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Mikhayil Mishaqa: Murder, Mayhem, Pillage, and Plunder; the History of the Lebanon in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

Mikhayil Mishaqa (1800-1888), who portrayed himself as a self-educated politician (pp. 61ff.), composed a history of the Lebanon in 1873 entitled Al-jawab ala iqtirah al-ahbab. An abbreviated edition was published in Beirut in 1955, based on a manuscript believed to be an autograph. W. M. Thackston has now edited an English translation of the text, using the A. U. B. ms 956.9jA as the basic text. Thus we now have at our disposal the complete version of the Jawab, covering the history of Lebanon and partly of Damascus from 1750 to 1873.

Thackston gives a short introduction to the text (pp. 1-8) in which he informs the reader of the specifics of the text, the historical setting of Druze and Maronite societies in the Lebanon, and of the main political factions. The translation itself (pp. 9-272) is divided into five parts by the translator. The first part deals with the late 18th-century history of the Mishaqa family and its role in the rise of the reign of Emir Bashir II (1788-1840). The next three parts contain a description of the history of al-Bashir's emirate from 1804 to 1840, mixed with much anecdotal and autobiographical material. Part five describes the relationship between Christians and Druze under the impact of the 1860 massacre in Damascus, during which the author himself was wounded. Professor Thackston adds three appendices to the text, dealing with terms and titles, and the genealogy of the Shihabi emirs of the Lebanon as well as other households. Notes to the text are kept to a minimum. Here references are made to lacunae and suppressed passages of the 1955 Beirut edition. A short bibliography and indices conclude the book.

The title of the translation is unfortunately somewhat dramatic and misleading. It suggests a history of the Lebanon whose main features were murder and bloodshed. On the contrary, the text of the Jawab contains a great deal of information on peaceful cultural developments, and offers insights into the social worlds of the leading Christian families in the Lebanon and in Egypt and Syria (e.g., on astronomy and the sciences in general, pp. 62ff.). Moreover, the text hardly touches the 18th century, possibly disappointing readers who might have been attracted by the book's subtitle. The Jawab is, first of all, a history of the Shihabi Emirate from 1788 to 1842, and of the Ottoman "Double Qa immaqamate." Furthermore, as the text offers many autobiographical passages throughout, the subtitle "History of the Lebanon" may not be justified. It is more convenient to class Mishaqa's Al-Jawab with a genre that could be labelled "diplomatic memoire literature."

Although the translation is very readable - and often amusing and entertaining - Arabic expressions are sometimes translated into an overly modern idiom. On p. 99, for instance, we read of granting free trade and "internal autonomy" to craftsmen, a notion that reflects a world view of today more than one of the second half of the 19th century. Thackston himself points out that the Arabic language of the text is "an unreformed, late medieval Arabic, construed with typical Middie Arabic syntax, often highly colloquialized and, as might be expected, replete with Ottomanisms" (p. 2). The translator could have been more specific about Mishliqa's syntax and lexicon in the notes (as on p. 92, n. 10, for example).

It goes without saying that in his translation of Mishaqa's Al-Jawab, Professor Thackston has given us an important insider's account of 19th-century Lebanese society and a main source for the study of the Christian societies of Lebanon and Syria. This source has been rarely used, even in the latest studies. For instance, Axel Havemann, in his important book on the history of peasant societies in Mount Lebanon (Rurale Bewegungen im Libanongebirge im 19. Jahrhundert [Berlin, 19831), made no reference to Mishaqa, even though his work contains many references to the rebellions of the Kisrawan peasants. Thackston has reopened this source, and it would be a great achievement if the complete Arabic text of Mishaqa's Al-Jawab were to be edited and published, to follow this pleasing translation.
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Author:Schulze, Reinhard
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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