Mansour Challita (Late Secretary General of WLCU)
AND TO BRAZILIAN CULTURE
The origin is unanimous: Mansour Challita is, for the last 50 years, the largest proponent of Gibran Khalil Gibran and the Arab world in Brazil
MANSOUR CHALLITA, born in Colombia on December 24th, 1919, comes from Lebanese parents, Youssef and Adèle CHALLITA, with whom he left for Lebanon at one year of age. There, he completed primary and secondary school and received a Bachelors in French and Arabic literature along with one in French and Arabic philosophy from the Saint Joseph Jesuit University in Beirut. He then completed law courses in France and journalism courses in the United States.
If CHALLITA studied law, it is because he had the intention of practicing this profession which is what he did for a while in Beirut. But he ended up being disappointed. However Joseph SAOUDA, a great lawyer, journalist and political leader who had followed him during his internship, having become the Lebanese ambassador to Brazil, invited him to join him there to run a newspaper he planned on publishing for the Arab community.
He accepted this invitation and upon his arrival in Rio, he helped Ambassador SAOUDA to launch “Al-Akhbar” (news) and eventually ran it. But little by little it was necessary to face the facts: there were likely not enough readers in Brazil to justify the publication of a good newspaper written in Arabic. CHALLITA took advantage then to get to know Brazil more thoroughly; a year later, he returned to Lebanon where he resumed his career as a journalist and lawyer.
Time passed. But destiny had already tied him to Brazil. In 1960, when the League of Arab States (LAS), an organization that, like the Organization of American States (OAS), brings together all Arab countries, decided to establish a mission to represent itself in Brazil, it thought of CHALLITA to lead this mission.
Challita accepted this proposal and served as ambassador to Brazil until 1967. But he never considered his position as a sinecure. Quite the opposite, he always dedicated himself to the most varied of activities so as to serve the Arab World, notably Lebanon, in political, cultural, and economic domains and always aiming to bring his world closer and closer to Brazil. He dedicated himself in particular to drafting articles for newspapers and magazines, to interviews given to the press, to books and informative bulletins, to trips to Brazilian States, to organizing conventions and festivals, conferences, debates and journalistic competitions, to making films, all of which had a great impact, published in the most renowned newspapers and magazines “Correio da Manha”, “O Globo”, “Jornal do brasil”, “Jornal do Cornercio”, “O Cruzeiro”, “Manchete”, among many others.
In 1967, at the request of the Lebanese government, Challita returned to Lebanon to serve as CEO of the National Council of Tourism; the following year, he was Secretary General of the World Lebanese Union, a private entity, although sustained by the government of that country, charged with maintaining contact between Lebanon and its million expats and descendants scattered in some fifty countries.
It is in this capacity that he visited almost every country in the Americas, from Canada to Argentina, where he developed relationships with prestigious Lebanese communities, as well as with the press and local authorities. He promoted the publication of a journal written in three languages, as well as the production of five documentary films on Lebanon, considered the best films on the country and produced by a North American company that specializes in this kind of work.
Three years later, the League of Arab States re-invited him to represent them in Brazil. Challita accepted, having renewed his previous activities and enlightened the Brazilian public about the conflict between the Arab countries and Israel. He held this position until 1975.
That same year, when the Brazilian diplomatic missions had to leave Rio de Janeiro and reestablish themselves in Brasilia and when war broke out in Lebanon (caused by the conflict between the Palestinian cause – as conceived by some Palestinian leaders – and the independence of the country), Mansour Challita, having resigned and wishing to stay in Rio, founded the Gibran International Cultural Association (GICA) and devoted himself to his cultural work, especially by means of articles, books, conferences, and debates.
Born intellectual, Mansour Challita, who expresses himself as a lecturer and who writes in four languages (Arabic, Portuguese, French and English), became a naturalized Brazilian and made Brazil his final home. He admits he fell in love with Brazil and says that, unlike many other similar sentiments, love for his adopted country is the only one that lasts until now.
