Robert Fisk: Another truly brave man dies in Lebanon

I did not like Jibran Tueni, but he would have been my friend had we had the chance to be so
Click to follow
The Independent Online

There on the screen Jibran Tueni. "For ever and ever!" he shouts. He is talking about Lebanese freedom. And Katia Jahjoura's camera picks him up, throbbing with life. Only nine months later he will be dead. Not for ever and ever.

Tueni was the editor of An Nahar newspaper, a truly brave man who was killed on Monday morning in a car bomb explosion outside of Beirut.

Katia's movie is about a man who called himself the "Terminator", a stupid, brassy, idiotic, brave man who was once a soldier in the Lebanese army.

But I have a lot of time for Katia. She was shot by an Israeli soldier on the border of southern Lebanon - for filming the Israeli withdrawal in 2000 - and again for filming the misbehaviour of Israeli troops in Ramallah. "First I felt nothing" she told me, "and then I felt the worst pain I ever felt in my life."

Poor Katia. I think she will ever feel this pain. When she was first hit on the border, a friend showed me her photograph in the paper, writhing on her hospital bed in Nabatea. "You haven't been to see her?" my friend asked me. No, I have not. How often I have not been to see my wounded friends.

So I sit down to watch the first 26 minutes of Katia's film of the "Terminator". Ah what a movie! The Terminator. The Terminator calls himself Mahar. He is one of those doomed men who lives in Lebanon. He remembers a young woman who died in his car. He crashed the car. He wants to live. He lives. She dies. He is one of those men who will have films made about him, who will have to try to fill a void left in Lebanon's life. But he will fail to do so.

I find it more and more difficult, this justification of life and death. How many months ago was it - just 10, I think, when I was walking along Beirut's seafront corniche opposite my favourite restaurant, the Spaghetteria, talking on my mobile phone to my old friend Patrick Cockburn in Baghdad, when a white band of light approached at fearsome speed like a giant bandage along the Beirut promenade.

The palm trees all dipped towards me as if hit by a tornado and I saw people fall to the ground. A window of the restaurant splintered and disappeared inside and in front of me, perhaps only 400 metres away, dark brown fingers of smoke streaked towards the sky. The blast wave was followed by an explosion so thunderous that it partially deafened me. I could just hear Patrick "Is that here or there?" he asked. "I'm afraid it's here, Patrick," I said. I could have wept. Beirut was my home.

I switched back on the video to Katia's tape. General Aoun returns to Beirut, Messianic Christian Maronite General returns.

How do we Westerners deal with the "Westerners" of the Middle East, of the Aouns and the "Terminators" whose civil war background has destroyed their country as it has themselves? We want, we friendly liberal Westerners, to write easily about these people, and when Hariri died this February, I ran down the street towards the bombing. There were no cops, no ambulances yet, no soldiers, just a sea of flames in front of the St George Hotel. There were men and women around me, covered in blood, crying and shaking with fear. Twenty-two cars were burning, and in one of them I saw three men cowled in fire. A woman's hand, a hand with painted fingernails, lay on the road.

I was staggered by the heat, the flames that crept across the road, the petrol tanks of vehicles that would explode and spray around me every few seconds. On the ground was a very large man, lying on his back, his socks on fire, unrecognisable. For some reason, I thought he might have been a kaak-seller, one of the army of men who provide the toasted Arabic bread that the Corniche pedestrians love to eat. The first medics had arrived and another blackened figure was pulled from a car just burning like a torch.

Should we watch these images? Yes, I think so. I know the old story. That you can watch the "reality" on movies, that Hollywood films are just as realistic. But alas, it's not true. We journalists see the truth of the whole damned war, that it represents the total failure of the human spirit. I've been saying this over and over, in Australia, in the United States, in Canada, in Switzerland, in Dubai, these past two months. And yet somehow I can't get the message across. In early 1991, I saw dogs come in from the desert to feast on the bodies of men, women, and children, caught in American bomb blasts north of Kuwait City, south of Basra; they were hungry. It was lunchtime. Yet we will not show this. We will not let you see it.

People like Katia would like you to see the reality of war, but that will not happen.

So what do we say about Jibran Tueni? That there was probably not enough left of his body to put in the coffin, so devastating was the car bomb that killed him? And I have to say something. I didn't like Jibran Tueni. He could be a very cantankerous man. When he defended his former mentor General Michel Aoun, he could be a hard man to take. Aoun himself once ordered his soldiers to "teach me a lesson" if I came to east Beirut. But Jibran Tueni was a courageous man and would have been my friend, had we had the chance to be friends.

Unfortunately, Katia Jahjoura will not have a new movie on Tueni's life. And her film, like that on the sad, broken Christian she immortalised, will be partly about the destruction of Christian life in Lebanon.

Maybe it's the Arab world that changes people after death. Maybe the dead change.

Comments