TRIPOLI, Lebanon—In his modest home, which reflects a refined taste, and in his office, packed with books and art, Khaled Ziade spends most of his time reading, researching and writing on the social sciences and the relationship between Europe and Islam and Arabs.
A historian and former diplomat, Ziade is the author of Europe Has Nothing Left to Give to Arabs, a book in Arabic published in 2016 by L’Orient des Livres, which explains the changing perspectives of Muslims on Europe from disdain for many centuries to an admiration of the advancements that Europe achieved in many fields. That admiration turned into animosity in the colonial era.
But to be against someone else’s ideas is not enough to understand your own ideas, he suggests. “It is thought that changes societies,” Ziade said. “Therefore, when you examine the thoughts of people in our region, you can see that fundamentalism is what fills in the blanks. We cannot make a change without having a vision that is in harmony with the integration requirements of the modern world.”
Despite having filled many diplomatic positions, serving as Lebanon’s ambassador to Egypt and a permanent representative to the League of Arab States, Ziade still prefers to be introduced as an academic. He has worked as a director of the department of social and human sciences at the Lebanese University and a professor at the university’s Institute of Social Science for more than 25 years, both as a teacher and researcher. He also serves as director of the Beirut office of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, an independent research institute based in Doha.
After returning to Lebanon from France where he obtained his Ph.D. in philosophy from Sorbonne University, Ziade worked with a number of colleagues and students on preserving the records of Tripoli’s Islamic religious court. In 2017, he published a book, Sharia Court Records From the Ottoman Era: Methodology and Terminology, that reflects on how the Tripoli court’s records of marriages, divorces, deaths and other social occurrences help bring the city’s Ottoman history to life. But he noted that the disorganized state of the court’s archives and the lack of digitization made it difficult to create anything but a patchy picture of the past.
“My preoccupation revolved around how we could use these records in anthropology,” he said. “How these records could serve, not only as historical facts, but also [create a larger picture] through their study and analysis in a systematic work.”
Ziade is particularly interested in the relationship between the Arab-Muslim world and Europe. He considers that all cultural, political and social phenomena have been influenced by this relationship. He also focuses on researching the mechanisms that regulate the relationship between authorities and society in Muslim cities. He is believed to be the first scholar to write in Arabic on the early Ottoman attempt to undertake political and social reforms, such as the efforts of Sultan Selim III, who created a new infantry trained and equipped on a European model and funded by new taxes. Ziade has undertaken an analysis of scientific institutions and bodies, as manifestation of cultured Arab individuals.
“There is diversity to his research, from sociology to history and literature,” said a colleague, Jean Jabbour, a professor of French Literature at the Lebanese University. “Despite that, each of his books has its own special flavor and reflects his wide culture and deep intellect.”
Writers and Sultans: From Islamic Scholars to Intellectuals is considered by Ziade’s colleagues to be one of his most distinguished books. It documents the transition from the time when Mamluks, a caste of warriors, dominated in Egypt and other states, to the Ottoman Empire; the rise of scientists in the Ottoman Empire; and the transition from the 18th to the 19th century, with what it brought in terms of modernization of the tools of scientists and writers.
Ziade has also published a collection of narratives divided into three books. The first was Friday, Sunday: Chapters From a Biography of a City on the Mediterranean, translated into English, French, Spanish, Italian and German. Next came Neighbourhood and Boulevard: Reading Through the Modern Arab City, translated into English, and finally The City Gates and the Virtual Wall, in Arabic. All three books were later published in one volume by Dar El Shorouk under the title A City on the Mediterranean.
Ziade has also written a historical novel, The Story of Faisal, which tells the story of a prince’s role in the Great Arab Revolt, when Arabs rose up against the domination of the Turks shortly after the beginning of the 20th century.
“Despite his writings being mostly academic and historical, they carry human details and nostalgia for an era he did not live in, but which he successfully and smoothly transfers to the reader,” said Wafaa Chaarani, a philosophy professor and a friend of Ziade’s.
Maha Kayal, an anthropology professor and the head of the research center at the Institute of Social Science at the Lebanese University, and a teaching colleague of Ziade’s, believes that Ziade is not a traditional historian.
“He is a reader of history rather than a historian,” she said. “The events in his writings are not important in themselves but in their consequences and interactions. Despite his deep interest in history, he does not sanctify time and did not stop at this notion. He is always using time to understand, analyze and read while looking forward to the future.”
Although Ziade stopped teaching more than ten years ago, he is still very popular among students.
“Ziade has a smooth style in laying out causes and discussing them. He is cultivated, humble, and he always makes sure to ask questions and open discussions to encourage us to constantly look for answers,” said Abir As-sabe, who obtained a Ph.D. in social development under Ziade’s supervision.
Jabbour, the professor of French literature, agrees with As-sabe. “Ever since the beginning of his career as professor, Khaled considered that any academic work relies on research, more than it does on teaching or managing,” he adds. “He applied that to himself and his students.”
Ziade says his work at the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in Beirut helps make up for what is missing in many universities.
“Today, universities are no longer producers of intellect,” he said. “Even though research centers are not an alternative for universities, they make up for an absence caused by the regression of education, and open the door for writers and researchers to execute their research and publish their work.”