and 80 wounded days before the Iranian presidential
* July 5: Six terrorists belonging to Lashkar-e-Toiba storm the Ayodhya
Ram Janmbhomi complex in India. Before the terrorists could reach the main
disputed site, they were shot down by Indian security forces. One devotee
and two policemen were injured.
* July 7: 7 July 2005 London bombings - Attacks on one double-decker bus
and three London Underground trains, killing 55+ people and injuring over
700, occur on the first day of the 31st G8 Conference. The attacks are
believed by many to be the first suicide bombings in Western Europe.
* July 12: Islamic Jihad takes responsibility for a suicide bombing in
Netanya, Israel, which kills 5 people at a shopping mall.
* July 16: A suicide bomber blows up an oil tanker in the predominantly
Shiite town of Musayyib in Iraq, killing 98 people.
* July 21: 21 July 2005 London bombings - Small explosions in 3 London
Underground stations and 1 double-decker bus. This was pronounced as a
"major incident" rather than an attack, and only minor injuries were
reported. These 4 bombs were designed to cause as much damage at the 7
July 2005 London bombings but the explosive had deteriorated and failed to
* July 23:Sharm el-Sheikh bombings: Car bombs explode at tourist sites in
Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, killing at least 88 and wounding more than 100.
* August 4 : Jewish terrorist in an IDF uniform opens fire on a bus in
Shfaram, Israel, killing 4 Arab Israelis and wounding 5.
* August 13, 2005 : Yugoslavian terrorists invade amsterdamn and
masturebate to the commonfolk. Several thousand were injured due to semen
poisoning, due to the floods produced by the terrorists. Scientinsts are
now looking into why the Yougoslavs have such high sperm count.
If you want to know what really happened... read SYNTHETIC TERROR by
or check this out:
September 26th, 2001
President Thanks CIA
Remarks by the President to Employees of the CIA
1:23 PM EDT
THE PRESIDENT: "Thank you all very much. Well, George (Tenet), thank you
very much, and thanks for inviting me back. (Laughter.) There is no
question that I am in the hall of patriots, and I've come to say a couple
of things to you. First, thank you for your hard work. You know, George
and I have been spending a lot of quality time together. (Laughter.)
There's a reason. I've got a lot of confidence in him, and I've got a lot
of confidence in the CIA. (Applause.) And so should America."
Meyer is to be congratulated for calling attention to the Bush-CIA
celebration of the 9/11 attacks. But that isn't the only evidence that
Bush and top CIA officials were overjoyed, not disturbed, by 9/11
Buy the book from Amazon:
Here a snippet of what is really going on RIGHT NOW
Olmert on truth serum -- Xymphora November 24, 2006
Olmert’s just a ton o’ laughs these days. First, he confirms
the existence and massive power of the Israel lobby, thus putting the last
nail into Chomsky’s intellectual coffin
OF COURSE THAT IS XYMPHORA NONSENSE. NEITHER DOES CHOMSKY SUPPORT ZIONISM
NOR DOES HE DENY THAT ISRAEL HAS SOME INFLUENCE.
(btw, it is not an exaggeration to note that Venezuela lost its bid for a
security council seat the minute Hugo Chavez mentioned Chomsky’s name in
his UN speech).
ON THE CONTRARY ... YES IT IS AN EXAGGERAITON.
Then, he informs us that the Iraq war was good for Israeli security,
which, when coupled with his acknowledgment of Lobby power, means the
attack on Iraq was about Israeli security (the Americans will now have
something for which to give thanks). Finally:
"Prime Minister Ehud Olmert 's office denied allegations that the PM used
classified information in order to censure Defense Minister Amir Peretz
for a telephone conversation with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Former and current members of the defense establishment who spoke to Ynet
Wednesday harshly criticized the use of classified information for
personal political ends.
Wednesday morning, Yedioth Aharonoth reported that the prime minister used
top secret intelligence information in order to censure Peretz for and, by
doing so, exposed a number of ISRAELI INTELLGENCE (Mossad) capabilities,
including the capability to listen to Abbas' conversations."
Iraq war was good for Israel: Olmert Wed Nov 22, 2006 3:16pm ET
By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The Iraq war was a boon for Israel's security,
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Wednesday, voicing fresh
endorsement for a Bush administration sapped by the unpopularity at home
of its Middle East policies.
The mid-term election losses of U.S. President George W. Bush's Republican
Party were widely considered a repudiation of his decision to topple
Iraq's Saddam Hussein as part of a vision of democratizing the region and
bolstering allies like Israel.
Olmert avoided explicit comment on the Republicans' fortunes during
Washington talks with Bush earlier this month. But in a speech to visiting
American Jews, Olmert made clear he had few regrets about the changes
wrought by the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
"I know all of his (Bush's) policies are controversial in America. There
are some who support his policies in the Middle East, particularly in
Iraq, and some who do not," he said.
"I stand with the president because I know that Iraq without Saddam
Hussein is so much better for the security and safety of Israel, and all
of the neighbors of Israel without any significance to us," added Olmert,
who was speaking in English.
"Thank God for the power and the determination and leadership manifested
by President Bush."
With U.S.-led forces mired in an Iraqi insurgency, political analysts have
speculated that Bush may redirect his attentions toward solving an
Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is a major grievance in the Arab and
That could prompt Olmert to reconsider his unilateral policies towards a
Palestinian leadership that he has argued is incapable or unwilling to
make peace with Israel.
But Olmert's views on today's Iraq have not been shared by all Israeli
Yuval Diskin, chief of the Shin Bet intelligence service, said in a leaked
briefing earlier this year that Israel could come to rue Saddam's ouster
if it deepens regional instability.
"When you take apart a system in which a dictator has been controlling his
people by force, you have chaos," Diskin said in a recording broadcast by
Israeli television. "I'm not sure we won't end up missing Saddam."