Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Thursday, June 3, 2010
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Today marks five years since Lebanese columnist Samir Kassir was assassinated in Beirut. His perpetrators remain at large, while fighting for democracy in Lebanon and the Middle East looks today like beating a dead horse.
Until his death, Samir had been an inspiration to many of us and - like in most cultures - people try to defy death by trying to keep the memory of their loved ones alive.
For Samir, we created a website in three languages in his memory. We translated dozens of his articles, and the introduction chapter to one of his books, from Arabic to English. We collected and posted videos of him passionately arguing for the spread of the Spring of Beirut, which had started in 2005, across the Middle East.
By his first anniversary, we had created a foundation in Samir's name, and- together with the European Union - announced a contest for journalists who had published articles in defense of democracy and freedom.
On his second anniversary, a statue of Samir was erected in a park next to the newspaper where he used to work.
On his third anniversary, we arranged for the translation and publication of his masterpiece books such as the History of Beirut and Arab Misery Is no Fate in several languages.
Last June, we renewed our promise that for Samir to stay alive, we should keep up the fight for democracy in Lebanon and the region at large.
Two days later, President Barak Obama stood in Cairo and talked about America's "support of democracy." While this might sound encouraging to many, those of us with a trained ear understood the underlying message. Gone were the days of George Bush's "spreading of democracy." After two wars, America was bruised and in no mood to defeat the world's autocrats, instead seeking to entertain them.
We realized that "support for democracy" accounted for little. Yet our alternatives were none. Democracy is indispensible for all peoples. In our case, stopping the fight for democracy meant that Samir had died in vein.
And so, we kept fighting. In Lebanon, perhaps for the first time in Middle Eastern history, an Islamist group was defeated in the polls as Hezbollah lost in parliamentary elections only five days after Obama's speech. The democracy euphoria expanded all the way to surprise Hezbollah's patrons in Tehran when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad found himself - a week later - short of reelection votes at the polls, as the Iranians confronted one of the world's most tyrannical regimes.
Like in Lebanon, the tyrants in Iran terrorized freedom lovers. Neda Agha-Soltan lost her life on June 19, 2009, on camera, and became, like Samir Kassir four years earlier, the face of her people's struggle for democracy.
In Lebanon and in Iran too, not only America's support never came, Washington's repeated invitations of engagement with the tyrants in Beirut, Damascus, Tehran and other capitals made the fight for democracy even harder.
And while the Lebanese - like the Iranians -showed resilience in fighting tyranny, their leaders proved to be the other side of the coin as they started bargaining with their respective regimes.
In Lebanon, lawmaker Walid Jumblatt had been the ally of the autocrat who killed his father decades ago. In 2005, however, Jumblatt had a change of heart as he led the Lebanese to force a withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon after 30 years of occupation. In the process, Jumblatt repeatedly quoted Samir as one of his favorite Beirut Spring heroes.
To the misfortune of democracy lovers, however, Jumblatt proved to be more of a politician than a national leader. Seeing change in Washington, which followed similar change in Paris, Jumblatt started preaching realism in light of Lebanon's seemingly losing battle for democracy in a region crowded with autocrats.
Many of us tried talking Jumblatt and leaders of the Beirut Spring out of their defeatist spirit, just like our Iranian pro-democracy friends of the Green Movement tried lobbying their broken leadership to stand up again, but to no avail.
We told Jumblatt that national battles for democracy, independence and freedom are not always guaranteed. We borrowed from the histories of other nations to illustrate our point: When Francis Scott Key wrote America's national anthem, he had not learnt whether the American Fort McHenry had fallen to the British or not.
American determination was instrumental in winning the nation's battle for independence from the British, with or without foreign support from Britain's European rivals. If the battle for freedom worked for America, it should also work for Lebanon, Iran and any other country fighting against tyranny.
For Samir, Neda and the many others who lost their lives for democracy, we should keep up the fight, with or without American support.