art of resistance, Lebanon

Remembering Samir Kassir: Life As Courage, Death As Silence.

Today would be Samir Kassir’s birthday and he would celebrate it. He would be fifty-five. Lebanon would celebrate (with) him. He would be happy.

But that will never happen since Samir Kassir was assassinated ten years ago.

2014-10-04-21_41_50-samirkassir1-jpg-310c397320-opera/Samir Kassir, photo via ballandalus/

Born to a Palestinian father and a Syrian mother, Kassir was one of the most well known intellectuals of the Arab left. He was a professor of history and a journalist. He was a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause, and of secular democracy throughout the Middle East. He was a vocal critic of the Syrian presence in Lebanon  – many say that’s what (or who) killed him.

From 1981 to 2000, Kassir contributed to Le Monde Diplomatique. In 1998 he became an editorial writer for the daily An Nahar newspaper and was widely known for his popular weekly column. He wrote numerous books – about Lebanese civil war, history of Beirut, Israeli – Palestinian conflict and Arab identity.His most famous and probably most important work is Being Arabin which he popularized the concept of the “Arab malaise”.

In Being Arab, Kassir writes:

‘Arab’ itself is so impoverished a word that it’s reduced in places to a mere ethnic label with overtones of censure, or, at best, a culture that denies everything modernity stands for.

He continues, describing the “Arab malaise”:

The Arab malaise is also inextricably bound up with the gaze of the Western Other – a gaze that prevents everything, even escape. Suspicious and condescending by turns, the Other’s gaze constantly confronts you with your apparently insurmountable condition. It ridicules your powerlessness, foredooms all your hopes, and stops you in your tracks time and again at one or other of the world’s broder-crossings. You have to have been the bearer of a passport of a pariah state to know how categorical such a gaze can be. You have to have measured your anxieties against the Other’s certainties – his or her certainties about you – to understand the paralysis it can inflict.

Still, you could conceivably overcome, or even simply ignore, the Western gaze. But how can you avoid returning it, and measuring yourself against its reflection?

In the article Who killed Samir Kassir?, Robert Fisk wrote:

‘He always left home at 10.30am and I saw him walking across the street,’ a female neighbour told me yesterday. ‘He always left home at the same time. He opened the door of his car, sat inside and started the engine. Then the car blew up.’

 Close inspection of Mr Kassir’s Alfa-Romeo, registration number 165670, showed clearly the blast came from beneath the driver’s seat. It tore open the roof, blasted out the driver’s door, smashed the steering column and hurled Mr Kassir on to the passenger seat. The ignition seems to have detonated the bomb.

 This was a shock that no one in Beirut expected – except, of course, the assassins. Germany’s top detective, Detlev Mehlis, is already here with his team to investigate the murder of the former prime minister Rafik Hariri in February. We all thought that Lebanon’s assassins were in their rabbit holes, fearful of arrest.

But no, they are still on operational duty, still in killing mode. Nassib Lahoud, the opposition MP and friend of Kassir – he may be the next Lebanese president – was in tears when I spoke to him beside Mr Kassir’s wrecked car. He talked about ‘criminal hands’, about the ‘intelligence apparatus’ who he blamed for the assassination. The only word he didn’t use was ‘Syria’.

So who murdered Samir Kassir?

The question remains. The answers are being whispered around Beirut for ten years now, but the overall silence drowns those whispers, and it drowns all the tears and screams that came with the news of Kassir’s death.

And he was not the only one. It was one of the many political assassinations that occurred in Lebanon from 2004 to 2008.  May Chidiac, also a critic of Syrian policies in Lebanon, managed to survive when a car bomb detonated as she entered her car – but she lost an arm and a leg. Samir Kassir’s colleague, An Nahar’s chief editor, and top anti-Syria legislator Gebran Tueni, was killed by a car bomb just couple of months after Kassir. That’s just to name a few.

So who killed them?  We still “don’t know”. When will we be ready to know?

Unlike his life and his work, the killing of Samir Kassir remains wrapped in silence, tied with cowardice. Let us remember that and let us remember him.

