On this day in 2005, Lebanese journalist Samir Kassir was killed in Beirut in a shocking assassination that drew worldwide condemnation.
Who Was Samir Kassir?
Born in May 1960 to a Lebanese-Palestinian father and a Lebanese-Syrian mother, Samir Kassir spent his early life in Achrafieh, eastern Beirut.
He lived through the first quarter of the Lebanese Civil War before moving to France in 1981, 6 years into the war, to pursue a university education.
Three years later, Kassir graduated from the University of Paris with a Diploma of Advanced Studies in philosophy and political philosophy.
He went on to obtain a Ph.D. in modern and contemporary history from Paris-Sorbonne University in 1990, with a thesis on the Lebanese Civil War.
While he studied in Paris and until the year 2000, he contributed to the French monthly newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique.
This was one of several newspapers and newsletters that Kassir was involved in between 1981 and 2000, including Le Liban en Lutte (Struggling Lebanon), Al-Hayat, L’Orient-Le Jour, and Al-Yawm As-Sabi.
During the said period Kassir authored a book about the Lebanese War and co-authored another about France and the Israeli-Arab conflict. Also, in 1995, he founded L’Orient L’Express, a monthly political and cultural review.
He continued editing L’Orient L’Express until its closure in 1998, the same year he became a professor at Saint Joseph University in Beirut and an editorial writer for Annahar.
With his Annahar articles, Kassir was at the forefront of the opposition movement against the Syrian military presence in Lebanon.
His criticisms of the Syrian regime and the Lebanese government at the time meant that he would face regular threats and harassment.
In April 2001, his passport was confiscated at Beirut-Rafik Hariri International Airport, sparking a public outcry that returned his passport to his possession.
In 2003, Samir Kassir published his third book, titled Histoire de Beyrouth (History of Beirut), in which he explored the Lebanese capital’s culture, history, and development throughout the years.
A year later, he published two more books: Syrian Democracy and Lebanese Independence, and Askar Ala Min? (Soldiers Against Whom?), which included a collection of the articles he had written for Annahar.
Apart from his journalistic contributions, Samir Kassir helped establish the Democratic Left Movement, becoming a member of its executive office in October 2004.
Kassir’s advocacy of Lebanon’s independence from Syrian influence progressed with his political career, culminating in the 2005 Cedar Revolution that followed the assassination of then-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005.
He was one of the most prominent voices in the popular movement that prompted Syria‘s military withdrawal from Lebanon in April of the same year.
On June 2nd, 2005, as Lebanon emerged from general elections, Samir Kassir was assassinated with a car bomb in Beirut’s central district.
His assassination created a wide wave of anger and condemnation, both inside Lebanon and abroad, manifesting in protests and marches in Beirut, Paris, and Washington, in addition to worldwide statements of condemnation, including from the United Nations Security Council.
In 2006, the EU Delegation to Lebanon, in cooperation with the Samir Kassir Foundation that was created by Kassir’s friends, students, and colleagues, launched the Samir Kassir Prize for journalism.
The Samir Kassir Foundation has since been honoring the late journalist’s memory by translating his works into English, Italian, and Norwegian, in addition to completing his unfinished projects, such as publishing a special edition of L’Orient Express (in November 2005).
The non-profit foundation continues to work for the preservation of the freedom of culture and the freedom of the press, by identifying violations and defending persecuted journalists, not to mention promoting and reinforcing journalistic skills among media workers.