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Dib, Kamal

Dib, Kamal

PERSONAL:

Born in Lebanon; immigrated to Canada; children: Catherine and Maya.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Gatineau, Quebec, Canada. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Economist and writer. Manager of research on socioeconomic issues in the federal government of Canada.

WRITINGS:

Thaman Al-dam Wa-al-damar: Al-tahwidat Almustahika Li-Lubnan (title means "Cost of War and Destruction: Required Reparations to Lebanon"), Sharikat al-Mat but lil-Tawziz wa-al-Nashr (Beirut, Lebanon), 2001.

Ala Bawwa'bat Al-Sharq: Musha'hada Lubnaniyah (title means "At Orient Gate: Lebanese Testimonies"), Dar al-Farabi (Beirut, Lebanon), 2003.

Zilzal Fi Ard Al-shiqaq: Al-Iraq, 1915-2015 (title means "Shakeup in the Land of Discord: Iraq, 1915-2015"), Dar al-Farabi (Beirut, Lebanon), 2003.

Warlords and Merchants: The Lebanese Business and Political Establishment, Ithaca (Reading, England), 2004.

Leila Bint al-Koroum (novel; title means "Leila, Girl of the Prairies"), Dar al-Farabi (Beirut, Lebanon), 2004.

Umaraa al-Harb wa Tujjar al-Haykal: Rijal al-Sulta wal-Mal fi Lubnan (title means "Men of Money and Power in Lebanon"), Dar an Nahar (Beirut, Lebanon), 2007.

Haza al-Jisr al-Atiq: Soquoot Lubnan al-Masihi (title means "This Ancient Bridge: The fall of Christian Lebanon"), Dar An-Nahar (Beirut, Lebanon), 2008.

Contributor to magazines and journals, including the Daily Star, Ethnic Diversity, Canadian Diversity, Canadian Labour Gazette, Canadian Business, Annahar, and Alhayat.

SIDELIGHTS:

Kamal Dib, a Canadian economist, analyzes the governance and the economy of his native Lebanon in Warlords and Merchants: The Lebanese Business and Political Establishment. He shows how the country's banking sector emerged in the 1940s, with the dominant Intra Bank acquiring power and influence before collapsing in 1966. According to Dib, the "warlords" who controlled business and politics in Lebanon had worked to undermine Intra Bank because its owners were predominantly Christian Palestinians. Despite Intra Bank's failure, Lebanon's economy remained relatively strong until 1974, when civil war broke out. Dib explains that the country's currency managed to survive until 1985, but that the national economy was so devastated by the war (which ended in 1990) that it could not recover.

Dib provides an overview of Lebanese history, explaining the ethnic and religious ties among warlords and merchants: "The mountains of the Levant … were not defensible against ancient military expeditions. In many instances, when Greeks, Arabs or Crusaders wished to reach the mountain communities they were able to do so. The different groups inhabiting the mountain region were able to attack each other in times of conflict. Although religious belief was an important factor that pushed many groups to settle in Mount Lebanon, strong feudal lordships were also common in the region. From the beginning, the Maronites, the Shia and the Druze established warrior societies not much different from the Japanese Samurai-style fiefs." These communities, Dib continues, "glorified images of chivalry and male strength, and developed into warlord feudal domains." Civil wars became a frequent occurrence in this culture.

Marius Deeb, writing in the Middle East Quarterly, deemed Warlords and Merchants an interesting book, adding that Dib's economic analysis is stronger than his insights on politics. In fact, Deeb observed that Dib "either misinterprets … or simply omits" discussion of several key events, including the fall of the Lebanese currency, the reasons behind factional battles, the assassination of several political and religious leaders, or the influence of the Syrian regime under Assad.

In a Historian review, Roger Owen observed that Dib's highly anecdotal and personal account of the civil war years enhances the interest of Warlords and Merchants. But Owen found the book "somewhat disjointed" and loosely written, with inadequate reference to previous scholarship on the subject.

Dib told CA: "My desire to write started at age eleven, but this was preceded by a devotion to reading at age six. I enjoyed American comic books (DC Comics: Superman, Batman, Tarzan, etc.), as well as children's adventure books (Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and similar books by Egyptian author Mahmoud Salem), even at age twenty.

"One day, while I was in fifth grade (age eleven years), people from a radio station visited my school looking for talent for a children show. They picked me to recite poetry in the show and read a Disney-style story (which I don't remember). When I asked the gentleman from the station why I was picked, he replied that when he was viewing the students in my class, I stood out as ‘pensive’ and ‘contemplative,’ qualities that my teacher described as being ‘shy.’

"In grade six, a teacher selected my composition pieces to photocopy for students in our class and other classes as examples to follow. And in grade seven (age thirteen), I convinced the principal to allow me to use the glass display window outside his office as my wall newspaper. I wrote small stories about the school and what goes on, as well as my poems and thoughts, clips and pictures that I liked in magazines. The wall newspaper was popular, and both teachers and students stood there reading it every week.

"At age fourteen, I started writing my own forty-page-length stories that imitated The Hardy Boys and such books. By age sixteen, I wrote six of these stories and sent them to a publisher, but never heard back. Around the same time, I became a junior journalist at a local magazine and wrote columns on a variety of topics. One of them was my poetic take on autumn leaves; others were on Spain and Japan. At age eighteen, I became the youngest editor of a community newspaper in Toronto, and later that year, I became a columnist at two student newspapers of the University of Ottawa (The Fulcrum and La Rotonde).

