The Mokarzels’ contributions to the Arabic-speaking community in the United States – Naoum and Salloum Mokarzel, publishers of Arabic-language newspapers in the United States
Michael W. Suleiman
This is a study of two brothers, Naoum and Salloum Mokarzel, both of whom were leaders and pioneers, especially in the field of journalism, whose influence and contributions to the Arabic-speaking community spanned a period of some sixty years. Naoum came to the United States in 1890 and Salloum followed him in 1898, the year Naoum founded, published and edited Al-Hoda, one of the major Arabic-language newspapers in the United States. In 1926, Salloum published and edited The Syrian World, one of the best English-language journals produced by the community.(1) I will now discuss the work of the two Mokarzel brothers separately, beginning with the older, namely Naoum. After that, I will compare and contrast their contributions.(2)
NAOUM A. MOKARZEL (2 AUGUST 1864 – 5 APRIL 1932)
To some extent, what we say about N.A. Mokarzel applies to other great Arabic-speaking journalists/publishers of his generation who immigrated to the United States. However, Naoum also distinguished himself in other ways. In particular, his ideological commitment, his fierce unwavering loyalty to “Lebanon,”(3) his iron will, and his enthusiastic involvement in all the major issues facing the Arabic-speaking community in the United States (and in North America generally) assured him a place in the history books.
Naoum was a man of vision. His vision, however, was not always shared by others, even among fellow Maronite Lebanese in America. When that happened, it never occurred to Naoum that his vision needed modification. He was sure deep down in his heart that he was right. That meant, of course, that the others were wrong and that they had to be fought until they saw the error of their ways, were converted to his point of view – or defeated. One illustration of this was the fight over the establishment of Al-Sakhra (The Rock) which was intended by its promoters to be the Maronite newspaper in America. In the course of a rather long and bitter conflict over this issue, Naoum appeared to give different, if not contradictory, assessments of what his own paper, Al-Hoda, was or was not.(4) When Al-Hoda was first established, Naoum very definitely presented it as staunchly independent. While he accused other Arabic newspapers in the United States (and their editors/publishers) of being loyal to Britain or France or Russia or the Ottomans, Al-Hoda, he emphasized, “followed a policy of independence.”(5) What was implied, but not openly stated, was the contention that Al-Hoda did not represent a specific sect, i.e. the Maronites – an accusation that was readily assumed and articulated by the other (also sectarian) newspapers and their readers.(6) In any case, that “policy of independence,” for various reasons, did not last long.(7) When some Maronites, including two clergymen, Estephan Qurqumaz and Yusuf Yazbek, began to raise funds and prepare for what they stated would be a truly Maronite newspaper, the threat to Al-Hoda became obvious. Naoum Mokarzel and his supporters now clearly and vociferously declared their Maronite affiliation. Naoum claimed that Al-Hoda “was and remains the honest servant of the [Maronite] sect and nation.”(8) He added that those wanting to replace Al-Hoda with another newspaper for Maronites were doing so for “personal and dishonorable purposes.”(9)
In the struggle that ensued, the two sides tried to marshal support for their point of view. While it appeared to be an intra-Maronite conflict, some sectarianism was nevertheless interjected into the debate. Al-Hoda accused some supporters of Al-Sakhra of being Orthodox or Protestant, and warned them that Al-Sakhra was not tolerant and friendly to them, as they assumed, but that, in reality, it looked down upon them, and was using them for its own unsavory purposes.(10)
Naoum and Al-Hoda eventually won out. Their most telling arguments were as follows: the people behind Al-Sakhra were not true representatives of the Maronite community or the Maronite church; Al-Sakhra would split the Maronite community; and, most importantly, the Maronite community already had an excellent and well-established Maronite newspaper, namely Al-Hoda.(11)
Naoum has generally been viewed as 110% Maronite and as being an unswerving Lebanese nationalist. This assessment is quite correct. However, these commitments were manifested in a variety of ways, especially as Naoum tried to accommodate the powerful rulers of his native lands, and as he tried to be faithful to other principles he held and professed openly, namely religious tolerance and freedom of expression.
