Wednesday, September 5, 2012

7:10 from Tripoli

They were watching "3:10 to Yuma" when I arrived in Tripoli. A 2007 Hollywood remake of a 1957 Western original, with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. History has happened before. The gunmen of the American west, some good, some bad, all ugly, shooting their ways to a deserted train station, in the city of the Lebanese gunmen, shooting their ways into the headlines of news channels the world around: how twistedly fitting. And when it was 3:10, a train actually pulled up, and there was only one passenger left, at least for Yuma.

The drive to Tripoli was nice; blue sky, blue sea and a car that gave its driver the competitive edge in a country where PS equal your social standing. The military checkpoint half way between Jounieh and Tripoli seems to have more zigzag curves the longer the conflict in Syria lingers on. But no problem: the Lebanese soldier spared a friendly nod for the continuation of the trip.

3:10 to Yuma: Western gunmen

I was driving into a region where security is chief and Ashraf Rifi is the star. The Tripoli based head of Lebanon's Internal Security Forces is all over the road, looking down from billboards leading up to Tripoli. Rifi lives at the southern entrance of the town; he comes hidden, he goes hidden. But he must feel very secure about his situation. A last billboard in front of his house wishing him god bless you indicates to even the dumbest foe that this is the place to detonate his bomb. If he could.

More billboards on the road to Tripoli: Sabah Fahri will play another concert in the Cedar village of Ehden this weekend. The old singer from Syria is still popular in this part of the country. In Lebanon.

Tripoli is calm in Rifi's area. Gun shots are sometimes heard, but rarely encountered. The stray bullet that hit one Tripoli resident's car and smashed its windshield must have been the result of a happy shooting. Or so he likes to believe. An analyst I recently heard concluded that Tripoli has 550'000 inhabitants, 500'000 of which are Sunnis and "they are all anti Assad". May God save me from the Western notion of Lebanon! There are as much apolitical people here as in disillusioned Europe. Not everyone aims to be a sniper on the roofs of Homs. Let's have some different fun too!

fighting in Tripoli: Eastern gunmen

More billboards in Tripoli: the Mikatis, the Hariris, the Karamés. Middle Easterners like their strong men. Their ruling families. Are the gunmen in Tripoli's Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood fighting a proxy battle for a democratic Syria? A political system with all parties involved, from the grassroot level upwards, must be considered counter culture. Here's me saying it again: democracy molded after a Western model cannot be a goal in itself. What is needed in the Middle East is a legitimacy of power, is legitimate governance, not a NATO enforced assembleé nationale!

W.C. Fields once famously said, the best thing about Philadelphia is the 8:15 train to New York. Without the gunmen and the snipers, Tripoli is rather boring. A forgotten jewel of the crusades, a touristic potential untapped, where nothing ever happens, except on CNN. I slept, I relaxed and I left. To Beirut. At 7:10 from Tripoli.