Speech of Rawi Hage at the Vancouver public library, during the cultural event “A night with Rawi” organized by the Lebanese Canadian society of BC,and sponsored by:
-The Simon Fraser university (World Literature,and the Comparative studies of Muslim societies and culture).
-The BC Council of WLCU.
. Nov. 1, 2013
Thank you very much for this.
I would like to thank the many people and organizations who made this gathering possible.
My gratitude goes to Dr. Nick Kahwaji from World Lebanese Cultural Union, Mr. Camille Louis, Mr John Badr and the members and organizers of the Lebanese Canadian Society of BC, the Centre for the Comparative Study of Muslim Societies and Cultures, as well as Mr Ken Seigneurie and the Department of World Literature at the SFU.
Allow me also to acknowledge the many people from the Lebanese Canadian community who have come here tonight to celebrate one of their own.
It is indeed this celebratory spirit that I would like to address tonight. But allow me to stand here as a representative of the many artists from the Lebanese diaspora and non-diaspora who, during this long, conflicting and hard history, have made their experience meaningful and impressive. Yet, no matter how meaningful these contributions are, they still for the most part go unnoticed. It is with these silent, brilliant and courageous cultural voices that I would like to share your acknowledgement tonight.
When I was approached by Dr. Kahwaji, who graciously proposed organizing this gathering, I was very moved by something that he told me. “Culture unites us,” he said to me.
Indeed, I must say it does. And for a nation whose downfall has too often been the result of perpetual religious, sectarian and feudal devisions, one must acknowledge that culture has always acted as a unifying element for the Lebanese people. As a matter of fact, the substantial amount of culture that this little nation has contributed to the Arab world and to the rest of the world, is certainly something to celebrate and to be proud of.
Culture is not a word to be taken lightly. The true cultural contribution is much more complex than any of us would want to believe. Beyond the music, dance and the wonderful food, beyond the self-celebratory elements that culture could provide for us, I say that culture’s real value rests in its capacity to provide us with what I would characterize as necessary contingencies and deeper thoughts.
Yes, without any doubt, culture unites us but it’s real power lies in its ability to confront us with uncompromising honesty. To make us aware of our own prejudices, our chauvinistic political affiliations, our short comings and faults.
It is certainly a very legitimate thing for all of us to parade our sons’ and daughters’ accomplishments and successes and I can safely say no other place is more suitable for this than the Canadian mosaic which definitely is a grand, and one might argue, a successful and historical experiment. Multiculturalism in its essence is the rational and humane awareness of the mutual benefits of pluralistic existence.
As a man of letters, I feel very fortunate to belong to these two nations, Lebanon and Canada. And though both countries have societal divisions, I hold both in esteem for also overcoming these solitudes, and for their determination to build commonalities. Lebanon is often portrayed as a place of permanent division, but one must also acknowledge the longer periods of peaceful co-existence between all its communities.
Nowhere are these coexistences more visible than in Lebanon’s cultural and artistic communities. I would even suggest that perhaps we should model our political life on the humane and respectful exchanges and interactions that the Lebanese artistic community has managed to create regardless of distance, gender, religious or political affiliations.
My contact with the cultural community in the diaspora and in Lebanon is broad and rich. I have been fortunate and, as a result of the thirty languages that my work has been translated into, and the numerous honours and awards I have received, to have been invited to more than 25 different countries on five continents. Like many of my colleagues in the cultural milieu, I have proudly held up my origins, and the places to which I belong, as the source of my accomplishments.
Every time I arrive in a foreign land, a Lebanese artist or cultural figure will attend my reading or lecture, and afterwards come and introduce him or herself. This solidarity in the artistic community comes from a sense of love, and a shared experience that transcends all political affiliations and religious beliefs.
Yet, Lebanese politicians, officials, religious leaders, and the business community are oblivious to the existence of these artists and their work. In spite of this lack of support, Lebanese artists have thrived, accomplished and they have often acted as official representatives of their birth country. They have done it with the utmost honesty, love and humility.
As I mentioned before, I would like to take this moment to acknowledge the many artists of Lebanese descent, who took on the roles of storytellers, creators and cultural contributors, and holders of conscience.
Finally, allow me to name and acknowledge some of these deceased and living artists and cultural figures. The list is very long and I am bound to exclude many, but hopefully these named individuals in their diversity and past and present contribution will be a reminder and an assertion of the many possibilities of coexistence, and the value of free thinking and challenging thoughts.
A selected list of Lebanese artists:
Ahmad Ali El Zein
Faten al murr
Youssef Habshi Al-achkar
And of course who could forget
I thank you very much
Nov. 1, 2013