TRIBES WITH FLAGS: A Dangerous Passage Through the Chaos of the Middle East by Charles Glass

TRIBES WITH FLAGS: A Dangerous Passage Through the Chaos of the Middle East

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Glass, an American of Irish-Lebanese ancestry and a longtime reporter on the Middle East for ABC News and others, set out in 1987 to write a book on the entire Levant. Halfway through his trip and his proposed book, he was kidnapped by the Hizballah while in Beirut. But after two months of close confinement, he managed an ingenious escape and left Lebanon, bringing his on-site research to an end. Describing his journey here, the author begins in Alexandretta, a seaport once part of ""Greater Syria,"" taken from the Ottoman Empire by France after WW I, and returned to modern Turkey in 1938. Since then, the Christian minorities have emigrated, and the Turks have worked at eliminating all Arab influence, although a sizable Arab minority remains with built-in resentment. In Syria, the author views ancient Christian shrines in Aleppo and Antioch, discusses with various clergy the divisions that plague the Levant, and falls into nostalgic reminiscence about the Ottoman Empire, when the different factions that made up the population seemed able to coexist. In Lebanon, he visits relatives in the heartland of Maronite country and while there witnesses the eruption of an old blood feud. If the largest segment of Christendom in Lebanon cannot rid itself of its own divisiveness, he thinks, how can it live constructively with other equally divided elements? The pace of the book--which labors over a too-detailed chronicle of kinship ties in what used to be fashionable Beirut--speeds up noticeably with the author's kidnapping. His captors were obviously Hizballah, who hate not only Americans and Christians but also the allies of their Iranian benefactors, the Syrians. It is unfortunate that of 28 chapters, only the exciting last two deal with the kidnapping. Glass's integrity and courage come through clearly--his escape was due entirely to his own efforts--but questions are left unanswered (what were the kidnappers hoping to accomplish?), making one wish for an epilogue.

Pub Date: April 25th, 1990
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly--dist. by Little, Brown