Thursday, December 15, 2005

Breaking the power of the assassins (Lebanon Daily Star)

Two angry and eloquent pieces from the Beirut Daily Star help to bring home the stakes in some of the ongoing political struggles in the Middle East. The first is by David Ignatius, a columnist who often publishes in the Daily Star and the Washington Post, and the second is by the Lebanese journalist and political analyst Michael Young, Opinion Editor of the Daily Star.

Michael Young wrote, in response to the murder of the prominent Lebanese journalist Gibran Tueni (almost certainly by agents of the Syrian regime):
It seems only yesterday that I watched as a stunned Gibran Tueni looked down at the crumbled body of journalist Samir Kassir, shortly after the latter's assassination in his car on an Achrafieh street. Perhaps it was his own death that Tueni saw foretold; or more likely he was trying to come to grips with what was then the still-novel happening of seeing journalists and politicians butchered at the start of their working day.
An-Nahar has paid too high a price for its criticism of the Syrian regime. Tueni himself only recently returned from a spell in Paris, well aware of the dangers to his life. It is to his considerable credit that he accepted the risk of an uncertain homecoming, though how desirable, in hindsight, it would have been for him to spend his days working out of his home - isolated, but safe from the death squads dispatched to liquidate him. [....]
In killing Tueni, the murderers hoped to strike a mortal blow at Lebanon's most prestigious newspaper. For them, the real danger has always been independent thought - against which they can only muster media that threaten, crowds that threaten, and security services that best them both by implementing the threats. Ideas are absent from their endeavors; human development is absent; amelioration is absent; self-determination, freedom, imagination are all absent, crushed by a regime that can only warn that if it goes down, the region will go down with it.
There are those who cretinously swallow that contention hook, line and sinker; who argue that the gentlemen in Damascus must be left alone, maintained, because their departure might indeed bring disorder. That incredible interpretation somehow assures us that Gibran Tueni was, in the end, a martyr to order. A remarkable order it is, then, the very same that protected Saddam Hussein until 2003, and that today props up the authority of a cornucopia of greater and lesser criminals, from Nouakchott to Sanaa, wardens all of what Ghassan Tueni has called "the great Arab prison." [The rest is below]

I don't always agree with David Ignatius, so I was half-surprised to find his piece so powerfully on-target.
This is the time of the assassins in the Arab world. On Monday, they killed a brave Lebanese journalist who dared to tell the truth about Syria. This week in Iraq, they will try to kill people who want to vote. They kill wives to intimidate their husbands. They kill children to frighten their parents into silence. Their power is the ability to create raw fear.
The shame for America isn't that we have tried to topple the rule of the assassins, but that we have so far been unsuccessful. We thought we were cracking the old web of terror when America invaded Iraq in 2003, but it's still there, in the shadows of the shadows. [....]
What is this struggle about? Listen to some Arab voices. On Tuesday, the front page of the Beirut daily An-Nahar carried an open letter from the Syrian poet known as "Adonis," perhaps the most famous writer in the Arab world. It was written to the paper's celebrated editor, Ghassan Tueni, whose outspoken son
Gebran had been murdered the previous day by a car bomb. "We are witnessing the destruction of the soul and the spirit," wrote the poet, whose real name is Ali Ahmed Said. The people who killed Gebran want to create "a temple of fear." [....]
Amid the mistakes, misjudgments and outright lies made by the Bush administration about Iraq over the past three years, it's easy to lose sight of what is at stake in this battle. But this week brings it back to square one: It's about breaking the power of the assassins.
The Baath Party in Iraq ruled by its sheer brutality. I gathered reports from Iraqi dissidents and human-rights workers in the early 1990s, when I was researching my novel about Iraq, "The Bank of Fear." These stories are sickening to recount, even now: The children of Shiite rebels in southern Iraq, dropped from helicopters to terrify the parents; dissidents who had nails driven into their heads; prisoners beaten with metal cables until they collapsed or died. At Saddam Hussein's trial last week, a woman was speaking about how she had been beaten with those cables. Watching Saddam's arrogant scorn for the testimony of his victims, I remembered what the Iraq war is about.
The Baath Party in Syria has governed much the same way, though it saved its worst brutality for neighboring Lebanon. The Syrians maintained their mandate by demonstrating that they were prepared to kill anyone who got in their way: a president, a prime minister, a religious leader, a journalist. The price of speaking out was death. That was the message: This is the land of death. Enter into this theater of violence and we will swallow you up.
People like the Tuenis who refuse to be intimidated should inspire the rest of us. So should the millions of Iraqis who vote today. They are trying to break the culture of intimidation and death. Americans should feel proud to be on their side.
I even agree with this:
George W. Bush gets a lot of things wrong, but knows that he's fighting the assassins. On days like these, I'm glad he is such a stubborn man.
Read these pieces in full (below).

