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The Assassination of Lokman Slim: Why Are Cultural Producers Being Targeted in Lebanon?

Updated: Apr 27, 2021

by D. Krikorian

“War is sparring. We are in a war against dictatorship and against the monopoly of one opinion. We only have our voices. They are armed.” - Lokman Slim

On 4th February 2021, Lebanese political activist Lokman Slim was assassinated. He was shot and killed in his car in Nabatiyeh, Lebanon. His death came after his disappearance during the night while returning from a visit to his friends’ residence.

Slim was a visionary, an intellectual, a thinker and a cultural producer. His work focused on documenting the history of Lebanon, and promoting the rich cultural work coming from the country’s artists and writers.

He was an advocate of change. His passing symbolises the silencing of freedom of speech as oligarchs continue to cement their dream of plunging the country into obscurity.

Slim was Shia: his father was a former Shia deputy, and his mother was an Egyptian Christian. However, he advocated for unity and was a prominent critic of the Lebanese leadership and Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shia party.

It is a dangerous time in Lebanese history, where terror and political power-plays subdue the country’s citizens. In a year and a half, the once vibrant country has sunk to lows unprecedented since the Civil War (1975-1990). Lebanon has lived through the 2019 revolution (Tharwa), the liquidity crisis, the ongoing pandemic and the calamitous 4th August Beirut blast. Slim has joined a long list of victims killed in the 46 years since the start of the Civil War.

But why are cultural activists being silenced and targeted? What does it mean to erase the producers of art, literature and memory?


Criticising the Regime

The cultural production of text and research is powerful. Slim, with his wife Monika Borgmann, co-founded the citizen research centre Umam Documentation and Research and Hayya Bina, a civic platform. Together, they advocate for freedom of speech and uncover the conflicts behind the tumultuous state in Lebanon.

Issue 5 (October 2020) of Umam and Hayya critiqued the return of Saad Hariri as Lebanon's Prime Minister; the role of President Michel Aoun; Amal, a powerful Shia party led by Nabih Berri, the speaker of parliament since 1992; and Hezbollah.

The tone is urgent. It warns that the “stability doctrine” continues to endanger and engulf Lebanon. This doctrine, promoted by political leaders and their private armed forces, argues that the continuation of their power is necessary to protect Lebanon's frontiers. In reality, it promotes a false stability that keeps them in power and the people’s 2019 revolution at bay.

Muhammed Khatami, The City of Politics

In parallel, Slim’s publishing house Dar al Jadeed - co-founded with his sister Rasha Al-Ameed - presents itself as “a free, independent and avant-garde publishing house.” They have published materials banned by the Lebanese General Security. Dar al Jadeed currently distributes the first Arabic translations of three books by controversial Iranian president Muhammad Khatami.

The critical and vocal initiatives of Slim condemn oligarchic actions and the authority of the political system. The sharing of ideas creates a point of communication, which counters the one-dimensionality of oligarchical ideology. Freedom of speech becomes the tool by which communities come together to talk, disagree or even agree.