Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The first books I read for Kamal Salibi were The Bible Came From Arabia followed by Who Was Jesus. I remember spending a whole day and night locked in my room until the faint morning light crept through my window and I'd realized that it was the next day and I was still without a second of sleep. It was November and it was raining outside and foggy and just typical of London. I always loved the weather in London when I looked out of the window - but never when I had to walk out of the door. I had class - and I wanted to speak to my professor about the books - so I changed and braved the rush hour of the tube to get to school.

I used to love our professor, this Indiana Jones type of character who had converted to Islam and married a Muslim woman and stunk of alcohol. I assume he consumed whiskey like water, probably even used it to wash his face and brush his teeth. I was much younger, and I don't mean just in years, and I had found in him someone who was ready to answer my questions in a very captivating manner and from a place of experience and knowledge that I lacked. After class, I followed him to his office. I was at that time most interested in researching and studying the three monotheistic religions, hence why I felt it necessary to study contentious work that defied convention - regardless of whether it was complete and utter nonsense - such as Kamal Salibi or Patricia Crone or Christoph Luxenberg amongst others. As I sat in the mess that was his office, he talked to me about a paper he wanted to share with me that addressed the issue of Paraclete/Parakletos in the Gospel of John. He had always been interested in finding and emphasizing the nexus between, especially, Islam and Christianity.

I told him I had been reading Salibi's works on the Bible. He pleaded with me not to waste my time on such works. "Why?" I exclaimed. "Because it is, to say the least, an exhilarating read, however it is based on an unsound foundation of merely philological examination of history with complete disregard to archaeological evidence and without a multi-disciplinary investigation of varied sources." I remember I did not like how he brought me down and I did not understand why - at least not right away. Now that so many years have passed and I have read Salibi's seminal A House of Many Mansions, I understand what Professor Indiana Jones there was trying to convey to me. Salibi, in this book, presents a reinterpretation of the Lebanon myth(s) and a departure from an earlier history of Lebanon which he had written several decades earlier. While I feel that Salibi is good at disregarding certain facts when writing history (as with many in the business of writing and rewriting history), this book qualifies as a fine examination of the different perceptions of the history of Lebanon as held by the different politico-sectarian groups within the Lebanese makeup. It is one of his best regarded works, particularly when compared with his controversial studies on the history of the Bible.

I am regretful that I had to cancel on a chance to have tea with him some time last year. I had a pressing matter to attend to and I somehow took it for granted that the opportunity to meet with Salibi would not be lost. I wonder what I would have said to him or whether I would have been star struck. My friend tells me that Salibi was quite expansive and talkative and that I would have been at ease talking, rather listening to him. Anyways, I wanted to say something or write something about this man. That he is really brave for asking the questions he did and for looking at the world from a different angle and for undertaking such research and arriving at such conclusions. Whether there may be some truth in his postulations or whether he was completely mistaken. At least he tried. Now that he has passed from this world, I wonder if he has come to learn the truth of what there is after death, who Jesus really was, and whether the Bible came from Arabia.

Here is an excerpt from A House of Many Mansions, which, sadly, still holds true for our Lebanon even after the passing of several decades :

"Officially, the Lebanese Republic still exists within its internationally recognized borders, and so does the state...The state [in reality], however, has long ceased to exercise sovereign control over its national territory. There remains an administrative bureaucracy which continues to provide a cover of legitimacy to public and private transactions, as well as a minimum of public services of deteriorating quality. Otherwise, particularly where security is concerned, citizens are left to fend for themselves. In different parts of the country, different Christian or Muslim gangs are in control...The people of Lebanon remain as divided as ever; the differences among them have come to be reflected geographically by the effective cantonization of their country, and by massive population movements between the Christian and Muslim areas which have hardened the lines of division.

In all but name, Lebanon today is a non-country."

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