The murder of Lebanese journalist Gibran Tunei by 88 pounds of TNT in Beirut, Lebanon, makes me think that perhaps I was too casually treating with tyrants when I taunted the Syrian regime for bigotry last week while visiting the region.
My episode was in Amman, Jordan, and was bluntly suggestive of a fascist era movie, perhaps “Ministry of Fear,” where threats are disguised as illogical misunderstandings and lies are delivered as sonorous explanations of state policy. I was turned back from a well-scheduled broadcast visit to Damascus, Syria, when both the Syrian Ministry of Information and Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as the Syrian ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha, chose to refuse a travel visa for my co-host, Aaron Klein, the Jerusalem correspondent for WorldNetDaily.com.
Contacted by mobile phone soon after, the Syrian ambassador could not or would not offer a coherent explanation as to the last-moment reversal of promised and arranged travel papers. When told that the functionaries at the Syrian embassy in Amman pointed to Aaron’s religion – he is an American Jew – the Syrian ambassador denied that religion is a consideration for the entry process, despite the plain fact the sixth question on the application asks for “religion,” despite the fact that I was told I could go on – I am an American Protestant – and Aaron could not because, as an Amman embassy genius put it, “You know what you are.”
That night, broadcasting in Amman at the terror-marred Grand Hyatt Hotel, Aaron and I offered the ambassador an opportunity to come on air to debate the easy inference that his nation is in the hands of anti-Semitic oafs. The ambassador agreed, but did not answer his cell phone when called three times at the scheduled moment. The next day, on air, I taunted the Syrian state as racist and the ambassador as missing in action. Within minutes, the ambassador called Aaron’s mobile phone and again asked for a chance to come on air and debate. I agreed and told Aaron there was only one question for the ambassador: “Will you now issue a travel visa to Aaron to visit your country?”
On air, Aaron asked the ambassador twice and I asked him once, and each time the ambassador refused to answer the question, leaving the clear impression that Syria does not concern itself with the moral advantages of civilization.
I thought little more deeply of the meaning of the incident until I read of Tunei’s murder and received an e-mail from Aaron, back in Jerusalem, that Tunei had been a pal of Aaron’s and a frequent source. Tunei was assassinated within a day of returning from protection in France, and it is widely assumed that he was killed because of his anti-Syrian publishing in the newspaper An-Nahar. A gang called The Strugglers for Unity and Freedom in al-Sham admitted responsibility with the usual portentousness of villains: “We have broken the pen of Gibran Tunei and gagged his mouth forever.” However, the droll, reliable Lebanese politician and Druze leader, Walid Jumblatt, points directly at Syria; in fact, Walid Jumblatt came on my show the night Aaron was abused – from Jumblatt’s most secure mountain compound near Beirut – and warned that Syria was a desperate, murderous, terrorist state.
Now I puzzle if I have been too ready to regard Syria’s conduct toward Aaron and my show as matter-of-fact vile mischief and not as a warning shot. After all, we were scheduled just days before Tunei’s death to be in Damascus for interviews with Cabinet ministers to ask about Syrian complicity in the terror in Iraq as well as in Lebanon and Israel; and we did have pending a good prospect to bring on President Bashar Assad to speak directly to the American people about the common assumption that he ordered the Hariri assassination last winter. Also, just two days before the incident at the Syrian Embassy in Amman, Aaron and I spoke with Islamic Jihad killer Khalid al Batsh in Gaza and denounced him as an agent of Syrian terror and the Syrian state as complicit in the Netanya murder bombing on Dec. 5.
Then again, we are only two of thousands of voices to declare the facts of the Assad tyranny. Then again, we do it loudly, on an Olympus-like medium. Then again, would the ops who attacked Tunei concern themselves with American busybodies like us? Then again, I wonder what Tunei asked himself the day he returned from France?
I am over thinking this. This is the 21st century, not Ray Milland’s “Ministry of Fear,” when all shadows were dagger-wielders. Time to have confidence; time to rely upon the well advertised vigor of the international community so ably represented by the now resigned Hariri investigator Detlev Mehlis; time to accept Walid Jumblatt’s invitation and schedule a broadcast visit to Beirut.
John Batchelor is a talk show host and novelist.