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The Ghosts of Martyrs Square: An Eyewitness Account of Lebanon's Life Struggle Hardcover – Bargain Price, April 13, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (April 13, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416598626
  • ASIN: B004AYCX52
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,300,407 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

Luminous ...  a masterly portrait of the human condition in circumstances of unique stress.
Brett Stephens - The Wall Street Journal

[I]lluminating and knowledgeable ... [Young] is an expert guide to the complex and frequently deadly machinations of Lebanese politics.
Adam LeBor - The New York Times

[E]xtraordinary ... seamlessly interweaves history, political analysis and personal anecdote.
Rayyan al-Shawaf - The Toronto Globe and Mail

[E]asily ... the best book about Lebanon in a generation.
Michael Rubin - Commentary

[A] sober and lucid acclamation of those elements of Lebanese society that both constitute a liberal identity and are antithetical to it.
Elias Muhanna - The Nation

[A] deeply personal effort ... also the definitive book about contemporary Lebanon"
Lee Smith - The American Interest

[A] beautifully written, at times lyrical account of [Lebanon's] tumultuous recent history... [C]arries even more resonance today, as ... popular revolutions in the Arab world have brought down two authoritarian governments and may very well bring about the downfall of other[s] ...
James Kirchick - World Affairs Journal

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

A Voluptuous Vibration

If men and women began to live their ephemeral dreams, every phantom would become a person with whom to begin a story of pursuits, pretenses, misunderstandings, clashes, oppressions, and the carousel of fantasies would stop.

Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

THE PEOPLE GATHER at the top of Martyrs Square, near where, some weeks earlier, he had addressed those demanding that the Syrian army leave Lebanon. It is June 4, 2005, and the procession—large but not nearly as large as the journalist Samir Kassir deserves—is there to accompany him in the one starring role (his brashness notwithstanding) that he would have surely preferred to delay.

Two days earlier—it was nearly 11 A.M.—Kassir had sat down in his silver Alfa Romeo in an eastern Beirut neighborhood. One or several people were watching him and detonated a bomb under his car, killing Kassir instantly.

At that moment a great deal was ended: the biting pen of one of Lebanon’s most daring political commentators and a scholar of the modern Middle East; but also the venomous antagonism between Kassir and a Lebanese intelligence official, who a few years earlier had had the writer harassed after being criticized in two impertinent articles. The bullying continued to the end. When he was killed, Kassir was about to pick up a bodyguard—really more a burly driver accompanying him about town.

Not long after Kassir’s assassination, the intelligence official was on the front page of the daily Al-Hayat peddling his version of events in a ten-part interview, as he defended a career brusquely terminated because of the Syrian pullout in April 2005. With his patrons gone, it was said that Major General Jamil al-Sayyed spent much time at the beach—an anteroom to irrelevance for a man moved by the tremors of authority and intrigue. But then things changed. Within weeks the beachcomber had become a jailbird, one of four Lebanese security and intelligence officials arrested as suspects in the February 14 assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, Lebanon’s onetime prime minister. Hariri’s killing had prompted weeks of demonstrations against Syria at Martyrs Square, leading to the Syrian departure, Damascus being the prime suspect, indeed the only one, in the crime.

Kassir’s funeral procession makes its way toward Nijmeh Square in Beirut’s downtown area, the location of parliament and the Greek Orthodox St. Georges Church, where the requiem mass will be celebrated. A dozen or so members of the Democratic Left movement, to which Kassir belonged, hold up the casket at arms’ length. Someone shouts, “Applaud the hero,” and we applaud, because Kassir was nothing if not a superior performance. In the Lebanese tradition, when a young man dies, the funeral is often conducted as a wedding never had. There are horns and mourners feigning happiness, while a white casket, usually open, is pumped up and down by pallbearers in a wild salsa of death. Kassir’s casket is being made to dance too, but this is no commemoration of aborted youth. Married twice, with two daughters, Kassir has instead been transformed into a medium of rage, his coffin waved angrily at the doors of parliament—though why parliament is not clear. There is something unbecoming about it all: the manipulation of a dead man; the immoderation that permeates Lebanese grief; a vague sense that the ceremony might dissolve into mayhem. But there is also a sense that this funeral means something, whether Beirut’s streets are packed with onlookers or not.

