Certainly, one can go back to the glory of Sumer, Byzantine and the dawn of Islam; one can also extol the glories of Al-Andalus and speak highly and proudly of unmatched milestones in medicine, engineering, mathematics and astrology; one can indulge in eloquent rhetoric and poetry but what’s the use? What of today? What of all those lean years?
Oh, what has become of us after the poetry of Mutanabbi (965)? What has become of us after Ibn Rushd (1198) and Ibn Arabi (1240)? What has happened to linguistics after Ebn Manzur’s all –time work of reference Lisan Al-Arab (The Tongue of The Arabs- 1290)? What has befallen us after Ibn Khaldoun (1492)? Oh, what has befallen us after the sublime architecture of the great Kairouan mosque (670)? What after the Gate of Barakiyyah in front of Al-Azhar (970)? What after Granada (889-1333) and Aleppo’s Al-Firdaws Madrasa (1236)?
We can speak out against Mongols and Crusaders and condemn their invasions of our land; we can speak out against the Ottomans, Israel and the US. But what about those parties, kings and rulers that reigned over this land? What environment have they created? What legacy have they left? Is there even a need to look south of the border at the booming universities and research centers to realize our decline?
Are we still the same people who once built the majestic city of the sun, Baalbeck? Did we truly invent the alphabet? Were we truly the ones who built Beiteddine, Deir El-Kamar and the Citadel of Aleppo? Some may exalt the Aswan Dam (1960-1970) or give praise to the Princess Nora Bint Abdul Rahman University (2008) or the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha (2008); others, each according to their beliefs and views, may pay reverence or express admiration to King Abdul Aziz, Jamal Abdul Nasser, Hassan Nasrallah, Antoun Saadeh, George Habash, Nizar Qabbani, Adonis, Khalil Hawi, Al-Yaziji and Al-Boustani to name but a few. But our environment contrasts sharply with theirs and a careful observation of the difficult circumstances under which they toiled is sufficient to unveil the extent and severity of our present degradation. It even brings a term widely used by the UN and the World Bank into the equation and keeps us wondering about the “sustainability” of their output.
What have we invented? What have we developed? What have we offered to our environment and antiquities? How have we evolved industrially, intellectually and agriculturally? In fact, it is difficult to identify eminent and sustainable innovations in our land and nothing worthy of mentioning comes to mind except the Rahbani musical legacy, the celestial voice of the singing Diva Fairuz and the Lebanese and Levantine cuisine, unless, of course, we wish to thrust our long-standing tribal and sectarian frames within the narrow circle of sustainability.
Had it not been for the riches of our cuisine and the Rahbani works and Fairuzian songs, we wouldn’t have had a single feather to put in our cap. To see a whole generation absorbed in Twitter and living on Ecstasy pills, with little if any admiration to towering musical figures such as Assi Rahbani and Fairuz is not only a major disappointment to our society but also raises serious concerns over our artistic taste. He, who today does not know Fairuz, Khalil Hawi and Ahmad Fares Chidiac, did certainly not hear about the music of Ziryab and Ibn Rushd’s (Averroes)The Incoherence of the Incoherence.
Jawad N. Adra