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While the incident was frightening enough in itself, the aftermath was almost more so, as we realised that we had provoked the anger of people who have killed for much less. It was dismaying enough to find out that the SSNP is widely believed to be the culprit in the country's car bomb assassinations of anti-Syrian politicians and journalists. It was worse to be told by our hosts that if we had been Lebanese or if we had not been so recognisable as foreigners, then the three of us would probably have been bundled into cars and taken off to some basement dungeon, never to be seen again or shot on the spot. A local Sunni journalist who had the temerity to film municipal workers removing the SSNP's flags on Hamra Street last year was given a vicious public beating that landed him in intensive care. Christopher had desecrated a sign marking a kind of shrine for the SSNP's cadres, the spot where one of the party's heroes shot two Israeli soldiers sitting at a café in 1982.

In retrospect, Hitch's defacing of the sign seemed even more foolhardy. After all, it would not be a good idea to write over paramilitary murals in Belfast or extremist political graffiti in France or for that matter gang tags in an American city. And this was Lebanon. It is a country in which every family is said to keep an automatic rifle at home, and in which the disarming of the militias (other than Hizbollah) under Syrian occupation really only meant the surrendering of heavy weapons. On the other hand, to be fair to Christopher, the elegance of Hamra Street made it feel deceptively safer than any rough corner of Belfast, Paris or LA.

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