Daily Star, Supplement, July 16, 1972
A Conversation with Jawad Boulos
By Boulos Kanaan
“… I’m optimistic about the future of the Arab Orient because it enjoys spiritual and material assets to enable it to catch up to the advanced countries…”
Jawad Boulos is Lebanon’s man- for-all-seasons. He is –first and foremost–a historian. But he is also a political figure whose name is mentioned when a problem is so big that only a man of Boulos’s calibre can solve it. And he is the perennial optimist.
The man who wrote the five-volume ‘The Near East: People, Civilization and Culture,” a comparative analysis of this region’s history since the dawn of civilization, is optimistic about the future of the area, He has great faith in the Arabs and, obviously enough, he relies on history as a teacher and guide.
‘I’m optimistic about the future of the Arab Orient because it enjoys spiritual and material assets to enable it to catch up to the advanced countries,’ he says.
Boulos says it is clear that the Soviet Union and the United States have reached an agreement, especially after President Nixon’s visit to Moscow, over the different parts of the world, including Vietnam.
“Let us discuss Israel,” he offers. “Whether an understanding over the Middle East between the two super powers exists or not, Israel will eventually end up like Crusaders.
“The Jews will acclimatize with time. It is a lesson of geograohy and history that a people who move from one area to another will, after three generations, acquire the character and habits of the people of their new environment… after some time, the Israelis in Palestine will succumb to the local climate and become more like the Arabs. The Arabs outnumber them and will dominate them.
This is what happened to the Crusaders. They became land owners and farmers and the Arabs were able to finish them off. Israel’s future will be the same. It will first weaken ideologically and its people will grow more and more like the Arabs, then it will disappear. The history of the Arab Orient is very clear on this point:
Every foreign people who failed to mix with the indigenous people were expelled. This is even true of the old Israelites who could not mix in the local melting pot and left the area. “History will repeat itself” Boulos stressed. History tells him that Israel’s existence in the Arab Orient is an ephemeral phenomenon. Even if it lasts for 100 years it will be ephemeral; what is 100 years in the history of nations? History also tells Boulos that the Arabs future will be better than their present. He noted that the Arab world gained independence only recently and found itself faced with an outside world which had bypassed in knowledge, culture and technology. “I am currently reading a book which Amin Rihani presented to King Abdul Aziz al Saud in January, 1927. It says: ‘the first migration was that of the bedouins from atheism to monotheism, from nomadic life to civilization. Hopefully the next migration will be from illiteracy to literacy, from ignorance to education, from darkness to light.”
“This still applies to the Arab world today, although we have people of education and culture. But they are small minorities compared to the millions spread between the ocean and the Gulf. If the Arab feels ill at ease today it is because truths embarrass him.
“We need today to implement Rihani’s remarks and eliminate or reduce illiteracy. This takes a long time, but it will be coming especially since all Arab countries are working on the matter… but we will still need more than one generation; there are illiterate people among us. What to do with them? We cannot kill them, of course. We wait for the new generation,” Boulos suggests. The historian added that if the Arabs had been alone in the area, they would have been able to relax and take their time. But there is Israel in the midst of the Arabs and it is far more advanced. “We must care for education as much as we care for armament. The illiterate must become a human being capable of carrying out his national duty. According to my information the Arabs are moving on this path.”
But as a word of advice, Boulos says that the Arabs need to cut down on their interest in literature and poetry and put more stress on the human sciences like philosophy sociology, history and technology.
Boulos was a student of history. “It is said that politics is the child of history, that history is the child of geography, and geography does not change.
This is why geographical factors have the greatest influence on politics and history. These factors make the peoples of different regions different. The Arab world is 100 million people and 10 million miles, but its peoples differ despite sharing the same race, tongue and religion. It is because geographical factors make them differ, “Man is motivated by nature rather than religion” he says. The historian noted that his French-language history of the Arabs is taught in French universities and other institutions of higher education around the world. Boulos has just been told that the Russians universities are teaching parts of his work in their universities “but they don’t seem to be interested in it here.” He revealed that he will shortly publish a history of Lebanon which also covers the history of Syria and Palestine from the dawn of civilization. “The Lebanese and the Arabs still do not understand their history. This book tells them all they need to know.”
According to Boulos, Lebanon is the result of the pact between Its mountain and coast regions, regardless of the origin, religion or language of the people, “The mountain encourages Independence and personal liberties while the sea encourages people to contact other peoples to exchange goods and ideas.
“As an example, Lebanon’s production can keep its people only four months a year. This has been the case since the Phoenicians. This is why the Lebanese needed to work outside his country eight months a year to survive.”
On the Lebanon of the future Boulos says the past can provide the guide. Because of its composition and geographic position, Lebanon is a member of the Arab family, It also has a Mediterranean face and can contact and understand the westerners with facility. This is why it can continue to play its role of a bridge between the Arabs and the West, Lebanon has all that it takes to be a very successful country. Every time there is a crisis people blame the system. If there is any fault in the system it is because the successive governments have not thought of building a modern state, “We have the best laws and regulations in the world but there is no justice or security because there are no men to carry out the laws and regulations, “It is a question of men” he suggests, Boulos himself is not a politician but his name is mentioned as a possible presidential candidate at least once every six years. The historian says that he has divorced politics but would accept the presidency as a national unity candidate any time, “I am not, however ready to contest a presidential election. I am not seeking money or glory and if I ever become president I shall work for the interests of this country and the Arab world” he says, His day-to-day life is certainly devoid of any presidential aspirations, He spends the days writing or visiting and doing other personal work and devotes the night to reading, It was not easy in the beginning but he became used to his serious way of life and may now feel lost doing other things, His works have perhaps earned him more reputation abroad than at home. His academic guest for the truth and his historical analysis of men and events put him in a field of his own, but he is working for the kind of future for Lebanon and the Arabs in which men like him would no longer be a rarity.