``FOR me, Walid Jumblatt is God,'' the young Druze bodyguard said solemnly as we drove through a commercial area of west Beirut. Abu Sadr had been assigned to escort me back to my hotel by an aide to Druze leader Walid Jumblatt after an interview at the Druze party headquarters. The aide was worried about the recent kidnappings of two Britons and an American in mostly Muslim west Beirut.
``Why are you here?'' the aide had asked when I called that morning. ``This is no joke now. They [the Shiite Muslims who are allied with the Druze] want all the Westerners out. You must have protection.''
The protection was Abu Sadr, who at 23 has already served five years as one of Jumblatt's bodyguards. In our short ride back to the hotel, Abu Sadr unwittingly provided a glimpse of what it is like to be a young man in this nation that for 10 years has been convulsed by violence.
As he was chatting away, Abu Sadr almost clipped a pair of pedestrians on Hamra Street, a few blocks from my hotel. Instantly, the friendly young man became a warlike militia bodyguard.
When one of the pedestrians hurled an insult as he skipped out of the car's way, Abu Sadr whipped out a revolver tucked in the holster by the side of his seat. Passers-by scattered in all directions, and the two pedestrians ran. Abu Sadr swung the wheel to follow, screeched the car to a halt, and leaped into the street, gun in hand.
Several seconds of tense conversation followed before he waved the now apologetic pedestrian away, returned to the car, and drove on. I sat in stunned silence as he put the revolver back into its holster with one hand, steering the car with the other.
In the anarchy of Beirut, such an incident is comparatively mild. This past weekend, several Western correspondents pulled out of the capital altogether after armed gunmen captured Terry Anderson, an American who has served as Beirut bureau chief of the Associated Press for two years.
Mr. Anderson's kidnapping brings to five the number of Americans missing and presumed being held captive somewhere in Lebanon.
On Sunday night, an anonymous phone-caller claiming to be from the shadowy Islamic Jihad (``holy war'') called a Beirut wire service and issued a ``final warning'' to foreigners.
``We are definite that Islamic Beirut is full of agents from all sides,'' the caller said. ``And accordingly we are working day and night to purge our region of any subversive elements.''
Those Westerners who remain, especially Americans, take what precautions they can.
Meanwhile, the passion of young men such as Abu Sadr for their respective militia leaders is just one of the obstacles Lebanon faces in its search for a political solution to its strife. The loyalties of these men, who grew up during the years of civil war and invasion, are not to the almost nonexistent state. For every Druze Abu Sadr, there is a Shiite whose allegiance is to the missing Shiite spiritual leader, Imam Musa Sadr, or a Christian who worships the memory of the assassinated Bashir Gemayel.
Just a week ago, disillusioned hard-line Christians revolted against President Amin Gemayel, Bashir's brother. Their chief complaint against Amin was that he no longer championed the Christian cause.
He has been accused of making concessions to the country's Muslim majority, under the prodding of Syria, that threatened the Christian community, spokesmen for the rebels said.
Still, said Karim Pakradouni, one of the Christian rebels, ``We do not want to overthrow a president, especially a president whose name is Amin Gemayel.''
Some Western analysts and a growing number of Lebanese believe that the increasingly divided nation may soon be cantonized. But no one believes that formal cantonization will happen without further fighting.
Abu Sadr's political views are uncomplicated. He is a Druze. He is loyal to Jumblatt. He fights the Christians who have dominated Lebanon politically and financially for years.
He does not consider his comparison of Jumblatt to God an exaggeration. The Jumblatts are one of a handful of families that among them have ruled Lebanon for more than a century.
``I am with Jumblatt for all my life,'' Abu Sadr said quietly.
``It is my life to protect him.''
The young militiaman said his life is dominated by the fear that some rival militia, or even the Druze allies, the Syrians, will kill Jumblatt. The warlord assumed leadership of the Lebanese Druze minority after his father, Kamal, was assassinated in 1977. The Syrians are believed to have ordered the older Jumblatt's killing.
Abu Sadr became a bodyguard for Jumblatt in 1980. That was the year his older brother, a member of the Druze Progressive Socialist Party militia, was killed fighting Christian Phalangist militiamen.
``Walid [Jumblatt] came to our house the day of my brother's funeral. My mother told him, `There is my other son. Take him. We give him to you,' '' Abu Sadr said. Since that day, he has been at Jumblatt's side except for a year spent training in the Soviet Union. Jumblatt has said publicly that he receives arms and training from the USSR and Libya.
``My English is not so good,'' the tall, gray-eyed Abu Sadr said with a grin. ``But my Russian is not bad.''
He dropped me off at the hotel, and a half hour later Jumblatt's aide called.
``There was an incident when our driver took you back, no?'' the aide asked.
``He was afraid you were worried. At least you know that when you are with the Druze, you are well protected.''