Until WWI, Mount Lebanon and all of Greater Syria were under Ottoman control. Furthermore, the Arabic-speaking immigrants in North America were, and remained for many years, Ottoman citizens. All Arabic newspapers in the United States had to operate from that starting point. While some, like Al-Ayam, took a very hostile attitude toward the Sultan and the Ottoman authorities generally, Al-Hoda was a lot more cautious, reminding its American readers that “You remain settlers in a foreign land. Remember that you are Ottoman.”(12) Love of homeland, if not outright loyalty to the Sultan, was strongly advocated by Naoum Mokarzel, especially after the establishment of a new government in Istanbul, one that was perceived to be more open and liberal toward non-Turks in the empire. Whereas the old Ottoman authorities were unhappy with and condemned the founder of Al-Hoda (among others), the Young Turks government reversed that decision. Naoum then professed himself “one of the most sacrificing people in the service of national [Ottoman] public welfare.”(13) He further lectured those fellow Syrians who became naturalized Americans as follows: “The naturalized Syrians who do not respect the rights of the old homeland do not respect the rights of a new homeland . . . and the old homeland takes precedence.”(14)
While Naoum, Al-Hoda and all immigrant Syrians in the United States had to always be careful not to alienate or even offend the Ottoman authorities, there was no question that Naoum’s loyalty was to Mount Lebanon and the Lebanese, especially the Maronite among them. He also looked upon France as the friend and protector of Eastern Christians, especially Catholics. Therefore, when conditions made possible the open, public expression of such sentiments, Naoum and Al-Hoda did so. This happened most decisively with the start of WWI, although some tentative attempts preceded that event.
The pre-WWI period was a difficult time for the Arabic-speaking community and its leaders since, at the same time as they sought to break away from their Ottoman designation in order to declare a new loyalty, they faced the challenge of being rejected as “acceptable” citizens in the United States. Naoum also joined and became an active member in the Free Immigration Society and fought to defend all immigrants, including Syrians.(15) Furthermore, Al-Hoda supported the various efforts designed to prove that Syrians are white. Such efforts culminated in the 1914 publication by Al-Hoda Publishing House of the study entitled The Origin of the Modern Syrian.(16) In searching for their roots, the Syrians found that they were really Arabs, “the purest type of the Semitic race,” and that, therefore, they were free white persons within the meaning of the naturalization statute.(17) Despite the above, however, Naoum’s much more specific loyalty and attachment was to the Lebanese and Maronites. During the war, he urged his fellow Syrians to fight on the side of France, in a special battalion, to help liberate the homeland.(18) When the war ended in victory for the allies, Naoum went to Paris to join the Lebanese delegation and argue for independence for Lebanon. “Independence” was really under French tutelage, but that was not only acceptable but desirable since this way Lebanon would have the protection of France. The new “Grand Liban” expanded the borders beyond Mount Lebanon and appeared to have satisfied the ambitions of Naoum, the Maronites and the Christians generally.(19)
Naoum’s next battle on behalf of Lebanon was a major campaign in the United States and among all emigrant Lebanese communities, especially in the Americas, to change the name of the community, its clubs and organizations from “Syrian” to “Lebanese.” In this effort, Naoum was only partially successful, especially since large numbers viewed the attempt as divisive and unnecessary. In the end, only some clubs changed their names, mostly by adding the word “Lebanese” to their name to make it the Syrian/Lebanese club, etc. In the process, many conflicts resulted. Much of the time, the main split was between Maronites and Orthodox. After the establishment of Lebanon as a separate political entity, the division was between a solely “Lebanese” identity as opposed to a larger “Syrian” affiliation, an affiliation which included many immigrants from the newly-established political entity of “Syria,” as well as from the other Arabic-speaking groups.(20)
While Naoum was a practicing Catholic of the Maronite rite, he also was committed to religious tolerance and freedom of expression. These positions sometimes caused him problems. The best example of this is undoubtedly the publication by Al-Hoda Publishing House of Ameen Rihani’s book, The Tripartite Alliance in the Animal Kingdom.(21) As soon as the book came out, Rihani was accused of being an atheist and a defamer of religions, especially Christianity. Furthermore, Naoum Mokarzel, whose publishing house put out the book, was also severely attacked. These attacks came from the clergy, especially Catholics, and also from the editors/publishers of many Arabic newspapers in the United States.
