Lebanon crisis

My friend Lokman Slim: No one has answered for his assassination

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On April 4 it will be two months since Lokman Slim was assassinated. The criminals, both the low-level operatives who pulled the trigger and the decision-makers at the top of the terrorist organization involved, continue to live freely and laugh in the face of justice and accountability, while the Lebanese state rolls over.

Lokman spent some of his seemingly limitless energy focused on precisely this issue – the chronic lack of justice and the need to end Lebanon’s culture of impunity – which makes his killing and the absence of any meaningful investigation cruelly ironic.

If Lokman was still with us and someone else was relegated to his tragic fate, he would have taken to writing and speaking about this, with the usual fervor and finesse that he was known for. And, as I was fortunate enough to see firsthand, Lokman’s passion and ability to poetically express ideas were truly unmatched.

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At the end of summer 2019, I first met Lokman. I had been living in Lebanon for a year, working in a restaurant full-time, but I wanted to do more. After sending out emails and resumes around Beirut, I arranged to head to the Slim residence in Haret Hreik – the southern Beirut neighborhood known as the main stronghold of the Iranian-funded Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah. I met with Lokman and his wife, the writer and director Monika Borgmann. We had a brief meeting and talked about how I might be of help to them, and their non-governmental organization, UMAM Documentation and Research (UMAM D&R).

As our working relationship developed, we learned how best to put our skills together: Lokman with his vast knowledge of Lebanese history and deep understanding of the social-political levers shaping the country, and I with basic writing and editing skills gleaned from a research-heavy education at the University of Wisconsin.

At first, I helped with simple tasks ranging from drafting emails and refining opinion pieces for those seeking Lokman’s input (of which there were many), to editing various bits of English text and producing subtitles. As time went on, and I built upon my understanding of Lebanese issues – and Lokman’s role in dealing with them – I began helping with research and analysis on political spats, prison reform, legislative failures, and Hezbollah’s activities in Lebanon and abroad.

The core endeavor of UMAM D&R, stems from the idea that Lebanon will never advance and reach its full potential unless it addresses the many skeletons in its closet. The mantra of the state has been to forget and move on, with no thought to the consequences this creates.

Lokman Slim and his sister Rasha al-Ameer. (Image supplied by Rasha al-Almeer)
Lokman Slim and his sister Rasha al-Ameer. (Image supplied by Rasha al-Almeer)

Lokman saw a historical accounting of the country as crucial to avoid this. He felt strongly that continuing to ignore Lebanon’s conflict-laden past meant sentencing the Mediterranean country to a future of misery, violence, and instability.

He took on the responsibility, alongside Monika, of creating documentation, research, and a cultural center to provide stakeholders of Lebanon’s future with a well of resources and information upon which they could base discussions and form ideas.

In documenting Lebanon’s past – with its bloody sectarian conflicts, unsolved assassinations, forced disappearances, and brutal massacres – Lokman aimed to empower the Lebanese to confront all that is wrong in their country and to give them the tools and resources to challenge the conventional narratives being propagated by the former warlords turned political leaders. And Hezbollah, a terrorist organization masquerading as a political party, looms the largest amongst this group of reinvented militiamen.

As a Shia Muslim born and raised in the southern Beirut neighborhoods now dominated by Hezbollah, Lokman had the legitimacy to criticize this group in a way few could. He remembered the days before their green and yellow flags went up, when southern Beirut pulsated with multiculturalism. Lokman challenged Hezbollah’s tired narrative with nuance, eloquence, and novel ideas.

I learned an incredible amount about Lebanese and Middle Eastern affairs thanks to Lokman, but I discovered more than that.

After Hezbollah personally threatened him and his family in December 2019, I knew then what bravery is. Lokman was relaxed about something that would have shaken any other man. He was steadfast in his convictions and was not going to be deterred from extensively writing and speaking about the causes of Lebanon’s deterioration, even if one of those causes dealt in a currency of violence and intimidation.

I learned what the tireless pursuit of education and self-betterment is when seeing Lokman reading a multitude of historical and political books in English, marking words or expressions he didn’t understand. And I learned what it is to help others, sometimes in small, yet significant ways.

From day one Lokman welcomed me and made sure I was a member of the team despite being more than a little out of place as an American in southern Beirut. Frequently around lunchtime Lokman would come and find me and invite me to his family home to eat with Monika, and his sister, and mother. I’d get to eat home-cooked Lebanese food while Lokman saw to it that my glass was never empty.

After the initial period of COVID-19 quarantining, I began working with Lokman and Monika at their home because they had not yet reopened the neighboring office. Again, always thinking about the wellbeing of others, Lokman ensured I continuously had tea, water, sweets, and anything else I might need. Things I never asked for. That’s the kind of person Lokman was.

I eventually returned to the US, and relocated to my home state of Ohio, but in mid-January decided to move to Washington.

On February 2, 2021, Lokman and I spoke over the phone about the future of our working relationship. I expressed that I’d like to continue our work throughout the year, regardless of the position I was about to fulfill in Washington.

Medics evacuate the body of prominent Lebanese activist and intellectual Lokman Slim from the spot where he was found dead in his car near southern Lebanese city of Saida, on February 4, 2021. (File photo: AFP)
Medics evacuate the body of prominent Lebanese activist and intellectual Lokman Slim from the spot where he was found dead in his car near southern Lebanese city of Saida, on February 4, 2021. (File photo: AFP)

During this last conversation I had with Lokman, I told him that I had just moved to DC but had not yet found work.

He asked what kind of a job I was looking for, and when I said something related to Middle Eastern affairs and Arabic, he replied that he would think about contacts in Washington who might be able to assist me in finding employment.

This prompted him to say that he would be willing to help out financially should I need it. Rather than strictly get paid for the work I completed for UMAM D&R, he said I only had to ask for help regardless of whether I was needed or not.

And so I hung up the phone thinking to myself: “Wow, he really is an incredible person.”

Lokman didn’t need to offer me help; he had already provided enough, but after our call, Lokman reached out to a contact in Washington to introduce me as a “friend/colleague.” I felt instantly honored to be considered a friend by a man I so tremendously respected.

The next night Lokman went missing and on the morning of February 4, his body was found in Hezbollah-controlled southern Lebanon with six bullets embedded in his head and torso.

He had refused to be silenced by the terrorist organization in his relentless pursuit of making Lebanon, his beloved country, a better place. He would stop at nothing to help bring Lebanon out of the abyss and lay the foundations for the kind of future the people deserve. He knew the precarious ground on which he strode, but never stood down. That’s the Lokman Slim I knew. The man I grew to admire and would call a friend.

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