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French Version

Kassir : A symbol of courage and journalistic integrity


Born in Beirut in 1960, Samir Kassir, who was tragically murdered on June 2, was a renowned journalist in Lebanon and abroad and was recognized as a major intellectual figure in the Arab world and beyond.

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Outspoken, Kassir's position toward the Syrian and Lebanese security apparatus as well as his repeated calls for the end of Damascus' control over Lebanon resulted in him having to live in danger all his life.

His columns, published in the leading Arabic Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar since 1988, caused the journalist to suffer continual harassment from the Lebanese and Syrian intelligence services. This reached its peak when, in March 2001, internal security forces at Beirut International Airport seized his Lebanese passport.

Kassir was also a French citizen, but his parents, although originally from Achrafieh in Beirut, had emigrated to Palestine. They returned to Lebanon in 1948 when they obtained Lebanese nationality.

The seizure was aimed at warning him that his citizenship could be revoked at anytime. But following international and local condemnation, Kassir's passport was returned by the General Security Directorate (GSD) a little over a week later.

Kassir was used to having to deal with the GSD. A year before the passport incident, he claimed to have received a phone call from GSD Major General Jamil Sayyed, a close ally of the Syrian regime, in which the latter threatened him for writing an article criticizing the security services for failing to prevent clashes between the army and Islamist militants in North Lebanon.

Kassir was under continual surveillance. Residents living near his apartment in Achrafieh often reported having been interrogated by security officers.

He also tried avoiding driving late at night for fear of being followed.

Kassir triggered many of the Lebanese intellectuals' initiatives in the country, like the Beirut Declaration project in 2004, a petition signed by people from the 18 different communities in Lebanon calling for co-existence.

His aim was to start an NGO that would work to erase the effects of the Civil War and its sectarianism on Lebanese society.

After the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri which triggered violent anti-Syrian protests and slogans, Kassir insisted on reading the "Intellectuals Letter to the Syrian People," begging, to the boos of the crowd, for them to differentiate between the Syrian regime and the Syrian people.

However, he was the first to participate in the protests calling for a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon.

He considered that the battle for Lebanese independence was also the battle for democracy in Syria.

Not always understood, Kassir was for many a symbol of courage - "his pen hurts," many said and he was followed by many, young and old alike, encouraged by his candidness.

He was one the most prominent Arab intellectuals in the world and was often invited to talk shows and conferences abroad to discuss subjects as diverse as the globalization or Islamic civilization.

A great defender of the Palestinian cause, Kassir was the first to support the Oslo Accords. He was also a founder and member of the Leftist Democratic Movement.

Kassir began his career as a reporter writing for the French local newspaper L'Orient le Jour in 1977. He was also a professor at the Political Sciences Institute at the Saint Joseph University in Beirut.

He worked for the French Le Monde Diplomatique newspaper from 1981 until 2000 and was editor in chief of its Arabic version from 1998 to 2000.

He started as a columnist for An-Nahar in 1988 and wrote for the London based Al-Hayat newspaper in 1988 and 1989.

Author of a thesis on the interaction of the internal and eternal factors in the Lebanese civil war, he was member of the editorial team for the Palestinian Studies magazine in Paris from 1986 to 1994.

In 1993, he became general manager of Dar an-Nahar publications before becoming the editor in chief of the newly born L'Orient Express in 1995.

An avid historian, Kassir published a number of books among which the famous "Roads from Paris to Jerusalem: France and the Arab-Israeli Conflict," which he co-wrote with Farouk Mardam-Bey.

The two-volume book relates the role played by France in the genesis of the Palestinian problem then in the Arab-Israeli conflict until 1958.

It includes a synthesis about the French-Israeli military alliance during the 1950s, the Suez crisis and the supplying of Israel with the technology necessary for a nuclear bomb.

It also describes France's policy in the Arab world which was shaped by General de Gaulle and implemented by Georges Pompidou.

The analysis tackles the achievements of both French Presidents Valery Giscard d'Estaing and Francois Mitterand on the issue.

In 2003, Kassir published "History of Beirut," a book describing the identity of a city, Beirut, torn between its Oriental and Occidental facets but strongly rooted in a history rife with warlords.

The book focused on what turned this city into one of the most modern spots in the Arab world, detailing the particularism of a cosmopolitan regional metropolis which, despite its limited geography, nourished an influential intellectualism and anticipated the hybridism of the big cities of our time.

This book was hailed internationally and is considered as a reference work.

His last work, "Consideration on Arab Misfortune," 2004, is an essay that seeks to prove that the misfortunes of Arab countries lie in their geography rather then in their history.

The book is a message to Arabs to stop fantasizing about a culture and history different from others.

Kassir held a doctorate in modern and contemporary history of the Middle East and a masters in political philosophy both from the Sorbonne University in Paris where he lived in the early 1980s.

He spent his childhood in Beirut and undertook his primary and secondary education at the Lycee Francais in Beirut.

He is survived by his widow, Giselle Khoury, also a journalist, and two daughters, Lyata, 16, and Maysa, 12.

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Beirut 06-06-2005
Linda Dahdah
The Daily Star

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