There is no such thing as a routine political killing, but Tuesday’s assassination of Lebanese Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel threatens repercussions - and signals intentions - that are nothing short of extraordinary. With the Lebanese political climate already fouled by soaring tensions, the timing alone indicates that the people who orchestrated the attack are both ruthless and reckless. The choice of victim is also an act of historical blackmail, resurrecting as it does some key ghosts of the 1975-1990 Civil War: A 1980 car-bombing killed the 2-year-old daughter of his uncle, then-Lebanese Forces leader Bashir Gemayel; another blast killed Bashir himself after he became president-elect in 1982. The assailants’ identities and immediate demands are unknown, but their message is clear: They will bring the country to - and possibly beyond - the brink of disaster to get their way.
Some small comfort might be taken if it could confidently be asserted that the assassins were not thinking very clearly, that they were unaware of what they might be unleashing, that they might desist upon realizing the magnitude of their mistake. Unfortunately, no surety can attach to such a theory, so the assumption has to be that the killers knew precisely what they were doing. The onus, therefore, is on the forces of reason to ensure that the provocateurs are denied satisfaction in any way, shape or form. There must be no surrender to either the demands of a shadowy enemy or the temptation to take revenge on him by targeting innocents with no connection to the crime. Those who truly want Lebanon to change for the better understand that this cannot happen unless they unequivocally endorse due process and the rule of law - especially on occasions when it is cruelly difficult to do so. They will argue, correctly, that Tuesday’s assassination is an irrefutable argument for the creation of an international tribunal to try suspects in the 2004 assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri. The court has now risen above the level of political desirability to that of national necessity, so those who want it most have a duty to respect the principles that will form its foundations.
All Lebanese should be thankful, therefore, for the reaction of the slain minister’s father, former President Amin Gemayel. Acknowledging the latest tragedy to befall his family, he stressed instead the greater peril facing the country if cooler heads do not prevail. He warned against rash responses to the crime and emphasized that his relatives have died for the sake of Lebanon’s freedom and security. This is no time to evaluate the means they employed to achieve those ends, only to note the act of supreme will it must have taken for the former president to speak in such conciliatory tones on so terrible a day. If he could put his country and his people above all other concerns in these circumstances, surely others on both sides of the current crisis can summon the courage, the decency and the wisdom to do the same.
This article was printed in The Daily Star.