It is to Naoum Mokarzel’s credit that he did not cave in. Instead, he (1) offered space in the pages of his newspaper for rebuttals of Rihani’s arguments,(22) and (2) critiqued Rihani’s book in an intelligent and rational manner. The attacks by rival newspapers were shrugged off as personal and motivated by malice. Besides, the newspapers and their owners were accused of supporting the Masonic movement – and, therefore, allegedly not religiously oriented.(23) On the other hand, Naoum (together with a few others) found the book of excellent quality,(24) stated that Rihani was not an atheist but one who believed in one God, but rejected the notion of trinity. Naoum then proceeded to show that it is possible for an intellectual to accept the notion of trinity, as well as the notion of virgin birth, which Rihani also denied.(25) He then justified the publication of the book on the basis that Al-Hoda Publishing was a commercial press which did not restrict itself merely to Catholic or ideologically-acceptable manuscripts.(26) Among possible reasons for the vicious attacks on Naoum and Al-Hoda concerning the Tripartite Alliance issue is the fact that all Arabic newspapers and their editors/publishers were almost constantly at each others’ throats because of personal jealousies and competition for readers. Publishing the Tripartite Alliance provided an ideal opportunity for Naoum’s opponents to excoriate him. Among those opponents were also clergy members, especially some Maronite clergy. It should be mentioned that for several years at the start of the twentieth century, the Maronite church in Lebanon sent a relatively large number of Maronite clergy (who were referred to as al-mursaloon) to collect funds, with the stated purpose of building churches where needed and/or for refurbishing churches back home. As the demands grew too numerous and were deemed unreasonable, Naoum and Al-Hoda launched a campaign against those clergy, and some of them were specifically accused of corruption.(27) Those clergy and their supporters saw in the publication of the Tripartite Alliance an opportunity to weaken Naoum enough so that he would not again criticize them – or at least, if he did, he would not be such a formidable foe.
As already stated, early this century, most of the Maronite clergy in the United States were sent from (and apparently often acted as if they were back in) Lebanon where, at the time, they were used to being viewed and treated as the unquestioned leaders of the flock, and where their actions were not subject to scrutiny, let alone defiance or reproach. They found out otherwise.(28) As already indicated, Naoum Mokarzel was one of their severest critics. One of the key areas in which Naoum challenged the authority of the clergy was sectarian education. In a number of articles over a twenty-year period, Naoum discussed the pertinent topic: “Are We More in Need of Schools or Churches?” His response from the start was clear and emphatic. Schools, he argued, are far more important, and the community is more in need of them than of churches, especially churches presided over by uncaring clergy. As he stated in 1904: “We believe it is the school we need, especially since there are more churches than we can count, and especially since in 99% of these churches, there is not a servant [priest] who truly cares for the people.”(29) Later in the same year, Naoum argued for nationalist public schools “in which religion and clergy play absolutely no role.”(30) Then, about twenty years later, he wrote: “Schools are the best defense for advanced peoples, and schools must be public, not sectarian, so as to avoid mutual aversion and hostility among the people of the same nation and so as not to have sectarian flags under the national flag.”(31) Besides, he wrote in the same article, it is not possible to have enlightened clergy or parishioners without schools.
