Bassem Chit died last week. He was thirty four years old. His heart attacked him while he was in his apartment. He died alone.
Perhaps the important thing to dwell on is that he did not live a lonely life. Or at least, he made the world a less lonely place. For sure, he made being political in Lebanon a less lonely, less hopeless and less alienating way of being. This is no small feat in context where “being political” is most often equated with being partisan to one or another corrupt political party.
Perhaps a life, even one as short as his, can be measured by the words that are written upon death. If that is the case, the record is clear: letters, obituaries and condolences have poured in from across the radical socialist international and from the international left more generally—from Brazil to England, from Egypt to the United States to Paris and Peru, Bassem is mourned. He is being read and thought with at this very moment. He was as prolific as he was committed to various interrelated subjects; domestic violence and institutional sexism; political sectarianism; union organizing; imperialism, colonialism and cronyism; neoliberalism and its ravages; racism and xenophobia as it articulated locally, regionally and internationally. These are only some of the lenses through which he engaged with the world. More than most, Bassem put his body where his brain, his conversation and his writing, was. He was intersectionality not only as a theory or as an identity, but as praxis. He would probably laugh at this last sentence. He would say I was mixing metaphors.
When I think about Bassem, I think about two great passions that we shared. One was the love of a good, fiery, well informed and passionate argument. The other was a love of food. The first time I met him we shared a common friend’s delicious rendering of brisket in Beirut, and we argued at the dinner table about Lebanese politics and its legal system, and about secularism and class politics. We both got angry in the way one gets when your brain is awakened to the presence of another and the room suddenly gets smaller. It was exciting. This was years ago.
Since that meeting we shared many meals and many arguments. Thinking together is an intimate thing, and Bassem inspired this desire for intimacy in many. We were not the closest of friends, but we were comrades. We protested and debated protesting together, we cooked (mostly watched others cook) and we ate, we lamented the dwindling space of independent radical politics in Lebanon and we tried to stretch and widen that space. We cared for friends and causes together. Bassem mentored many younger radical Lebanese activists—and demonstrated what optimism and change could be in a country politically, economically, and socially polarized. He inspired so many, across borders and generations.
I don’t use the word “comrade” often, and I don’t use it lightly. Bassem and I disagreed on this. I find it hard to use "comrade" without thinking of the semantic and historical baggage that travels through those overburdened seven letters. But that is what Bassem was to me, and to many others. What I mean is that I could count on him, on his thoughts and his writing and his body on the line—as I hope he knew that he could count on me. I could take his solidarity for granted. Not because taking for granted implies a passive acceptance of another’s political framework; but precisely because in this context it implies an active commitment towards empowering others. It also implies trust in another’s core political orientations—a politics not confined to “Politics.” These acts— empowering others and trusting—are radical and they are political. This is why Bassem is (was) my comrade: I trusted him.
Mourning is not a passive state. It is not simply being sad for those that have ceased to be or feeling more alone and small as one more person is swallowed into the past tense. Rather, mourning is actively trying to reconstruct your world in the absence of someone dear. Mourning is a commitment to continuance—both to life itself and to the shared projects, desires, and battles that make up a life like that of Bassem Chit.
Goodbye comrade. We will continue arguing, fighting, empowering and eating until we join you in that active past tense. We are at a loss at thinking about your heart attacking you there alone in your apartment at the age of thirty-four. We are at a loss thinking and sitting here with your death.
But we are not lost.