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    In Death, Samir Kassir Is Victorious

    Six years ago this week, the writer, historian and university professor Samir Kassir was assassinated in Beirut when a bomb exploded underneath his car.

    I have thought about him often in recent months, as millions of Arab citizens have risen up to challenge or change their regimes, confronting the autocratic state that Kassir always saw as one of the main problems of the modern Arab world.

    Samir Kassir was killed because he challenged Arab state brutality and autocracy wherever he encountered them, in the three Levantine Arab countries that defined him – Lebanon, Syria and Palestine – and elsewhere in the region. In his writings he recognized that the early 20th-century Arab Awakening, the Nahda, remained incomplete and unfulfilled, because Arab citizens achieved neither their national and civic rights nor attained their full cultural and political potential.
    It is important to remember Samir Kassir today when the Arab world is in the midst of its greatest moment of historical self-assertion, displaying both the positive power of millions of freedom-seeking citizens and the ugliness of security regimes that wage war – with tanks and artillery – against their own civilians. It is important because it reminds us that brave individuals like Kassir and thousands of others have long articulated the Arab struggle for citizen rights and sensible statehood, and that millions of citizens across the Arab world would one day confront their homegrown tormentors and demand to live as normal human beings. Those two powerful forces are now converging on the streets of many Arab cities.

    Kassir would be pleased to see the current popular uprisings across the region, despite the loss of life. He knew and ultimately experienced the risk of death that comes with struggling for freedom and democracy against regressive Arab and foreign forces that kill with stunning regularity and indifference. In recalling the brief glory days of the Arab Awakening, he was also certain that one day the Arab people would reawaken and confront burdensome modern security states. Kassir recognized that the Palestinian and Lebanese resistance against foreign and Israeli occupation and hegemony was incomplete, because their national renaissance remained stunted. Mass resistance against foreign occupation or indigenous tyrants has now spread across the Arab world, as Kassir and others knew they would one day.

    Kassir was one of the leaders of the Independence Intifada in Lebanon in early 2005 that resulted in the Syrians leaving Lebanon. In that way, he lived to experience an example of mass self-affirmation by Arab citizens who took to the streets to regain their liberty and national integrity.

    I wrote six years ago the week when Kassir was killed: “In the great contest that has defined the modern Arab world since the 1950s – the struggle of biology versus ideology, and of security versus liberty – Samir Kassir will be remembered as a courageous warrior and a leader in many respects … The battle of biology versus ideology pits brave Arab men and women against powerful state, security and ideological forces that would snuff out an individual life in favor of maintaining the status quo power structure. Samir Kassir’s crime in the eyes of those who killed him was impudence and impertinence, reflected in his spirit of bold, persistent insubordination to those in authority who want to dictate to all citizens not just how they should behave, but what they should think and say.

    “The truly historic element in his life and activism was his insistence on challenging Arab security and police systems, at a time when few dared to do so … Others will be killed or intimidated as the battle for a dignified political and economic order continues in the Arab world. The spirit of fearlessness that animated Samir Kassir and others like him in different Arab countries has now transcended the bravery of individuals, to infest the minds of entire citizenries. This is increasingly manifested in daring public protest movements in assorted Arab cities. Samir Kassir is biologically dead, but ideologically triumphant. Those he inspired and mobilized through his example will continue to wage the larger battles of security and ideology, in Lebanon and other Arab lands. His cruel death will hasten that process and the day of victory, because his life reflected the irreversible tipping point where private courage is transformed first into public political force, and ultimately into official state policy.”

    Six years after his death, I value more than ever the ideas, activism and memory of Samir Kassir. He, and thousands like him, perpetually inspire us in the moments of greatest despair to keep the faith in the ultimate triumph of light over darkness, of liberty over tyranny, and of human decency and dignity over state tyranny. Rest in peace, Samir, your Arab people have awoken again, and the great battle for Arab renaissance is under way once more.

    Rami KHOURI
    The Daily Star

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