Naoum’s fight with the “bad” clergy, who included most of those sent from Lebanon (al-mursaloon) extended to other areas, most notably their authority over women. He attributed the clergy’s success in this area to the ignorance, backwardness, and lack of education of Syrian women in the United States – an intolerable situation since, Naoum argued, this was the main reason for the lack of progress among Arabic-speaking groups in the United States: “The ability [of the clergy] to control/dictate is attributable to the ignorant, uneducated woman. . . . Ignorant women are the source of the public’s/people’s backwardness.”(32) Naoum then attacked those responsible for the ignorance and lack of education of Syrian women. Among these were the woman herself, her parents, and her husband. The “bad” clergy were also responsible. In Naoum’s words: “The clergy reached such a level of stupidity as to claim that it is not proper for women to be teachers.”(33) Furthermore, added Naoum: “the woman who respects the priest just because he is a priest, more so than she respects the Bible, the husband, the child, and good manners is a traitor to God, the marriage vow, the mother’s feelings and the purpose of upbringing.”(34)
Naoum then went on to argue that it is both appropriate and important for a girl to know the facts of life; indeed “The woman who studies physiology and who knows all the parts of the body and their functions is a thousand times better than the woman who is ignorant due to false modesty.”(35) This so-called modesty was also the reason given for not allowing women to give public speeches, to speak to strangers, or even to read books or newspapers. Syrian women were also prevented by their parents or husbands from subscribing to newspapers, and especially, from writing openly in newspapers. As Naoum noted, it was very strange indeed that Syrian women were given the freedom to peddle goods all over the place, which sometimes included staying out of town overnight, but were thought “immodest” or “indecent” if they gave public speeches or became writers.(36)
In the midst of such an atmosphere which valued ignorance and the absence of education for women, Naoum was delighted to find a Syrian woman who was both educated and courageous, i.e. willing to attack and flout a harmful tradition. That woman was Afifa Karam who was then actively and regularly promoted by Naoum and Al-Hoda as an ideal for all women of her “race,” i.e. the Arabic-speaking community in the United States.(37) Naoum then appointed Afifa Karam as “Director of Women’s Issues” for Al-Hoda and gave her the opportunity to write a regular column for the women of her community. Despite strong attacks and cries of”shame,” Naoum and Afifa persisted. In fact, Naoum offered a flee Al-Hoda subscription to any Syrian woman who could read.(38) All these efforts by Naoum contributed a major chapter in the struggle for the education and advancement of women among Arabic-speaking groups in the United States.
Despite Naoum’s support for women and his championing of their rights to education, he certainly was no believer in the equality of the sexes. For example, in the very first issue of Al-Hoda, Naoum stated his lack of enthusiasm for Susan B. Anthony’s campaign to give women the right to vote in the United States. His argument against equality was: “God singled out women for a special role/status which should not be changed.”(39) Stated differently, men and women have different “natures” and the woman “cannot be both man and woman,” so she should spare herself the trouble.(40) In a similar vein, Naoum wrote in 1904: “Women were created to be gentle and meek.”(41) Later in the same year, he referred to man as “the most perfect, the best, the most beautiful of god’s creations,” and to woman as a “portion of man.”(42) In discussing a major social issue which the Arabic-speaking community faced early this century, namely the large number of unmarried girls, Naoum placed the blame on young men, young women and parents – but most of all on young women. He claimed that Syrian women were “too obstinate and too demanding, asking for a big house with walls of gold and tiles of precious stones. . . . Alternatively, they do not get married because they can earn a living on their own.”(43) A generation earlier, Naoum condemned those Syrian parents who practically forced their daughters to marry very young and before they were knowledgeable about life and marriage, merely to adhere to the tradition of the old homeland and to avoid potential problems.(44)
SALLOUM A. MOKARZEL (28 AUGUST 1881 – 2 JANUARY 1952)
Of the two brothers, Salloum was much younger and was greatly influenced by Naoum who was practically old enough to be his father and who immigrated to the United States almost a decade before him. In fact, Salloum worked with his brother for a very long time, and arguably did not fully come into his own until after his brother died in 1932.