"My two immediate influences were my economics professor Charles Jeanneret, a Swiss citizen who was devoted to issues of poverty, underdevelopment, and inequality in Asia, Africa, and Latin America; and my friend George Corm, a Lebanese economist and sociologist who has written over twenty books in French on various issues about Lebanon, the Middle East, and religion.

"My university study focused first on economics, but then I expanded into international development, political science, philosophy, and psychology. My golden rule is that I shouldn't venture writing about a topic until I can safely feel that I have read enough about it. Thus, my writing career is split between eighty percent reading and twenty percent writing.

"In my reading, I avoid journalistic accounts disguised as books, or biographies that read like a bureaucratic report, or books that promote hate and racism. My current reading interests focus on postmodernism, German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, German cultural history, history and future of Middle Eastern Christianity, and the role of the intellectual in general in western democracies.

"For writing, I ask myself questions such as: how was it possible that the Holocaust took place in Europe and in Germany of all places; how the Sabra and Shatila (1982) massacre was possible in Lebanon; whether a society's elite is responsible for social crisis or is it the fault of mainstream society, what contributes to the demise of Christianity in the Middle East, etc.

"With regard to writing a magazine or newspaper article: I conceptualize the idea and spend several days pondering its significance and relevance. I then establish my data and information needs and do my research. Once I have all that, I sit down to the computer and write the article all at once. The writing could take me two hours or more, but then I leave it to the following day to distance myself, and then come back to it for modifications before sending it on for publication. When I do that, I end up changing the title, adding a conclusion that was missing in the first draft, changing the introduction, etc. Usually my articles vary from 750 to 1,500 words.

"With regard to writing an article for a periodical: while I follow the same process in writing a magazine or newspaper article, writing an article for a periodical usually requires much more effort and time. This may take me a month or two as I need to meticulously find sources and fully substantiate what I am writing. The newspaper/magazine article is short and is usually an opinion piece; here it is an academic work that needs my full skill. Once I produce a satisfactory draft, I usually seek peer review and rewrite entire sections. I also go through several drafts before I decide that I now have a final draft.

"With regard to writing a book: this is the most complex exercise and the process varies depending on the topic. For example, some of my books on Lebanon are a continuation on a single theme: the sectarian foundations of the Lebanese State and the analysis of the Lebanese economy. So this has been a life-long task and I continuously look for material and new ideas. I started Warlords and Merchants. in 1994 but took several years to finish it as I was taken away to other endeavors for periods that would exceed a year sometime. Other books take much less time. I started my book on Iraq in March 2003 and sent the last chapter to the publisher in September of the same year. It hit bookstores in December. For the book on Iraq, I first established my bibliography and borrowed as many books and periodicals on Iraq and relevant issues from the university library. Those sources that I could not find locally, I purchased them at my own expense from online bookstores for fast delivery. I consulted dozens of Web sites, especially United Nations and regional organizations, as well as major media outlets and newspapers. By the end of the summer, I would have read thousands of pages in dozens of references that were listed at the end of the book. The book was a best seller although it took me six months to finish.

"Many things still surprise me as a writer, but after twenty years, my biggest surprise is how little I know about many things. And that the more I read the better I write. Other surprises include pleasant occasions. I was once invited to give a lecture at the Finance Institute in Beirut, Lebanon. Living in Canada and not knowing too many people in Lebanon, I was positively shocked that 200 people, many of whom were economists, politicians, journalists, and professors, attended my lecture. I was told by the organizers and by members of the audience afterwards that my books and articles published in Lebanon were widely read and respected. Another surprise was the speed at which my book Umaraa al-Harb wa Tujjar al-Haykal: Rijal al-Sulta wal-Mal fi Lubnan sold out and how it was quoted by politicians in television talk shows.

"My favorite book of mine is Ala Bawwa'bat Al-Sharq: Musha'hada Lubnaniyah ("At Orient Gate"), as it is a semiautobiographical account of my observations of my country of origin, Lebanon, at the turn of the century (2001). I discuss social phenomena, sex life, popular TV shows, contrast between city and country, harming nature, religion and politics, emigration, etc. It is only available in Arabic, and I hope one day a publisher produces an English or German or French edition. If that happens I want to use my improved knowledge to expand and rewrite some sections.

"Those who read my books will immediately detect a basic message (it is there even when I write a novel): never lose hope of the principles of the Enlightenment, such as democracy, human rights, rule of law, and respect for individuals. If I am able to bring a glimpse of enlightened thought to readers of my books, I think that will be my reward.

"This message is meant surely for Lebanon and similar countries; but it is meant first for Canada, my beloved country that is undergoing an excellent experiment of coexistence of 215 ethnic groups with origins from all over the world, in a Westminster style of government and liberty for all. My books critique racism, sectarianism, violence, war, and sexism. And I try to bring forward substantiated and well-referenced arguments."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Dib, Kamal, Warlords and Merchants: The Lebanese Business and Political Establishment, Ithaca (Reading, England), 2004.

PERIODICALS

Historian, winter, 2005, Roger Owen, review of Warlords and Merchants.

Middle East Quarterly, winter, 2006, Marius Deeb, review of Warlords and Merchants.

Reference & Research Book News, August, 2004, review of Warlords and Merchants, p. 50

ONLINE

Campaign for Good Governance in Lebanon Web site,http://www.cggl.org/ (April 15, 2008), author profile.

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