Ameen Rihani's Career Spent in East-West Dialogue

Article excerpt

PROF. SUHEIL Bushrui, who holds the Kahlil Gibran Chair for Values and Peace Project at the University of Maryland, gave an uplifting talk on "Ameen Rihani and the Arab-American Literary and Cultural Dialogue" at the United Arab Emirates Embassy in Washington, DC, on Nov. 13. The distinguished author, poet, and critic is also a renowned W.B. Yeats scholar, and has translated that poet's work into Arabic.

Ameen Rihani, Professor Bushrui told his audience of mostly diplomats, students and Arab Americans, was born a Maronite Christian in Lebanon in 1876, and died an eminent Arab-American poet, journalist and diplomat in 1940. Rihani is widely recognized as the most prominent member of the "Lebanese-American" school of modern literature and thought, a movement that included such luminaries as Kahlil Gibran and Mikhail Naimy. As an Arab who was fully conversant with the West, Rihani was greatly inspired by his knowledge and awareness of his own rich Arab heritage.

Throughout his career, Professor Bushrui said, Rihani engaged in intercultural dialogue in order to promote peace and understanding between East and West, between Islam and Christianity, and to reconcile tradition and modernity. In an essay entitled "al-Tasahul al-Dini" ("Religious Tolerance"), Rihani observed: "How wonderful it would be for Westerners and Easterners if they were to learn from each other what is beautiful in their faiths, proper in their traditions, sublime in their arts, just in their rules and laws, and perfect in their manners."

Elaborated Professor Bushrui: "To his Eastern, and particularly Arab, audiences he spoke on behalf of America and the West about the traditions of democracy, the benefits of diversity, and the blessings of religious freedom." Rihani truly believed in "the greatness of America and of its Constitution and Bill of Rights," the scholar added. "He regarded George Washington as a unique world leader free of selfish ambition and referred to him as a source of inspiration to every oppressed nation that wished to rise in the world. …