Beirut
The youngest martyr 2

During the funeral service, in the orthodox church right behind the An-Nahar building, the old Ghassan Tueni spoke reconciliatory words. "We must bury the mistrust between the warring parties. Let there be an end to bloodshed. To reach the Lebanon of tomorrow, we must turn the page." The sadness deeply engraved into his face, he reminded one of Marlon Brando as the old Godfather speaking to the gathering of mafia-chiefs after the killing of his son. A heavy responsibility rests on his shoulders. For the time being he has taken over his son's duties at the newspaper, and in the parliamentary elections of February 5th, he will be candidate for Gebran Tueni's vacant seat. More and more people see him, with the moral authority that a life of non-sectarian tolerance has given him, as the president of the new Lebanon.

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An-Nahar hasn't skipped a day, but those who were closest to Gebran Tueni still move around as if numbed by shock. His office is now occupied by Khalil Chammas, a sandy-haired man who served as his personal assistant since 1981. Since December 12th he has hardly slept. His voice is practically gone. He explains almost mechanically how the company is financed: the main shareholders are the family of the killed prime minister Hariri, the Lebanese-Saudi prince Walid and the Tueni's themselves. When he starts about the personal support Gebran Tueni offered to people who couldn't pay their hospital bills or the tuition fees of their children his voice falters. About the succession issue he can't afford to have any doubts. Gebran's daughter Nayla will take over from her grandfather as soon as she is ready. I meet her later that day, after a press conference: a recently graduated journalist, 23 years old, who can't help but repeat the requisite phrases as in trance. "Personally I might want to quit, but I will continue for him. We must realize his dream of an independent Lebanon. The newspaper has to keep appearing. The only losers are the murderers themselves. They are the weak ones, if they were so afraid of what he wrote." Her eyes, deeply exhausted, are past crying. Je t'adore papito, it said in girlish curls on the card she had put on her father's grave. "He is with me every day. We repeat the oath that he pledged on Martyr's Square every morning, almost as a prayer. I have no fear. I don't need protection. I laugh at the threats, just like he used to do." Afterwards, she indeed walks into the street alone, an elderly gentleman at her side, and steps into an unblinded car.

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The streets of Beirut read like the psyche of the city. One period supersedes the other brusquely. Bullet-riddled houses, in their macabre beauty, rest in the shadow of the gleaming highrises that shoot up from the sloping streets. There is a strange rhythm in the changes the organism of this city is going through, a nervous inertia. Demolition, reconstruction and self-destruction follow each other with sudden starts and stops. The unsteady elegance of houses with balconies and high windows, having survived the time that this was called the Paris of the Middle-East, is flaking off in the shadow of office buildings that snap at the globalization that remains just out of reach. Its dynamics are seductive, but also obscuring. What happens to the ruins? When they are not being rebuilt, why are they left standing? "The insistence to forget," writes architect Tony Chakar, "is a symptom of the catastrophe itself." In Beirut, he claims, only the present counts. It is not so much that there is a taboo on the memories of war, but that people refuse to see how deeply that past still affects their life. The loser's perspective - and this war had no winners - still has no place. Is not allowed a place: the fear of losing everything once again is still too deeply entrenched. Maybe that explains the ritual habit of making a martyr out of every victim, a saint, and the tendency to withdraw into the secure community of faith and family, in times of feverish insecurity. It is the paradox of the Tueni's: frontrunners of the new Lebanon, but they worship the dead leader as a saint and his successor is looked for in the bosom of the own dynasty: anti-modern reflexes, however understandable, at a moment when the future is at stake.

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Gebran Tueni was no saint. As a young journalist he was more militant and biased than his father. During the terrible eighties he chose sides with Bashir Gemayel, the extreme-right phalangist leader. After his violent death he became the spokesperson for Michel Aoun, the marionite general with messianistic traits. After the threats on his life became too frequent, he moved to Paris, where he started the internationl Arab edition of An-Nahar. He gained a reputation with merciless editorial comments. Robert Fisk, who's been the chronicler of Beirut for thirty years, called him "cantankerous" and "hard to take". But, he wrote in the Independent after the killing, "he was a courageous man and would have been my friend, had we had the chance to be friends." Joseph Samaha, the editor of the main competitor As-Safir, also carries mixed feelings. He receives in his much less luxurious offices saying: "You must understand that it is hard for me to speak about a man who I detested all my life, both professionally and personally, now that he is dead, the poor man. I disagreed with every line he wrote. But in the days after his death is was hard to tell the difference between our newspapers. We condemned the murderers just as strongly. It was an attempt on freedom. Gebran Tueni was a good manager, he was open for different voices in his paper, he followed the developments in technological innovation closely. He has payed far too high a price for his convictions, which were absolutely sincere."

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On the wall in his office, there is a picture of Nasser, relic of the socialist-inspired pan-Arab thinking of days gone by. Samaha, who calls himself "a self-hate Christian with a cultural muslim-background", used to edit the paper of the communist resistance. From 1984 to 1995 he lived in Paris, where he started writing for the traditionally left-islamic As-Safir. It was there he first met Gebran Tueni. His father Ghassan was a great journalist, who studied a great deal before he started publishing. Gebran just fired away immediately. He didn't read political or economical theory. He wrote like he spoke, in a weak, superficial style. It was of an endless intellectual mediocricy. At first he preferred a strong, imperious leader above democracy. In a famous article in 1999, he called on general Aoun, who he followed in his dream of a sovereign Lebanon, to "rule us if need be with the clubs of a military regime!" During a civil war one cannot blame a journalist for his bias, but he preferred the mobilising effect of his words above the truth. His articles didn't leave space for questions, you were simply for or against." That populist style worked well on Martyr's Square during the mass demonstrations in March. Was he a leader of the new movement for independence? 'He was its face and its voice, but the leader he was not. The mobilisation of the masses was done by others. I disliked that famous oath. Can one ask a million people to repeat something out loud when they don't know what will follow after the next sentence? Moreover, even at that historical moment, facing those hundred thousands, he spoke about "we, christians and muslims". There and then he should have erased that distinction. He should have said, we Lebanese, period."

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Through friends I receive an e-mail for a New Year's eve party on Martyr's Square. Get together in front of the Dome, it says, the burnt-out cinema that looks out over the square as a monument to the war. "Bring along any musical instrument," it says, "box, hammer or anything you can make noise with and join the fun. Admission is free, a smile, wink or kiss will be more than enough!" At midnight the square is deserted. Apart from the honking taxi's there is no sound, not even a vague echo of the masses that stood here last spring. I had been warned. The last assassination has discouraged even the famous party people of Beirut. Everyone says there's a death list going round, the enemies of Syria are being dealt with one by one. The killers of prime minister still haven't been identified. UN-researcher Detlev Mehlis points at Assad and his Baath-regime, but hard proof still isn't on the table. A team of Dutch forensic experts has been flown in again: the UN-research has now de facto been expanded to include the clarification of the attempt on Gebran Tueni. The youngest martyr still beckons across the square, where now soldiers are hanging listlessly against their tanks. The struggle for a sovereign Lebanon isn't over yet. The Baath-regime in Syria falters under international pressure, but it won't let go of Lebanon just like that. The two countries are so interconnected that a triumph of democracy here will inspire opposition there too. So the future of Lebanon still lies in the hands of outside powers. The parties that are fighting each other out of government each have their own loyalties across the borders. Will the country ever find a common language for all Lebanese? Will the war ever become a shared history, instead of an ugly memory that grows rank in the fight between the old dynasties? Gebran Tueni smiles his steely smile.


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