May Chidiac: THE PRICE OF FREEDOM

by May Chidiac, 3 May 2006, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Good evening Mr President 
Good evening Excellencies 
Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen 

On the 25th of September, 2005 some few seconds were enough to change a whole life, my life. I was a victim of terrorism, and who could tell that on that day my whole life would change forever. I have interviewed a countless number of politicians, journalists and other famous personalities in my career, and managed to get the information wanted from them in the most elegant way possible, but I would have never thought that this finesse in the search for truth and transparency could bring a death sentence with my name on it. 

Moments after the blast that nearly took my life, I found myself in the back of my burning car, and I realized that I was brutally attacked much like all those who fell before on the path of saving the liberty and sovereignty of my country. 

However, I was never the first victim of terrorism, and I was certainly not the first journalist to be a victim of terrorism. Along with Samir Kassir and Jibran Tueni., We are three journalists to be targeted in Lebanon during 2005. Lebanese journalism has a long history of being persecuted. From the Ottomans who hanged journalists during the First World War for calling for independence of Lebanon from the Ottoman state who ruled Lebanon ruthlessly, to the countless assassinations of journalists during the past 50 years of Lebanon’s turbulent history, which were mainly conducted by Lebanese who where themselves controlled by foreign forces. But the main foreign force that stands out from the crowd is the Syrian Regime, who terrorized the Lebanese people and sabotaged all our legal systems, and in turn resulted into a politicized media and justice system. I and a few other journalists refused to kneel down to such decadence and fought the interference of the Syrian regime in Lebanon in the most powerful way we could and that was through the power of the pen and the word, two things that are inseparable when it comes to free journalism. 

Looking back onto the events that came before and after my assassination attempt, I cannot but feel that this attack was not just an attack on my life , but it was an attack on the whole Lebanese population in general and the Lebanese media in specific. The aggressors want to hold Lebanon with an Iron Grip. They do not want their vile plans to be uncovered for that will so they reside to the most cowardly way possible of fighting their enemies, and that is by silence in death. 

I lost my left arm and my left leg, but others have lost their lives in the name of freedom of speech and liberty. They gave the ultimate sacrifice to their cause which was Lebanon, and my cause has always been Lebanon, the proud and the free. The Lebanese have been pillaged. They have been killed. They have been oppressed. They have been put through every single test, yet they have always emerged victorious, and what is happening in Lebanon today will not bring their spirits down and will not take away their dreams for a true sovereign Lebanese state. 

We Lebanese do not and will not be slaves to anybody else’s will. Too many people have died fighting for this country’s freedom. We have faced oppressors from the north, east, south and west, and none of them have ever been able to maintain a foothold in Lebanon, but we will emerge again to fulfill our role as leaders in the middle-east’s struggle for true democracy, as long as free press exists in Lebanon the truth shall always be known, and because the truth will always be revealed the Lebanese people will never fall behind the iron curtain that the Syrian regime attempted to setup. And as the president Bush said on his 2004 campaign and I quote “You may not always agree with me but you will always know where I stand “. 

Their plans failed miserably. Lebanon was not turned into a Syrian province; their troops withdrew from Lebanon almost a year ago, and the press has not been intimidated for one second by their meaningless threats and assassinations. I was never intimidated by their unceasing threats to my life, for I knew and believed that God was watching over me and protecting me, making sure that the Lebanese cause and voice of truth remained strong even through my darkest moments. 

We journalists, from every corner of the earth, want to show the public the real truth, but sadly good does not always win over evil, and that is because not all government are willing to give their people the freedom that they deserve. But it does not always have to be that way. All governments should have the courage to negotiate with each other, and I mean real negotiations, one that does not only entitle a handshake and a smile to the public. All governments should unite and create a unified front against terrorism, because each act of terrorism is an act of theft. Stealing innocent lives for political gain has no justification. It is simply called an act of terrorism conducted by fanatic extremists. Terrorism has to be buried. It has to become a thing of the past, something that people use to do because they did not know better. Our primary goal must be a better world, where democracy, peace and liberty prevail. Governments cannot be chained by acts of terrorism, and cannot be held back by threats. Our strategy towards a peaceful world should be changed, and our strategy towards a better world should be changed, because the current strategy has brought nothing but useless amounts of destruction. 

It is important to bring change, and stop the agony of the people. Nobody is willing to forget the terrible acts of 9/11 or the Madrid train bombings, and I hope no one will be willing to forget all those who died during the Lebanese war to keep that small but beautiful country on the map, where it is today and where it has always been. We have never learnt from out past mistakes, for hundreds of thousands of years we humans have butchered one another, and until today death is still on the news and it is still surrounding the world. 

Here is my award. An award that I do not take in pride but in humbleness, because it is not only my award but it is for all the Lebanese people who believe in freedom, for all those who died and for all those who fight till now in the name of Lebanon. They are the ones that deserve such an award, because their endless fight for freedom has not stopped. 

I, May Chidiac, believe in freedom, I believe in my country, and I believe in God’s grace. 

I thank you from the bottom of my heart for this reward. 

It cost me a great deal to receive this recognition, but it is nothing compared to seeing my country free, for freedom has no price. 

Special thanks go to the jury of UNESCO who chose me as winner of the UNESCO/GUILLERMO Cano world freedom prize of 2006. I would also like to thank the Lebanese minister of culture Dr Tarek Mitri, and the Lebanese ambassador at UNESCO, Mrs. Samira Hanna Daher, also I would like to give a deep heart-felt thanks to Prince Walid Bin Talal who is taking care of my hospitalization and treatment, and finally to Mr. Pierre Daher the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation’s president whose programs and bulletins are followed in Lebanon and the whole world. 

A big salute goes to my Sisters, and especially to my Mother who has never left my side. I would have not been able to stand here in front of you if it was not for her. 

It is an honor for Lebanon and I to receive this prize, the prize that journalists pay for exercising their profession is always costly, and what is more alarming is that the perpetrators are rarely caught. 

May God bless you all. 

May Chidiac

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