Holding an opinion over a political issue can prove to be quite dangerous. If you publish your opinion, the level of danger may increase; and the more your opinion is broadcast, the more danger encircles you. This is how things are, and this is the way they have always been, and it is quite probably the way they will continue, especially for journalists.
Journalists hunt for information in order to expand the knowledge of their readers; their role is to present the story. They must take care to remain neutral, and avoid taking “sides”, however this does not mean that they are void of any human quality that would allow them to be influenced and affected by the events they witness or research. Moreover, press journalism is not restricted to one job: There is the opinion writer, the editor, the reporter, and the stringer. Without doubt, the opinion writer is open to the greatest risk, as they are the honest and open about their personal views. Samir Qaseer, the Lebanese writer, who was recently killed, was clearly a writer who was outspoken. This is why he was written off by a “black hand” from the closely intertwined political and journalistic scenes together.
Over the past few days many things have been written about Samir Qaseer, including the way he focused his efforts on mobilising the people towards starting a popular uprising in relation gaining independence for Lebanon from Syria. Some have called him the "martyr of the uprising” and others spoke of his strength, perseverance, and patience in combating sectarianism that has spread throughout Lebanese politics. This became especially evident with the return of the coarse General Michele Aoun, who has encouraged sectarian fire. A fire that many believed had died down.
Some wrote about his leftist democratic tendencies and his cultural stand as a university professor in political science. They discussed his move from his prestigious university position to “street politics” armed with the solidity and principles of the intellectual. They wrote about his record of conflict with the Lebanese security agencies.
Apart from my personal anger, as a matter of principle, over the assassination of Samir, I was drawn to this tragedy as I reflected upon the grave dangers and challenges that surround those of us who hold an opinion in the world today. The dangers are varied, and although death is clearly the most extreme and devastating result, there are many other risks apparent; torture, threats, imprisonment, exile, the destruction of livelihood, personal and political defamation, but to name a few. The remarkable thing is that these evils are not only unleashed by governments, but may also be initiated by several other social forces.
Non-governmental religious fundamentalists were responsible for the killings of the Egyptian writer Farag Fouda, Daniel Pearl in Pakistan and a number of journalists and writers in Algeria. But it is not only fundamentalists; other groups and forces were also implicated. Let us not forget, the assassination of Riyadh Taha, of the chairman of the Union of Lebanese Journalists in the 1980s, or the assassinations of Abdel Wahab Al Kyali, Nagi Al ”Ali, Selim Al Lawzi, and the mysterious disappearance of the Egyptian writer Reda Hilal. Nor can we forget the attempt on the life of the Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz by a fundamentalist youth who tried to slash his throat.
To return to the world of journalism, we should be careful to note the killing and kidnapping of journalist in Iraq by the fundamentalist forces. It may be true that some journalists were killed by American fire and raids, but we can not claim that this was intentional no matter how loudly Arab commentators make this claim. They refer to America as if they were discussing Colonel Qadafi or any other Arab or Third World regime that eliminates people with silent guns and kidnapping.
My aim is not to clear the name of governments, for it is clear that they own a large and bloody share in these crimes. However, I do want to expand the scope of so as to get to know the holders of opinions and their enemies. Amidst the news, imagery and commentary on the death of Samir Qaseer, Walid Junblat’s statements that highlight the security allocated to Samir in reaction to threats, indicates that he must have spent his days worrying and watching for an attack. These feelings of fear must have plagued Samir in his last days; however I hope that he was at the same time able to feel proud and satisfied that his situation was a result of his achievements to work against these corrupt people.
I have to some extent experienced the fear Samir must have felt, although I would never go as far as to compare my own situation with that of this legendary journalist. During the peak of the terrorist operations in Saudi Arabia in 2003 and 2004, and after al-Qaeda members were increasing their creativity in their bloody and vicious operations; I was writing as others did, about the situation. This provoked the anger of al-Qaeda along as well as some of their supporters. During one of the security operation when forces broke into the hide out apartments in Mecca and in Khaldiyah in June 2003, a list of the people wanted for assassination by al-Qaeda was found. My name was on that list. On learning this information, I started to lose my sense of security. I began to turn around and check my surroundings before getting in my car, fearing the worst. However with time I realised that these actions were meaningless and naïve.
Luckily the worst did not occur, but I can still recall the feelings that affect your whole person, and all as a result of the opinions I conveyed in my writing. Strangely, despite the fear and anxiety you feel when under threat, you become more attached to the opinion that brings with it as much risk as it does profit. It does seem that somehow as the risk increases the profit does too. The profit here is a multi-level and complex profit; the most important of factor is that you can remain at peace with yourself. You can remain clearly focused, and this is a priceless reward.
I intend to continue to write about the people who are martyrs as a result of their opinions, whether they are killed by government authorities or by non-governmental groups. It is a sad story to convey, but one can only hope that despite the tragedy there is lesson to be learnt.