5.5.06

The Spirit of Humanity and Gibran's identity crisis

On Wednesday evening, I had the pleasure of attending the annual gala of the Arab American Institute, the Khalil Gibran Spirit of Humanity Awards Dinner. As usual, the event featured outstanding speakers and honorees, and offers the Arab American community a much-appreciated opportunity to forget political turmoil temporarily and just feel good about our heritage.

The event concluded with a wonderful tribute to the late, great, Arab-American film pioneer Mustapha Akkad (حلبي), who was killed in a terrorist bombing last year.

The program booklet of the event contained many beautiful quotes and tidbits from the event's namesake, the poet Gibran Khalil Gibran. Without a doubt though, the most touching is the piece "I Believe in You", particularly the final paragraph. Gibran originally published it in The Syrian World in 1926, addressed "To Young Americans of Syrian Origin".

Since I am altogether ignorant of history, perhaps someone can explain Gibran's identity crisis to me. Why would someone from Bcharre, Mount Lebanon, refer to himself as Syrian??? I cannot possibly imagine...
To Young Americans of Syrian Origin
I Believe in You
By Kahlil Gibran

I believe in you, and I believe in your destiny.

I believe that you are contributors to this new civilization.

I believe that you have inherited from your forefathers an ancient dream, a song, a prophecy, which you can proudly lay as a gift of gratitude upon the lap of America.

I believe that you can say to the founders of this great nation, "Here I am, a youth, a young tree whose roots were plucked from the hills of Lebanon, yet I am deeply rooted here, and I would be fruitful."

And I believe that you can say to Abraham Lincoln, the blessed, "Jesus of Nazareth touched your lips when you spoke, and guided your hand when you wrote; and I shall uphold all that you have said and all that you have written."

I believe that even as your fathers came to this land to produce riches, you were born to produce riches by intelligence and labor.

I believe that it is in you to be good citizens.

And what is it to be a good citizen?

It is to acknowledge the other person's rights before asserting your own, but always to be conscious of your own.

It is to be free in word and deed, but it is also to know that your freedom is subject to the other person's freedom.

It is to produce by labor and only by labor, and to spend less than you have produced that your children may not be dependent upon the state for support when you are no more.

It is to stand before the towers of New York and Washington, Chicago and San Francisco saying in your hearts, "I am the descendent of a people the built Damascus and Byblos, and Tyre and Sidon and Antioch, and I am here to build with you, and with a will."

It is to be proud of being an American, but it is also to be proud that your fathers and mothers came from a land upon which God laid His gracious hand and raised His messengers.

Young Americans of Syrian origin, I believe in you.

2 comments:

Shady Zayat said...

well.. back in 1926, anyone from mount lebanon would refer to himself as syrian....
just because the current 'Syria', 'Lebanon', 'Jordan', 'Palestine' and 'Israel' didn't exist... life was simpler .. right?

George Ajjan said...

Yes, Shady, correct, but for the record I was being incredibly sarcastic in my post.

Who has the identity crisis, Gibran's mountain peers from 1926 or their descendents in 2006?