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Lebanon: A victim of its freedom culture

(A salute to Gibran Tueni and all the Lebanese martyrs) 12/31/2005

The assassination of Gibran Tueni is a wake up call, which should remind us that Lebanon is still far from having achieved true independence or full sovereignty. Yes, Syrian troops have officially exited since the end of April 2005, but the influence and interference of Syria's intelligence services' proxies remain unbearable, not to mention the possible role of other Arab and non-Arab countries.

There is no way around the overwhelming question: why Gibran Tueni? Is he the most aggressive anti-Syrian politician in Lebanon? Yes, he is amongst the most prominent, but there are many others. Was he instrumental in causing the Syrian exit from Lebanon? Yes, he played an important and highly visible role, but there are others who had equal and probably more influence towards that goal? Further he is certainly not the first martyr of the Lebanese liberation effort and unfortunately he may not be the last one. What is unique about Gibran Tueni is that he is a prominent and influential journalist (columnist and publisher of An Nahar) and a courageous politician (member of parliament) committed to the cause and freedom of his country. The criminal murderers and enemies of Lebanon consistently targeted patriotic politicians and outspoken journalists with one common denominator: a strong commitment to the fight for freedom and independence. Gibran Tueni, sadly presented for those shady characters a target that would result in "two birds with one stone".

The immediately preceding victim, and living martyr May Chediac, induced lots of loud thinking about the ongoing Lebanese predicament. In a special event at LBC, the leading Lebanese TV station where she worked, a good number of columnists, reporters and information and media leaders spoke about and condemned the senseless crime that targeted a kind and gentle talk show hostess. One speaker, Ghassan Ben Jeddo from Al Jazeera TV caught the attention of many by his remarks regarding the relative or total Arab media and governmental shyness in condemning that awful and barbaric crime. He went further in criticizing the authoritarian environment in the Arab world, which results in control of the press and silencing the voices of freedom. He somewhat seemed to discretely blame that atmosphere on the insecurity of leaders who fear their own people.

Since the day I attended that LBC program at the end of September 2005, and as I have been discussing solutions for Lebanon's problems with various members of the board of the American Lebanese Foundation and other Lebanese and expatriate leaders, the words and thoughts of Mr. Ben Jeddo kept coming again and again to my mind. After I was awakened with the horrible news of Gibran Tueni's assassination, the Ben Jeddo words and thoughts have not left my mind for a single moment.

For many years, many of us thought that Lebanon's biggest problem was the confessional political system. We used to believe that once a consensus solution for confessionalism is found, Lebanon should mature into the stable and prosperous country that we have all dreamed of. The murderous attacks on May Chediac, after Samir Kassir and George Hawi, and most importantly, Gibran Tueni, powerfully enforce the ideas that Mr. Ben Jeddo eloquently and courageously stated. The culture of freedom of speech and free press that Lebanon has embodied throughout its history apparently presents a challenging problem in an environment of authoritarianism and dictatorships. Thus, even a consensus solution for confessionalism, though a great potential step forward, may not guarantee the future stability and economic prosperity that Lebanon badly needs, if its freedoms continue to threaten the authoritarian spirit that prevails in the region. The consequence that is causing the most anxiety to this day, is the continuation of the series of terrorist bombings and assassinations followed by plenty of suspicions and accusations but no final solution to any of these despicable crimes. Finding the truth with regard to the Hariri, Tueni and the other assassinations and terrorist crimes have become the most important national goal in Lebanon. It is generally believed that once the truth is reached and proven in one case, most of the others, if not all, will follow.

