BEIRUT: The late Kamal Jumblatt (1917-77) is remembered as the founder of Lebanon’s Progressive Socialist Party. In the view of Lokman Meho, the American University of Beirut’s libraries director, Jumblatt was “one of the most unique leaders of this country.” The public is now in a position to appreciate this man. A selection of books, manuscripts and photos by or about the late political leader, along with a sprinkling of his personal effects, have been gathered into an exhibition at AUB’s Jafet Library.
Walid Jumblatt, the PSP’s current leader and the son of the party’s founder, donated the items – including a trove of approximately 100 books – to the university on a short-term loan.
It is perhaps no surprise that the intellectual and politician, who was assassinated in the second year of the Lebanese Civil War, wrote about politics. He also penned works on philosophy, society and spirituality.
Meho notes that Jumblatt’s political writings “were mainly dealing with local politics, whereas his other [works sprang from] his own academic background, his perception of life. ... He was quite involved and was very much fond of Indian spiritual leaders.”
The exhibition has been subdivided into categories – “Social Views,” “Philosophical Views” and “Spiritual Views” – that reflect the multiple facets of Jumblatt’s intellect and the cultural production that has followed in his wake.
The collection includes such Arabic-language studies as Nabil Hadi’s “Kamal Jumblatt, the Great Challenge” and Sharbil Abu Dahir‘s “The Social and Political Thought of Kamal Jumblatt.”
Jumblatt himself wrote several books on the subjects of meditation and spirituality. Titles like “Yoga and Indian Wisdom” and “Philosophy, Yoga and the Land of the Wise Men” suggest something of the leader’s lesser-known facets.
Naturally, echoes of his political preoccupations are also in evidence. In response to those who in former days denied the existence of a Palestinian history, he penned “Palestine, Cause of a Nation and History of a Country.”
Among his most-cherished themes were the human condition and its evolution. “Mes Souhaits pour l’Homme de Demain” (My Wishes for Tomorrow’s Man) informs readers of the author’s views on such subjects as God, love, progress and public school education.
“His daily life was influenced by his writings and vice versa,” Meho said. “If he were still alive, he would have written 200-300 books, all of them on his beliefs and ideas. He was very much into women’s rights, the rights of the underprivileged, workers’ rights and the Palestinian cause.”
Jumblatt’s personal belongings are exhibited in glass frames. A fur-lined navy blue vest with a tie and other items provide intimate glimpses of Jumblatt’s life. His 1972 Lenin Peace Prize, the Soviet Union’s erstwhile answer to the Nobel Peace Prize, is also on display.
A timeline has also been made, reconstructing the leader’s life. Viewers can read that he graduated in 1937 from the Sorbonne in philosophy, psychology and sociology. In 1940, he received a law degree from the St. Joseph University.
At the exhibition opening, Meho said, members of the public were astonished by the breadth of the collection. “People who attended the opening ceremony ... [said] ‘The whole of Lebanon is finally together in one single room!’”
Jumblatt’s legacy lives on through this endowment.
Photographs of Jumblatt at various stages of his life – as a boy, sitting at his writing desk, chatting with an Indian fakir – serve as a visual complement to the other materials on display.
The collection will be returned to the care of the Jumblatt family at the end of the month. Those curious about Kamal Jumblatt who haven’t yet seen this exhibition ought to do so quickly.
“Kamal Jumblatt, 1917-1977” is on show at AUB’s Jafet Library until the end of March. For more information, please call 01-340-460.