Salameh of Boston College provides an eloquent and profound biography of Charles Corm, Lebanese writer, industrialist, and philanthropist. Corm's story is a breath of fresh air for a region torn by morbid impulses and for a Middle East that has forgotten about a home-grown humanism that once tried to flourish as an ideology for coexistence, culture, and liberal democracy.
Born in 1894 in cosmopolitan Beirut, Corm was the doyen of Phoenicianism, an ideology for those aspiring to build a new country deserving of its past. Corm believed in the glory and contribution of Phoenicia to Western civilization—not least, the invention of the alphabet—and became the messenger of the movement that sought a separate, non-Arab identity as a foundational basis for Greater Lebanon. Phoenicianism for Corm was the fount out of which humanism first emerged. In this regard, Corm quotes the Tyrian-Roman jurist Ulpian (c. 170-223 CE), who held that "according to natural law, all men are born free and equal."
But Corm did not disown the contributions of Arabs in his philosophy. Salameh's biography illustrates that Corm advocated a distinct Lebanese-Phoenician hybridity, which could, for example, pay equal tribute to Nasif Yazigi (1800-71) and Ibrahim Yazigi (1847-1906), who helped revive Arabic belle lettres and modernize the language. He was also a devout Christian who found no contradiction between humanism, with its valorizing of human nature and free will, and his faith.
Salameh's book is a timely but sad reflection on what the Middle East could have become, a region that has so much to offer but which remains mostly unreceptive to Corm's enlightened ideas.