Michael Totten


“The struggle of men against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” — Milan Kundera
The Lebanese remember their dead.
The streets of Hezbollahland are lined with portraits of Islamists killed in battle with Israel. The walls of Beirut are papered over with martyrs of a more liberal variety.
Five months ago I could hardly look anywhere without seeing the face of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, who recently had been assassinated with a 650 pound car bomb. The people of Lebanon put his portrait up everywhere, and they did it without being ordered to do so. I knew right away when I arrived here in April that this Middle Eastern country was not like the others. The likes of Moammar Ghaddafi and Bashar Assad, whose portraits are omnipresent by gunpoint decree, only dream they could be loved as was Hariri.
Things are different now in October. The ghost of Rafik Hariri does not hover over the city in quite the same way. Many of the portraits are down. Some are replaced with those of Hariri’s son Saad.
The first time I saw photos of Lebanon’s most recent martyr I stopped cold in my tracks on the sidewalk.
Samir Kassir Poster.jpg
Samir Kassir was a journalist, an activist in the Movement of the Democratic Left, a most articulate opponent of Syrian occupation, and a most articulate proponent of freedom for people in Syria. I met him three times when I was here in April. Shortly after I went home to the States, the goons killed him with a car bomb.
May Chidiac is alive. But she’s an almost-martyr in Lebanon, too, and I’m seeing her portrait around in quite a few places. She, like Samir, is an anti-Syrian journalist. And she, like Samir, was car bombed.
May Chidiac Poster.jpg
She’s lucky to be alive. A bomb was placed directly under the driver’s seat of her car. Somehow she “only” lost one leg below her knee.
The first time I came to Beirut the martyr portraits (of Rafik Hariri) made me feel better. I felt safe here seeing omnipresent photos of a decent man who did good instead of portraits of a tyrant.
It’s different now. Middle Eastern martyrs are supposed to be dead presidents, dead guerilla fighters, and dead terrorists. They aren’t supposed to be people I know. They aren’t supposed to be people like me. I cannot — not yet — walk past photos of May and Samir without shuddering.