We, in the expatriate community happen to firmly believe in the principle that "suspects are presumed innocent until their guilt is proven or demonstrated". Thus, despite the accusations loudly made by many credible leaders, and the abundance of circumstantial evidence, we do not intend to point a finger at anybody specific. Yet, when one thinks of all the Lebanese martyrs, before, during and after the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri, with not one single assassin identified and punished, it is impossible to absolve the responsible authorities (executive or judiciary) from at least some responsibility. While the difficulties encountered by the current government are understandable, and Prime Minister Seniora has done all he could, by seeking external help, many previous governments can easily be accused of incompetence, negligence, cowardice or complicity. I wonder who may remember the name of any government official, security leader or member of the judiciary, who may have resigned in frustration, when justice could not be achieved in relation to so many high profile murders that either have remained unsolved or the perpetrators escaped unpunished. On the other hand, it is much easier to remember names of officials responsible of fabricated files and justice manipulations to serve the authoritarian atmosphere that prevailed for the past two to three decades.
The murder of Prime Minister Hariri, which we at the American Lebanese Foundation were amongst the first, if not the absolute first to characterize as an attempt to assassinate Lebanon, provoked an international investigation that came up with alarming suspicions. Many thought or hoped that the truth will be unveiled promptly, and the results would help in shedding light on previous and subsequent political crimes and assassinations. However, the Mehlis Commission has encountered difficulties and some lack of cooperation that slowed its pace. And although some significant progress has been achieved, no final and convincing evidence has been unveiled to establish the final truth and pinpoint the culpable powers behind the abominable and terrorizing crime.

Despite the frustrating slowness of the international investigation and the scary threats that continue to emerge against many anti-Syrian leaders, and an occasional controversial friend of Syria, the Lebanese have not abandoned their quest for liberty. Gibran Tueni is the most powerful embodiment of the courageous commitment to freedom and sovereignty. Although many previous threats and morbid messages have resulted in his self-exile in France, when challenged by some friends and opponents to return and perform his duties as a member of parliament, he promptly and maybe carelessly responded. We have heard some comments that it was crazy of him to return, since he acknowledged being told that he was at the top of a hit list. We feel his return was heroic. If all patriotic leaders who are being threatened had to electively exile themselves, it is not clear how many will remain to secure the basic business of the country. The overwhelming majority of the Lebanese, who are free to express their will, do not want the Hariri blood wasted by relinquishing any freedom or sovereignty. These same Lebanese are reminding the world about their feeling and do not want either the Tueni blood to go to waste by yielding a single inch of their freedom. The more illustrious blood is being shed in Lebanon, the stronger the attachment of the remaining Lebanese to their freedoms, and the less likely they will tolerate intrusion or interference in their affairs from any friend or foe. This spirit of commitment and defiance is summarized by Samar Itani, who, as she added to her collection of badges a picture of G. Tueni, is quoted stating: " We should never forget them. They died for us, so that we can be free." Thus the path to complete freedom and sovereignty will relentlessly continue, as promised again and again by leaders from all walks of life.

While there is a consensus among all Lebanese about their attachment to their freedoms and about finding the truth regarding the Hariri and Tueni assassinations and all the other series of terrorist crimes, an important disagreement seems to be emerging with regard to the path towards such goals. While nobody seems to feel that the Lebanese security or judicial systems can handle the current situation, an important segment of the Lebanese population, consisting largely of Syrian friends, is raising concern about an international intervention in Lebanon. This is resulting in an unfortunate polarization inside and outside the current Lebanese Government.

We see no problem with international efforts to help Lebanon out of its current predicament. The most important other Arab problems: the Palestinian peace process and the Iraqi democratization process have been internationalized for a longtime. Yet if our Syrian and Arab brethren prefer to avoid internationalization in Lebanon, why don't they rise to their duty in aggressively searching the desired truth, and helping Lebanon attain justice and stability.

Lebanon has contributed to Arab causes way beyond its size or fair share. For more than a decade, after Madrid and Oslo, while other Arabs and Palestinians were in peace negotiations with the Israelis, Lebanon was the only country with a hot border and Hizbullah offered many martyrs until the South was liberated and beyond. Is it not time to give Lebanon a break? Syria and the Arab World should support and help the Lebanese government in collecting peacefully all arms in the hands of anybody other than the Lebanese army and legitimate internal security forces. Hizbullah has done more than its duty to this point and non-Lebanese armed factions should go fight in their own countries, if they don't believe in the peace process. As to the Shebaa farms, the Lebanese government and the expatriate community, have a better chance to recuperate them, peacefully, in the current world atmosphere, when appropriate border demarcation by the United Nations demonstrates that they belong to Lebanon. This would not represent a resignation of Lebanon from fighting for Arab causes, but on the contrary, Lebanon could shift its fight to the intellectual and cultural arena, where its role would be much more effective in a world where globalization has already occurred. The expatriate community, which now has a majority against any armed struggle involving Lebanon, will unite in support for peaceful efforts, and offer Lebanon, Syria and the rest of the Arab world a uniquely effective arm.