--Jeff Weintraub

==========
Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Thursday, December 15, 2005

A time for assassins in the Arab world
By David Ignatius
Daily Star staff

This is the time of the assassins in the Arab world. On Monday, they killed a brave Lebanese journalist who dared to tell the truth about Syria. This week in Iraq, they will try to kill people who want to vote. They kill wives to intimidate their husbands. They kill children to frighten their parents into silence. Their power is the ability to create raw fear.

The shame for America isn't that we have tried to topple the rule of the assassins, but that we have so far been unsuccessful. We thought we were cracking the old web of terror when America invaded Iraq in 2003, but it's still there, in the shadows of the shadows. George W. Bush gets a lot of things wrong, but knows that he's fighting the assassins. On days like these, I'm glad he is such a stubborn man.

What is this struggle about? Listen to some Arab voices. On Tuesday, the front page of the Beirut daily An-Nahar carried an open letter from the Syrian poet known as "Adonis," perhaps the most famous writer in the Arab world. It was written to the paper's celebrated editor, Ghassan Tueni, whose outspoken son

Gebran had been murdered the previous day by a car bomb. "We are witnessing the destruction of the soul and the spirit," wrote the poet, whose real name is Ali Ahmed Said. The people who killed Gebran want to create "a temple of fear."

The headline atop the newspaper's front page said this: "Gebran didn't die and An-Nahar will continue." For a paper that had already lost its fearless columnist Samir Kassir to a car bomb in June, it was a defiant statement to the assassins: Kill us all. We aren't going to stop publishing the truth.

I spoke Tuesday with Hisham Melhem, the paper's Washington bureau chief. His voice was cracking with emotion as he spoke of his colleagues: "I shudder when I think of the courage of Gebran and Samir. They knew they were dead men walking. But they were never intimidated."

Amid the mistakes, misjudgments and outright lies made by the Bush administration about Iraq over the past three years, it's easy to lose sight of what is at stake in this battle. But this week brings it back to square one: It's about breaking the power of the assassins.

The Baath Party in Iraq ruled by its sheer brutality. I gathered reports from Iraqi dissidents and human-rights workers in the early 1990s, when I was researching my novel about Iraq, "The Bank of Fear." These stories are sickening to recount, even now: The children of Shiite rebels in southern Iraq, dropped from helicopters to terrify the parents; dissidents who had nails driven into

their heads; prisoners beaten with metal cables until they collapsed or died. At Saddam Hussein's trial last week, a woman was speaking about how she had been beaten with those cables. Watching Saddam's arrogant scorn for the testimony of his victims, I remembered what the Iraq war is about.

The Baath Party in Syria has governed much the same way, though it saved its worst brutality for neighboring Lebanon. The Syrians maintained their mandate by demonstrating that they were prepared to kill anyone who got in their way: a president, a prime minister, a religious leader, a journalist. The price of speaking out was death. That was the message: This is the land of death. Enter into this theater of violence and we will swallow you up.

I think of my friend and teacher, Ghassan Tueni, who is grieving for his son. When he received an honorary doctorate from the American University of Beirut last June, Tueni recalled the time he spent in prison in the late 1940s for defying the censors and repressors of the day. He read a copy of Socrates that had been smuggled into his cell and decided he would pursue a kind of Socratic journalism that would dialogue with readers and incite them to discover the truth.

"I have to say, with much sorrow, that much of what the Arab world suffers from is largely due to the fact that neither our diplomacy nor our press has dared, or even been allowed, to tell the people the truth about our state of being and where we stand in the world," Tueni said at the end of that speech. But that wasn't true. He did dare.

