On the surface, Lebanon seems to be a country full of people who have completely forgotten their troubled past, a country that has decided to move towards the future as a united country. On the surface, it is a country that seems to be swimming in wealth and prosperity. Upon arrival in Beirut, you would be forgiven for not even realizing that there was ever a civil war here because the city has recovered so well and the people seem to be living in such harmony. Sadly, this is just all on the surface.
If you are not familiar with the region, it might be hard to recognize all the divisions that still exist in the country. If you aren’t familiar with the history of Lebanon, then you might not think anything of it when you see a kita’ib (the old Lebanese forces) poster or an Amal (a Muslim militia) flag because you are unaware of what they stand for, but signs exist all around Lebanon of the bitter distrust that lies in the country among the Christian, Sunni, Shiite, and Druze communities. Most tourists to Lebanon come, take advantage of all its sights and nightlife, and then leave without any real sense of just what it is to be Lebanese these days, which is just sad, because it is a fascinating country that has plenty of opinions - that is why I encourage you to just talk to the Lebanese.
The Lebanese are very opinionated people and often won‘t hesitate to share their opinions, and the most interesting thing about Lebanon is that you will hear a whole range of opinions, some of which you may agree with, some you may not. You may be surprised at the brashness of some of the answers you receive, but it is all part of the modern Lebanese identity. It is a country that is still very much divided, but it is a country united in one thing, the fear of another civil war.
The Lebanese aren’t reluctant to talk about what they call "the time of the events," and you will most likely hear some incredible stories that will let you see just what these people went through. I remember one man in particular, Antoine. He was a Greek Catholic cab driver who was working at Middle East Airlines when the war broke out. He joined up with the Christian militias and started fighting the Palestinians. A few years into the war, he was thrown out of a three-story window and broke his back. His spine is now a metal rod.
Down in Tyre, you can talk to some Shiites who will tell you about how they would go for days without power after the Israelis bombed the power plants. They would then rebuild the plant and a few days later the Israelis would bomb it again.
Each person has a different story, and each person has a different view. You will find Christians who will tell you about how the Syrians are ruining their country and then you will find a Muslim who will tell you about how the Syrians were the only force that made it possible for the war to end and that they are the only force who will stop the Christian forces from taking complete control of the country.
A cab driver in Beirut, and a Muslim one at that, once went on about how much he loves George Bush because he believes that every country in the world should have democracy and that sometimes it needs to be spread by force. "I wish he would come to Lebanon!" He exclaimed.
In the suburbs of Beirut, you can find Armenians who will tell you about how their grandparents had to flee their homes in southern Turkey and come to Lebanon, and then in another suburb on the complete opposite side of town, you can find a Palestinian who still remembers when the Christian militias, with the help of Israel, invaded the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in 1982 and murdered almost every Palestinian in the camp.
Lebanon is a country full of numerous sects of people, all of them with their own take and own view on just what Lebanon is and should be. While some of the tales may be grim, you will also see how much each one of these people, whether they be Druze, Christian, or Muslim, love their country and how they just want to see it succeed. To miss out on the opportunity to learn so much about such a fascinating country would be a crime, and since most Lebanese speak English or French as well as Arabic, there is no excuse to miss out. So just go for it and talk to the Lebanese.