Your Excellency by 7oB68rW



Your Excellency,
Provost Farvardin,
Dean Montgomery,
Esteemed members of the Rihani Family,
Distinguished members of Min Ajl Lubnan,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

For six years from 1982 to 1988 I had the privilege to serve the President of Lebanon as his Senior
Cultural Advisor. During that period and through my years of serving the President, I came to
understand the role of Lebanon in the progress and development of the Arab world and in
helping to promote democracy and the cause of peace in the Middle East. I also came to
understand that Lebanon is more than a country – it is a message.

Lebanon and its message, ever since the dawn of history, has survived despite all the forces that
are rallied against it. As the poet has said: Time has failed to destroy two things: Lebanon, and
the aspirations of its people. Nowhere is this message more eloquently expressed than through
the tongue of her poets, authors, and artists. It is a message that emphasizes above all the
inestimable blessings that flow from the harmonious co-existence of differing peoples and faiths,
as well as the vivid apprehension of the catastrophes that must inevitably result from the
breakdown of such co-existence.

Ameen Rihani, the great Lebanese-American writer and thinker, was the bearer of such a
message not only addressed to his people and the peoples of the Arab world, but also the peoples
of the West – especially the people of his adopted America. Rihani played the role of cultural
ambassador between East and West and became an oracle who foresaw with piercing clarity the
nature of the spiritual challenges confronting both America and the Arab world.

One of the most powerful themes that seemed to inspire Ameen Rihani’s thought was peace
among the religions of the world. He drew on Lebanon’s rich tradition of inter-religious
experience, shaped by its position as a cross-road of history and as a geographic meeting point
between Islam and Christianity. He believed that no religion represented the final or absolute
truth, but that all of them were channels through which man could approach and apprehend the

In his “Will and Testament,” written in September 1931, he declares his faith in the unity of all

        I am a believer in the unity of religion, for in its mirror, I see reflected the images
        of all Prophets and Messengers—Confucius, Buddha, Zoroaster, Socrates, Moses,
        Jesus, Muhammad and Baha’u’llah…They have all come from one source, and
        their faces merge and unite and become reflected in one unified face, a most holy
        symbol, representing the face of God Himself. I counsel you to adhere to unity.
        In theoretical terms, religion is that luminous living link between man and his
        one and only God. In spiritual terms, religion is the joy derived from
        discovering, without mediation, the mysteries that lie behind this unique link. In
        practical terms, religion is, above all, the recognition of the Divine Truth spoken
        by whoever has taught a single letter taken from the book of love, of piety and of
        charitable deeds. It is also in following the example of these teachers and

        emulating them in thought, word and deed; each of us attaining this according to
        his capacity; for God has burdened no soul with more than it can endure.

Like few individuals before him, Rihani was able to integrate within himself a deep empathy and
understanding for two vastly different worlds. To America he addressed words of both praise
and admonition, praising its youthful energy and enterprise while warning of the dangers of
excessive materialism and corruption.        His writings in Arabic focused on themes of
modernization, and he advised the Arabs that chauvinism based on religious intolerance was the
greatest obstacle to their progress and prosperity. Rihani strove to introduce each culture to the
other, hoping to create a synthesis of their best and most noble elements, which he believed
would enable humanity to face the spiritual and material challenges of the modern age.

Ameen Rihani’s place in the modern history of the Arab world has been aptly defined in these
words of one of his contemporaries, the renowned Arab poet Ahmad al-Safi al-Najafi:

                       Rihani is the embodiment of the history of the Arab people
                                            Their encyclopedia
                                      The treasury of their Literature
                                   And the annals of their Renaissance.
                             He is the mirror of their virtues and their vices,
                                      He is their intellectual leader…
            In Rihani is found the wisdom of the philosopher and the sensitivity of the poet.
                              In his hand he carries the staff of the teacher
                                         The lamp of the pioneer,
                                    And the sword of the commander.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Tonight is a special night in which those of us who have worked so hard to see a dream come
true must render thanks to Almighty God who has blessed our efforts and allowed us to succeed.
We must also thank this great university that has always encouraged diversity in all its forms,
and now once more allows us to establish this important lecture series. But our greatest debt of
gratitude must be expressed to the distinguished members of “Min Ajl Lubnan” and the Rihani
family. Their generosity and hard work made all this possible and I earnestly hope that now that
the seed has been planted they will continue to nourish it until it grows and becomes strong
enough to survive on its own. Now that we have laid the foundation we need to create an
endowment that will guarantee the development and progress of this project.

No words of gratitude can ever adequately express my everlasting debt for the unstinted
assistance and enthusiastic encouragement that I have received from the following friends and

Mr. Provost, thank you for taking the trouble in the midst of your demanding responsibilities to
drop me a line of encouragement every now and then which helped enormously in alleviating
pressure and inspiring new energy.

Mr. Dean, thank you for your leadership and for being there whenever I needed advice and
direction. In the desert Mr. Dean, the Arabs followed the stars for guidance and direction, here in
the heart of the industrial West you have been my star.

To Dr. Saúl Sosnowski, Professor and Associate Provost for International Affairs, I want to say
that his support over a number of years has not only helped our work enormously but that his
friendship, above all, has enriched my life.

Dr Paul Shackel thank you for your friendship and your directorship of the Center for Heritage
Resource Studies and your chairmanship of the Anthropology Department. I know now after a
journey that has taken me 54 years that my work has always been aligned with the ultimate goals
of anthropology which I regard to be the enrichment of cross-cultural understanding and the
enhancement of prospects for international exchange, social justice, and world peace. Finally Dr.
Shackel, the prodigal son has come home.

To both Dr. Jonathan Wilkenfeld, Director of the Center for International Development and
Conflict Management and Dr. Carol Pearson, Director of the Academy of Leadership, I extend an
equally heartfelt expression of thanks and gratitude for the honor they have done me by inviting
me to serve as Senior Scholar in the Center and the Academy. My work has benefited
enormously as a result of this association, for the most urgent need of today is leadership in
resolving conflict and above all religious conflict. To Assistant Dean Cindi Hale, profound
thanks for the guidance and much needed help in building the Kahlil Gibran Chair for Values
and Peace Project, and for the moral support that has been generously bestowed upon me.
Professor Miles Bradbury of the Department of History has been my co-worker and fellow
traveler on a journey that has taken us to that inner sanctuary of an intellectual life enlightened
by the light of the spirit.

It is always very difficult to accord recognition to the contribution of every individual who has
helped to bring such an event as this into being. And I must crave your indulgence if I do not list
them all here. But I am duty bound to thank Miss Poupak Moallem, my colleague and assistant,
for her outstanding services and professional competence.

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