Young, a Lebanese-American journalist, turns his memories of assassinated friends and humbled dreams into an emotional tale of Lebanon's political meanderings since 2005. The good news, Young argues, is that at least part of the puzzle of Lebanon is a

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Young, a Lebanese-American journalist, turns his memories of assassinated friends and humbled dreams into an emotional tale of Lebanon's political meanderings since 2005.

The good news, Young argues, is that at least part of the puzzle of Lebanon is a form of liberalism at its core. Whereas the region's autocrats are easy to read, Lebanon thrashes around with a "paradoxical" liberalism, in which "illiberal institutions tend to cancel each other out in the shadow of a sectarian system that makes the religious communities and sects more powerful than the state [which is] … the main barrier to personal freedom in the Middle East." Lebanese politics may be the haunt of swindlers and stomach churning deals with the devil, but there is an invisible hand at work here, one that works against the totalitarian machinations of all confessions jockeying for power.

But in this book about Lebanon, the bad news overpowers the good news. Lebanon is a small state in a shady neighborhood where whatever invisible hand may exist is no match for the foreign hand. Young describes a dazed Lebanon in the fresh ruins of "Pax Syriana" where Syrian president Bashar al-Assad can shamelessly threaten to "break Lebanon" to the U.N. secretary general.[1]

Young finds Hezbollah's role within the Lebanese army growing and worrisome. In the weeks after Rafiq Hariri's assassination in 2005, the army was given the delicate task of quelling protests but not too vigorously. Young remarks that "the soldiers murmured to us to push because the quicker we pushed, the quicker the absurdity would end for them. And as we pushed, they gave way, making it seem like a struggle." The August 3, 2010 border clash with Israel may indicate, however, that the army's dance is over with the citizens it is sworn to protect.

But Young, too, is not immune from Lebanon's selective amnesia. Where in his book is the Lebanon where the most common reaction to seeing Israeli civilian casualties, according to a 2010 Zogby poll, is "Israelis brought it upon themselves" with "empathy" not even registering a percentage?[2] The Beirut that closed its windows and drew the curtains when journalist Christopher Hitchens was nearly beaten to death two years ago for defacing a swastika is also missing.[3]

All in all, though, Young sees Lebanon as a liberal wonder on a rough street. Readers are lucky to have his insider account to guide them through this confusing country, as there appears to be little time to spare before the dark returns.

[1] Peter Fitzgerald, Report of the U.N. Fact-Finding Mission to Lebanon (New York: United Nations, Feb. 25- Mar. 24, 2005), p. 5.
[2] "The 2010 Arab Public Opinion Poll," Zogby International, Aug. 5, 2010.
[3] Michael Totten, "Christopher Hitchens and the Battle of Beirut," Feb. 25, 2009.