This poem, written by Audre Lorde, was translated to Arabic by Rana Issa in homage to Lokman Slim.
مهداة إلى روح لقمان سليم العالم الشجاع وإلى أحبائه
نحن الذين نعيش على حافة البحر
واقفون بثبات، وحيدين
على حدود القرار الحاسم
نحن الذين لا نملك ترف
الخَيار بين أحلام عابرة
نحن الذين نحبّ على المداخل
في الساعات ما بين سَحر وسَحر
شاخصين إلى الداخل والخارج
قبلَ وبعدَ في آن معًا
ساعين وراء آنٍ يتوالد
كخبزٍ في أفواه أولادِنا
لكي لا تعكس أحلامهم
كخط طفيف في وسط جباهنا
الذين تعلمنا الخوف مع حليب أمهاتنا
هذا الوهم بأمان ما مرتقب
أمِل أصحاب الوطأة الثقيلة إسكاتنا
إذ نحن جميعاَ
في هذه اللحظة، في هذا النصر
لم يكن مقدراً لنا أن نبقى.
وعندما تشرق الشمس نخاف
عندما تغرب الشمس نخاف
ألا تشرق في الصباح
وإن امتلأت بطوننا نخاف
وإن خَوَتْ نخاف
ألا نأكل بعدها مرة أخرى
وعندما نُحبّ نخاف
أن يختفي الحب
في وحدتنا نخاف
ألا يعود الحب أبدًا
وعندما نحكي نخاف
ألا تُسمع كلماتنا
أو ألا يُرحّب بها
ثمّ عندما نصمت
لا نزال خائفين
لذلك من الأفضل أن نحكي
أنه لم يكن مقدّرًا لنا أن نبقى.
أودري لورد، ١٩٧٨
شاعرة إفريقية أميركية أو كما اشتهرت بتعريفها عن نفسها "سوداء، مثلية، أم، محاربة، وشاعرة."
ترجمة: رنا عيسى، كاتبة ومترجمة مترحلّة بين بيروت وأوسلو.
Lokman. It is best to postpone writing. If confession suggests that we are free, then confession lies. And if we say that we cannot confess, we lie too.
This jungle is not green. Its trees were uprooted, its soil muddy. The very same law of the jungle came toppling down, the mud dried up. Escaping it is now more difficult.
This is a desert without clear coordinates. A nebular desert with disjointed elements. It takes command from the second verse of Genesis: “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness.” Darkness as heavy as a slate. I fail to recollect the rest of the verse. Lokman’s eyes are following me since news of his death came out. I attempt to repress his voice. I try to leave. No door to the desert, no wall.
Lokman, I had promised you to write this text. And now you will not read it. And yet I have nothing besides embarking on writing it. I will summarize as much as possible, for this topic exhausts me. I will stop at the first promising comma that allows me to step out of it. This is a text without an ending.
Memories of Dahieh
Dahieh, Sfeir, early 1980s. There was something different about the situation. Hezbollah had not made an appearance yet. There was my grandparents’ house, that I often visited. I grew up between Unesco, Sfeir, and my school in Verdun. The son of a Christian, communist, proletarian, and weapon-carrying family. All my father's family picked up arms in the Two-Year War (1975-6), against the rising tide within their sect. My uncle became a martyr then when he was still 19 years of age. The rest of the family, the family of my grandmother, the mother of my father, were on the other side of the green line, separated by a few hundred meters from one another. In Hadath, lives my grandmother Latifa. She was the first cousin of George Saadeh, the Phalangist Member of Parliament at the time, and later on, the party leader. Latifa and her sister Souad were content to come close to the green line to speak to one another. One used to throw a carton of Gitanes cigarettes to the other. In the mid 90s, Souad was found dead. Dismembered in Hadath.
Why do all these memories come out at once now? And what is your relation to this? Of course, you are the organic son of Dahieh, and I have Dahieh woven into the fabric of my childhood. You are the son of one of Dahieh’s patrimonial families, long before it was called Dahieh, and I am the son of refugees, who settled here one winter night in the 40s, coming from the Metn coastal line in the south, from Jbeil, to resettle between Hadath, Haret Hreik and Sfeir. You are the son of the lawyer Mohsen Slim, a Shia Chamounite. And I am the son of those who carried arms, very early on, against Chamounism. My grandfather, Sarkis, first joined the Communist Party, but was not satisfied with how his party referred to Gamal Abdel Nasser, so he chose Abdel Nasser. He even insisted to hold in our village, Bejjeh, in Jbeil district, funeral rites at the Church, the day Abdel Nasser died. With the decline of Nasserism, Sarkis and his sons returned to the Communist party, with some nudging from my father’s teacher, the lawyer Mikhail Aoun, Michel Aoun’s cousin.