People like the Tuenis who refuse to be intimidated should inspire the rest of us. So should the millions of Iraqis who vote today. They are trying to break the culture of intimidation and death. Americans should feel proud to be on their side.

Syndicated columnist David Ignatius is published regularly by THE DAILY STAR.

========
Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Defeat them with the truth
By Michael Young
Daily Star staff

It seems only yesterday that I watched as a stunned Gibran Tueni looked down at the crumbled body of journalist Samir Kassir, shortly after the latter's assassination in his car on an Achrafieh street. Perhaps it was his own death that Tueni saw foretold; or more likely he was trying to come to grips with what was then the still-novel happening of seeing journalists and politicians butchered at the start of their working day.

An-Nahar has paid too high a price for its criticism of the Syrian regime. Tueni himself only recently returned from a spell in Paris, well aware of the dangers to his life. It is to his considerable credit that he accepted the risk of an uncertain homecoming, though how desirable, in hindsight, it would have been for him to spend his days working out of his home - isolated, but safe from the death squads dispatched to liquidate him.

That Tueni's death was linked to the Mehlis inquiry, and reports that the German investigator would name Syrian suspects in his latest report, cannot be doubted. At the least this murder must be dealt with in a different way by the international community, because the United Nations investigation will take many more months - time enough to kill many more people. What happened on Monday was a finger in the eye of the Security Council, and few could miss that the road on which Tueni was killed is essentially the same one used on a regular basis by UN investigators descending to Beirut from their Monteverde redoubt.

In killing Tueni, the murderers hoped to strike a mortal blow at Lebanon's most prestigious newspaper. For them, the real danger has always been independent thought - against which they can only muster media that threaten, crowds that threaten, and security services that best them both by implementing the threats. Ideas are absent from their endeavors; human development is absent; amelioration is absent; self-determination, freedom, imagination are all absent, crushed by a regime that can only warn that if it goes down, the region will go down with it.

There are those who cretinously swallow that contention hook, line and sinker; who argue that the gentlemen in Damascus must be left alone, maintained, because their departure might indeed bring disorder. That incredible interpretation somehow assures us that Gibran Tueni was, in the end, a martyr to order. A remarkable order it is, then, the very same that protected Saddam Hussein until 2003, and that today props up the authority of a cornucopia of greater and lesser criminals, from Nouakchott to Sanaa, wardens all of what Ghassan Tueni has called "the great Arab prison."

What does one do now? At the Security Council, the outrage must be used to convince the Russians and Chinese that what they are abetting, by opposing sanctions in the UN investigation, is more death. While an expansion of the investigation to cover all assassinations since that of Rafik Hariri seems unlikely, it's time for the council to make a clear statement on who it believes is responsible. The Lebanese security services have already blamed individuals allegedly linked to the Syrian intelligence services, and there seems no reason why the Siniora government should not once again highlight that evidence.

But isn't that the real problem? There is still little courage in Beirut. It took a lesser-known magistrate to sign the judicial order looking into the mass grave found in Anjar, most of his more senior colleagues not daring to do so. One very much suspects that somewhere in Tueni's investigation, someone will get cold feet and just let the matter slide. That's what happened with Marwan Hamadeh, Samir Kassir and George Hawi, lest we forget. Already, some politicians are mouthing banal generalities. Yesterday, for example, Michel Aoun showed remarkable reluctance in expressing his real hunch of who had killed his onetime devotee.

A rapid sign of daring would be for Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to compel the government to endorse an international tribunal in the Hariri case as soon as possible. If Hizbullah opposes the measure and threatens to withdraw from the session, or from the government, then the ministers must go ahead and vote anyway. The majority will win. A Lebanese consensus should not mean giving a minority the right of veto when it means defending against state-sponsored terrorism. The message on a tribunal will have a strong impact in New York, where the Security Council must know Lebanon is willing to partly internationalize its security, since it has been left with no other choice.

None of this will bring Gibran Tueni back, nor is charm, elegance and perpetual dissent. Nothing will reassure us that the venerable An-Nahar can survive this latest crime. Ghassan Tueni will soon have to bury another child, the most heartbreaking duty of all. But deep down it's another wish we have: that the Tuenis, Ghassan but also Gibran's widow and children, will stick to their guns and demand that the truth come out. At the end of the day, his murderers remain most afraid of one thing: the truth.

Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR.

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