A few days ago, me and a journalist friend drove up to Bcharre in an effort to check rumours about the Lebanese Forces and the Kata’ib rearming and organizing training camps again – we didn’t actually get anywhere (none of the people we wanted to speak to was ‘home’ or ‘available for comment’), but we were at one point directed to the house of the directeur de la municipalité de Bcharre – who sure enough wasn’t home either. But when we rang, an African girl opened the door – she can’t have been older than 14 – who was the maid of the family, serving us coffee and drinks and emptying our ashtrays at the orders of the lady of the house – actually no more than a modest middle class villa, certainly not a mansion or a castle, though it had a stunning view over the Qadisha gorge, and the family was obviously à l’aise. We were offered an ample supply of sweets, fruit and drinks. She – la grande dame – entertained us, en français of course, for over an hour. It was much like being in an episode of ‘Keeping up appearances’. Hyacinth complained – while being served by her maid in a beautiful and well-stocked house overlooking one of the most gorgeous landcapes I’ve ever seen – about how poor and miserable they were here in Bcharre, how the government didn’t do anything for the maronites, all the money was going ‘to the south of the country’ and they were completely left out. She said the people here were emigrating because there was no work. It didn’t seem to occur to her that employing an (adult) local woman as a house maid, rather than an imported African child, might make a small contribution. She probably considered it an act of charity or development aid or something – we didn’t ask. The weirdest part was when she complained about how ‘ces Palestiniens’ were such ungrateful guests who shot at the Lebanese instead of thanking them for their hospitality, incongruously comparing them to Lebanese immigrants to the US who apparently are so grateful to their host country that they all celebrate the 4th of July waving American flags ‘whereas the palestinians we welcomed in our country… I think it’s time for them to go… we would like them just to go back home (sic)‘… When we remarked that that is actually what the Palestinians themselves want, and ardently so, she said, in a tone as serious as if she was not asking a rhetorical question: ‘But will the Israelis allow them to?’ The hypocrisy was simply stunning – all the while she kept reminding us how she was very désolée that her husband couldn’t speak to us, but he had to see some very important people in Jounieh, et en tout cas, we’d have to make a rendez-vous, because he was so busy. ‘Vous voyez, he’s a very important man, people always want his advice and his help… And please don’t call him between noon and 4pm, because that is when he likes to take his siesta.’ Sure, Hyacinth. After we had made a few remarks hinting at some basic knowledge about the recent political history of the country, she changed tack and would only talk about the local tourist attractions anymore, like how we should go and see the Qadisha valey and its ancient maronite monasteries, ‘where we’ve been hiding from the Ottoman persecution for a thousand years’. Which we subsequently did and she’s absolutely right: it’s a gorgeous place, not unlike the beautiful barrancas of the Pyrenees, and you do get an acute sense of the persecution of the ancient maronites by – incidentally – the christian Byzantine empire, which considered them godless heretics, as much as ‘les turcs’, as madame would have it. The monasteries are built into the rocks at the bottom of a narrow, steep valley and would have been pretty hard to find in a time before asphalted roads and motorized traffic. Even now you can’t spot them until you’re halfway down the valley, even though they’re lit up very scenically by huge floodlights at night. There is a running joke in Lebanon about how, after god had created Lebanon with its stunning landscapes, beautiful mountains and lovely beaches and its enjoyable mediterranean climate, the other countries complained that it wasn’t fair on them. God agreed and to make up for all this beauty, he created the Lebanese. Too right. This country is full of people who, while being very hospitable, fun-loving and sociable, also happen to be stubborn single-minded sectarians. The maronites have emerged from a history of real persecution and oppression which they rightly fought, but then, having finally gained the upper hand, they never changed their attitude of underdogs. And that’s how fascism is born: out of the persecuted underdog nation that has won the fight against the oppressor but, being mentally unable to adjust to its newfound equality, can’t get rid of the victim complex and keeps treating everybody around as its oppressors, feeling perpetually wronged, thereby becoming an oppressor itself. Why am I suddenly reminded of Flemish nationalists?