Man of letters, Challita began writing at the age of 18, while living in Lebanon. He wrote articles in French and Arabic, which were published in the best journals and magazines of Beirut “Le Jour”, “Al-Amal”, “La Revue du Liban” and “L’Orient”. After arriving in Brazil in 1960, he did not take long to also write in Portuguese. His first articles, which made history, were published in the “Correio da Manha” and “Cruzeiro”. Once these two publications disappeared, his articles appeared regularly in “Jornal doh Brasil”, “O Globo” and “Manchete”, as well as sporadically in “Jornal doh Comércio” and in several newspapers of the capitals of various Brazilian States.
His articles develop the most varied topics, namely: Lebanon; Arab culture; problems in the Middle East; national and international politics; human problems such as the death penalty; social problems such as overpopulation; Brazilian problems.
When Lebanon was being a victim of aggression during the war of 15 years, many of Challita’s articles dedicated themselves to the country’s defense. The article entitled “An Indestructble People” was published in two major newspapers in Rio de Janeiro “O Globo”, April 21, 1980, and “Jornal do Brasil”, November 22, 1995, as well as in newspapers from other Brazilian states “O Estado de S. Paulo” in Sao Paulo, “A Critica” in Manaus, “A Gazeta” in Espirito Santo, and “Estado de Minas” in Belo Horizonte. Since the interest generated by many of these items was ongoing, they were collected into books including “Mosaics of the Middle East”, written in Portuguese, and “Cocktail”, written in French.
THE LORD OF WORDS
Since he started working, Mansour Challita has always attached great importance to books, so much that he already has fifty-seven publications in Portuguese, four in French, and one in English. These are translations, anthologies, dissertations, and fictional books (novels and tales).
For the purpose of introducing a different culture which replicates the spirituality and wisdom of the Eastern soul to the very eclectic and hospitable Brazilian culture, he translated essentially the masterpieces of Arabic literature, among which: the Koran, which is the sacred book of Islam and at the same time the greatest masterpiece of Arabic literature; “One Thousand and One Nights”, perhaps the greatest work of fiction of all literature , “Calila and Dimna,” by Ibn al-Mukfah, collection of beautiful fables, full of wisdom. Next, he combined selected pages of several genres of Arabic literature into a book entitled “The Most Beautiful Pages Arabic Literature,” considered a classic in Brazil.
But Mansour Challita was truly seduced by a literary genre that seems to satisfy a need, an aspiration of modern culture (because, even if we have excellent books at our disposal today, we have virtually no time to read them): the anthology, which enables us to know, in a single volume, selected pieces of dozens of books. Thus Challita became the greatest writer of anthologies in Brazil. He published 17 books of this genre, including “The Most Beautiful Thoughts of All Time”, “The Most Beautiful Pages of Arab Literature”, “The Most Beautiful Pages of Lebanese Literature,” “All Gibran” (the most moving pages of his 16 books), “Hymns About Pleasure” (the most touching love poems of Eastern literature), “The Most Beautiful Love Thoughts of All Time”, “International Anthology of Laughter”, “Erotic Anthology”, “The Most Beautiful Pages of World Literature”, “2000 Unforgettable Quotes, Anecdotes and Parables”. However, the anthology that continues to get the most success among readers is still “The Most Beautiful Thoughts of All Time,” a piece which continues to grow each edition, published in 5 volumes that contain 2,144 pages with 18,566 carefully chosen thoughts to entice the reader. Also noteworthy are the 16 books about Gibran that Mansour Challita translated and promoted so much that the author, hitherto unknown, has become more loved and more widely read than Shakespeare, Omar Khayam, and Victor Hugo, among other.
At the same time, Challita wrote several essays of undeniable value, the first of which was “The Art of Politics”, prefaced by Celio Borja as follows: “It is necessary to announce the publication of a book which reintroduces the essay in political literature, as a literary genre with an easy but powerful style and with serious and enigmatic topics. The reader is infatuated with the prose which keeps him interested and engrossed from one end of the narration to the other”.
Later came: “This Unknown Middle East”, which was featured for months on the list of best-selling books, “Arabic Literature: Source of Beauty and Wisdom”, “Saudi Arabia: The Thousand and One Nights of the Modern Era” , “Charbel: Miracles in the Twentieth Century,” “The Koran Within Everyone’s Reach”, “Love in the Life and Work of Gibran”, “Health and Long Life through the Paths of Nature”, “Sex after 60”, among others.
