Andrew Lee Butters, the Beirut correspondent for Time magazine, wrote an intriguing post about drugs in Lebanon on the Middle East Blog yesterday. Mr. Butters has done some good stuff at Time. Some of my recent favorites were this piece about Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and this one about Fatah and Hamas in Lebanon. But this blog post feels a little out of whack. It starts of with the kind of lede that is sure to attract clicks:
When my editors asked me to write a story about drug use in the Middle East, I told them that doing one from Lebanon would be easy. The country’s open borders, dysfunctional government, and modern society, means that is a regional center both for the use and production of drugs. Beirut — the party capital of the Arab world — is awash in all the usual party drugs, while there are there are hashish fields dotting the remote corners of the Bekaa Valley and meth labs in Palestinian refugee camps.
And then goes on to remind you that being a foreign correspondent is actually the dream job you think it is:
When my assistant Rami set up a preliminary interview with some small time dealers, they slipped halucinogens in his drink and then they vomited in his car. Rami had to be hospitalized.
Nor are drug users themselves terribly easy to interview. Drugs still carry enough of a social stigma, and drug penalties are harsh enough that usage is as covert as it is pervasive. On Saturday night, I went on a reporting trip to a rave hosted by the international DJ, Tiesto in a huge convention center full of teenagers clearly on extasy or worse, but didn’t see a single pill being pooped or line being snorted.
Okay, I guess the part about Rami going to the hospital doesn’t sound that great. And yes Levi, I know that there’s a funny typo. Also, as someone who wants to be a foreign correspondent, I should note that doing drugs and dealing with dangerous people is obviously not what it’s all about. But you have to admit that going to a rave in Beirut is pretty sweet. As is what comes next:
But I did have one breakthrough this past week, an interview with a major local drug dealer, conducted in Rami’s car — minus the vomit — as we drove through the southern suburbs of Beirut while being followed by two SUV’s carrying his bodyguards and while the man himself fingered a pistol every time we passed a soldier.
But here is where I start to get skeptical. He reports that the “major local” drug dealer he met with told him this:
Drug trafficking in the Middle East had undergone a transformation since September 11th. Before then, the drug trade had been controlled by feuding war lords with very parochial spheres of influence. But after 9/11, counter-terrorism agencies in the region started paying more attention to drug networks, because drugs and weapons dealing go hand-in-hand, and because drug dealers typically support or at least pay protection to the major militant groups. So traffickers responded by organizing themselves into trans-national, a-political, non-competeive cartels that operate on a scale large enough to be financed and run from the Gulf while operating money-laundering and political corruption networks everywhere else.
I guess that’s possible. Maybe there are transnational, noncompetitive drug cartels working across the entire Middle East. But that’s also exactly the kind of bullshit drug dealers like to spit. I hope that Mr. Butters reports this story fully, because I’d like to learn more. Until there are a couple sources behind this, I’m just going to assume it’s some punk ass wannabe talking big to the white dude. Not uncommon.