Monday, December 10, 2007

It took a singer to voice what Lebanon really needed to hear

It took a singer to voice what Lebanon really needed to hear
By The Daily Star

The phenomenon of celebrity entertainers wading into political debate is typically a source of annoyance and/or mirth, their comments frequently being so banal and/or uninformed as to actually render a disservice to public discourse. This was not the case, however, on Sunday when Majida Al-Roumi, a Lebanese singer with international star power, had the opportunity to address an audience that included much of her country's political elite. The occasion was a ceremony in Beirut to commemorate the second anniversary of the assassination of MP and journalist Gebran Tueni, and Roumi honored his memory by being loyal to his penchant for straight talk. She was preceded by representatives of Lebanese youth, always a favorite subject of Tueni's oratory and writing, and as a group they demonstrated that he was successful in getting through to at least some of their generation, instilling in them a degree of sociopolitical awareness far beyond their years. This they will need if they are to avoid the kind of pointless feuding into which their elders have dragged an entire country. It was Roumi who stole the show, though, by adopting Tueni's blunt style as she chastised Lebanon's political class - all of them - for the damage they have wrought and continue to wreak. She rightly berated them for having spent the past three decades engaged in divisive politicking that has exposed the country to meddling from both East and West - and for not having learned anything from the experience. It is too early to know whether she managed to make any of them feel ashamed, but she certainly made some of their offenses clear, especially those that have engendered visions of Lebanon and the Lebanese that exclude people because of their background and/or their beliefs.

Tueni was murdered precisely because such sickening attitudes have enjoyed such unchallenged prevalence in so many quarters for so very long. Now it is the duty of those he awakened - not those who twist his words into more of the cheap and malicious mudslinging that masquerades as politics in Lebanon - to help obtain justice, and to do so in a just way. The Special Tribunal created by the United Nations to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri will also delve into the Tueni killing and those of all the others cut down over the past three years or so. If it is abused in any way for political gain, a strategy for which some players have shown enthusiasm, it can only perpetuate the cycle of revenge and deepen the intra-Lebanese divisions that Roumi so thoroughly and thoughtfully condemned. That would mean that other Lebanese who have also died for Lebanon - including, as Roumi noted, Hizbullah fighters who have fallen in battle against Israel and Lebanese Army soldiers who gave their lives at Nahr al-Bared - made their sacrifices in vain.

The international importance of denying impunity to those who tried to assassinate freedom of the press by murdering Tueni was communicated by the World Association of Newspapers' having put its imprimatur on Sunday's proceedings for the second year in a row. The local importance was articulated by his father and mentor, MP Ghassan Tueni. Himself an elder statesman of Lebanese journalism, he underscored the fact that his son's legacy consists largely of words, which can never be effaced. If and when justice has been obtained - for all Lebanese - those words will have acquired a practical permanence to match their symbolic indelibility.

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