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SHORT HISTORY OF LEBANON
Human "existence" is an unending "drama" so long as the individual's heart beats. It unfolds in the historical context of the person. Yet, the person's historicity is to a large extent determined, as would say Karl Marx, by the historical processes conditioned by the laws of social development. In each period these laws change, due to the fact that the social relations between individuals and countries through the intermediary of productivity constantly mutate. Human existence reflects the impact of history; and in its behaviors as well as thinking it is heavily impregnated by the Zeitgeist of the history it shares.
It is my firm belief that it is utterly impossible to understand Kahlil Gibran's philosophy and see his relevance, for instance in the fields of religion, law, and marriage, unless it be born in mind that he lived intensely the entanglements of the historical events, that have set him on his way to become the philosopher he is. Therefore, a brief survey of the history of Lebanon will shed some light on the themes that Gibran tackled and explain the "whys" of his thoughts.
History of Lebanon under the Ottoman Conquest
All historians remind us that Lebanon was originally Phoenicia, and had Tammuz and Ishtar for a religious cult. The Tammuz myth corresponds to the Greeks' Adonis and is identified with the Egyptians' god Osiris. According to the Phoenician legendry, one day while Tammuz was hunting the wild boar, he was attacked by the beast and fell dead in the river of Afqah, today named Nahr Ibrahim. Following his death, life on earth began decrepiting. Then Ishtar "penetrated into the nether world" and revived him. This commemorated the marriage between Tammuz and Ishtar, the goddess of love and fertility. Till the present days, poets, philosophers and painters of Lebanon like to refer to their mythological heritage. Gibran too made of Ishtar and Tammuz his muses of inspiration.
Lebanon, which means "white" in ancient Semitic language because of the eternal flakes of snow on the peaks of its mountains, has been invaded by more than ten civilizations of the world, from the Assyrian to Ottoman and Westerners, all of which brought along their culture. This explains why Lebanese immigrants feel almost at home in any foreign country and have no psychological stress in finding normal adjustments in their new environments. At any rate, everytime that a new era of dominion took place, new geographical frontiers were established. Amazingly, however, Lebanon was always annexed to Syria. Either under the Assyro-Babylonian influence or the Ottoman Empire. It is only under the French Mandate after the first world war, beginning on September 1, 1920, with General Gouraud, that present day Lebanon with its geographical boundaries was proclaimed "independent." And on May 23, 1926, The Greater Lebanon was made a republic. However, not until November 26, 1941, was Lebanon declared completely autonomous from the mandate and free to decide for its own course of destiny. Gibran (d. 1931) did not live to see his beloved country become sovereign master of its actions. Nevertheless, what he lived to witness was the hope of such full realization.
From 1516 until 1918 Lebanon remained under Ottoman rule, and became part of an Empire that stretched from Hungary to the Arabian Peninsula and up to North Africa. The illustrious conqueror of these lands was Sulayman I (1520-1566) who became known to his subjects in as much across the European continents as Sulayman the Magnificent. In the words of the famous Arabian historian, Philip K. Hitti,
No such state was constructed by Moslems in modern history. Nor did any other Moslem state prove to be more enduring. To his people Sulayman was known as Al-Qanuni (the lawgiver).... To outsiders he was known as the Magnificent, and magnificent indeed he was, with a court exercising patronage over art, literature, public works and inspiring awe in European hearts.
Because of lack of space in this book we are not permitted to delve into the detailed history of Gibran's homeland. Still, to quench our intellectual curiosity, I will briefly mention a few historical data under the Ottoman Empire, since this was the main foreign oppression Gibran lived under.
When the Sultan Selim I defeated in 1516 the Mamluks and established a Turkish dynasty, Lebanon was then mostly inhabited by peasants and farmers. In the northern part, Kisrawan, the Maronite Christians were predominant while in the southern districts of Shuf, the Druze constituted the majority. The Ottoman conquest did not affect deeply the political structure, the language and the way of life of the people of Lebanon. In practice customary law was supreme, and social power was in the hands of the feudal lords, on whom the Ottoman governors, like their predecessors the Mamluks, mainly relied for the security of local order and the collection of taxes.
Such being the flexibility of Ottoman politics, it was possible for the feudal dynasties of the country to pursue their factions and virtually one to vanquish the other. Thus, the greatest figure at that time was the Druze Amir Fakhr al-Din II, the head of the Ma'anids dynasty of the Shuf, who governed Lebanon throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. During his reign (1586-1635), he extended the geographical boundaries far beyond Lebanon, sometimes reaching up to the portico of Damascus and down to the Pilgrimage route that leads to the Hijaz. He was open minded toward foreign religious creeds and on several occasions encouraged European missionaries to build Christian churches. In matters of internal affairs, he cared for the prosperity, the warfare and the welfare of his country. With the aid of European architects and advisors he erected castles, developed agriculture and traded with Europe.
