He was animated, gregarious and engaging.
He was also slightly edgy, not really comfortable. Glancing around, he seemed to check every person that walked past our table at Whole Foods.
But when I heard Joe Bagi’s story, I couldn’t blame him for being furtive.
“I never go to crowded places,” he admitted. “I grew up in chaos. War is always on my mind.”
Joe grew up just yards from the Lebanese “Green Line.” The famous separation kept Muslim factions in West Beirut from Christians on the East side. It also separated the Druze from the Alewite and the Sunni from the Shia.
Yes, Christians do live in the Middle East
“No, the Middle East isn’t just for Muslims.”
He ticked off some of those on his fingers. “Armenians, Syriac, Greek Orthodox, Chaldean, Catholic, Evangelical.” All with healthy populations –at least, there used to be.
They should have called it the “red line,” as there was much blood spilled on the ground over the years.
“When I was 14, I was given an AK47. It’s what all the men did – to defend our people,” he said.
He lived the next 28 years in a war zone. It was just part of his life.
“I didn’t study war. I lived it.”
He left in 2001 and came to America. Today he is a manager in a pharmaceutical company. He has a wife and children. “I’m very happy. Very at peace.”
Protecting our country
But rather than sit back and enjoy his freedom, he is speaking out. He thinks America is making a big mistake.”
“I don’t want to shut up. I see history repeating itself. I don’t want my children to go through what I grew up. I want to stay free and Christian.”
He remembers his years on the Green Line. “We defended our people. It was an ugly war that lasted years and year.”
According to Joe, it started when Palestinians started looking for a way to oust Christians in Lebanon.
“We were infidels – and we had to go.”
He still carries the wounds in his body – constant reminders of the struggle.
“I was 19 when I was shot. The bullet is still in my leg.
A few years later he was kidnapped by the Palestinians. He was held in a 3rd floor apartment. Seeing a chance at freedom, he took a leap.
He broke his back and laid in a hospital bed for 9 months.
“There is a cost to freedom,” he says. “I know what freedom means. We paid blood for our freedom. When you are born free, it doesn’t mean as much.”
Strongman vs. Democracy
Joe accurately describes what most people in the Middle East fully understand. Democracy is not a panacea. Forcing tribal peoples into democratic rule doesn’t work.
“The strong man is the one who protects the minorities. Kadafi protected the Jews. Sadaam protected the Christians. Assad protected his Christians.”
“People in Middle East don’t like democracy. They’ll never understand it and they will always resist it.”
He doesn’t think American-style democracy is the answer. He points to Iraq and now Syria as examples.
“Strength and power are respected in the Arabic mind. The Iron Fist works.
He is sad for Syria.
“They were productive with no debt and totally self-sufficient. It was a beautiful country,” he shakes his head. “Aleppo once had 600,000 Christians. Now there’s 26000. All the churches are burned and destroyed. “
He says that the US doesn’t carry the necessary respect in the region.
“Many people think America’s lack of consistency is the biggest problem. It’s a laughingstock.”
But Joe loves America. And that’s why he’s fighting to save her.
“You want to keep your country. This is not the way to go.”
Immigrate the Christians First
Joe heads up the Colorado chapter of ACT for America which focuses on “educating, engaging, and mobilizing citizens and elected officials to impact legislative outcomes to protect America.” He gives presentations to group, to whoever will listen.
The group’s focus is on our security.
And to Joe, that security has a huge immigration component.
He is surprised at the citizenship given almost without question to Syrians.
“Muammar Kadhafi said, ‘Give us 50 years we’ll conquer Europe without shooting a bullet.’”
He was alluding to immigration. As an immigrant, this might smack of hypocrisy, but he believes in parts of the Trump immigration plan.
“Help the Christians first.”
He’s not a Republican nor a Democrat, “but I believe in safety first.”
Joe’s mother, sister and many other family members still live in Lebanon. He has many other family members who still live in Aleppo.
“We must stand with our brothers and sisters. We are all one in the name of Jesus.”