A martyr is generally someone who is deeply attached to a cause, belief or faith and is willing to sacrifice for the sake of it. A true martyr does not even shy away from death, the ultimate sacrifice, to protect and propagate whatever it is they believe in. Within the context of this very simple definition, it may already dawn on you the number of times and ways the word martyr has been used, misused and certainly abused in Lebanon and the Arab region. Not every person killed is a martyr, because not every person has a cause or is killed because of it. Not dying a martyr doesn’t make a death any less tragic, it’s just that not every human being that is killed is and should be considered a martyr.
I bring this up because today is Martyr’s Day in Lebanon. On a day like this in 1916, Ottoman ruler Jamal Pasha, known as the Butcher, ordered the execution of Lebanese (and Syrian) nationalists seeking the help of the French to free their land from Ottoman rule. I doubt many people can name all 13 who were executed in what is now Martyrs’ Square, which is another feature many martyrs have in common, anonymity. They’re like real soldiers sometimes, most people don’t know their names and will never see their faces, but know they did something noble, for the sake of a higher cause.
I bring this up because today is supposed to be a national holiday to celebrate our martyrs, those from 1916 and from earlier and later years, those known and unknown, including press martyrs who played a part in forming and safeguarding the place we now call Lebanon. Unfortunately, the national holiday was cancelled, by a certain Prime Minister Fouad Siniora during his tenure (2005-2009). The fact that I do not recall the reason given to cancel the holiday is probably the biggest proof that it was a petty one. Whether Martyr’s Day was sacrificed (no pun intended) to reduce overall holidays, replace it with another holiday, or cancel it at the expense of keeping the Christian/Muslim holiday balance is irrelevant. It just needs to be reinstated if this country has any respect for itself and those who died for it.
It saddens me deeply to believe that cancelling this holiday may have come at the expense of installing a new one, that of February 14 for the so-called Rafik Hariri Memorial Day instead. The day former Prime Minister Hariri was assassinated, the so-called martyr of Lebanon, has thus been immortalized, set in stone at the expense of all other patriots for no reason whatsoever. This isn’t about being with or against Hariri, his policies, vision or legacy, because as he used to say, Lebanon is bigger than anybody (even Hariri himself). This is about correcting an error and the slight misunderstanding that Hariri and his kind hold dear, that Beirut and Lebanon’s history started with them, and before them little is worth mentioning or preserving. Therefore, for whoever considers Hariri a martyr, let him also be remembered on May 6 like all the others. And for those who don’t, he will be respectfully remembered as yet another politician with the misfortune of being tragically assassinated in a country that fails to provide justice to its people.
Our martyrs are sacrificed, even in death…