LEBANON: Murder They Wrote The double Tragedy of Myriam Achkar

Joseph El-Khoury

The tragic murder of Myriam Achkar on 21st November in the town of SahelAlma generated significant turmoil in Lebanon. While the family of the victimand her loved ones cannot be blamed for the flare up of emotions and the callfor retribution in rather crude words, the reaction of the more removed publicis worth a pause for reflection. As the story unraveled, both mainstream andsocial media commentaries were awash with bigoted and racist overtones. : Atits heart the interpretation of the event as yet another symbol of thepersecution of Christianity in a hostile environment. This permanent kink inthe psyche of Arab Christian community has resurfaced recently in the wake ofthe Arab Spring but stretches back to the inception of Islam and the search foran Eastern identity that is simultaneously distinct and in tune with itsIslamic surrounding.

I contrasted the social and official reaction (as distinct from the personal one)to the murder of Myriam with the aftermath of the slaughter of 62 adolescentson a Norwegian Island earlier this year. Following a meticulous and protractedprocess, Anders Brehing Breivik, the murderer at the heart of these events hasonly this week been found clinically insane by two Forensic Psychiatrists. Moreimportantly they found that his actions could be blames on delusional beliefsemanating from a diagnosis of Paranoid Schizophrenia. Breivik is likely tospend the rest if his life in a secure psychiatric institution; an outcome thathas not pleased everyone but as one bereaved parent insisted, the importantpoint is that society will no longer be at risk from him.

The protection of others is an important function of well-established mental healthservices in European countries where specialists coordinate their work withother agencies, including law enforcement agencies and social services. It is of course fanciful to expect the development of such services in the Arab world, at least in the short term. Butas shown in the Breivik case, the use of mental health expertise to helpprovide satisfactory answers following a crime that impact society beyond theimmediate environment of the victim and the perpetrator can be a positiveinvestment for the concerned authorities.

Thereis no evidence that Fathi Jaber Salateen, the Syrian who committed the gruesome murder in Sahel Alma was mentally ill in the clinical sense. In fact the event is shocking in its simplicity, in the sense that it appears to be the pure product of a criminal psychopathic mind. Myriam, a loving and loved 28 year old who happenedto be at the wrong place and at the wrong time, was as such sacrificed to appease dysfunctional basic sexual instincts. What followed remains mostly speculation until details are further revealed.

But this is not the account reported by various media outlets, either for reason sof ignorance or ulterior motives. Instead the social and sectarian dimensionwas exploited ad nauseaum overshadowing the personal tragedy. This became astory of an innocent Christian girl killed by a Muslim Immigrant worker. The discrepancy between the real and perceived cultural and religious values of both victim and perpetrator were emphasized to explain the murder. A political solution was even sought for what is essentially a problem inherent to the human mind; the dysfunctional psyche independent of creed.

Little context or analysis wasprovided for these types of murder, which are mostly advertised in theChristian West.  For what it’s worthanother chilling parallel could be drawn between this case and the murder of 25year old Jo Yeates last Christmas in the English city of Bristol. The convictedmurderer was no other than her neighbor, Vincent Tabak, a distinctively middleclass Dutch architect who led an unremarkable crime-free existence.

The death of Myriam could not come at a worse time for the Lebanese authorities.For months, public paranoia has been at its peak fuelled by heightened local and regional political tension but also a genuine lack of security. In adesperate attempt to minimize public outcry, many in positions ofresponsibility made populist statements lumping together unrelated events andreaching erroneous conclusions. The measures suggested might reassure atraumatized community, but do little to prevent another Salateen from strikingin Sahel Alma, or elsewhere when we least expect it.

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