Le Monde diplomatique
Rami G. Khouri
Men of Courage Who Bookend the Arab Struggle
| by Rami G. Khouri||Released: 13 Jun 2012|
BEIRUT -- The recent deaths of two Arab media men within days of one another remind me more than ever of how important for our societies is the capacity of citizens to speak out freely and truthfully. The late Lebanese Ghassan Tueni and Syrian Bassel Shahade represent two very different Arab worlds and generations, but their lives and deaths carry special poignancy against the backdrop of the Arab uprisings and revolutions that continue to roll through our region like a massive cleansing and regenerating wave.
Their accomplishments and deaths reinforce the critical role that people like Tueni and Shahade play in troubled societies that seek a path to normalcy and decency. There is something peculiar, and precious, about the craft of media men and women who chronicle their world and broadcast it publically for others to absorb and ponder. They enjoy a special mandate from society, which entrusts them with not only documenting the realities and vagaries of our world, but also analyzing them, commenting on them, and, in the worst cases of mass abuse by criminal private or public authorities, or foreign invaders and occupiers, of challenging and exposing the criminality.
Ghassan Tueni died last week at the age of 86, having lived a long and eventful life in journalism, diplomacy and public affairs. I had encountered him intermittently during my entire life, first when I was a teenager accompanying my journalist father who visited him regularly in Beirut, and later as an adult when we met now and then in social or professional occasions in Lebanon. I did not know him very well, but you did not need to be a close friend of Tueni’s to be dazzled by his combination of erudite cosmopolitanism, unpompous patriotism and pride, and professional dedication over more than half a century.
The central message of his life and work, as I understood it, was the individual’s capacity to make a difference by working hard, working well, and affirming the bounty and grace of the human mind and spirit -- always with a twinkle in his eye and the certitude that life’s difficult moments will always be replaced by better days, for the individual as for society and nation.
Bassel Shahade, on the other hand, was a 28-year-old Syrian graduate student, with a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship in film-making at Syracuse University, in upstate New York, where I had also studied journalism 40 years ago. I never met Bassel Shahade, but I feel as if I know him well -- because of what he was doing in his country with what he had learned in part in his media studies in the United States. He had returned to Syria to film the ongoing revolution there, and was killed two weeks ago by government forces while he was filming their attacks on the city of Homs.
He captured in many ways the vital and dangerous, role that journalists, and especially film documentarians, play these days in the Arab uprisings, where they provide the world with the news and the pictures that Arab governments try to suppress. It is, and always has been, a dangerous business to generate accurate news and documentation in situations where authoritarian governments want only to disseminate their own lies and distortions. Film-makers and reporters in such situations cross the line, from being dispassionate chroniclers of events to being passionate activists and warriors in a fateful battle. I imagine Shahade simply thought of himself as a good Syrian and a committed film-maker, who returned to his country to capture the greatest story of modern Syria’s entire history. He paid with his life for his commitment to telling that story.
Ghassan Tueni and Bassel Shahade came from different worlds, different media, and different generations – but in their totally different lives they can also be seen as bookends to the modern Arab world’s long and continuing struggle to assert the value of the truth over the brutality of dictators and charlatans. They happened to do this primarily in the world of Arab public media, while others do this in education, or private business, or the arts. Our two deceased colleagues from Lebanon and Syria remind us -- as we look around our region today -- that freedom of expression remains the single most important minimal right that citizens must experience as they battle to build free and humane societies in place of the largely confined, controlled and cruel public societies that have defined most of the Arab world, for most of the modern era.
We must remember them fondly, and fiercely, whether we knew them personally or not -- because they dedicated and gave their lives so that we can continue in our own ways to seek and speak the truth. May God bless their memories, and fortify those who continue their long struggle.
Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon.
Copyright © 2012 Rami G. Khouri -- distributed by Agence Global
Released: 13 June 2012
Word Count: 800
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