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Zeine Zeine, go away, come again some other day.

By Edward Falk

So apologies for this blog title, I couldn’t resist. When I was doing coursework and preparing for my qualifying exams, I read the twobooks of Zeine Noureddine Zeine, I thought of him as just another mid-20th century nationalist historian, heralding the end of Turkish brutality and the dawning of the era of Arab freedom. I didn’t give him a whole lot of thought as I came to Beirut at the beginning of this fellowship. But with six weeks left before I move on to Istanbul, I returned to the American University of Beirut (after spending the last few months at Université Saint-Joseph) and requested his 14 box archive. There were some amazing transcriptions of interviews he conducted with Ottoman and Arab leaders, notes taken in now-inaccessible archives in Damascus, and a few PG-13 arabic poems proclaiming his love for various Beiruti ladies.

One stray page in a notebook jumped out at me. He reflects on his own education at the American University in Beirut (and that of his contemporaries at Université Saint-Joseph), their love of all things western, and his disappointment in what followed.

Zeine writes:

“Western education in the Orient has been and continues to be a double-edged weapon, for the very simple reason that the West did not practice in the East what it taught the East. It is very dangerous to preach freedom but not to uphold freedom, to teach about human rights but not to support them, to glorify the virtues of self-determination and then to let it be known that what you had in mind by ‘self’ was your own self! This is the best way of turning your friends into enemies and to make new enemies.”

As true in 2014 in my hometown of St. Louis (10 minutes from Ferguson) as it was in 1950 Beirut, three years removed from a 20 year French occupation.

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