One gets a definite impression from reading Salloum’s publications that he thought long and hard about the issues before stating his views or arguments. As a result, he concentrated his considerable energies on a small number of issues he considered important. One was the need to improve the image of the Arabic-speaking community in the United States. Despite their small numbers, Syrians found themselves viewed by the host society as undesirable aliens, i.e. both undesirable and alien. Whereas the battle to get the Syrians accepted as citizens was fought and won before Salloum emerged as a major force in the community, he definitely played a large and important role in introducing Syrians to Americans, invariably presenting them in a positive light. Here, his background, education and personality were tremendous assets. His English was almost that of a native speaker, he knew the history and the social make-up of his own community, and he strongly believed that his people were the equal of any other “race,” including whites and Europeans.(45) He was also proud of his people’s accomplishments, especially in commerce. As he wrote in the New York American: “What could be more of a business romance than the record of a penniless, almost illiterate immigrant who, in the course of a decade, rises from the humble rank of a peddler to the exalted position of an international merchant prince directing from his office in New York the humming industries he controls across the waters of both the Atlantic and the Pacific?”(46) He also praised his people for being law-abiding, hardworking citizens, grateful and loyal to their adopted homeland.(47)
While Salloum dearly loved his people and was proud of their accomplishments, he was not blind to their shortcomings, especially their divisive ways. He constantly preached unity. More importantly, he was instrumental in getting his community’s organizations to join together in a national federation. The reason he gave was simply that such a move would benefit the community as a whole.(48) It is interesting to note here that, though multiculturalism became a major movement after the Civil Rights struggle in the 1960s, the notion of smaller ethnic/”social” groups contributing their share to the national “conglomeration” was certainly openly voiced and advocated as early as the 1920s. As Salloum wrote, “there is no travesty on one’s Americanism to know and to proclaim one’s extraction. After all, the American nation is a conglomeration of various racial strains.”(49) Salloum then rejected the claim that only one racial group had a monopoly on “all the credit and all the honor for contributing all that there is virile and worth-while in the American nation”(50) – and denounced the notion that other racial groups (“races who are not classed among the so-called Nordics”) were responsible for all that was reprehensible in America.(51) Salloum’s argument won the day, a national federation was formed, and Syrians found themselves better able both to preserve their heritage and to contribute positively to the new homeland.
While Salloum searched for ways to “retain our heritage,” he firmly opposed the establishment of Arabic-language schools in America. In this, he was strongly in disagreement with his brother, Naoum, the founder-editor of Al-Hoda, one of the main Arabic-language newspapers in North America. Naoum attacked his own people for abandoning Arabic and berated them for being “ashamed of their origin and racial descent.”(52) He mainly blamed the parents for this sorry state of affairs, stating: “I would even accuse some parents of criminal negligence in their obvious duty towards race and family.”(53) Naoum added to pride of heritage the notion that learning Arabic should be useful to the young as they look for translation jobs or engage in international business.(54) Finally, Naoum was at times a purist, chastising members of his community for using what he referred to as Americanized Arabic.(55) Salloum, on the other hand, claimed that there was no future for Arabic in the United States, and that trying to hold onto Arabic was based on the wrong assumption, namely that Syrians were sojourners, i.e. that they came to America for a short period of time only – and hence needed to retain the language of their former and future homeland. While this was true of early arrivals, Salloum wrote, it was certainly not true for later generations.(56) This notion of “temporary immigration” also was most harmful in material terms, Salloum argued, because it delayed for a long time the establishment of strong businesses which required long-term growth. It also meant that Syrians concentrated their focus on the easiest forms of trade, ones that required no plan or order, and it meant that Syrians traded basically among each other, and engaged in competition mostly with each other, when they should have become part and parcel of the host society. In fact, the notion of temporary immigration practically undermined the very reason for immigration to America: “This happened because we were afraid that if we got tied down to a steady job/business that is not easy to liquidate, it would then be impossible for us to return to the homeland as quickly as we had resolved to do when we left our family and loved ones.”(57)
Other harmful results of the “temporary immigration” idea were in the area of family and social relations. Thus, in peddling and trade, many demeaned themselves, claimed poverty, and asserted that they and their goods were from the Holy Land for the purpose of soliciting kindness and pity. Family and societal relations suffered because women were sent out to peddle and the children’s education was ignored. Furthermore, even among those who became American citizens, the main interest for many was how they might personally benefit, instead of working for the general public good.
