Druze Clues

by Danica on June 18, 2011

 

 

David presents Walid with a book based in Lebanon by author friend, Richard North Patterson

No visit to Beirut is complete without paying homage to the leader of the DruzeWalid Jumblatt.  While Jumblatt may not be a household name in the States, here he’s a big macher.  He’s certainly well known to the Obama administration as Hilary Clinton’s right hand, Jeffrey Feltman, just paid him a visit to get advice on the Syrian situation.

If anyone knows the Syrians it’s Walid. His father, Kamal, was killed by them in 1977.  He was driving along the winding roads near his country home in the Chouf when his car was ambushed.  Back then, in a move that stunned the region,Walid met with the Syrians two weeks after his father died.

Remember the American presidential election of 2004 when we were entertained by images of John Kerry on a wind surfer in the George Bush ads?  We had a strong visual image of Kerry as a “flip flop politician.” Walid is Lebanon’s John Kerry except he changes direction on a heck of a lot more important stuff than a wind-surfer. He’s known to change alliances according to whichever way the wind is blowing. Whether he flips or flops, it appears the Americans are quite fond of him.  In their meager courtyard, the U.S. Embassy, has on display “antique olive tree,” a gift from Walid Jumblatt. I saw no other gifts from any of Lebanon’s many religious or political constituencies.

While Walid may have a reputation for changing his political alliances, he’s certainly firm in his commitment to his favorite breed of dogs, shar peis. When we visited Walid two years ago, we met a full posse of wrinkled pups.  On this trip. Walid again agrees to see us at his large gated home in the fashionable Clemenceau neighborhood of Beirut and we are greeted by his overly friendly pup, Oscar. Oscar takes an immediate like to Wils, a young college student who is traveling with us.  Wils is a brainy kid, headed to Dartmouth, and while he probably has a series of questions to ask Jumblatt, Oscar keeps him occupied with constant tail wagging and slobbering.

Our conversation mostly centers around Syria, it’s certainly the “topic du jour,” and Walid has just returned from a meeting with President Bashir Assad.  The Assads have been in power for a long time (as have the Jumblatts).  Walid reminds us that “history repeats itself” and then goes into great detail about the Alawites and the Salafists. (These are two Muslim sects, one Sunni and one Shia.)  I’m completely lost but grateful that Oscar is giving his full attention to Wilson and not me.

We talk about the Arab Spring and Walid, who’s never a cheery sort, puts on a glum face when he reminds us, “The Americans were not predicting upheaval in the Arab world.  They were too busy listening to Mubarak saying,  ‘We are your stable ally here.’”    Walid draws a curious comparison between Hilary Clinton and Hezbollah, probably the only thing these two have in common.  Hezbollah, it turns out is advocating the same thing as Hilary, insisting Assad “reform or else.” As with all our visits to politicians, part way through our meeting, we are served thick dark coffee in little cups.  I am charmed by the design on these cups which are a modernist sketch of the traditional Lebanese cedar.  Walid is quite a reader and he presents my husband with a joke gift, a book he accidently ordered from Amazon.com called Venus Fix.  We talk a little more Syria, a little more Hezbollah but are careful not to ask Walid any specifics about the Druze.  They’re an esoteric sort and much of their religious practices are secretive.  The Druze are an off-shoot of Shi’a Islam, but don’t observe Ramadan or make the pilgrimage to Mecca. Walid is hardly the image of a Muslim despot, wearing jeans and a Faconnable shirt.  We tell him we have plans to travel to the Chouf, a beautiful mountain area South East of Beirut where Walid’s family has their main home and he suggests we drop in for a tour.  I know we’ve scored one for our travel team as his ancestral home puts the phrase “McMansion” to shame. Let’s just say it’s a castle, ’cause it is.  We say our formal good-byes, take the proverbial official photo and head to the Chouf!

 

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