Historical Dictionary of Lebanon
by As'ad AbuKhalil
Lanham, Md.: The Scarecrow Press, 1998. 294 pp. $65.
Reviewed by Hilal Khashan
American University of Beirut
Middle East Quarterly
AbuKhalil explains his goal: to "provide essential information in order to grasp the realities of an exceedingly complex country and, in passing, to dispel some myths and illusions." Sounds like he will provide (p. ix).authoritative and even-handed definitions and avoid the divisions that continue to mar Lebanese life. Were it only so! Instead, his dictionary is riddled with assertions and accusations that insult the reader and Lebanon alike.
AbuKhalil freely derogates those whom he dislikes. Kamil al-As'ad, the most powerful southern Lebanese leader of the 1960s and 1970s, comes off as a politician "known for his indulgence in earthly pleasures and for his contempt of the very Shi'ite peasants he ostensibly represented." Sulayman Franjiyyah, president of Lebanon during 1970-76, is an "uneducated Maronite." AbuKhalil's entry on the Beirut Arab University announces that its "quality of teaching is considered low, and its graduates are not favored in employment."
Many entries do not even minimally contribute to the understanding of "an exceedingly complex country" but deal with such subjects as agriculture, Beirut International Airport, and a mental asylum. Amusing entries abound on such Lebanese dishes as kibbi, qawarma, and tabbulah. But then, why did he leave out shawarma, humus tahini, and baklava?
AbuKhalil displays negligence; the entry on Tawfiq Yusuf ‘Awwad (1911-?), a literary figure killed by a Syrian shell in 1989, finds a question mark by the writer's year of death. Shouldn't a dictionary writer look up something so elementary? Ilyas Sarkis, Lebanese president during the 1976-82 period, died vaguely in the "1980s," not in 1985. Errors of fact abound: the Muslim conquest of Lebanon in the seventh century, he rewrites as "Arab." He miss-labels the moderate, Association of Islamic Charitable Projects as "fundamentalist." He provides a population figure for Beirut in 1996 (the 407,403) that is mysteriously lower than the 1975 figure (475,000). He asserts that Ely Salem, a politician and academician, completed his graduate work at the University of Cincinnati, whereas it really was at the University of Indiana.
Abu Khalil's work does not dispel "myths and illusions" but, to the contrary, it represents a setback for scholarship. The last thing this country tormented by political divisions needs is a subjective and pugnacious reference work. But that's what it got.
Related Topics: Lebanon | Hilal Khashan | Winter 2002 MEQ
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