While all these ills were in the past and no more than a painful memory, Salloum stated, the desire to retain Arabic and to establish Arabic-language schools was itself a throw-back to the idea of “temporary immigration” – and should, therefore, be abandoned. According to Salloum, Arabic was gradually disappearing from the home, the school, the church, and also from the community’s social/national life. “American soil is unsuitable for the growth of the Arabic language or any other foreign language. . . . After this generation is gone, [the Arabic] language will go with it, thus following an inevitable natural process.”(58) Indeed, Salloum noted that, as early as the 1920s, “a serious discussion has now developed as to whether the Syrian [Arabic-language] press has not reached the end of its usefulness.”(59)
If there is no future for Arabic in America, it follows, for Salloum, that Arabic-language schools are not only unnecessary but harmful as well. They would be a waste of time for students. Young children would be better off in public or parochial schools which are much better equipped than any private Arabic-language school is likely to be – if only because of the smaller numbers and the lack of funding. Additionally, there are no Arabic-language textbooks in the sciences. Furthermore, Syrian children would benefit by going to public schools where they form life-long friendships with other Americans (i.e. those not of Syrian background) useful for their businesses and future careers. To build Arabic-language schools is to seek isolation – the very opposite of what Syrians desire. Syrians can and should teach their children Arabic and/or any language they want, but the objective should not be to keep the Arabic language alive as the national language of Syrians in America.(60)
It must have been rather ironic as well as distressing and quite burdensome to Salloum, therefore, when circumstances beyond his control necessitated that he give up The Syrian World and take on the task of running the Arabic-language Al-Hoda after the death of his dear brother, Naoum, in 1932. This he did for twenty years, until his death in 1952. Some of these frustrations emerged in an editorial Salloum wrote in Al-Hoda as late as 1949.(61) There, he again predicted the demise of all Arabic-language newspapers in the Mahjar once the first generation of Arabic-speaking immigrants was gone. The editorial was in response to repeated, incessant requests from the American-born Syrians pleading with Salloum to publish an English-language journal, or to re-establish The Syrian World or, at the very minimum, to introduce an English-language section in Al-Hoda. In his response, Salloum was, as usual, both sympathetic and well-reasoned. But he turned down the request. While he strongly agreed with the need to have an English-language journal in order to maintain and sustain the national heritage of Syrian youths in America, he said he was not the one to do it. Such a project needed both capital, and competence, including fluency in Arabic. He was not able to do it for the same reason he abandoned The Syrian World in 1932, namely the fact that he needed to devote his time and energy to running Al-Hoda. An English-language journal or even the more modest request for an English-language section in Al-Hoda would be costly, requiring financing from a variety of sources – which he did not think was immediately available. He, nevertheless, hoped that, with the independence of Syria and Lebanon, a new opportunity might arise to establish an English-language journal to accommodate the American-born children of Arabic-speaking parents. He probably suspected that it was a forlorn hope. The point, however, is that Salloum sacrificed much, including The Syrian World, in order to keep Al-Hoda going as a viable newspaper. This is an important part of his legacy.
Salloum cared deeply about his community and devoted his professional career to helping his people adjust to life in the United States. This necessitated (1) that Americans be educated to develop a more positive image of the Arabic-speaking community, and (2) that the community be made to realize that America was its permanent home. At the same time, however, the community needed to keep in touch with its former homeland so as not to forget its roots. In attempting to accomplish these objectives, Salloum founded an English-language journal, The Syrian World, in which he simultaneously addressed both audiences, i.e. the American public generally and the Syrian community in particular, especially the youth who were born and raised in America.