The wreck that my grandfather’s family became after the death of my uncle Elie was terrifying and strange. I do not understand it sometimes. All of them were at the barricades. From the Battle of the Hotels all the way to Kfarshima. What were they expecting? Only Elie went into foreign territory. He was killed at the axis of Bdadoun as a result of the foolishness (with criminal consequences) of the local military command that gave orders for the soldiers to advance without accompanying artillery.
They rang the church bells in Bdadoun and then they were killed there. I once shook hands with the man that was responsible for the death of my uncle in the party, just as I shook hands with many others who were on the opposite side during the war. Between my uncle who was a party martyr, and my mother’s brother, my other uncle, the head of the party, bred contradiction. The assassination of my other uncle at a later point transformed this contradiction to a path that became increasingly complex.
This is why I desisted your preoccupation with documenting the war, dear Lokman. For you, all things end with documenting memory. For me things are not so final, because I desire to scatter memory and imagine what amnesia entails. The war is documented plenty for me. My thirst is only quenched with older wars that journey to the farthest of places.
I often evaded working with you on this particular detail, war and memory. Unlike other topics, like contributing to the “Hayya Bina” pamphlets about the Syrian army withdrawal from Lebanon, or the panel on “The Problematics of Syrian Migration to Lebanon.”
More than once, you expressed to me, dear Lokman, your consternation that I had met with Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea. This was an expression of one of our fundamental differences. This wasn’t just a tactical disagreement. For you, things were organized in the following matter: documentation, confession, forgiveness, forgetfulness. At the end of it all, you too sought to forget, as a conclusion for analysis, as in that of documentation. I wanted to pretend to forget in order to avoid having memory balance itself on a tight spring. We can no longer revisit this long argument between us.
We liked to discuss those issues without expecting a conclusion, except my promise that I will write about Dahieh from my perspective as a child, and my perpetual postponement of this writing. I promised to write expansively for some time. You will not read any of it now…
But I will write something.
Iranians in Baalbek and Hezbollah in Dahieh
The first time I heard of Hezbollah was not in Dahieh, and that name was not official yet. In August 1982, the summer of the Israeli invasion, we took refuge with a communist family in Baalbek. My grandfather met us there, and stayed with us a while, after a sojourn in Syria. The first time I heard that “Iranians” had come to Baalbek was at that time. I was three months to five years old. But I recall well the reverberations of the name on me: the Iranians. I do not know why I tied it to the Temple ruins in Baalbek, as if it harked from an ancient past. We did not visit the ruins then. But they were visible to us each time we drove back and forth. I thought they were a folk that now dwell there.
A few years later in Sfeir. A phrase facing my grandfather’s house: “Muslims of the World Unite Unite.” I learned then that Sarkis refused to have the phrase written on his house, so it was sprayed on the opposite wall. It spoke to what I remembered from the sixtieth anniversary of the communist party: “Workers of the World Unite”, a phrase I penned on all my school notebooks. But this one insisted on unity twice “Unite, Unite”. I never understood the reason for that repetition.
My grandfather, Sarkis, who is a basic proletarian, and diligent reader, had originally received the Iranian revolution with a poem that sang the praises of Imam Khomeini, and that was published in a magazine issued by the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Filastin al-Thawra. But when the young men came to tag his own house with that phrase a few years later, he refused. And it seems, that together with my grandmother, he found a way to co-exist with this new situation called Hezbollah in Dahieh. As Maronites, they were among the few who stayed in their homes.
He complained about the difficulties of the situation. As for her, she was so full of hatred towards the men in the Amal Movement who took control over Dahieh for a while, that she almost caused the death of one of her own children. So, when Hezbollah took over, she developed a sympathetic stance towards them. She “shocked” me when I was towards the end of my childhood and the beginnings of youth with her sympathies for them. I recollect our communist martyrs that died “at the hands of dark forces” back then; particularly, the son of Dahieh, Michel Waked. She would say “some of them are good men, ya sitti.” I even began to suspect that she secretly drafted a membership in Hezbollah. Each time, she would make an exception to those “good men.” She blamed another group, those who splintered from the Amal Movement, and joined Hezbollah, to have kidnapped her son (before Zaher al-Khatib facilitated his release) and anything else that went wrong.
The world I grew up in was terribly rife with contradictions. When the Christian faction of the Lebanese Army entered Dahieh in 1983 to pave a road in front of my grandmother’s house, behind the old “Umaraa’ Bakery,” women threw rice at them. My grandmother threw curses. She is the same grandmother that drew my attention, when Michel Aoun became interim prime minister that they were neighbours for many long years in the past, in Haret Hreik. From her memory, she built her opinion of him as he grew up. She used to be apprehensive about him. He used to gather the children in the neighbourhood and scream at them: “I am Napoleon.”
