"The Orient is ill": Kahilil Gibran and the Politics of Nationalism in the New York Syrian Colony, 1908--1920

Date of Completion

January 2010


Literature, American|Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies




The purpose of this dissertation is to examine the evolution of Kahlil Gibran's political thought between 1908 and 1920, a period roughly bounded by the Young Turk Revolution of 1908 and the division of Syria into mandates following the Versailles Peace Conference. ^ The extensive information in this dissertation sheds light on Gibran as well as on the circle of Syrian American intellectuals who wrote for the Arabic-speaking press in New York City under Gibran's leadership. This group, which is collectively referred to by Arabic scholars as the North American Mahjar (Arab diaspora), played an important role in the modernization of Arabic literature. Since Gibran, as well as two other members of this group, Ameen Rihani and Mikhail Naimy, wrote in English as well as Arabic, their work also constitutes the first phase of Arab American literature, a phase which has received very little critical attention to date. ^ Since the 1970s, critics have been aware that Gibran was actively engaged in nationalist politics during the years surrounding World War I. However, little has been known about the extent or nature of this political involvement. ^ This dissertation examines Gibran's political commitment and the influence this commitment had on the large body of political work he wrote during this period. Many of these political works have been hidden from public view because they were never published in book form. Other works were written in Arabic but have never been translated into English. Using recently published research in Arabic as well as French and English, I bring these articles and poems to the attention of English-speaking readers and place them in the context of the historical times in which they were written. I also examine published as well as unpublished political commentary by Gibran that appears in the Mary Haskell collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In addition, I draw on a large body of information on the political life of the early Syrian American community that appeared in the local Syrian American press.^