The numerous kidnapings of westerners last month have scared many away, but those who stay feel drawn by Lebanon's complexities and a desire to complete unfinished tasks. .
Of 13 foreigners abducted by various underground groups this year, seven were released in the past 2 1/2 weeks. But the kidnaping of 11 American, French, British and Dutch nationals in March alone triggered an exodus of diplomats, U.N. aid workers and journalists, usually the last people to abandon a country at war.
Claims of responsibility by at least a half dozen organizations from the Islamic Jihad to the Vengeance Party, the Revolutionary Organization of Socialist Moslems, the Lebanese Armed Revolutionary Factions, the Khaybar Brigades and others reflected a wave of concentrated intolerance, which made the usually hazardous streets of Beirut even more risky.
A number of foreigners who have opted to ride it out here -- despite the war and violence that have wracked the country for 10 years this weekend -- argue that there is no collective or blind threat against westerners.
"There is no xenophobia in Lebanon. I just don't believe in the antiwestern threat. There is no reason to kidnap me. I am Irish. We have troops with the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which is a plus with the population, especially Shiites," says Piaras MacEinri, 30, the first secretary at the Irish Embassy, who lives here with his wife and 5-month-old baby.
A group of Americans, Canadians, Italians and West Germans agreed. But even the most hardened residents admitted that they have become more cautious. They now avoid traveling unaccompanied, vary their routes and routines and go out much less in the evenings, especially in the Moslem-controlled western sector of Beirut.
Regardless of the chances they may be taking, diplomats, social workers, health care workers and teachers assigned here have developed their own philosophy for staying and reasons for attachment to Lebanon.
"Lebanon is still one of the freest and most open countries in the Middle East. One of the things I like about the place is the intimacy of social contact. It's not a glamorous life here anymore, but there is an instinctive solidarity. You are always living the now," MacEinri added.
To Donato Chiarini, 42, from Italy, life has the same intense quality.
"I am interested in witnessing what is going on because of the complexity. There is this irrational attraction toward a situation that you do not comprehend, but which you would like to understand," said the acting delegate of the commission of the European Communities.
"We have all been through terrible times. I don't mean to be indelicate to the suffering of others. Life and death are much more real here, however. You feel more alive in Beirut than anywhere else and more thankful for being alive," MacEinri observed. "Life can be extremely hard, and you savor the good moments, a warm meal, a warm bed. There is an elemental quality to being here. It is medieval and modern. It's like being a European in the Middle Ages."
Many westerners living here brush aside all claims to bravery for enduring the Beirut scene.
"It is the courage of the Lebanese that is remarkable," noted Canadian Ambassador Jacques Noiseux, 48, who arrived here in September just six days after the bombing of the U.S. Embassy annex near east Beirut.
"I don't consider myself a hero, a boy scout perhaps," added Noiseux, who said his only relaxation is reading spy novels. "We are a North American country trying to be a friend during the ordeal the Lebanese are going through," he observed.
"We're not macho, but maybe we're people of principle," commented an American working in the health care field, who came to Beirut late last year. "I am impressed that after 10 years of war, many Lebanese have kept their sense of humor. They want to make it through the day. They are trying to survive, keeping their families together for better days," said the American, who lives and works in west Beirut.
"I won't leave west Beirut, but I keep a low profile. I never go out without security, I change my way to work and leave the house at a different time each day. I do all the things that a banker in New York should be doing," he continued.
Embassies have stepped up security measures around their compounds with large concrete blocks, electronic detectors, bomb blast curtains and armored doors.
"Eighty percent of our energy is spent on security," said a U.S. official still stationed in Beirut. "Half of the time I worry not about what to do but how to do it safely," he complained.
American diplomats are prohibited from traveling outside Christian areas, where they always move with bodyguards and drivers. U.S. Ambassador Reginald Bartholomew makes rare but well-guarded trips to Moslem sectors.
"The western world is losing its window on what's going on here. You need a real presence and not only in east Beirut," commented one diplomat, who said that most of his Italian, French, British and American colleagues hardly venture out anymore.
"We should not shut ourselves off," said an American working in the health care sector.
The U.S. Embassy does not disclose any details beyond the global figure of 1,400 for all Americans left in Lebanon. Of those, at least 1,200 are emigrants who have returned to their native villages. Similarly, 90 percent of the 2,000 Canadian passport holders were originally Lebanese. The majority of the approximately 700 West Germans residing here are the wives of Lebanese nationals. It is next to impossible to get an accurate total for the shrinking foreign community.
A threat by a caller speaking on behalf of Islamic Jihad to purge Moslem areas of "spies" did not go unheeded. Assuming the profession of a journalist, merchant, industrialist, scientist and clergyman will from now on be of no avail to spies, he told a foreign news agency shortly after American journalist Terry Anderson, the bureau chief of The Associated Press, was seized by gunmen March 16.
Anderson was the sixth westerner to be seized after a March 12 U.N. Security Council vote on Israeli practices in southern Lebanon. Washington vetoed the resolution and Britain abstained. Two Britons picked up by Shiite activists that week have been released. Of four French diplomatic staff abducted last month, two were freed. French Vice Consul Marcel Fontaine and protocol officer Marcel Carton are still being detained.
Danielle Perez, a secretary at the French Embassy, and British businessman Brian Levick and metallurgist Geoffrey Nash were told they were held by the Khaybar Brigades, although Islamic Jihad already had claimed responsibility for their disappearance.
Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, the highest religious figure for Shiite Moslems in Lebanon after Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, appeared to have officially sealed the kidnaping season by denouncing such acts and warning that the removal of foreigners from west Beirut and Moslem areas only serves Israel. Fadlallah is believed to be the leader of the Hezbollah movement, the Party of God, which groups Iranian-inspired fundamentalists that represent the most radical fringes of the Shiite community in Lebanon.
There are rumors in Shiite circles that most of the five Americans who have disappeared in Lebanon since last year and for whom Islamic Jihad has declared responsibility will be freed soon.
Despite the unpleasantness many westerners have had to endure, some are holding on.
"I don't want to be pulled out. I am teaching here, I'd like to complete what I've started. I am just not ready yet to go anywhere else," said Ute Braun, a West German who teaches at the American University of Beirut. Her American colleagues, however, are confined to the campus perimeters.
"I'm planning to stay and to come back after the summer vacation," said Prof. Gerald Obermayer, who teaches anthropology at the American University. "Besides, my tennis game is getting better. It's cheap to play tennis on campus here."