Christmas in Lebanon

doesn’t look very cheerful this year.

Blue and white Christmas lights twinkle over the shops near my apartment in Beirut’s Christian quarter; pricy boutiques display elaborate nativity scenes. But people are having trouble getting into the festive mood. ‘Do you think the war will come here?’ asks my landlady nervously, not for the first time. There is no rush to battle, no electric charge in the air, just a rather depressed feeling among Lebanese that their country can no longer escape the violence over the border in Syria. The black flag of the so-called Islamic State has appeared after Friday prayers in some mosques in the north. The assumption is that Lebanon will be the next place the jihadis target. Still, there are reasons to hope.

She introduces me to two Christian women who have fled to Lebanon from Iraq with their families. Both weep when I ask them how they will spend Christmas. ‘We used to own a house with an orchard and a car,’ says Iman Hermes. ‘Now we are beggars.’ Her friend Ebtasam Kordees says her husband was a respected man in their village near Mosul, a geography teacher. Now he cannot find work of any kind. ‘At least we were able to flee without our girls being violated, unlike the Yazidis,’ she says. Both are terrified of the Islamic State and say they will not return to Iraq nor stay in Lebanon. They want the UN to speed up their paperwork to emigrate. ‘We don’t care where. We just want to leave.’ Sister Georgette informed me sadly that every Christian refugee family she helps says the same. Lebanon might avoid a civil war, she goes on, but there will be fewer people celebrating Christmas next year, and the year after. ‘Christian are leaving the Middle East,’ she says. ‘It’s a pity. But it’s true.’

Letter From Beirut.

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