Across the Bay

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Samir Kassir, R.I.P.

Michael Young remembers Samir Qassir, and talks about why he was killed:

Who killed Samir? Perhaps this comment from a municipal worker at the site of the explosion pointed in a general direction: "The army doesn't forgive its critics." However, it would be more accurate to say that Samir had enemies throughout the security and intelligence apparatus, largely because he was so effectively insolent in denouncing their hold on Lebanese political life. Several years ago, the head of the General Security Directorate, Jamil al-Sayyed, once the most powerful man in Lebanon after the Syrian officer tasked to manage the country, had his men tail and harass Samir for weeks because he had written an article critical of Sayyed. At the time, a number of politicians had asked Samir to ride with them as a means of expressing their solidarity. This included former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, though, as Samir later told me, the only ones who pulled out guns and threatened to shoot Sayyed's goons were the bodyguards of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt.

What was the message in the killing? There were many. It was, first, a settling of scores for past affronts; it was a warning to the opposition (Samir was a leading figure in the Democratic Left movement, one of the parties that had demanded a Syrian pullout from Lebanon); it was also a warning to the press to shut up; and it was an affirmation that no one should envisage profound change in the security services, or contemplate removing the person sitting atop the security edifice, Lebanese President Emile Lahoud. Indeed, both Jumblatt and the son of Rafik Hariri, Saadeddine, have made it clear that among their first priorities after Lebanon's parliamentary elections end in late June will be to remove the president. Hariri in particular believes that the security services, working on behalf of Syria, were deeply involved in the assassination of his father.
The last article [ed.'s note: see here] Samir wrote was about a country for which he had a passion, Syria. His enthusiasm was not for the despotism of the Assad regime or the contemptible kleptocracy its has presided over; it was for the Syrian people and the opposition; for those countless men and women thrown into the dungeons of the Baath Party during the past decades—all of them victims of exceedingly stupid men. His column (which Syrians could only read in samizdat, Al-Nahar being denied entry into Syria) lamented the fate of a group of civil society activists from the Jamal Atasi forum, and their imprisonment for having dared allow the reading in their discussion group of a letter sent by the leader of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. Amid general outrage, several of those arrested were released earlier this week. Samir surely had a small part in that the minor victory.
Throughout Beirut today there is a single regret: that Samir's foes should have gotten him even as the fetid system they spent years setting up slowly collapses. In response to a piece I had published by Samir last year, the newspaper for which I work received a telephone call. "Why are you publishing Samir Kassir?" the person on the line demanded, in lieu of a direct threat. Well, here's the answer: Because Samir Kassir had balls in a country that under Syrian rule spawned cowards and sycophants; he had ideas and openness in a system that rewarded mediocrity and intolerance; and he had the compelling scornfulness for imposed authority that so irritated his murderers—and that we will continue to relish when this cowardly confederacy is kicked into a shallow grave.