By Lawrence Pintak
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Lebanon is a continuing reminder that over the centuries, Christians, too, have had a hard time agreeing on just what it is they believe in. Ten separate versions of Christianity are still practiced there: Maronite, Syrian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, Chaldean, Assyrian (Nestorian), and Roman Catholic. God forbid they should all get along. At one time or another, the major sects had all fought one another. The Maronites arrived in what is now Lebanon sometime in the eighth century, fleeing persecution in Syria.
Beside it, an unshaven fighter cradles an armful of PSP newspapers. The charge: one Lebanese pound. No overt threats are made. He doesn’t need them. On the surface, the vendor is no different from dozens of other newspaper sellers who hang out on busy street corners. Except, of course, for the guns. In the shade on the other side of the street, three of his comrades,T-shirts emblazoned with the slightly disheveled visage of the late Kamal Jumblatt, lounge by a wall, their AKs leaning against the bare concrete beside them.
The cause: the families of South Lebanon’s Shi’ite suicide bombers. A lot of people were paying protection money, but there wasn’t a lot of protection. As the economy collapsed, armed robbery because a popular occupation. Break-ins by gunmen wielding automatic weapons led some families to install heavy steel bombproof doors on their apartments. Most people stayed home at night, but there was no safety during the day either. Cars were stolen almost daily on crowded streets and anyone who resisted was shot.