Captured in 1635 after a defeat by the governor of Damascus, Kuchuk Ahmad Pasha, he was sent prisoner to Istanbul where he was sentenced to death for wanting to overthrow the Ottoman Sultan. With his death followed the decline of the Ma'anids, who were succeeded in 1697 by the Chihab hegemony. This new Amirate ruled throughout the 18th century; flocks of mountaineers of the Maronite Kisrawan then migrated to the southern Shuf and mingled with the local Druzes, working unanimously for the betterment of the unified Lebanon. Of course, life was not so peaceful; from time to time there were misunderstandings between families and factions of the two traditional descendants of the Ancient Arabians of Qays and Yaman. The former were settlers of North Arabia, the latter of South Arabia. However, when Haydar Chihab won victory against Mahmud Pasha, head of the Yaman faction, many of the Yamani Druzes emigrated from the metropolis of Lebanon to the hilly district of Mountain Hawran in Syria now called Jabal-al Druz. For conclusion to this period the historian Hourani writes,
In the remainder of Syria no less than in Lebanon the eighteenth century was marked by conflict and unrest. Finally a great part of the country fell into the hands of Bosnian Jazzar, Pasha of Acre, who ruled it ruthlessly and cruelly from 1775 until 1804.
Generally speaking, the history of Lebanon during the Ottoman Turks was principally the story of the Maronites and the Druzes. Both of these religions have shaped the political fate of Lebanon. I may even say, religion or "confessionalism" was the whole politics in this part of the world. Nowadays also the political institution of Lebanon is still deeply determined by the partitions of the various religious confessions.
The Maronites are followers of the hermit St. Maron (d. 410), an ascetic monk who lived on a mountain in the region of Apamea, in Syria secunda. Being persecuted by the caliphates of Damascus and Baghdad, the Maronites escaped the Northern Syria and began some time during the 8th century to seek refuge from the harassments by the Melchites, Monophysites and Muslims in the impenetrable mountains of Lebanon. The Maronite Church, to which Gibran belonged, still uses Syriac language in the liturgy and adheres to Catholicism. Their first temple erected in the mountains of Lebanon was established around 749. Ever since their settlement in Lebanon the faithful organized a feudal system of government in the northern parts under the combined leadership of clergy and nobility, delegating the patriarch as their feudal in religious affairs and civil matters. At the time of the Ottomans the clergy feudalism exerted a fearful and ferocious influence over the poor peasants. Often, the clergy would practice "simony" and play the role of a corrupt politics. Most of Gibran's criticisms aimed at religion stem from and are directed against the feudalism of the Maronite institution.
As for the Druze religion, it entered southern Lebanon in about 1020. Such creed owes its name to Muhammad ibn-Ismail Al-Darazi (tailor in Turkish). It began in Egypt when a missionary of the Egyptian Fatimid, Al-Hakim (996-1021), while following the Ismaili doctrine of the Imam as the supreme authority and protector of Islam, proclaimed himself the incarnation of the Deity, in the same manner that Jesus Christ was for the Christians. The peculiarities of the Druze religion is to be utterly secret. Their holy book is called Al-Hikma (wisdom), and is quite different from the Koran. The Syrian mountain Hawran, Jabal Al-Druz, bears their name because of the influx of refugee that took place at the end of the eighteenth century as a result of the victory of the Druze Qaysites, most of whom were converted to Christianity, over the Druze Yamanites.
In the nineteenth century, the Druze-Maronite relation caused two major events in Lebanon that proved to be detrimental to the security of the nation. The first important date prolongates from 1830 to 1860. In 1830, Syria and Lebanon fell under the occupation of the Egyptian armies of Ibrahim Pasha, the son of Muhammad Ali. The Egyptians were helped by Bechir Chehab II, Emir of Mount Lebanon (1789-1840), who wanted to drive outside of his territories the jurisdiction of the Sublime Porte, i.e. Turkish dominion. He consented to the invasion of Lebanon provided he was given help by the Egyptians to strengthen his power meantime. After the conquest, Bechir II was offered by Ibrahim Pasha to rule over the entire Syria, but he declined the offer in order to care for the Lebanese alone.
The most interesting happening during the occupation is that the Maronite peasants who had travelled from the northern to southern districts of Lebanon, thus outnumbering the Druzes in their own regions, were all in favor of Ibrahim Pasha's invasion. Many times they joined the Egyptian armies to fight back the Turkish Sultan, despite the fact that the Druzes preferred the Turks. However, around 1840 the Maronites joined forces with the Druzes to expel the oppression of the Egyptians that was becoming burdensome, even to them.
