But I don’t want to smack him around. At least I don’t think so. Really. Regardless, this is an interesting story, perhaps as a lesson on how not to pick a fight, but it raises some interesting questions. So, while shopping for shoes on Hamra Street in Beirut (Hamra is a rather cosmopolitan district in Beirut), Christopher Hitchens managed to get his ass kicked by members of the Syrian Socialist National Party last month. Why? For defacing a SSNP sign. The logo of the SSNP looks eerily like a swastika. Michael Totten (who was with Hitchens) describes it:
The Syrian Social Nationalist Party flags had been taken down, but a commemorative marker was still there. It was made of metal and plastic and had the semi-permanence of an official “No Parking” sign. SSNP member Khaled Alwan shot two Israeli soldiers with a pistol in 1982 after they settled their bill at the now-defunct Wimpy café on that corner, and the sign marked the spot…Christopher wanted to pull down their marker, but couldn’t. He stuck to his principles, though, and before I could stop him he scribbled “No, no, F*** the SSNP” in the bottom-right corner with a black felt-tipped pen. I blinked several times. Was he really insulting the Syrian Social Nationalist Party while they might be watching? Neither Christopher nor Jonathan seemed to sense what was coming, but my own danger signals went haywire.
An angry young man shot across Hamra Street as though he’d been fired out of a cannon. “Hey!” he yelled as he pointed with one hand and speed-dialed for backup on his phone with the other.
After latching on to Hitchens and a failed escape into a taxi the guy’s friends show up:
…six or seven furious men showed up all at once and faced us in the street. They stepped in front of the taxi and cut off our escape.
None wore masks, which was a good sign. And I didn’t see any weapons. But they were well-built and their body language signaled imminent violence. We were in serious trouble, and I ran into the Costa Coffee chain across the street and yelled at the waiter to call the police.
“Go away!” he said and lightly pushed me in the shoulder to make his point. “You need to leave now!”
This was no way to treat a visitor, especially not in the Arab world where guests are accorded protection. But getting in the way of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party can get a man killed, or at least beaten severely. Just a few months ago the SSNP attacked a Sunni journalist on that very street and sent him bleeding and broken to the hospital in front of impotent witnesses. A Lebanese colleague told me he was brutally assaulted merely for filming the crew taking down the SSNP flags as the prime minister ordered. “He didn’t do anything to them,” she said. “He just filmed their flag.”
Conclusion? Read on:
Christopher was encircled by four or five of them. They were geared up to smash him, and I reached for his hand to pull him away. One of the toughs clawed at my arm and left me with a bleeding scratch and a bruise. I expected a punch in the face, but I wasn’t the target.
Christopher was the target. He was the one who had defaced their sign. One of the guys smacked him hard in the face. Another delivered a roundhouse kick to his legs. A third punched him and knocked him into the street between two parked cars. Then they gathered around and kicked him while he was down. They kicked him hard in the head, in the ribs, and in the legs.
“Anyway,” he said, “call me old fashioned if you will, but my line is that swastika posters are to be defaced or torn down. I mean, what other choice do you have? I’d like to think I’d have done that if I had known it was being guarded by people who are swastika fanciers. I have done that in my time. I have had fights with people who think that way. But I was surprised first by how violent and immediate their response was, and second by how passive and supine was the response of the police.”
Ok, fine. Yes, sanctimonious as ever, but I think I have to agree with him. Sure, we can talk about cultural imperialism, paternalism and whatnot, or the fact that Hitchens most likely knew the response his actions may elicit, the fact remains, as Totten points out:
The SSNP, according to the Atlantic in a civil war era analysis, “is a party whose leaders, men approaching their seventies, send pregnant teenagers on suicide missions in booby-trapped cars. And it is a party whose members, mostly Christians from churchgoing families, dream of resuming the war of the ancient Canaanites against Joshua and the Children of Israel. They greet their leaders with a Hitlerian salute; sing their Arabic anthem, ‘Greetings to You, Syria,’ to the strains of ‘Deutschland, Deutschland über alles’; and throng to the symbol of the red hurricane, a swastika in circular motion.”
They wish to resurrect the ancient pre-Islamic and pre-Arabic Syria and annex Lebanon, Cyprus, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Israel, and parts of Turkey and Egypt to Damascus. Jews would have no place in the resurrected Syrian empire. SSNP militiamen, along with fighters from Amal and Hezbollah, used heavy weapons to seize West Beirut last May after the government shut down Hezbollah’s surveillance system at the airport, and they set aflame Hariri’s Future TV office and studio with molotov cocktails.
Read the rest at Michael Totten’s website here. And don’t miss the sometimes idiotic comments about the event below Totten’s request for money.