Adonis Diaries

Talisman for Tolerance in Lebanon? By British ambassador Tom Fletcher

Posted on: January 1, 2014

A Talisman for Tolerance – Lebanon loses Mohamad Chatah

December 27, 2013

Lebanon lost Mohamad Chatah and many others today.

As at other such moments, the embassy went into a high gear – checking staff were safe, searching hospitals for Brits, updating travel advice, considering a public response, assessing the facts, analysing the implications.

In between, like so many others here, we try to deal with the shock. And we grieve.

I visited former PM Siniora to condole with him, and with many other former colleagues of Mohamad’s. It was poignant to see May Chidiac and Marwan Hamade, both of whom have so narrowly escaped assassination themselves. I offered condolences on behalf of the UK, and later at a local hospital offered blood on behalf of myself.

Only later today ,was I able to start to reflect properly on the loss of a good friend. Few people are both wise and smart. Mohammad was both.

Above all, he was a moderate. At any moment of jeopardy, including assassinations, he came into his own. He would always be working on a creative Lebanese fix to avoid a breakdown in dialogue or security. He was always trying to keep channels open even while others shut them off.

This made him a target for those who would rather see Lebanon divided and violent. (Like the obscurantist Wahhabi Saudi monarchy?)

I had many of my best arguments with Mohamad.

He was confident enough in his views to admit when he was sometimes wrong.

And confident enough in the weaknesses of the arguments of others to tell them so, me frequently.

He was recently at a dinner I held on Iran where he took on his political opponents with relish. As he left, I said to him that I hoped he hadn’t felt outnumbered. ‘No’, he twinkled, ‘those are the kind of odds I like’. Another time, I pressed him on the need for a political deal, and received a lecture as a modern day Chamberlain on the perils of being intimidated into accepting the wrong deal.

We often spoke about security.

We would meet for lunch with our fleets of armoured vehicles outside. Unlike many politicians (and some diplomats) he didn’t see the security paraphernalia as a sign of importance, or bravado. He knew the risks, and feared them.

His courage was that he faced down that fear again and again, every time he got in his car, issued a statement, tweeted about Syrian regime repression, or appeared on television.

Once when I asked advice on a particular threat, he quoted Mandela – ‘courage is not the absence of fear but the mastery of it’.

It is a bitter irony, that Mohamad would have recognised, that a man who was so critical of the brutality and militarisation of Lebanese politics should be a victim of just that.

Mohamad was rightly skeptical of Middle East conspiracy theories on assassinations.

I’m sure he would not be surprised to see many already springing up about his own. However, conspiracy aside, he did argue that there has been a systematic effort to kill, terrify and silence many of Lebanon’s brightest and best. He is not wrong.

Is the best response to just to put a brave face on it and carry on?

After all, this is Lebanon, and the country has learnt to grieve and continue. I don’t think we should. I think we should be outraged that this has happened again. That more wives and children will go home tonight without husbands and fathers. That Lebanon has lost another patriot, another talisman of tolerance.

Mohamad would not expect to be remembered as some sort of Saint. He was used to the rough and tumble of raw Lebanese politics. I hope people will read again what he has written about Lebanese citizenship.

That his death makes people more intolerant of intolerance. And that the moderation he stood for can be strengthened rather than cowed by his murder. It is no consolation tonight, but justice is the most powerful revenge. This may seem hopeless. But Mohamad also quoted MLK – ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice’.

Tonight the Lebanese state paid its financial contribution to the Special Tribunal. Every year we go through great drama over whether this will happen. Today was a reminder of why it must.

We are not close to ending the culture of impunity. But that is no excuse not to continue to try.

I hope this won’t be another Lebanese murder where everyone condoles and blames, but nobody is held to account. It is time to end the brutal and broken form of politics of which Mohamad Chatah was an eloquent and decent critic.

I would tease Mohamad that a wily colleague had advised me not to trust any Lebanese politicians. I never told him that I distrusted him much less than most. RIP.

Note: Read more and Exclusive photos  https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2013/12/27/beirut-explosion-exclusive-photos-and-the-death-of-mohammad-shateh/

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