As I walk toward the church, I see an old man hunched over, framed by a breach in the crowd. It is the newspaper publisher Ghassan Tueni, who hired Kassir in the early 1990s to come work for Al-Nahar, Lebanon’s leading Arabic-language daily. I greet Tueni, who responds with polite absence. The man who has serenaded into the grave most of the prominent Lebanese of the past half-century, who would do the same to his own son, Gebran, six months later, knows that this particular burial reverses the order of things. Kassir was a protÉgÉ, a taxing protÉgÉ for never shying away from a fight, but who was kept on the newspaper’s front page even as he used his column to tear into the prohibitions bolstering Syria’s order in Lebanon. Tueni was at ease with provocation, could rarely abide the smugness of power even as he searched power out, and likely heard in Kassir reverberations of his own effrontery. He stands defeated. I recall that the day before he mumbled a four-word fragment when asked what Kassir’s death meant: “. . . the great Arab prison.”

In an interview with Kassir in June 2004, I asked him whether he thought Lebanon had a message to offer, even though the values of the republic had been vandalized during the years of Syrian hegemony. “I don’t know,” he answered, “but I am sure the Lebanese deserve a better future. At least they deserve to find their own way, in accordance with a rich history that cannot be reduced merely to violence. Yes, we were a laboratory for violence, but we were also, before that, a laboratory for modernity, and in some ways we still are.”

It is a paradox, one intimately understandable to the Lebanese, that the secular, worldly Kassir is to be buried in the ancient rites of the Greek Orthodox Church. The mass begins, but it is the marginalia that draws attention: the late arrival of Saad al-Hariri, the son of Rafiq al-Hariri, greeted by clapping, chased by the hissing of those annoyed with the interruption; the placement of Lebanon’s grandees to determine which politician is sharing a pew with which ambassador; who is around the coffin and who is not. Then comes the ambulatory, slurred eulogy of Bishop George Khodr, also a weekly fixture of Al-Nahar’s front page, reaffirming the church’s dominion over the service.

Ghassan Tueni’s granddaughter reads a tribute that brings on another ovation. Kassir’s former colleague from the Democratic Left, Elias Atallah, follows, but just as he’s about to make a political statement, he is stopped by one of those anonymous dwellers of Lebanese sacristies. Atallah hesitates; he’s been thrown off his stride. No one listens to what comes next. The scene moves to handshakes of sympathy for the family, a disquieting moment after the church has been emptied when the casket is opened for a last look, the procession to the Cemetery of St. Dmitri, only a short walk from Kassir’s home, and his burial in an elevated family vault in the last aisle to the left behind the church, the closing of a story half-read on a humid Saturday at the start of a grimy Lebanese summer.

Theories circulated as to who was behind the blast. One was that Kassir made a good mark because he had close ties to the Syrian opposition and access to Arab satellite channels through his wife, Giselle Khoury, a prominent journalist at the Al-Arabiya station. He also had French citizenship, as well as Lebanese, so his death may have been a message to France to back off from its antagonism toward the Syrian regime—at least that was how French officials perceived it. According to one of Kassir’s friends, his murder was a more general warning: Lebanon must no longer threaten stability in Damascus as it did during the 1950s and ’60s, when Beirut hosted the region’s exiles, becoming a nerve center for coups and malcontents of every stripe. To Kassir’s wife he paid the price because he had designed a poster for the demonstrations organized after Hariri’s killing, demanding the ouster of seven Lebanese officials, including Sayyed, all shown with dour demeanor, an X drawn through their faces.

Were the theories too convenient? Perhaps, but they were also quickly made irrelevant. The moment Kassir was killed, it was his outspokenness, and his outspokenness from the ramparts of his own city, that gave meaning to his death. The Lebanese had believed that the Syrian withdrawal offered them a new start. Kassir himself had recently been imbibing extra doses of optimism, a narcotic he never lacked in the first place, and presumed that the time of telephoned intimidation was almost over. Yet in his death was a warning that little had changed, that there were those who would fight Lebanon’s liberal instincts, after months when those instincts were at the heart of efforts by the Lebanese to shake themselves free of Syria. Kassir had played a leading role in that shaking off. He had also been realistic about its limitations, so that his death affirmed that liberalism set free was also liberalism threatened, because it was itself threatening.

