Bashir Jamil Daouk
Ras Beirut: 1931- 2007 (Paris)
Bashir Jamil Daouk was the founder of Dar attalia and dirasaat arabiya, a prominent writer and member of the Arab National Congress.
1.Early Years 1931- 1957
Born in Ras Beirut to Jamil Muhammad al-Daouk and Sarah Ghandour, Bashir was also the nephew of Omar Muhammad Bey al-Daouk (first president of the Arab Government of Beirut) and Ahmad Muhammad Bey al-Daouk (prime minister of Lebanon in 1941 and 1960). Bashir was inevitably bound to have a bright future with the guidance of his influential uncles. In his early years, he attended the International College in Ras Beirut where he received his primary and secondary education.
Upon graduation in 1948, Bashir pursued his education in the American University of Beirut, specialising in Economics and then attaining a Masters of Economics from Stanton University in the United States. Following his years studying under the American system, he then moved to London where he began his PhD research in the London School of Economics (LSE) where he would attain it in early 1957.
2.Political Activism 1958-1968
After returning to Lebanon in June 1957, he began teaching at the American University of Beirut as a professor. However he built a political profile throughout his years studying abroad, most notably in the Arab Baath Party, which pursued a Pan-Arab ideology of unifying the Arab states one day. This went as far as hosting Pan-Arab summits in his residence in the late 1950's following the ascension of Gamal Abdel Nasser to the presidency of Egypt, and then the United Arab Republic.
In 1960, Bashir founded Dar Attalia, a publishing company which would prove to play a very crucial role in the propagation of enlightening thought and rationale in its books and publications. The publications put Bashir at high risks during certain times going as far as prison, given that he was outspokenly against the status quo in the Arab World. Bashir denounced state censorship, commercialisation of publishing and repressing freedom of speech. His criticism also went beyond the tangible questioning religious thought, leading him to be sued on various occasions.
In 1965, Bashir founded the monthly magazine Dirasaat Arabiyya, which was the indirect tool of sharing his thought and criticism with the large audience he had accumulated by then. Bashir's thoughts encompassed Pan-Arabism, Arab nationalism, Nasserism, women rights and most importantly anti-racism. The magazine also initiated in various studies that were unprecedented in Lebanon such as the econometric context that led to the end of the Lebanese Golden Age in the late 1960's. In 1969, Bashir got married to Ghada al-Samman, who was also a writer and poet. They would both advocate in the name of the author ever since, crowning Bashir as the guardian of the authors.
3.Political Involvement 1970-1981
In 1970 upon the appointment of Saeb Salam as the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Elias Saba was appointed as the Minister of Finance. Saba was a college and friend of Bashir and therefore, Bashir now had an opportunity to put his economic thought into practice through the hands of Saba. Bashir drafted an economic plan for Lebanon, which brought equality and social reform that would accommodate the disadvantaged people of Lebanese society, including the Palestinian refugees and unemployed Muslim population. Bashir also attempted at changing the taxation system in Lebanon and modernise it.
Bashir's plans were not triumphant over the opposition faced by the politicians of the nation resulting in these thoughts to end up written on paper in a publication in 1971. In 1974 he became a founding member of the Center for Arab Unity Studies (CAUS), which sought to carry out independent and scientific and practical research. CAUS hinged its focus on Arab unity and Arab national thought by publishing its ideology. This ideology engulfed Arab nationalism, economics, education, culture, literature, women rights, science, technology, sociology, history and politics. CAUS also engaged in archiving special studies, documentation, conferences, congregations, seminars, and publications that shed light on Arab unity and Arab pride. The legacy of Bashir's pan-Arab thoughts resulted in the founding of al-Mustaqbal al-Arabi (the Arab Future) magazine. The Lebanese Civil War in 1975 would severely impact Bashir's goal, which would inevitably lead to leaving Lebanon.
