This book addresses in the first instance the interplay between traditional loyalties and social change, and explores the crisis of Arab intellectuals and their failure to act as effective carriers of socio-cultural and ideological transformations in their respective societies. This deficiency highlights even more the role of seemingly ‘traditional’ groups that have emerged as alternate vehicles for change.
The second part of the book starts with a detailed critique of Protestant orientalism and its legacy in the Middle East, exposing the mind sets and some of the disparaging images American Protestants harboured towards Islam in their efforts to evangelize the Orient, and relating the history of Protestant missionaries and their impact on cultural change in the Arab world.
Khalaf follows with an analysis of the impact of the prolonged civil war in Lebanon – psychological, economic and, particularly, social – on communal identities and group loyalties, but also on collective psychology and perceptions of the ‘other’. The sustained brutalities and the changing forms of violence are also examined, focusing on how seemingly ordinary citizens got entrapped in it, and how traumatized groups came to cope with chronic hostility and fear.
Samir Khalaf’s ideas on the restoration of civility in Lebanon include solutions for the country’s social and physical reconstruction; he argues that communal and retribalized loyalties can become viable agencies for transforming a geography of fear into a political culture of tolerance.
About the Author
Samir Khalaf is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for Behavioral Research, American University of Beirut. He has held academic positions at Harvard University, Princeton University, MIT and New York University. His other books include Cultural Resistance, Heart of Beirut, Sexuality in the Arab World (co-edited with John H. Gagnon), Arab Society and Culture and Arab Youth (both co-edited with Roseanne Saad Khalaf), all by Saqi Books.
'Khalaf's book elevates Lebanese studies to international level ... Eminently readable and beautifully written.'
'Informative, probing and engagingly written. Most notable is Khalaf's analysis of Lebanon's uniqueness, resilience and ambitious search for self-transcendence.'
'[Khalaf's] noble intentions make his writing compelling, and his essays should be read as fragments of Lebanese history via the travels and travails of a scholar whose ideas were greatly shaped by that history.'
Lucia Volk, Harvard University