Mr. Mehlis as well as several Lebanese, Arab and International columnists and organizations have implicated, suspected or accused Syria of being responsible of the Hariri, Tueni and the series of recent terrorist crimes. The International Lebanese Committee for UNSCR 1559 has directly placed the responsibility on the armed friends of Syria and Iran. It named Hizbullah, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, the Syrian National Social Party, the Baath Party and the Armed Palestinian factions, and called for their disarmament. T. Rubin, a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer accused Syria of silencing the voices of change in Lebanon and supported Prime Minister Seniora's call for broadening the scope of an International Tribunal. Ahmad Al-Jarallah, in the Arab Times rationalized, if Syria is innocent, why, directly, or through proxies, it is obstructing the international investigation? He adds, if Syria feels that Israel is behind the killings in Lebanon, then, the least it should do is cooperate with the investigation to bring out the truth. Columnist Scott MacMillan says " Make no mistake: Syrians are in denial about their government's likely role in the Hariri assassination. H. Safieddine in his Opinion in Al Ahram saw that "Truth was Postponed" and called on Syria to expedite in earnest its own investigation and respond to the Mehlis Commission. Lin Mouweihed notes that all those killed, since the Hariri assassination, have been Christians who actively worked for the Syrian withdrawal. She further discusses the divisive goals intended by the choice of the victims. On the other hand Patrick Seale, a friend of Syria said " If Syria in fact is responsible for the murders in Lebanon we should perhaps consider that it is acting in self-defence…"
In the midst of this atmosphere, While Syria denies vehemently any responsibility in Tueni's murder, it is reported to make unexplainable moves. Its ambassador is quoted as calling Gibran Tueni a dog instead of martyr, provoking his father in seeking to sue Syria. If the ambassador did not make such statement, he should rush in suing the N.Y. Sun, or his government should penalize him. Syria is also reported as welcoming the fact that the Security Council did not widen the inquiry to include dozens of other attacks on critics of Damascus. Any Lebanese who may be willing to consider that Syria may after all be innocent with regard to some of these crimes, if not all, can not understand why Syria is not aggressively demanding prompt investigation of all these crimes, so that its innocence would emerge sooner rather than later. Obviously, the Syrian regime must have bad advisors or failing information system.

Nevertheless, voices of wisdom and moderation are being heard from most leaders. H. Safieddine mentions General Aoun rightfully warning against automatically assigning blame, reminding that " in the past it was always Israel and now it is always Syria". He also recommended a mixed International-Lebanese court to bring together opposing views on this sensitive topic. Not bad from a leader frequently referred to as extremist by some. On the other hand Information Minister AL-Aridi is given credit in putting a positive spin on the recent division in the government with regard to an expanded International Court. He points out that the current democratic process permits disagreement in contradistinction to the past when decisions came from above. Although these two leaders are mentioned in view of the fact that they recently caught positively the attention of an important Arab columnist, we recognize also all the unnamed Lebanese leaders speaking for unity and moderation in these difficult times, particularly Gibran's father famed journalist and previous Ambassador and Minister, who despite the enormity of his loss, managed to graciously speak against hatred and in favor of positive patriotic sacrifice.

As we present our sincere condolences to the Tueni family and the Lebanese people, The American Lebanese Foundation (ALF) salutes all the Lebanese Martyrs. ALF also applauds leaders demanding the truth, promptly, with courage and wisdom, while defending the cherished Lebanese freedoms, from internal and external risks. We sincerely hope that such goals can be attained, without delay, thru peaceful, honest and patriotic dialogue, so that the newly reborn, free and democratic Lebanon can enjoy a real spirit of unity and stability. ALF also calls on the Arab World, and Syria in particular, to support Lebanon in the rebirth process, and the search for the truth. If they do not want international intervention, they should honorably and sincerely help Lebanon achieve its legitimate goals. Otherwise they should get out of the way and let the international community do the job. This is not only important for the best interest of Lebanon only, but also for the best interest of Syria, the Arab World and peace in the Middle East.


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