Four years ago today, a carbomb took the life of Gebran Tueni, a Lebanese journalist, activist, and politician. Like others before him, and others sure to follow, Tueni lost his life for refusing to remain silent.
As is often the case in Lebanon, Tueni took over the family business, which for him meant publishing the influential “An-Nahar” (The Day) newspaper that his grandfather had founded in 1933 with an initial circulation of less than 500.
Tueni’s father, the indefatigable 83-year-old journalist, politician, and former UN Representative Ghassan Tueni had gradually turned the paper into a powerhouse read by many in Lebanon, the region, and throughout the world.
By the time Gebran assumed a more active role in writing and publishing, Syria’s tutelage in Lebanon was at its apex. Using An-Nahar’s pages as a pulpit, Tueni repeatedly criticized Syria’s suffocating presence in Lebanon and thus drew the ire of Damascus and its local beneficiaries.
Indeed, his zeal could irk those who shared his anti-Syrian views. Passionate and polished, Tueni nevertheless lacked his father’s depth, balance, and caution, which made him a sometimes abrasive commentator.
Yet, for all his flaws, Tueni refused to trade voice for life, while others did so for mere silver and gold.
On December 12, 2005, Gebran ignored warnings – delivered, though perhaps differently, by friends and foes alike – and returned to Beirut from Paris, where he had been living for months for fear of assassination. He did not make it home.
It matters not that Tueni’s views were not shared by all. It matters not that he could lose a perfectly valid point in the excess of his expression. It matters not that his newspaper, accomplished as it may be, remains a family heirloom of sorts.
What matters is that, in conquering fear and expressing his thoughts, this father of two lost his life. Such is the culture of violence that threatens expression throughout the Middle East.
It matters not that he was brazen.
What matters is that he paid the price.
How profoundly ironic it is that Lebanon’s anthem touts the nation’s “sword and pen” as the “envy of the ages,” for the balance seems to have been lost. Tueni’s killers have reminded the complacent of the dangers that lurk in a corner of the world where the sword all too often silences the pen.