Most friendships are made within the tribe. My friendship with Nizar was remarkably outside the tribe.
The first encounter had taken place one morning, back in 2005, as I noticed this stranger walking in circles outside the gate of my fledgling Internet Center in Khanaqin, Iraq, chatting to the sky with his handheld sat-phone and intermittently eyeing the Center with something akin to avarice.
Yes, he, the archetypal Levantine and I, the consummate Yankee. He, from West Beirut and I, from the northern reaches of Vermont. He, fast and loose with the imposition of the American narrative upon his land; I, unable to swing so widely in this culture of the souk.
But he had enough of America in him (a college degree from Texas) and I of the Arab in me (two children born there), that we could marvel rather than confront the two different civilizational flows as they manifested themselves in us. Most often over steak-frites and dry red wine from the Békaa at a café in Hamra. Laughing till the tears came as my Western presumptions tangled with his Lebanese mind, racing, as it was, a mile a minute through the permutation of deals.
And the intrepid. The daring negotiations to spread “Internet access” to the most closed corners of the Arab world. The midnight business runs in his preposterous silver Humvee from Damascus, hurtling westward over the mountains and down to the sea where we lived. And beyond. The first call to Nizar, when I needed to have the permissions fixed for my relief convoys into south Lebanon during the 2006 war, helping to assure that I would be spared both by Hezbollah and the Israeli F-16's.
Yes, this friend who could put me before General Aoun and Saad Hariri and Walid Jumblatt in an afternoon. Who could open an Internet café in the heart of Hezbollah territory in south Beirut. And who could equally share the podium with the IT luminaries from State, Jared Cohen and Eric Ross.
My pal, my indefatigable dealer, the Director General of the Union of Arab ICT organizations with offices in Ain al Mreisseh and just off Dupont circle, who unlocked access to the internet for Arab youth, who helped melt borders electronically. Well, he is now eight months in an Iranian jail run by the Revolutionary Guard even as he was in Tehran at the invitation of the government of President Rouhani for an ICT conference and was financed by progressive American Non-Governmental agencies which hoped to build bridges.
Those same entities now seem helpless to “Free Nizar" which is why I am adding my rather weak voice to this cause and urge others to do so as well.
Nizar's Support Page: Free Nizar Zakka
Nizar's Petition: Free Nizar Zakka Petition