World

11 questions with ‘Road to Fatima Gate’ author Michael Totten

Michael Totten is the author of the recently released book, “The Road to Fatima Gate: The Beirut Spring, the Rise of Hezbollah, and the Iranian War Against Israel.”

Totten is an independent foreign correspondent who has reported from all over the world, including the Middle East, the Balkans and the Caucuses. A frequent contributor to Commentary magazine, Totten’s work has also been published in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Jerusalem Post and Reason magazine, among many other publications. He was named Blogger of the Year in 2006 by The Week magazine for his prolific blog, MichaelTotten.com.

Totten recently agreed to answer 10 questions from The Daily Caller about his new book and the current turmoil in the Middle East:

1. Why did you decide to write the book?

I wanted to write a dramatic first-person narrative about revolution, terrorism, and war in the Middle East in the wake of September 11, and what happened during and after the Beirut Spring is, I think, the most compelling story I’ve ever witnessed. The revolution that overthrew Syria’s military dictatorship in Lebanon looked and felt like the fall of the Berlin Wall, but Syria, with its allies in Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran, effectively reconquered the country by capping a ruthless murder and intimidation campaign with an armed attack on Beirut. They also, as of course you know well, blew up the Eastern Mediterranean when they triggered a devastating war with Israel in 2006. There is no shortage of explosions in this book. The story begins and ends with a bang.

2. Tell us about your experience dealing with Hezbollah while you were in Lebanon.

Dealing with Hezbollah is surreal. When I first arrived in 2005, the media relations department was reaching out to Western journalists and academics. The party’s officials hoped to get some positive coverage in the U.S. and Europe, but the guy in charge threatened me with violence after I cracked a joke he didn’t like on my blog. I was also detained by Hezbollah security agents when they suspected an American photographer I was working with was Jewish because his middle name is Isaac. He and I were both blacklisted for life for no real reason at all, though by now I’ve done much more to cheese them off than cracking a joke at their expense.

Almost every journalist I know who has ventured into Hezbollah territory has been detained, screamed at, threatened, or all of the above. They used to kidnap American journalists and chain them to radiators. The party’s officials and security people seem oblivious to Totten’s First Rule of Media Relations: be nice to people who write about you for a living.

Yet some reporters nevertheless run off to Lebanon and romanticize these terror-guerrillas as the authentic Third World resistance. They write fanboy-style dispatches about them in various newspapers and magazines. Some pretend that’s not what they’re doing while others are utterly shameless. They’re the same kinds of people who were communists during the Cold War. Hezbollah’s obscurantist and violent behavior makes no more an impression on them than Stalin’s show trials did to true believers in the 1930s.