Coffee With Hezbollah: A Review

by Tom Chartier

Lately, in the last few years… like since Richard Milhous Nixon assumed the coveted title of POTUS… I have had trouble falling asleep at night. Sound familiar? You betcha! The stresses and anxiety of the days have a tendency to beat us to death, and relaxation is tough to find.

How to switch off the horrors of tomorrow’s deadlines, tomorrow’s exams, and tomorrow’s humiliations at the TSA pat-down and peep show? Tough questions indeed.

To make matters worse, I also have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. Not only do I live in complete terror of… well, terror… I also live in terror of saying the wrong thing. Look at all the trouble that dude Assange has caused with his little website,! My God! State secrets, plots, skullduggery and shenanigans are being exposed! Is there no decency left in America?

God… or State… forbid the First Amendment and Free Speech should actually be upheld. We have our national paranoia to protect!

But… I have veered from the path of the straight and narrow and my purpose. Let me return to the subject of stress relief.

My parents would wind down after a day’s exposure to the reality of American Delusion by vanishing into the pages of a “good” mystery novel. Despite the fact that the homestead has a solid wall of mystery novels, I have never read one. So I don’t know if they are good or not. Nor do I know if they provide the proper escapist and somnambulatory effects. (Yes, that’s a real word. My dictionary is just bigger than yours.) However, this is how they would fall asleep. Bully for them! Whatever does the trick of distraction and tranquilization is all hunky dory with me.

Some folks like to turn on the lobotomy box lurking at the foot of their beds and allow the late-night nitwits to knit the wits of their viewers into a stupor of alpha waves. Groovy and it’s all legal. Others lubricate their brain cells into dysfunctionality. Alas, they often tend to stay that way.

Fact is, we are all trying to cope with unrealistic, uncontrollable fear and anxiety. As Orwell and Huxley warned us, this fear is little more than a manifestation of the State to keep us under the omnipresent thumb. No wonder we’re afraid.

So what is the Plebe like you and me do? Hm… we could take out a fifth mortgage… assuming we have any property… and purchase a ten-day Caribbean Cruise. That might not actually solve the problem, though, once the hangover receded, the sunburn healed and the bills started to come in. Not advised. Oh, I’ve got it! Malaria medicines like mefloquine… for better non-living. I hear mefloquine can induce hallucinations Timothy Leary and Grace Slick would be envious of. It worked wonders driving the guests at Gitmo mad as Hatters… or should that be Fez Makers? Turban Wrappers? Whatever, insanity has to be an improvement over reality.

So what is the big issue? Easy, Big Bro (one must adapt to the vernacular of the times). Big Bro has done an amazing job, since the “glory days” of LBJ, angering a vast portion of the humans inhabiting this little insignificant planet, fomenting racist hatred and ignorance — aw pishaw, that part was easy — totally destroying any sort of open debate, stripping the Bill Of Rights of well… rights… and really mucking up our ability to think clearly.

Unlike Big Bro, I urge you to “feel free” to disagree. But please, don’t spazz out on me! That ain’t gonna help anyone. And I’m not sure my anti-stress, anti-depression dose of Soma is strong enough.

What we have here today is not “failure to communicate.” It is State-sanctioned failure to communicate. Debate, free speech and dissent all lie on a new State-sponsored chopping block of American Jacobins.

So, to get to the point I have danced around, it is Freedom of the Press. I have found, by pure good fortune, a free voice! I kid you not, and please do not shoot me… even though I live in Arizona. In these times of “terror” we can find voices of ethnic and religious doom in the mainstream press, Talk Radio Fear Merchants and TV employees possessed by the ghost of Joseph Goebbels. But in this insane world, where is the voice of sanity that can put the absurd and triviality into proper perspective?

Hold onto your hats; there is such a voice. Step into the world of Belén Fernández and her epic journal Coffee with Hezbollah, rivaling Homer’s Odyssey or Sam Clemens’ Huckleberry Finn… except Ms. Fernández’ book is non-fiction.

I can see the look of terror on your face. Can one actually have coffee with Hezbollah? As Big Bro has led us to believe, the Lebanese organization that translates as the “Party of God” is a threat to our “freedoms.” God forbid! I sure hope The State puts the kibosh on such talk of freedoms toot sweet!

Dear readers, if you are willing to go back to ancient history… 2006… there was a 34-day war, in which the Party of God and anybody of any faith living within air-strike reach was bombed back to the stone age by the Israel Defense Forces for… what was the issue? Oh, yeah… some sort of border-skirmish resulting in the capture of a few IDF soldiers. A lot of people died, mostly civilians on the Lebanese side.

Thirty-four days after the 34-day war, Ms. Fernández and her friend Amelia Opalinska embarked on what would have been an ill-advised and “suicidal” journey in any Talk Radio Fear Merchant’s opinion, a journey around war-ravaged Lebanon. Hey, innit that place loaded with unexploded ordnance in the form of cluster bombs? Damn! That’s not safe! Where did those things come from in the first place?

This odyssey in the heart of terror lasted two whole months. Transportation was entirely by the proverbial thumb… They hitchhiked! Madness! Madness I tell you! Even Woody Guthrie would never take such risks. And where did they stay? Are you sitting down? Lodging was found in the homes of the various Lebanese who picked them up as they engaged in “auto-stop” and thus, as good Americans, exploited another flaw in Arab culture: hospitality. Can you feel the hate rising? I can.

Fernández’ book stands alone in this world of absurd threats. She neither frightens us with Islamophobia nor does she bombard us with the fear of our own government… as I am always so happy to do. For two months Ms. Fernández and Ms. Opalinska immersed themselves in the culture of the enormously diverse and constantly threatened nation of Lebanon. And amazingly, they were never abused, imprisoned, taken hostage or even… blown up. What Coffee with Hezbollah reveals instead is the reality of a subject vastly overblown in the American mainstream press.

Hezbollah is the people of south Lebanon and they are, for the most part, no threat to anybody, least of all Americans. Border skirmishes with Israel will result in the same sort of thing any border skirmish would. Oh yes! The next time the IDF decides on an other “lesson” one can be assured Hezbollah with be filled with volunteers from the villages and resist. But these are people who would rather just pick their olives.

At the day’s end, when the stress and anxiety of living the in world’s foremost Bankrupt Superpower, where Free Speech and a sacred Bill of Rights have become meaningless and where the terror of terror — foreign and domestic, economic and cultural — weighs heavily, I like to escape into a good book where I can cast all my cares away.

Coffee with Hezbollah has proven to be the perfect bedtime therapy. The world is absurd; enjoy its contradictions, absurdity and irony. Nothing is really that serious or important. There is no massive Islamic or Arab conspiracy to destroy us. They are as ignorant as we are. None of us, no matter how lofty, is in control. When all is said and done, life is a farce. Let us enjoy it for what it is.

Fernández tells her tale and makes her point with such sublime wit and insight she ranks along such political satirists as Walt Kelly or… Fred Reed or… Okay, I admit I wanted to put down my own name. I’m a cad.

Anyway, in these paranoid times, Belén Fernández has reminded us of our humanity and our absurdity with her Lebanese Odyssey, Coffee with Hezbollah.

Allahu Akbar! Now I can sleep!

Click here to purchase Coffee with Hezbollah.

Tom Chartier has written extensively for and Atlantic Free Press. Click on the links provided to access his article archives.

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