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Abdelwahab M. Elmessiri 1938-2008.

On 3 July 2008 Abdelwahab M. Elmessiri, a true twentieth century polymath, an astounding defender of intellect and history, and a methodologically innovative Arab scholar passed away. The death of the author of the most important Arabic encyclopedia in the twentieth century; The Encyclopedia of Jews, Judaism and Zionism is a loss for science and philosophy.

Elmessiri's death in Palestine Hospital in Cairo suggestively captured much about the man, the intellectual, and the activist. It seems nothing less than an evocatively planned event relating Elmessiri to a great cause and highlighting much about his intellectual endeavor and political activism.

Elmessiri authored sixty books that impressively included and indicated a wide range of interest: scholarly studies of colonialism, Zionism, literary criticism, comparative literature, history, politics, culture, religion, poetry, sociology, and children books. He also wrote an inspiring number of articles. Elmessiri was a true descendent of the great tradition in Arab philosophy and intellectual life that began with Ibn Rushd (Averroes) and continued in the sophism of the great Arab philosopher Mohi Aldin Ibn Arabi. Integrating Elmessiri into this subversively innovative philosophical tradition is not based solely on impressive scholarly productivity or humble life style, but also on his unswerving commitment to the principles of the Arab-Islamic philosophy in both his philosophical scheme and epistemological tactics.

The eight-volume encyclopedia project that took almost 20 years to complete culminated in a vast intellectual project that critically questioned the universality of western capitalist modernity and colonial epistemology, is nothing less than a triumph of Arab science and philosophy. His ascetically native epistemological tactics successfully demythologize much of the fallacious knowledge and superstitions regarding Jews, Judaism, and Zionism. The encyclopedia illuminates much on Jewish groups, Judaism, and Zionism and their socio-political and historical nature, rendering Elmessiri the most important scholarly authority on Zionism in the Arab homeland. His employment of theoretical models, while at the same time expressing a rejection of philosophical positivism, iyeluctably, enabled him to effectively avoid slipping into reification. Although Elmessiri did not have the chance to read Hannah Arendt's "The Jewish Writings," written in the 1930s and 1940s and published in 2007, it is possible to argue that on more than one issue, they arrived at similar conclusions.

Almost twenty years prior to Francis Fukuyama's ill-fated ecstatic proclamation of the end of history and the triumph of liberalism, Elmessiri concluded in his very first book "The End of History: A preamble to Study the Structure of Zionist Thoughts" that it was trendy among fascist philosophies to seek a temporal and spatial end to history. Questioning the Zionist philosophy of history and Zionist discourse on Palestine, Palestinian history, and Jewish exile, Elmessiri asserts that his conclusion is true about Zionism as well. Zionism declared Palestine "a land without people for a people without land," which metaphorically emptied the land of Palestine and the Palestinians were ejected from history in the Zionist discourse. At the same time, the central Zionist premise in the construction of Israel's culture, namely the negation of exile, conditioned Jewish return to history only by means of colonizing Palestine. Early Zionist literature does indeed evince white-settler awareness, as Gabriel Piterberg's serious analysis establish.

Alongside stirringly inspiring scholarly efficacy, daunting cerebral worth, and an impressive career, as an activist, Elmessiri exemplifies elite human ethos marked by unwavering commitment to the cause of social justice. He was the general coordinator of the Egyptian popular opposition movement Kifaya; an anti-regime and anti-hereditary succession opposition movement. At age seventy, his activism brought him face to face with the so-called "anti-riot police" as he marched in anti-regime demonstrations that led to his arrest together with his wife.

Abdel-Wahab Elmessiri was born in Damanhour, and graduated from Alexandria University. He obtained his MA from Columbia University, New York in 1964 and his PhD from Rutgers College, New Jersey, in 1969. Elmessiri was not only a serious scholar, but was also a powerful moral voice. While many Arab intellectuals achieved considerable fame and inspiring reputation, few scholars, like Elmessiri, realized the exception of becoming a household name.

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Publication:Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)
Article Type:In memoriam
Geographic Code:7EGYP
Date:Jun 22, 2008
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