Following the downfall of Ibrahim Pasha's reign, Lebanon came to be divided into two governorates. The northern mountainous areas were put under the supervision of a Maronite qaim maqam, or governor; while the southern was governed by a Druze qaim maqam. And both of them were controlled by the direct representative of the Ottoman Sultan, who presided in Beirut and Sidon. The politics of the Sublime Porte during the following fourtieth and fiftieth was the application of the old military principle of divide et impera, the divide and rule policy; thus the Porte would irritate the two classes against each other so that he remained powerful over the weakened governors. Moreover, Turkish authorities never really intervened whenever internal upheaval and civil wars broke out between Maronites and Druzes. For instance, in 1858 the Christian farmers of Kisrawan revolted against their feudal lord, the Khazim family. The Khazim family was a system of primogeniture; they owned the lands of Kisrawan, made the peasants pay exorbitant taxes, and refused to the peasants the right to elect their own wakils, or representatives, as it was the case in southern districts. In their insurrection against the Khazim, the peasants received moral encouragement from the Maronite clergy, and on many occasions asked assistance from the Druzes of the south.
At first, the south had decided to lend support to the beleaguered Christians. Yet, at the advice of Kourshid Pasha, the Turkish governor of Beirut, they retracted their forces and thought to protect themselves from possible peasants' revolt on their own lands. Kourshid Pasha's prediction was accurate. For around 1860, the Maronite peasants of the south, inspired by their brethren of the north, arose against their Druze overlords. Immediately, news spread that the intention of the Maronites of the south was not only meant to eliminate the feudal Druzes but also was directed against the Druze as a people. The lady historian Leila Meo writes about this incident:
This class struggle soon turned into a religious war when the rank and file of the Druze, seeing the uprising as a direct threat to the continued existence of their own people, came to the assistance of their feudal chiefs. The Druze was well organized. The Maronites, although more numerous, lacked both organization and adequate arms. And so a general massacre of Maronite and other Christian villages ensued, while the local Turkish authorities made no immediate attempt to put an end to the bloodshed.
Europe was not happy with the 1860's massacre, although I have to admit she was not so innocent in the whole affair. Ever since the Crusaders landed in the Levant, and due especially to the existence of the Maronite Catholics and other Eastern Christian rites, five European countries have incessantly muddled in the Levant politics sometimes wisely, sometimes unwisely. France called itself the protégé of the Maronites; Russia made itself a duty to look over the interests of the Greek Orthodox; England took sides with the Druzes of Lebanon; Austria-Hungary played the mitigated role of the Catholic sects of the Eastern churches; and Prussia more for political jealousy than other reasons, interfered in the politics of the Sublime Porte.
The immediate historical consequence following the 1860 event was the establishment on June 9, 1861, of the Mutasarrifyya of Mount Lebanon. This happened with the intervention of the Concert of the five European powers and the Sublime Porte. The pact concluded between these six countries, stated clearly that Mutasarrifyya signifies that the two governorates would unify into a single governorate, presided by a Christian non-Lebanese Governor General, whose duty would be to report to the Sultan in Constantinople and not any more to the Turkish Pasha of Sidon as it was before. Furthermore, the Governor General was to be elected by the Porte and confirmed by the Concert of Europe.
The first Governor General to be appointed over the new autonomous Lebanese province, was Daoud Pasha, "an Armenian by birth, Roman Catholic by persuasion, director of the telegraph at Constantinople and author of a French work on Anglo-Saxon laws." After him seven other Mutasarrifs followed until the outbreak of the first world War. From 1861-1914, Lebanon had calm political conditions as well as prospered economically and culturally particularly with the introduction of the Jesuit College (1875) and the presently called American University of Beirut (1866). Also, this is the period of dense immigration of Lebanese youths to the new continent of North and South America.
All of the Governor Generals ruled over a Lebanon which was geographically much smaller in superficies than the one of the Ma'anids and Chihabites Emirates. For instance, Beirut, Tripoli, Sidon, the Biqa valleys, and many more provinces were not annexed to the Mount Lebanon, but were parts of the Ottoman.
Such was the geography and history of Lebanon at the time Kahlil Gibran was born in 1883. His native village Bsherri was then located in the Mutasarrifyya. In over-all the Ottoman rule in Lebanon was in many respects corrupted; the rich enjoyed privileges either from the clergy or the feudal government while the poor were exploited.CHAPTER 2
LIFE OF KAHLIL GIBRAN
Rare are the writers who receive world recognition during their life. The factors causing the oblivion of a literator while still existing are many; the most important ones are: the life span, the economic situation, the geographical location, the educational and political activities' backgrounds of the family of the writer as well as the friends of the writer.
Did Gibran enjoy an international reputation while among men? Of course, he did not personally witness the translation in twenty languages of his masterpiece The Prophet, but still he did reach the Arabic readers and some American literati. His fame really grew after his death, especially with the blow of his posthumous works.
Excerpted from Wings of Thought by Kahlil Gibran, Joseph P. Ghougassian. Copyright © 1973 Philosophical Library, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Philosophical Library.
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