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An Orwellian nightmare

Last week in Beirut, as it has now been widely reported in the international media, Christopher Hitchens scrapped with members of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, or SSNP, local party aligned with the regime in Damascus, after scribbling on a political poster. Some of the foreign press has suggested that the visiting writer did not understand the consequences of his actions in the volatile Lebanese arena, but that is unlikely.

Hitchens' political commitments, his advocacy for democratic forces around the world, have been shaped by his devotion to George Orwell, and the scene that ensued on Hamra Street that afternoon was indeed Orwellian in character: As the Anglo-American author remarked on the totalitarian nature of the political advertisement in question, a gang materialized almost immediately and set upon him. Thankfully, Hitchens sustained no lasting injuries, and by all accounts enjoyed the rest of his stay in Lebanon.

Hitchens came to Beirut as part of a delegation sponsored by the New Opinion Workshop. The trip was timed to correspond with the February 14 anniversary commemoration of Rafik al-Hariri's assassination, and introduced visiting journalists and bloggers to a number of the country's political and intellectual leaders. One afternoon was spent meeting staff at An-Nahar, where they showed the visiting group the offices of their murdered colleagues Samir Kassir and Gebran Tueni.

In other words, the Hitchens episode must be seen in a larger context. For instance, just two months ago, Omar Harqous, a Future News correspondent, was attacked in that same neighborhood and hospitalized. Before that, during the events of last May, the same party that beat Hitchens took the lead in trashing the offices of Future TV. The enemies of free speech in Lebanon have exacted a high price on all those who have dared to cross them.

The violence done to a visiting journalist in Hamra in broad daylight could not have illustrated this point more sharply. For all of Lebanon's many competing interests, its dozens of political parties and 18 religious sects, there are in the end two sides – one party believes in Lebanon's long tradition of co-existence and plurality, and the other party has targeted the champions of Lebanese democracy in a bloody campaign that pre-dates February 14.

As the Special Tribunal for the Hariri assassination and the subsequent series of political murders is due to begin in a few weeks time, Lebanon's pro-democracy forces and their friends in the international community have placed their faith in the rule of law. It has been more than four years now since the former prime minister was killed along with 22 others in the middle of the Lebanese capital, and if the region's strategic circumstances have shifted some during that time, the expectations are simply the same – for the end of the era of immunity for political crime, and thus a just conclusion to an Orwellian nightmare.

  • Ziad Daher

    I'm honestly disappointed, the articles title was about the only strong piece of writing here. Terrible work get your act together!

    February 27, 2009

  • anonymous

    Christopher Hitchens from Michael J Totten's blog: “Once you credit them like that,” he said, “you do all their work for them. They should have been worried about us. Let them worry. Let them wonder if we're carrying a tool or if we have a crew. I'd like to go back, do it properly, deface the thing with red paint so there's no swastika visible. You can't have the main street, a shopping and commercial street, in a civilized city patrolled by intimidators who work for a Nazi organization. It is not humanly possible to live like that. One must not do that. There may be more important problems in Lebanon, but if people on Hamra don't dare criticize the SSNP, well ... . That's occupation.” The apologists for blatant fascism in this comments section are disgusting and stupid. There will never be a genuine civil society in Lebanon until Nazi-like thugs are eliminated from the scene.

    February 26, 2009

  • OmarS

    Hahahaha great jokes!

    February 26, 2009

  • Sami

    This Orwellian man is the author of the book "God is not Great:how religion poisons everything" this very title is anti Muslim.He frequently uses the meaningless term"Islamofascism" which was described by conservative British historian Niall Ferguson pointing out that this political use of what he calls a "completely misleading concept," is "just a way of making us feel that we're the 'greatest generation' fighting another World War".We have enough anti Muslims in Lebanon, we need not have one more who does not refrain from using four letter words to express his opinion.I sent few medals to the ssnp boys.Thank you again.