For all the abstract things Samir was to Lebanon, he was also, and quite incidentally, a friend of mine. I first met him at the old offices of Al-Nahar on Hamra Street in 1993, soon after his return from Paris. We mentioned squash and not long afterward began playing together in a run-down club near the remains of a Roman aqueduct in a Beirut suburb. Neither of us was any good, and when we weren’t slashing at thin air, we could at least survey the bird’s nest in the top corner of the court. The aqueduct would later hold meaning for me because Samir mentioned it in his last book, a history of Beirut. It supplied the Roman city with water and Samir’s noticing it was an early step in his mentally reassembling the country he had spent years away from and would later embody better than most.

Samir’s passage from those early days back in Beirut to his murder had many turns, yet also followed a straight line in that what he wrote, as George Orwell put it to describe his own motivations, came from a “desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society that they should strive after.” In his more academic works, particularly his published doctoral thesis on the Lebanese civil war, S...


More About the Author

Michael Young is opinion editor of the Daily Star newspaper in Lebanon, where he writes a weekly column. He is also a contributing editor at Reason magazine in the United States. He writes a weekly commentary for The National newspaper in Abu Dhabi and for the NowLebanon website in Beirut.

Young's first book, The Ghosts of Martyrs Square: An Eyewitness Account of Lebanon's Life Struggle was selected by The Wall Street Journal as one of its 10 notable books of 2010, and was awarded the Silver Prize in The Washington Institute for Near East Policy's book prize competition.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jackson St. on March 24, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
While I typically enjoy Michael Young's writing this was a little too philosophical for my taste. The book provided for a good historical recap of the last 5 years but it came with a side of bias and preconceptions. In my opinion I could have had less opinion and the book would have been shorter and more enjoyable. This felt like a long essay that no one bothered to edit. Though I will give Mr. Young credit for being open with his opinions and blame while still living in Beirut and seeing many of his peers assassinated. That has to count for a lot. Overall good book if you can look past the prose.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Joseph L. Boohaker on July 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have read Michael Young for years on the Daily Star where he has been an editorial writer. He has the unique perspective on Lebanon of being half American and half Lebanese and for having lived in the country during the Civil War years, the years of occupation and now the post Cedar Revolution period that has continued since March 14, 2005. Most people see Lebanon, if at all, as a blip on a radar screen.
Young knows the history and knows the players and this gives him excellent insight into where the country is going since many of the civil war players are now players in this chapter of the country's life. The sectarianism, which many see as a hinderance to the eventual evolution of Lebanon into modernity, Young sees as a possible path toward that future.
Lebanon is the barometer of the entire region. Change Lebanon and change the region. Both sides know this, Iran and the US. Iran has been in the game much longer than has the US. Young touches on this and on the efforts of the US to catch up and to bring Lebanon more toward its natural Western orientation. For years known as the Western window into the East. Young tells us of a future Lebanon as an Eastern Window into the West. A place where the East ever fearful of the ability of the West to swallow them whole, can experience the West and find ways to accommodate their Eastern Ways to the Western culture. This is Lebanon's mission and Young writes it so well.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Bernice L. Youtz on July 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I confess I have not quite finished "The Ghosts of Martyrs Square...." but am fascinated so far. I admit some may find it more about Lebanon than they really want to know, but I lived there, very happily, some years ago and returned for a visit in 2002. I maintain a strong affection for the country and its people, mourn for their suffering. I do feel the author, Michael Young (Lebanese/American and long-time resident and reporter in Beirut), goes a long way in making sense of this small, complicated, and important country. It is probably still Phoenician, pragmatic, and determined to outlast its neighbors.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Cary B. Barad on June 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover
An objective account and analysis of recent Lebanese history with good working explanations of the policies and tactics of the Syrians, Israelis, Maronites, Iranians, Sunnis, Hezbollah, Americans and French. Would have benefited greatly, however, from some photographs of the principle players. A pretty tragic tale in all, which leads one to forecast a pessimistic future.
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