Dr. Mary Jane Deeb
Global South - Washington DC
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Walid Maalouf is both a poet and a man of action, an apparent contradiction in terms and yet characteristic of all that is best in the Lebanese character.
This is a short tribute to the man whose work I’ve just read and whose career my husband and I have followed admiringly for the past decade. On his website he has a statement from which I’ll quote, and which reflects his philosophy of life:
“If you dream it you believe it, if you believe it you achieve it.” This has been my motto since I came to this great land of ours, the United States of America.”
He arrived in the United States in 1979; four years after the civil war broke out in Lebanon, and attended the Sacred Heart College in Belmont, North Carolina. He wanted to share his experience of the war with fellow Lebanese Americans and mobilize them to assist his beloved country of birth. So he established the Metrolina Phoenician Club with a monthly newsletter tilted Marhaba to which he contributed numerous articles on and about Lebanon and reached out to his compatriots calling for peace and unity. Some of those articles are here in his book that we are celebrating tonight.
In 1987, a year after Marhaba was first published; Walid Maalouf wrote a short article that would shape the rest of his life in the United States: it was entitled “We are their solution.” In it he asks what the Lebanese American can do for Lebanon, a Lebanon besieged by war and the destruction of all that he held most dear.
Let me read you a passage of his article:
“Is it a dream to say the Lebanese American can create a peaceful solution for Lebanon?
Is it a dream to work in this direction through organization here, and small projects there?
How interested are we in helping the people of our ancestry see the light?
How knowledgeable are we concerning the present situation in Lebanon....
Have we ever listened carefully to the new immigrants to find out what are truly their fears, their concerns, and what their families have lost since the war started in 1975?
What have we Lebanese Americans done so far, after 12 years of destruction, for our homeland?
What did we do to save this 6000 year old civilization?”
He then proceeded to answer these questions in his own life, by writing and by taking action. He wrote not only for Marhaba, but also for Al-Huda, the oldest Lebanese-American newspaper first published more than a century ago. He wrote to inform and to educate not only the general public but the Lebanese Americans of the second, third and fourth generations who knew little of Lebanon except that which their parents or grandparents told them through stories or memories of their own childhoods spent in Lebanon. He also wrote for Annahar, one of the top newspapers in the Arab world to inform people in Lebanon about what was happening to their cousins in America. This was an attempt to answer some of the questions I just read you.
While continuing to write, Walid Maalouf decided to act upon what he was urging his fellow-Lebanese Americans to do, namely to help Lebanon in its hour of need:
While working as an international banker in Washington, DC he also began serving on numerous civic boards and organizations. He is the founder and former national Vice President of the National Alliance of Lebanese Americans, and the executive director of the American Lebanese League. He is also co-chairman of the American Dreamers on behalf of Lebanese Americans for President Bush, and in 2006 he spearheaded the Lebanese American Renaissance Partnership trip to Lebanon.
In part, due to his active role on behalf of the Lebanese Americans, he was appointed by the president as the Alternate Representative of the United States of America to the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2003. In that role, he had an input in the historic UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which prepared the ground for the ouster of Syria from Lebanon in 2005. He is now the Director of Public Diplomacy for the Middle East and the Middle East Partnership Initiative, and has been a great ambassador for the Lebanese Americans when he travels abroad and a Lebanese ambassador when he travels in the United States.
Let me conclude in reading a passage from his book that reveals the poet in Walid Maalouf. This is from a poem written in July 1993, entitled “We are returning - no doubt”
“We are returning! Yes we are indeed ... And we did
We will meet again! Yes indeed ... And we did
And despite everything that took place each one of us will return and will meet
And that’s how it all started...
On October 6, 1983 the people of Kfarkatra were forced into exile from their village.
On July 6, 1993 and under the supervision of the ministry of the displaced the people of Kfarkatra returned.
The mountain people are people of dignity and respect. They have not forsaken each other
The July 4, 1993 “festival of return” to Kfarkatra could be defined as the example of coexistence and the particularity of the Lebanese way of life.
After nine years and nine months of separation, unity prevailed."