2 years ago the world lost one of the most brilliant minds I ever met. I first saw Kassem Jaafar in Lebanon in the early 1990s, but only got to know him when fate brought him to Doha in 1997 and he moved in almost literally across the road from where I live.
In the ensuing 12 years Abu Ali and I shared countless long nights of intense political debate, intellectual challenges, soul searching and soul baring, laughter and tears and a bond I doubt will ever be replicated again in my life.
The above picture is a grab from an interview I conducted with him at his home for my documentary, War of Lebanon. Kassem was one of the stars of the program; his ability to give the viewer strategic analyses of the subject in question in a fluid, easily-digestible manner earned him many plaudits. His depth of knowledge and command of detail never ceased to amaze me.
He was a lover of life with the heart of a child, and as sophisticated his political views were and seemingly infinite his mastery of strategic affairs was he had an unfathomable innocence when it came to the way people behave on a personal level.
I cannot count the number of nights when dawn broke and we were still at it, talking, arguing, debating... "Tayyeb (OK), have another cigarette before you go," he'd say, prodding me to stay just a bit longer. Ya Abu Ali, no (Arabs also call each other with the name of their first-born, in his case he was the Father of Ali), I wanna go sleep!" Of course a cigarette would be lit, and it would turn into another half-hour, sometimes more.
Kassem always wondered what prevented the Arabs from changing their reality. He and I asked of each other what it was that prevented the people of this region from taking their destiny into their own hands. Would the day come when Arabs rise up?
Well, it's happening, ya Abu Ali. The people are doing it. You would've been so proud of the secular revolutions of the people of Tunisia and Egypt. And now the Libyans have risen against their tyrannical leader. It's exactly as you imagined it might be. I wish you were here to see it.
I won't say he's still with me every day because I'd be lying. But he's there every single week, at some point, and I revisit our long hours late into the night. I think of him so highly that his mind is the benchmark: What would Abu Ali say? What would he do? How would he analyze this situation?
His death was a hammer blow to me. But he left behind 4 wonderful kids. Inevitably the two eldest, Ali and Zein, are making a name for themselves as astute, insightful, creative professionals in media and news. I have no doubt that the younger ones will in due course also show their dad's DNA.
Kassem Jaafar died on February 19, 2009. He was 53.
I miss you, ya Abu Ali.
A man on a long journey through a perpetual desert.
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