But despite his love for translations, anthologies and essays Mansour Challita never forgot fiction. He wrote his first stories when he was still at a school desk: “Rachel or the Discovery of Love”, “Giselle: The Dream”, “Delilah: The Obsession”, “The Opening of the Forbidden Door”. Other stories were collected in the book “Cocktail of the Middle East”: “How to Cherish Virginity” “An Easterner Lost in New York”, “In Search of a Treasure”.
Mansour Challita also wrote two novels: “From Anabela to Zuleica: In Search of Love” and “A Man and His Destiny”; he translated the latter into English and published it with Éditions Vantage Press of New York, under the title “From Anabela to Zuleica: in Pursuit of Love.”
In the first of these novels, the hero, who imagines the ideal woman whom he dreams to meet, goes in search of her in the real world. Always hopeful and always disappointed, he passes from one woman to another. Does he meet her in the end? This question hangs over the book, not being answered until the last chapter, the most beautiful of the book.
In another novel, the characters of which are an Egyptian and his North American wife, the author evokes the differences which exist, in the field of love, between the East and the West. This book awakens in the reader an immeasurable enthusiasm. The Poetess Alma Selva, having felt it, congratulated the author: “My only daughter Maria das Graças, who loves to read, recommended your novel ‘A Man and His Destiny’. I read it from beginning to end. God! What a book! When I finished reading, I fell under your spell, deeply touched, I delved into the story and participated in every movement. This is great! You have become a symbol, an idol as sentimental novelist. Also, your passion and enthusiasm are incomparable from a cultural point of view “.
NOT ONLY BOOK
Mansour Challita did not write only articles and books; he performed other activities to serve his mission, a few social in nature (trips, meetings, visits to Brazilian states), others cultural in nature. Conferences were held in many institutions such as the Brazilian Academy of Letters, the Military Academy of the Army, and the Military Academy of Aerospace, among others, in many clubs, associations, universities; occasional meetings in Rio de Janeiro and other Brazilian states.
Interviews were frequently given to newspapers and magazines. But those broadcast by radio (particularly by the “Radio Journal of Brazil” and the “National Radio”) were rare. “Manchete TV” and “Record TV” (São Paulo) showed Mansour Challita more than once. We also saw him in the broadcasts “Jo Soares” and “Without Censorship”.
WELL DESERVED TRIBUTES
Achievements, books, articles, festivals, and other activities carried out by Mansour Challita have earned him several official statements of acclaim and favorable press coverage.
On April 14th, 1966, the Brazilian Academy of Letters awarded him the “Machado Medal of Assis”. On this occasion, the president of this entity, Mr. Austregésilo de Athayde, said: “The Brazilian Academy of Letters gives Mansour Challita the ‘Machado Medal of Assis’ as a result of services rendered by disseminating the great Arab writers in our country.” And he continues: “His studies and translations, excellent due to their accuracy, mastery of language, and beauty of style, are incorporated in the brazilian literary heritage. We can say that the most important books of Arabic literature have been revealed much more frequently in our country due to the efforts of Mr. Mansour Challita, thanks to his work as a diplomat and his splendid contribution to the Brazilian culture, which have enabled the people to more deeply know the sources of Eastern wisdom and beauty, presented among the most renowned and prestigious authors of Arabic literature”.
And he adds in the same speech: “I assure you that few foreigners have enjoyed as much prestige in Brazilian intellectual circles as that of Mansour Challita, a prestige which, in turn, is reflected on Arabic literature. It is for these reasons that the Brazilian Academy of Letters awarded him, in all fairness and with the unanimity of its votes, this medal which bears the name of the largest of its writers “.
In the magazine published by “Automóvel Club” in March 1963, Leo Arruda defines Mansour Challita as follows: “A different kind of diplomat, endowed with extraordinary abilities to perform the high duties entrusted to him.”
The newspaper “Correio Brasiliense” of August 27, 1966 wrote: “Diplomat, writer and journalist, Mr Challita is very well-known in Brazil due to his compelling actions, intended to make exchanges between Brazil and the Arab world ever more intense (and mutually beneficial)”.
In 1971, a full-page article which appeared in a magazine published by the Club “Monte Libano” in Rio de Janeiro, praises the different activities of Mansour Challita and demonstrates how they also benefit Lebanon.
In March 1967, the State Assembly and Legislation of Rio de Janeiro (former State of Guanabara) awarded Challita the title of “State Dignitary” on the commemoration day of the anniversary of the League of Arab States, in recognition of his excellence.