We might be different, Lokman, about how things were before the revolution in Iran, or the Six of February, 1984 in Dahieh, or a Six-of-February-like event in Iran. We do not differ on how badly things turned out after. Your assassination today is an advanced stage of the general state of suffocation currently afflicting us.
The Dahieh of the 1980s no longer exists. It did not gain its new name before the presidency of Amin Gemayel. It became the absolute name of the place, “Dahieh.” It was the name I shared with Lokman, when we met and talked, and it usually devoured half the conversation. Another thing we shared was Hamra Street. Lokman in Hamra Street. At Harout’s, among other landmarks. The street was teeming with caricatures. Most of them are gone now, and you are assassinated now. Blazing eyes, a smiling face, and a voice. Your voice did not rest since you were killed in my ear. Your eloquent and tame orality, that moves with wise elegance, and a childish foxiness, revelling in description and strength of concept. The ability to sociologically describe events, as well as the political analysis of where things will end were exceptional with Lokman. And the ability to tip the wink. His political practice was a literary practice, creative to the bone marrow.
Iraq…And the last Visit to Dahieh
After the death of my grandparents, my visits to Dahieh dried up. After June 2005, and the assassination of Samir Kassir, and my maternal uncle George Hawi, the schism widened. I have been chronically convinced since that there is somebody in the so-called Axis of Resistance (al-Mumana`a, the axis of joining the Syrian regime with Iran) responsible for all these assassinations. Conviction is necessarily what lacks proof. (As for certitude, that’s another story). But I, in July 2006, was again in a great disagreement with the March 14 coalition about how they were dealing with the July war. I felt the fissure between what is lived and what is narrated during this war is one of the most dangerous risks to Lebanese existence historically.
On the other hand, I clearly opposed the serial assassinations taking place, and took a clear stance against the events that unfolded during May 7, 2008. This stance cost me my job in Assafir newspaper back then, and I ended up winning an arbitrary dismissal lawsuit against the newspaper many years later. After that, and at the height of strain, Lokman Slim asked me to participate in a panel at his centre in Dahieh, comforting me that there is no reason for all this anxiety. He would guarantee everything.
I had just returned from a visit to Iraq, together with Hazem Saghieh, Hussam Itani, and Bashshar Haydar, between Erbil and Baghdad. We met all shades of political parties in Iraq: Masoud Barzani, the Islamic Dawa party, Ammar al-Hakim, Iyad Jamaleddine, Barham Salih, and Adel Abdul-Mahdi. Our escort was the “journalist” Moustafa al-Kazimi, who later became the Chief of Iraqi Intelligence, and Iraq’s Prime Minister today. Al-Kazimi was kind and helpful, but I kept asking him for one specific thing: that he would introduce me to “Sunni Arabs,” after we had met Shia and Kurdish leaders many times. We never met any. Except once, when we were in the lobby of the Rashid Hotel. Mustafa said to me “look there, that’s Tariq al-Hashemi, since you asked about a Sunni Arab.” Later, Nuri al-Maliki would accuse Tariq al-Hashemi of trying to assassinate him, and the latter escaped.
Back then, al-Kazimi presented al-Maliki to us as someone with the character of a leader who can take control of the situation and work through the paradoxes and revitalize Iraq. But al-Kazimi expressed his distaste the day al-Maliki met with the murshid al-Khamenei without wearing a necktie keeping with the anti-Western fashions in Iran and considered it a bad sign. The car on the way from Baghdad airport to the Green Area drove in zigzag. The driver explained that it was for security considerations. On this side were Qaeda operatives, on that side the Mahdi Army. We had just been through the trials of May 7 in Lebanon, and we were seeking a wider horizon to unpack what’s happening. At once, Baghdad rained contradictions on our heads.
Lokman the Listener wanted me to present my observations at that time in a panel: a panel at UMAM in Dahieh. That was the last time I entered the heart of Dahieh.
I came back from Iraq not fully comprehending what I saw and heard. I came back pessimistic and I tried to lighten my pessimism with the excuse that we are in throes. Lokman was more optimistic, but he wanted to listen to the portrait of contradictions as I presented it. In Baghdad, it happened for example that the atmosphere became charged, in the house of Adel Abdul-Mahdi when he said “What civil war in Iraq?” and I asked him “how many dead bodies do you need to call it a civil war?”