• • •

Previous Remembering… sessions:

Remembering Hassan Fathy: To Build With The People

Remembering Assia Djebar: I Write Against Erasure

Remembering Howard Zinn: To Be Hopeful in Bad Times

Remembering Pablo Neruda: Pablo Neruda, Presente!

and more.

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art of resistance, Lebanon

The Book To Read: De Niro’s Game.

I am currently reading De Niro’s Game by Rawi Hage. It is a story of two young men caught in Lebanon’s long civil war. For Hage, who was a teenager growing up in Beirut during the war, a lot of the book comes from his memories, not his imagination. Bassam and George are childhood friends, always together , doing pranks, drinking beer, chasing girls… But, war changes their firendship and their aspirations in life.

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The story is told in the most poetic of ways, sarcastic and smart, with great comparisons and descriptions. I’ve rushed through the first half of the book, but now stopped for a while, just because it is one of those books I do not want to finish to soon, I want to enjoy it little longer, page by page, I want to anticipate and crave for more and look forward to it every day.

Here are some great quotes from the first part of the book, just to illustrate Hage’s striking dance with words.

“Longhaired teenagers like us, with guns under our bellies, and stolen gas in our tanks, and no particular place to go” 

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“We sat and sipped our cocktails, licked our fingers, and talked about the gun, and how silent it was.”

*

“Ten thousand bombs had split the winds, and my mother was still in the kitchen smoking her long white cigarettes.”

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“They washed like meticulous Christian cats that leak corporate oil extracted by exploited Nigerian workers from underneath the earth where devils roam, and worms gnaw on the roots of dead trees that are suffocated by factory fumes and the greedy breath of white skinned engineers.”

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“The sea that is filled with Pharoah tears, pirate ship wreckage, slave bones, flowing rivers of sewage and French tampons.”

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“I laid ten thousand kisses on her body, under the cascade of sweet falling bombs.”

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“George, I said the next day while we were sitting in a café, smoking and drinking coffee, Khalil’s funeral is on Wednesday. Are you going? “No, he said, and looked at me with piercing eyes. I do not kill the bird and dance with its feathers.” 

*

I will definitely write more about this extraordinary book in the future.

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art of resistance, Lebanon

Bye Bye Babylon (Beirut 1975-1979).

Bye Bye Babylon: Beirut 1975-1979 is a graphic novel dealing with the Lebanese Civil War, by accomplished Paris-based artist, illustrator, and designer Lamia Ziadé, who lived through the war as a child. The novel  doesn’t follow a traditional form with frames and captions, but rather, is a first-person narrative with a wealth of colorful illustrations in gouache.

In essence – it is a story of a rich family and the way they coped with the war, while the Lebanon’s poor and “others” world is far away. Ziadé doesn’t run from that fact. As a child in the book, she dreams of banana splits, American candy, flying on Pan Am Airways and visiting the local cinema. But there are moments her world clashes with the world of  “others”.

In one part of the book, when the family drives by the site of the destroyed camp after the massacre, Ziadé writes: “I feel heartbroken and ashamed, ignorant little rich girl that I am, to have envied the lives of those poor children.” Meanwhile, her nanny declares her support of the Kataeb, the Christian militia which destroyed the camp, and all that makes Ziadé very confused. She asks her parents, “‘Is it true that the Palestinians in Karantina were scum? And what are Palestinians anyway?” It is one of the great and truly honest moments.

Here are some more.

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“Spinney’s, an ultra modern supermarket, had opened in Beirut several years earlier. It’s a monument to the best of what the western world can offer and it’s a first for Lebanon: trolleys, escalators (or maybe the first were in Byblos department store, I am not sure). It’s a real paradise that is about to go up in flames like everything else.”

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“But we still want to think that our country is the Switzerland, the Paris, the Las Vegas, the Monaco and the Acapulco of the Middle East all in one, and what’s more, we want to enjoy it. From the cafe terraces of Raouche or Ain Mreissels, where we sometimes go for a banana split, we can’t see the Shiite ghettoes or the Palestinian camps. And when we wear sunglasses we can’t spot all the dirt.”

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“The shiny Western varnish, which the Lebanese are so proud of, is finally cracking…”

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all images © Lamia Ziadé/Interlink

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