In 1973, the same Assembly held a special session for Gibran and his translator and promoter, this meeting having been commented on in “Journal of the Legislative Assembly” of August 27, 1973, pages 2084-2088.
On December 10, 1971, Senator Benjamin Farah delivered a long speech at the Federal Senate including the following pieces: “…brilliant journalist and writer Mansour Challita, born in Lebanon, is a kind of ambassador of this country; an ambassador of culture and intelligence, who fosters interchanges between Brazil and Lebanon with utmost dedication. But no only with Lebanon. Mansour Challita represents the League of Arab States, consisting of 27 member countries that occupy 10 million km2 and bringing together 120 million people. Mansour Challita encourages the development of relationships in three areas: political, economic, cultural. He deserves all our respect… The qualities of this illustrious Lebanese were praised by many people; he was held in high esteem by numerous cultural organizations, clubs, men of letters, by the press and journalists; his achievements and pursuits have always attracted interest and general admiration… “. The Senator’s full speech was pubished in “The National Congress Journal” on December 19, 1971.
David Nasser, the most widely read and most influential Brazilian journalist, who wrote featured articles in the largest political magazine of the time “O Cruzeiro”, dedicated his May 12, 1971 editorial to Mansour Challita. The following passages celebrate the importance of this writer.
“I do not know if in the veins of this gentleman of the serail runs the blood of a sultan or the education of a prince. But I know the serenity of his ideas and the patience of his method made him a diplomat between two worlds, the world of his country and his world, that is to say Lebanon and America. Hostile to fanaticism, he did not want to annihilate the Jews; on the contrary, he outlined with gentle firmness his ideas favoring the return of Israel to its former borders. But his composure and lack of rancor in his messages have not always been understood by some of his countrymen, who preached war at any price, provided you do not find death.”
And he continues: Mansour Challita is the image itself of Lebanese wisdom, of the pacifist soul of this people that God has placed at the crossroads of the East, as signposts on the road. It offers us the optimism of a solution, even when no hope is perceptible: ‘Do not declare that the stars are dead because the sky is cloudy’. If an illiterate attacks him or preaches carnage by any means whatsoever, Lebanese Challita points out that ultimate charity is to recognize that error and sin are not from malice, but from ignorance. Someone asked a tree loaded with fruit: Why do you make no sound? And the tree replied, “My fruit speak for me. Good enough for me.”
In an article entitled “Erudition and Poetry of the East”, published in the journal “O Cruzeiro” on August 15, 1973, Lincoln Nery writes: “It is in the East that the gods were born. It is in the East that poetry, sandalwood perfume, and eternal lessons of wisdom were born… This extraordinary Challita Mansour, who, for our benefit, translated the words of Gibran, keeping their brilliance and depth, has just given us the “Most Beautiful Pages of Arabic Literature”, whose translation preserves the purity of the original text and where Mansour Challita presents in over 350 pages a collection of the most beautiful and lasting literature of his people. To turn these pages is to see rolling before your eyes, an enchanted and multicolored kaleidoscope… This book courts you, we keep it to reread during a lapse of depression in life, mainly due to its light humor, similar to the seasoning that enhances the taste of food… Living in Brazil for many years, Mansour Challita is one of our best writers.”
On August 20, 1977, the newspaper “Ultima Hora” published the following article in Rio de Janeiro, signed by Sergio Cinelli: “A name to respect: Mansour Challita; for 15 years, he has been the spokesperson for the League of Arab States in Brazil; today he is president of the Gibran International Cultural Association (ACIGI). Considered the highest authority of the Arab World, Mansour Challita is primarily responsible for the effective management of relations (information, perspectives) and exchanges between the Arab World and Brazil.
The deputy Samir Nasser, of the Legislative Assembly of the State of Rio de Janeiro on November 11th, 1980, in the name of the Assembly, signed a motion “requesting Mansour Challita to accept sincere congratulations and wishes for the recent publication of his translation of the “Koran” in Portuguese… Precise translation, the work of a writer who knows both languages in depth.”
And he adds: “In addition to being a writer of rare sensitivity and as a member of the Gibran International Cultural Association, Mansour Challita developes exchanges with zeal between the Arab nations and the New World obtaining excellent results.
