Stories from Afar & Up Close

Reflections on an assassination

Saturday. My dad calls and asks: ‘So how is Beirut today?’ I feel the oh-so-familiar knot tying itself in my stomach – I’ve been out all morning and haven’t checked the news yet, so who knows what has happened. ‘Why, did they blow up someone else?’ ‘Well, the guy from three days ago…’ Ah yes. The guy from three days ago (now almost a week). François el Hajj, a general in the Lebanese Army, mentioned as a possible successor to Michel Sleiman (the current commander of the army), if Sleiman indeed becomes the next president of the Lebanese Republic. He came from a poor family in the South, el Hajj, and as one of 10 children this job represented a rare chance for someone of his background to make it to the top. In Rmeish, his village in the South, there was even talk of him becoming president, eventually – for a commander of the Army, necessarily a Maronite Christian, not a strange career-move in Lebanon.

I arrived to work Wednesday last week to find one of my colleagues crying. ‘The explosion this morning, it was her uncle’, whispered another colleague to inform me. Other than her red, teary eyes, there was nothing that day that reminded me of the awfulness of what had happened that morning. Nothing on the streets, nothing in the conversations – not even the loud accusations of Syria, the country that gets blamed first (and exclusively) for every assassination, by members of the current government.

One of my colleagues thought it was because he was from the army, and the army is supposedly ‘neutral’ in Lebanon – neither with the government, nor with the opposition – so if you have no political party to stage the mourning for your martyrdom, your death hardly receives any public grief.

Yet the silence over el Hajj’s murder, the absence of government-members blaming Syria, might have another source: apparently, el Hajj refused to join the ‘Southern Lebanese Army’, an armed group that helped the Israeli army, when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982. Being from a village on the border with Israel, he has seen the destruction and aggression from Lebanon’s Southern neighbor, and his moral stance against Israel hasn’t changed over the years. This means that having him as the leader of the Lebanese Army (which is deployed in South Lebanon to prevent Hezbollah from re-arming, or even disarm them) might be disadvantageous to countries other than Syria, to put it mildly.

Question remains: who blew him up? Maybe this time, we shouldn’t look to the East for an answer…