4. Departure and return 1982-1999
In 1982, Bashir fled a war-torn Lebanon to Paris. This was due to the Syrian and Israeli hegemony over Lebanon, both who were antagonists of Bashir's literature. During his time in Paris, Bashir pursued his passions and notably did not forget his origin. An-Nahar's Abdul Hameed al-Ahdab famously regarded Bashir as a symbol of Lebanese patriotism stating: 'Although he lived in Paris for 25 years, he always refused French citizenship because it violated his beliefs and his national pride. He refused to carry any citizenship other than his Lebanese citizenship because his pride in the Lebanese identity was far beyond one's outreach.'
In the late 1980's, Bashir's focused his thought on women rights. He vociferously advocated for women rights from Paris, where no barriers hindered his ambitions. Bashir has been hailed by many including the al-Jadid Journal as " a foremost champion of women’s rights." In 1999, Bashir returned to Lebanon and had decided to settle in his native Lebanon.
5. A Final Grasp of Hope 2000-2007
Bashir's return to Lebanon was very iconic, which symbolised the return of great writer, who subsequently resumed what had always defined his character. However, his voice like anyone else was trumped by the Syrian presence in Lebanon, which severely disrupted the democratic freedom of speech of the Lebanese conscience. Upon the withdrawal of Syria from Lebanon following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafeek Hariri in 2005, many of the great writers of Lebanon returned to stage including former An-Nahar journalist Gebran Tuweini, who was also later assassinated.
The oppression of freedom saw Bashir at the door steps of the Lebanese courts facing cases that would tailgate him until his death such as the allegation against him for publishing Adonis al-Akra’s book: When My Name Became 16, which vociferously denounced the Syrian presence in Lebanon, to which al-Akra called: "an endless control". These events did not discourage Bashir from speaking out for freedom and justice, however his battle with cancer for more than two years saw him return to Paris for treatment at the American Hospital of Paris. Bashir was resilient and fought cancer, yet a heart attack in 2007 saw him taken from this world. While Bashir rests in peace, his ideology and thought lives strong and well in the conscience of many people. "People die, but books never die. No man and no force can abolish memory...".
Legacy and Testimonials
Abdul Hameed al-Ahdab, an-Nahar: “Daouk was the beautiful face of Al Baath, an ideologue who gave much and took nothing in return, save the comfort derived from his strong identification with Pan-Arabism. He made his ideology beautiful at a time when ugly Arab ideologies were bringing about tribal chaos, bloody authoritarianism, and great oppression to political dissenters they subsequently termed ‘infidels.’”
Paul Shaoul, al-Mustaqbal: "His being away from his beloved Beirut and Lebanon didn’t shake his resolve nor did it distort his sense of belonging to Arabist and nationalist projects that were characterised, above all, by their democratic values and progressive values.”
Zahi Wehbe, al-Hayat: "In our villages the only means of entertainment were the books. We had neither stadiums, clubs, nor theaters – there was nothing for entertainment except books. Some of my generation who came from villages competed with one another in terms of who could collect the most books. Daouk was the spiritual father of my generation – though I knew him only as a name in print and member of the avant-guard.”
Abbas Beydoun, as-Safir: “His publishing projects were the center for the new, the courageous, and the problematic in Arab culture. In terms of authorship and translation, all new major productions were welcomed. Dirasaat Arabiyya…became also a forum of the new, readily disseminating things avant-garde, even if they were Marxist, which Daouk himself was not. However, he didn’t need to be a Marxist to welcome and encourage such discourse…” Making a similar observation is Miriam Shuqayr Abou Jawdeh in An Nahar: “Dar Al Talia was a refuge of futuristic and leftist thinking and Dirasaat Arabiyya was a forum for freedom and difference.”
Khalil Ahmad Khalil, as-Safir: “He leaves us today at a time where sectarianism is on the rise in the ruins of nationalism.” Daouk’s death, as put by Yassine Rifaieh in Al Hawadeth magazine, was “as if a protest of the fragmented state of Arabism and the Arab state, for he was a man who built his dreams upon unity and the rebirth of civilization.”
All these testimonials have been taken from Elie Chalala, cited as: Elie Chalala, Bashir al-Daouk (1931-2007) In Memoriam: Farewell to Publisher Hero, Vol 13/14 Al-Jadid Journal No 58/59 (2007/2008)