On June 29, 1981, the Municipal Council of Rio de Janeiro organized an exclusive formal meeting to pay tribute to Gibran and Mansour Challita. The latter delivered a speech there on his mission and Gibran. The same day, the 18 pages of his presentation were published in the “Journal of City Council”.
On January 24th, 1983, the president of the Republic, Mr. João Figueiredo, received 40 students who had won the Award of Excellence. The president asked, “What do you like best in the area of education?” They replied: “Politics.” After repeating the question, the president retorted: “Politics? I’ll show you what ‘politics’ is.” And taking from his library the book by Challita Mansour, “The Art of Politics”, he began to read. That created a stir! So much so that the next day, the photo of the president reading from Challita’s book appeared in most major newspapers.
The newspaper “A Critica”, in Manaus (in the Amazon) on October 13th of the same year, published an article by Mário Ypiranga entitled “Mansour Challita “; the author affirms: “For us, Mansour Challita does not just represent a ‘parsona grata‘, always welcome with his gracious smile; for us, he is also a scholar, a great connoisseur of everything that concerns the Middle East “.
Jorge Amado, who prefaced Mansour Challita’s work entitled “Mosaic of the East”, affirms: “I hold in particular regard the Lebanese writer Mansour Challita, a defender of Arab culture in Brazil, an untiring man, with multiple enterprises; a charming man who stands out among intellectuals in his country as well as in ours… Mansour Challita is an extremely gifted writer whose prose is rich in multiple modulations, whose verbal sensitivity is admirable, and whose poetry, profound.
These ideas came to me when I got to the last page of Mansour Challita’s new book “Mosaics of the Middle East”, a real mix of topics and literary genres. I find in this immensely expressive book, the storyteller, the author of literary essays, the impassioned historian, the scholar endowed with great life experiences, who coneptualises the art of living; I find several Mansour Challitas there, including the political controversialist who discusses the problems of the Middle–East.
Genres and topics mingle to produce a true cocktail with fine flavors, even if the common base remains the same: the nature of the new Eastern man and the source of his deep thousand–year–old culture. His pages on Arabic literature are scholarly and inspiring. And his alluring perception on the art of living are rich in love for life … “
A year later, more precisely September 15, 1995, he received the title of honorary member of the Academy of Letters of Viçosa (VLT) in a large, formal, and well-attended meeting, held in the Main Hall of the Association of University Faculty of Viçosa (ASPUV). “Challita, a rather rare case in the world and unique in the Brazilian cultural scene, had already reached adulthood when he landed in Brazil, without knowledge of the Portuguese language; however, he never took that language lightly; instead, he strove to learn it, so much so that, shortly after, he already knew how to skillfully use it in his very carefully written works.” This is how he was introduced to the public during the commemorative ceremony when he took office.
The president of Lebanon, Elias Hraoui (1990 and 1998), wanting to pay tribute to Mansour Challita, awarded him with the “National Cedar Medal, Rank Commander”; Challita received it in 1996 from the hands of the Lebanese Ambassador to Brazil, Mr. Gazi Chidiac.
In June 1984, Mansour Challita initiated a large journalistic competition called “Gibran and Robots”, the main prize being an all expenses paid trip to Lebanon. The slogan of the competition? “England to Shakespeare, Lebanon to Gibran”.
In this context, the Gibran Association produced a medal for every person who generously contributed to the promotion of Gibran and his work. On the medal is the historic slogan: “A cultural legacy spanning over six thousand years.”
With unexpected consequences, launched at a dinner hosted by the Gibran Association for the Brazilian Association of Letter, this competition was presented as follows. “There is a factory in Japan, Fujitsu Fanuc, where production is done exclusively by robots. In the USA, the city of Columbus, Ohio, is fully computerized. The Franco-British Concorde plane is so fast that when flying from East to West, it exceeds the march of time. “
What does Gibran’s message represent and all Millennium Eastern culture in the face of such wonders? Should we regard them as obstacles to progress and leave them behind? Or should we use them more than ever to protect humanity against dehumanization?Other events also had a great impact on Brazil, such as the First Forum of Debates on Trade Relations between Brazil and the Arab World in 1972 and the First Forum of Debates on Economic Relations between Brazil and Arab world in 1974