Lebanon in History from the Earliest Times to the Present

By Philip K. Hitti | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXXI THE IMPACT OF THE WEST AND THE MODERN AWAKENING

PROXIMITY to the sea, preponderance of the Christian element in the population and westward orientation since Phoenician days, through the Roman-Byzantine period down to the days of Fakhr-al-Dīn and Bashīr,1 had conditioned Lebanon, rendering it more receptive to the flow of new fertilizing ideas and more hospitable to European cultural influences. The Ottoman curtain sealed off its neighbours more tightly and impenetrably than it sealed Lebanon. As the Ottomans were establishing themselves astride the intercontinental crossroads of the Near East, Western Europeans were looking for a new route to India and the Far East. Not only did they discover it, around South Africa, but they stumbled on an entirely new world, the Americas. The isolation of the Arab East, perhaps the greatest evil of Ottoman rule, became intensified, resulting in stagnation and lack of intellectual cross-fertilization. Meantime Europe was forging ahead with its scientific and technological achievements and thus widening the socio-economic gap between it and the Orient. The creation of a direct navigation route between East and West through the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, followed by the introduction of rail, automobile and air transport, not only restored to the area its historic rôle of intermediacy but set it on the path of progress. Communication has rightly been called the nervous system of modern civilization.

Though it had been in physical and ideological contact with Europe throughout its recorded history, yet it was not until the nineteenth century that Lebanon experienced those radical changes in its way of life and steadfastly pursued the path of progress and modernism. Cultural interpenetration gave it a physiognomy of its own; it served as a pilot project in reconciling Eastern and Western elements of civilization. First to break out of its semi-antique shell, Lebanon developed into a

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