Lokman was not one dimensional, and he was adept at picking through complications, but when it came to action and decision making, he believed in choosing no more than one battle to fight. As for me, everything depends on the concrete consequences that result from such decisions.
I liked how Lokman was assertive of the Shia part of his personality. When he argued against the Iranian model after the Revolution, and against Hezbollah in Lebanon, he did not speak as a person who disavowed his Shiism, but as a person who is utterly convinced that the dominant model is catastrophic to Imami Shiism.
Other authors, like Waddah Charara, locate the problem differently. For Waddah, there is an existential problem in the basis of the relationship between the Shia and Lebanon. He believes that Hezbollah’s beginnings can be located in events that happened between 1918-1920 in Jabal Amel. Waddah, in his book Anxious Nation (Al-Umma al-Qaliqa), showed what the fragile reading of these events as a form of “anti-French Imperialism” fails to account for.
Lokman, and it is imperative today to collect his works, had another idea. It revolved around the sole conviction that the blight of Imami Shiism was in the quickening developments in the wake of the Iranian Revolution. A debate could have ensued had Waddah been afflicted with self-loathing for belonging to a geographical religion. As for Lokman, this was not at all the case. He used to accuse his Khomenite enemies that they were inflicted with self-loathing.
The Shia Revival
My opinions developed through the years towards this narrative, first accepting it, and then overcoming it, and then reacting again to it, and then overcoming it, in turn. Late in the summer of 2017, an indirect skirmish between me and Lokman ensued for several hours on Facebook. He critiqued an article I wrote, where I argued that even though Hezbollah controls security and politics, they could never accomplish full sovereignty in Lebanon so long as they are unable to totally dominate culture. The next day, Lokman published a critical rebuttal, partly against my argument, and the other part against an article by Elie El Hajj that made a totally different point. I said to myself, contrary to the usual, “let's break the evil” and liked his post on his satirical critique of me in the piece, where he described me as a “Daltonian” suffering from color blindness.
We ended up having a long discussion at Chase in Sassine. I clarified what I thought, and that, to me, the problem was twofold: Hezbollah and the division over Hezbollah. He argued that, to him, the problem was one and the same. He repeated his request that I write about Dahieh, among other topics, and invited me to visit him there. I laughed: “After all your insistence that control is no longer simply control, but a hegemonic, totalitarian, authoritarian onslaught, you invite me just like that to Dahieh.”
In that meeting in Sassine, I expressed to him an idea which I will conclude with now: that since the 1970s, the Shia awakening took different features in different societies in the region. I recounted, for example, my experience at the tops of the Indian Himalayas, in Ladakh, around Kargil and Zanskar, and how you could find pictures of Hassan Nasrallah and Imad Mughniyeh in those gelid faraway places. I then told him that this awakening, in Lebanon at least, was governed by a terrible contradiction. On the one hand, it comes embodied in the duo of Amal Movement and Hezbollah, and on the other, it is embodied by you, the Shia intellectuals. Many of you supported the Iranian Revolution, and now you no longer do. The Shia alliance against Hezbollah is but a consequence; you are only a minority among your sect, and energy is expended to purge this minority from the sect. As for the Shia duo, they were never able to draw the centre of the Shia intelligentsia to them, even if they managed to appropriate and lay claim to, say, Shia academics at the Lebanese University. At the same time, this intelligentsia that stands firmly against Hezbollah and Iran, even though most of its members originally had high hopes for the Iranian Revolution, is today the most vibrant intellectual community in Lebanon, compared to other sects.
I said, this means, in order to declare absolute hegemony akin to “political Maronitism,” the following equation must be realized: “Hezbollah plus Lokman Slim are required to cooperate in order to achieve this kind of dominance.”
We laughed that night. Here we are now, crying you, Lokman. But the “weapons, when used to efface vital thought from the civil space, end up effacing their capabilities for domination” is an equation that has ended with the bullets of death.
The image Lokman holds of his murderer is no longer so different from the image that the murderer has of himself. If this means anything, it means that the death of Lokman Slim is an event that is unlike any other event from previous years. It is almost like a new calendar for a whole era that awaits us. After all, this “awakening” that is alienated from the act of being awake, when it killed Lokman, slew whatever is left of its own spirit. The revival killed Lokman and its own soul. There is no more revival. Our lot straddles the interstice between two slopes, and we hang just at the opening of the chasm.
 In reference to hyper-Capitalist President of the Republic of Lebanon, Camille Chamoun, 1952-56.
Wissam Saade is a lecturer of Political Science and History at Saint Joseph University since 2003. He is a regular op-ed writer in leading Lebanese and Arab news platforms. His research interests focus on medieval and modern political thought, as well as the social and intellectual history of modern revolutions.