Connect to share and comment
A complex, love-hate relationship grows out of Lebanese familiarity with America.
BEIRUT — When the American battle ship New Jersey shelled Lebanon in 1983, Rob Mosrie was an elementary school kid in Florida.
Born and raised in the United States, he didn’t know at the time that his extended family in a Druze village was on the receiving end of a lethal missile fired by one of his country’s battleships.
“We had relatives who were killed by this American ship,” said Mosrie, 35, who has since moved to Lebanon. “But I only uncovered that after coming back to Lebanon, and talking to family about what happened during the war,” he added, referring to Lebanon’s brutal civil war that claimed some 100,000 lives (according to the U.S. State Department) from the mid 1970s until the early 1990s.
The Mosrie’s family story — the immigration flow between Lebanon and America, and the sense of simultaneous pride in being American and the feeling of being a victim of U.S. policy in the region — is a classic example of Lebanon’s complicated love-hate relationship with the U.S.
Mosrie’s grandmother, two aunts and an uncle soon followed, and are now U.S. citizens. They are a few of the tens of thousands of Lebanese who immigrated to the U.S. during the last century, and who currently make up America’s 400,000-strong Lebanese-American community.
Rob Mosrie went the other way — eventually returning to his father’s native country to work as the leader of an international aid organization called American Near East Refugee Aid. Despite the fact that his family was on the wrong end of American policy, and battleships, in the 1980s, the Mosries now belong to a portion of the Lebanese population that is politically pro-U.S.
“For most of the Druze community, their biggest fear is Shiite ascendance in Lebanon,” he said. “So the most common narrative I hear now is that Hassan Nasrallah and Hezbollah want to take over the country and declare an Islamic republic. So they kind of feel that America is on their side now.”
Lebanon has one of the most diverse populations in the Middle East.
It is composed of Shiite and Sunni Muslims as well as Christians. Although no census has been performed in the country since the 1930s, it is widely assumed that Christians make up approximately 25 percent of the country and Shiite and Sunni Muslims make up 70 percent, along with a sprinkling of minorities such as the Druze. To comprehend Lebanon’s relationship with America, you must understand the particular faith community you're talking about.
As Gilbert Doumit, who has worked to promote civil society across the religious divides in Lebanon, puts it, “America’s image in Lebanon depends on which Lebanon you ask, because there are 17 different Lebanons.”
One of the most influential and wealthy communities is the Christian community, which divides along the lines of Maronites, who are under the aegis of the Roman Catholic Church, and Eastern Orthodox. Throughout their history — from the Crusades to the present — Christians in Lebanon have looked to the west for support and protection. The two leading universites in Beirut, which are among the best in the Middle East, were founded by Christian organizations and they remain culturally and academically linked to the west.
The Christian presence in Lebanon is now and has always been part of the complex fabric of the place.
Here in Beirut church bells duel with calls to prayer. Nightclubbing is a way of life. Scantily clad Lebanese pop stars adorn billboards that vie for attention with political posters for the puritanical Islamist Shiite party and militia group, Hezbollah, which has members in parliament.
But Lebanese Shiites are also intimately acquainted with the U.S. In Lebanon’s Hezbollah-dominated south, several village mayors are U.S. citizens. Some of these villages have so many sons and daughters in the U.S. that Michigan State University football sweatshirts and New York Yankees baseball caps are not an unusual sight.
And around Lebanon, Americana is easy to spot.
American movies play at the theater and “Seinfeld” and “CSI” are on TV. In Beirut, Dunkin Donuts is