If you live in the United States, consider this scenario:

Canada is hell-bent on erasing Mexico from the map. Ottawa organizes and funds a militia and sends them to a suburb of D.C. to set up a state within a state, setting into place the resources and framework needed to begin terrorizing Mexico. What’s more, this Canadian militia has no qualms about terrorizing the U.S. to meet their ends; a number of U.S. leaders are assassinated in car bombs if they seem like they might speak out against Ottawa. The Canadian militia regularly moves into neighborhoods in the U.S. Southwest, hiding among civilians as they launch rockets across the border into Mexico. Mexico responds by striking back at its attackers– once peaceful neighborhoods now collateral damage. Your suffering, the result of unfortunate geography.
If this scenario makes you a bit uncomfortable, then you’re starting to understand– albeit just barely — a small part of what the citizens of Lebanon have been experiencing under the hammer of Hezbollah for the past few decades.

In his most recent book, The Road to Fatima Gate: The Beirut Spring, the Rise of Hezbollah, and the Iranian War Against Israel, Michael J. Totten articulately covers the chaos that has consumed Lebanon for the better part of the past decade. Totten lived in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, during periods of unrest and was able to add to his writing the flair that only a first-hand account can provide. As is constant in Totten’s work, he digs into the history, as well as the country’s recent past, to build the setting for his readers.

While covering foreign people and events may be Totten’s literary raison d’être, his analysis occasionally circles back on his home country, the United States of America. Totten does well at explaining foreign concepts in a domestic manner and voice.

In 1991, the U.S. signed off on Syria’s occupation of Lebanon in return for Hafez al-Assad’s “help” in ousting Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. The U.S. had enough of Syrian foreign policy, though, by the time the second Iraq war rolled around. The younger al-Assad helped terrorists and insurgents from all over the Arab world transit through Syria into Iraq to fight American soldiers and car bomb civilians. In 2003, a fed-up U.S. Congress retaliated with the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act.

Totten collected interviews from a number of key places and people, including time spent inside Hezbollah’s stronghold in Beirut’s southern suburb, known as the “dahiyeh”, and in Northern Israel as Hezbollah katyusha rockets came screaming over the Libyan-Israeli border. His first-hand accounts not only offer credibility to his writing, but they engage the reader in contemplation. I found myself spending more time thinking about Totten’s words than actually reading them; and I mean that with the utmost praise for his work.

I stepped out of our car and braced for an explosion. The Israelis fired artillery shells over our heads every couple of moments toward points unknown on the other side of the horizon. I jumped every time and tried in vain to get used to it.
Bang, followed by an arcing tear in the atmosphere. Bang, followed by the sound of ripping sky. A mile or so in front of us, a series of glowing surface-to-surface missiles hurtled toward Lebanon at impossible speeds and somehow got faster as they flew farther.

The Road to Fatima Gate offers its readers unique insight into the turmoil in Middle East and will leave you with a greater understanding of an extremely complex situation that is fueled by even more complex set of politics and relationships. Let Totten draw the connections, as he does plainly and articulately, and finish this book with an expanded view of a troubled, yet fascinating, corner of our globe.

At least the Israeli homes on the other side of Fatima Gate were out of rock-throwing range. They were not, however, outside rifle, mortar, and rocket range. Living in a house so close to South Lebanon in 2005 was like living on a seasonal floodplain or atop a tectonic fault. The false peace couldn’t hold. How could it hold? Hezbollah’s hatred of Jews and Israelis was white-hot and total. It was difficult, if not impossible, for Westerners like me to wrap our minds around it.

Also, read my review of Totten’s previous book, Where the West Ends.

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