June 26, 2010
I am privileged and humbled by this signal honor and all the more gratified that I am sharing it with two extraordinary individuals: Eric, the dean of Western observers of the Mediterranean Arab littoral, whose writings for more than half a century, have uniquely shed incandescent light on the major crossroads in Arab-Western relations. And al Ustaz Duraid Lahham, the Prince of Arab wit and humour, who not only brought tears of laughter to millions of Arab homes, but also disarmingly gave voice to the voiceless against the arbitrariness of the powers that be.
I did not attend AUB as a student. My relationship with it started when I resigned my lectureship at Oxford and joined its faculty in 1957. But my relationship with AUB is also lodged in a web of personal and familial threads. My father, my four uncles, my brother and unnumbered female and male cousins attended the AUB. My father, my sister and I, all had Lebanese spouses, as do my two brothers. My father rests in the precincts of Imam Auza’is white minaret. The twin agonies of Palestine and Lebanon, constitute for me, in equal measure, what T.S. Eliot called “the damage of a lifetime”.
Veritas is an elusive quarry, and looks different to the Mahrajah, on the elephant and the footman, walking behind. To sheep led to slaughter, animal rights are humbug. But I do not pander when I personally testify that Veritas is not pursued with greater zeal on the banks of the Isis or the Cam or on those of Lake Carnegie. In his unpublished memoirs about his AUB years in 1916-1918, my father waxes lyrical about his professors, whose surnames are a Who’s Who of Ras Beirut: Doumit, Jurdak, Khoury, Kurban, Makdisi and Khouli. He is no less enamored with his American tutors: Bliss and Day, Nicoli and Porter. I cannot outmatch this galaxy but I can honourably compete with it with my own list of AUB colleagues alive and departed: Batatu and Ibish, Faris, Sarruf & Thabit, Salibi, Zureik & Hamadeh, Crow, Ashur, & Dajany, and, last, but not least, our martyr Malcolm Kerr.
It was with Constantin Zureik that a particular bond was forged given that our birthdays sandwiched the BD--his, in 1909, mine, in 1925. By 1963, we had launched the IPS, a private, independent, unaffiliated, nonpartisan, non profit public service, Arab (not Palestinian) research institute,
dedicated to the preservation of the historical record on Palestine and the rigorous study of Israel and the policies of the great powers towards it. 600 publications later in Arabic, English and French, an 80,000-volume library, 3 specialized quarterlies, joint publication with Columbia University, Oxford Univ., and the Univ. of California, and offices in Beirut, Ramallah and DC are testimony of sorts that we are moving in the right direction. But it is not a picnic to establish and sustain an institute in the Arab world in the IPS mold. That is why one is so awed by what the founding fathers of this campus have achieved.
Time is swifter than a weaver’s shuttle. It is noiseless like thieves in the night. Even if you take it by the forelock, there is so much unfinished business left behind. But at the threshold of senility, it is good to know there is recognition of whatever footprint one leaves in the sand.
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