    February 26, 2009

  • Marco Antonio

    Speaking of "jokes". Maybe democracy and freedom of speech is not important to some but... You know what and who's not a joke? A serious and a no nonesense court with a German Judge and investigator by the name of Detlev Mehlis; now this certainly isn't a joke. And to add icing to the cake, we have a man by the name of John Bolton speaking up. Wow, I don't hear anyone laughing about any "jokes" anymore... Go Deltelv, Go Belmare and keep speaking up John B. Someone needs to hear the serious news... Joke on...

    February 26, 2009

  • Khalil Jean Butros

    He isn't a reporter - he is a commentator who cynically makes heaps of money by being deliberately inflamatory and black and white on complex issues - a simple formula for fame and "success" in the money-go-round of modern celebrity talking-head based media newstertainment business. Truth is if an equally inflamatory Muslim went to Washington DC, accused the most popular party there and then started defacing a picture of the U.S. President, then some excitable party enthusiastics might react to the Muslim visitor too. Big deal - By all accounts, the guy had a wonderful time in Lebanon.

    February 25, 2009

  • shadi

    very true moe the ssnp is always been like it something needs to be done

    February 25, 2009

  • Elihu Smails

    Are you joking? What I mean to say is that this article is so ridiculous it could be construed as a joke. Wow. Just wow.

    February 25, 2009

  • Sami

    بيدبا – وماذا تسمى رعيتك و أصدقاءك أيها الملك ؟ هل نسيت سلطتك التي تحرك بها الكون ؟ دبشليم لا , لم أنس ولكنها لا شيء .كل ذلك لا شيء ,وما رعيتي سوى قطيع أسوسه كما يسوس الراعي الغنم . بيدبا – والديموقراطية أيها الملك ؟؟والمعارضة ؟؟و النسور والصقور والحمائم والزغاليل؟؟ دبشليم – كلها مسميات .شعارات نطلقها في مملكتنا كما يطلقها غيرنا .مجرد فقاعات صابون. بيدبا - والحرية التي يتمتع بها الشعب يا مولاي؟ دبشليم – الحرية يا عزيزي الفيلسوف هي أن ينفذ الشعب أوامري دون نقاش . بيدبا – عفواً أيها الملك .هل تحب شعبك ؟ إنك تضحك !! هل تسخر مني يا سيدي ؟؟ دبشليم – لست أسخر منك . إنني أضحك على كلمة الحب التي ذكرتها .لقد شقيت كثيراً في حياتي .ولم يعد لهذه الكلمة وجود عندي .فلا أُحب شعبي ولا شعبي يحبني .كل منا بحاجة إلى الآخر ليستمدّ منه القوة و الحماية .أما الحقيقة ,فهي أنهم كلهم مزيفون كاذبون..مخادعون.

    February 25, 2009

  • Stephen Marotta

    p.s. huzzah for Christopher Hitchens!!!!

    February 24, 2009

  • Stephen Marotta

    At first it seemed a little misleading to me to suggest that there has been a long tradition of co-existence and plurality. there of course has been but there has also been a long tradition of fighting between any two groups that cross each other, hasn't there? Just because one group hasn't been strong enough to cross all the other groups until now, doesn't mean that people have learned to get along. learning to get along is of course what we need to be fighting for in the area, but we need to know how difficult a fight this is going to be it won't be solved JUST by successfully opposing the first group that tries to dominate the others.

    February 24, 2009

  • Moe

    why is everyone suprised on how the ssnp act they have always been like this why you people shocked?

    February 24, 2009

  • Nour Khalife

    Try scribbling an expletive on a poster of Hariri and see what happens. Sorry, but neither side of the divide has a monopoly on thuggish behavior. Moreover, obscenities and vandalism go beyond the bounds of civilized free speech.

    February 24, 2009

  • OmarS

    What about the attack on LBC was that "Orwellian" ?

    February 23, 2009