I don’t have very many people I look up to. Perhaps Charles Darwin comes on top of that short list, followed by my fellow countryman and one of the brilliant people who drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Charles Malik. But, the man I look up to and relate to most is undoubtedly Gebran Tueni, who I had the extreme fortune of meeting on more than one occasion.
My everlasting respect to the Editor-in-Chief of the Annahar Newspaper did not diminish, even after his, in my honest opinion, failed attempt at entering into the Lebanese political scene. I, like so many, believe a pen and a keyboard are much more powerful than a crummy seat in the broken cesspool of old, invalid men we call a parliament. Gebran, though of one the creators of the beautiful 2005 March 14th, should not have remained part of the movement that held the same name after that date, but definitely did not carry the same message and goals.
He should’ve done what he does best, monitor the situation from his office in the iconic Annahar Building in Beirut’s Central District and help steer and enlighten the Lebanese public. Of course, there are many coulda-woulda-shoulda’s in life, and spending too much time on those is useless.
Gebran’s gruesome death and the response by both Lebanese camps to it was disgusting. I was there for the funeral, and was there for the silent marches that mourned his passing the day before the memorial service. I saw with my own eyes how divided, disrespectful and hungry both sides were. One wanted to consider him its lost prodigal son, the other wanted to utilize people’s grief to push forward their political agendas. A handful of people though, understood what I knew in my heart, that Lebanon and its people did not deserve someone like Gebran…
I feel the same way about several other figures who had the misfortune of landing a cabinet or parliament seat, the latest of which was fellow scout Ziad Baroud, who left his cabinet under the most unfortunate of circumstances thanks to the cheap political prostitution in our internal security forces and the ineptitude of all parties concerned in sticking to the rules and forsaking corruption for hopes of a better country, some day…
When people ask me why I bother writing things I know will get me in trouble, why I risk my safety and go in head-first into situations I know will cause me a legal headache or even bodily harm, why I’d bother wasting time and energy on a country I have already forsaken in body, I always think back to Gebran. I am sure a lot of people asked him those same questions, and I am not sure what he would answer them. What I am sure of though, is that he didn’t stop and the price he paid makes the price I and many like me pay, seem like petty pennies.
Never has our tiny nation been such a disappointment to folks like Gebran. Today, when no foreign power is ruling us and we have none but ourselves to blame, our standards for freedom of speech and opinion have evaporated. Our own president and army chief beat up civilians and put them behind bars for expressing an opinion. Our own political parties bully and silence their critics. Even the last bastion of peaceful freedom fighters, our press, is not only a prostitue for cheap hire, but also an accomplice in maliciously trying to silence the few who still speak freely.
I see religious extremism on the rise, and reason and rationality diminish. When all around us people eagerly try to set themselves free from bondage of gods and their manipulators, we willingly handcuff ourselves to the ignorance and fear that is blind faith. Standards of what is acceptable have shifted and accountability is nowhere to be found. We vote in the same bastards and repeat the same whining as soon as they’re back on their seats. We wait for old men in robes to counsel us, and when they do, we obey even though in our hearts we know it is wrong. I don’t think I need to continue, I’m sure you get the idea…
That is why, on this day, I pledge to you and encourage all of you to keep up what Gebran and others like him started. Speak the truth, no matter how hard it may be. Don’t hide undeniable facts, don’t go against your convictions or experience, don’t think of big titles void of any content. Think of yourselves, think of your futures, think of your electricity, water, internet, roads, phones, healthcare, justice system, municipalities. Think more fair rights for everyone, think less of the gods you worship. Consider your own interests and benefits instead of plotting how to bring pain and suffering to those you’ve been brainwashed to fear and hate.
I will always say what I feel must be said, I will always take the positions we all know deep down we should take. All I ask in return is for you guys to listen, think, expand, evolve and amend them. I am not an expert, and I am definitely not more qualified than any of you reading this. It just so happens I have had enough time and patience to keep at what I’m doing when all of you have been busy trying to build and maintain your own lives in these less-than-ideal conditions. I try to highlight the things you might often miss in your daily lives or things you might not have the time or patience to dissect and understand amid all the misinformation and manipulation.
When I asked for your support when the do-badders were starting to win, you flattered me with more than I could ever handle, and for now, I am again safe to write and express what I feel, as all of you should feel. It might be sad that I need to be a sea and an ocean away to feel safe enough to, but the fact remains that I still can. Looking into the future though, that prospect is diminishing with every single mind we lose to religious extremism, whichever flavor it may be.
I am not asking you to go to the streets, or fight, or campaign, for those are all things I wouldn’t even do myself. I’m asking you to start thinking of these things, things like freedom of speech and expression. To start seeing that censorship and bans are wrong. To acknowledge that no one has the right or prerogative to decide on your behalf, but that you and you alone can make your own decisions so long as they don’t encroach on other people’s freedom. Love your enemies and don’t seek to silence them, for if you are truly convinced of what you preach, let others say what they may and have faith your ideas and messages and goals will resonate with the undecided, and that they will support you and not them. When you seek to silence others forcibly or unfairly, you are the one that loses in the long run. Let everyone say what they want, and choose free from intervention, then, and I am 100% sure, we will be a majority.
We, being free-thinkers. We, being the folks that will decide what happens next elections. We, being the generation that has no excuses to hide behind; no wars, no occupations, no nearby dictators. We, being the folks that will turn sects into in-sects, and squish them when it comes to our personal interests and the interests of our countrymen.
I am not sure where I am going with this, so I will stop. Allow me to leave you with the memory of Gebran, and emphasize how we should take his example and do the same. Perhaps Lebanon doesn’t deserve that right now, and if that is true, maybe our struggle will help make it become worthy one day.
And remember, please, question everything and never go against your personal convictions and do not let baseless beliefs dictate who you are and what you stand for.