Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Dr. Hisham Sharabi

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Dr. Hisham Sharabi

Article excerpt

Dr. Hisham Sharabi

Some years ago in Jerusalem I asked an Irish journalist working for the Palestine refugee organization to explain how it was that small Ireland had produced so many famous literary figures such as Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce and, especially, the great poet William Butler Yeats, whom we both admired. After reflecting for several long moments, he replied, "Maybe it's the repression."

Could that also be the reason Palestine has produced so many brilliant people in every field? Was it not Britain's Balfour Declaration in 1917 to create a Jewish state in Arab Palestine against the fierce opposition of its indigenous population, and the resulting forcible expulsion of a million Palestinians from their own country, that kindled such an inner driving force among Palestinians?

Whatever the explanation or explanations may be, even a casual look around will reveal many thousands of successful Palestinians in widely varied fields all over the globe. For example, there are Palestinians who started as young refugee businessmen with little or nothing, such as Haseeb Sabbagh, Sibih Masri, Jaweed alGhussein and Munir Atallah. Now all have joined the club of the super-rich.

There also are so many Palestinian professors in American universities that "the Palestinian professor" has become almost a cliché in American academia. Among the most distinguished of these professors/intellectuals are Birzeit (Palestine) University's Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, Columbia University's Dr. Edward Said, Northwestern (lately Birzeit) University's Dr. Ibrahim Abu Lughod and Dr. Hisham Sharabi, professor of European Intellectual History and Omar alMukhtar Professor of Arab Culture at Washington, DC's Georgetown University.

Hisham Sharabi was a Palestinian refugee of a different sort. He was not driven out by Israeli violence and terror as were 750,000 other Palestinians in 1948-1949 and a further 250,000 in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Instead, he and several thousand Palestinians who were outside Palestine during the first (1948-1949) Arab-Israel war became refugees because they suddenly had no homes to which they could return. Their houses and lands had been taken over by Israel.

Born in Jaffa on Palestine's Mediterranean coast, the son of a lawyer/judge, Sharabi studied at Beirut's famous American University, where he received his BA degree in 1947. In 1948, he earned his master's degree in philosophy at the University of Chicago.

His abrupt change to refugee status in 1948 had immediate, devastating consequences: No money; no home to return to; no discernible means to acquire the dreamed-of Ph.D. degree.

A Brilliant Academic

Happily, his Chicago professors saw a young man with such a brilliant academic record that he simply had to be helped. So the university made enough scholarships available to Sharabi to enable him to complete the academic work for the doctoral program. But his thesis remained to be written.

Somehow a part-time job materialized at the United Nations in New York, paying enough money for him to survive while working on the thesis at night and during off-hours. He completed his dissertation in 1953 and became Dr. Sharabi.

Then, as if he were under some lucky star, a cabled offer of employment arrived from Georgetown University. That great institution became his post-doctoral academic home and, 43 years later and still at Georgetown, Dr. Hisham Sharabi has become one of the best known and most admired professors/intellectuals in this country.

Because of his personal background and prominence in Palestinian activist affairs, people tend to assume that Sharabi's academic specialty is the Arab world. …

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