In a very real sense, the very same approach was needed (and was followed) to educate the community and the American public generally about Syrian heritage – a heritage that was overwhelmingly Arab. This is not to say that Salloum believed that the Lebanese were of Arab “racial” stock. Indeed, he subscribed to the popular view among Lebanese Christians, especially Maronites, that the Lebanese were descendants of Phoenicians. As he wrote: “The Syrians in America are the direct descendants of the famous Phoenicians whose imperishable legacy to the advancement of mankind was the development of the art of navigation and their invention of the alphabet.”(62) Culturally, however, the Lebanese have been part of the Arab world for centuries – and that is their heritage.
A review of The Syrian World clearly reveals that the Arab and Islamic cultures are broadly represented and greatly admired. Among the numerous selections which appeared in the journal are: Arab folktales; stories from the Arabian Nights; famous Arab lovers (Antar and Abla, Jamil and Buthaina, etc.); Hatem Tayy whose name is synonymous with generosity and hospitality; stories from Kalila wa Dimna; the clemency and wisdom of the caliph Mu’awiya; essays about Islam, Muslims, and the prophet Muhammad; Arab proverbs illustrating practical wisdom (presented 29 times, a few proverbs at a time); sage sayings by the prophet Mohammed and by the caliph Ali (5 times); Sufi sayings (4 times); Arabic words in English; Arabic stories adapted and translated into English; wise Arab sayings; short notes about Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and the famous Arab poet al-Mutanabbi; and various and sundry “Wit, Wisdom and Humor” items from Arab sources (7 times). Needless to say, there was hardly an issue of the journal that did not contain some reference to the greatness of Arab heritage and civilization.(63)
Of all the challenges that faced the Arabic-speaking community, the issue of identity and the related problems facing the young people were the most perplexing and difficult to address. As stated earlier, Salloum clearly stated that Syrians were in America to stay and it was to America that they belonged and to which they owed their loyalty. At the same time, however, he did not favor complete assimilation at the expense of the original tradition, heritage and culture. He was fully in agreement with Kahlil Gibran’s statement printed in the first issue of The Syrian World. In answering the question as to what it meant to be a Syrian in America, Gibran wrote: “It is to be proud of being an American, but it is also to be proud that your fathers and mothers came from a land upon which God laid His Gracious hand and raised His messengers.”(64) Therefore, it was that tradition and heritage that they needed to preserve and from which they would contribute to the new homeland.
The Syrian World devoted a great deal of space to the challenges facing Syrian youth in America. The problems basically centered around the changing value system gradually being adopted by the children of Arab immigrants and the consequent behavioral changes. The parents complained about the “loss” of their children as a result of a too-fast Americanization process. As is the case with other immigrant communities, the children found themselves torn between two cultures and two (often opposing) sets of values. Basically, girls demanded equal treatment with boys, wanted to be able to go on dates, and to select their future husbands – or at least to have a veto power against an unwanted candidate. Many parents, on the other hand, rejected these demands as scandalous and viewed their children’s requests as disrespectful of parental authority.(65) Salloum did not often address these issues (and did not use his real name when he did) but provided a forum for the Rev. W. A. Mansur and others to deal with them.(66) The advice almost always was for parents to be less rigid in their treatment of their children and for the children to avoid the pitfalls of “bad” or unusual American customs. While one-on-one dating was frowned upon until after the couple were engaged, opportunities for group socializing among the youth were encouraged. However, parents were chastised for insisting on a big dowry for their daughters. The consequence, it was claimed, was to have large numbers of unmarried Syrian girls and too many marriages between young girls and much older men – an unhealthy and undesirable state of affairs.(67)
As to mixed marriages, there was a general disapproval of (or at least much cautioning against) the practice. This unfavorable stance applied to Syrian-American marriages and, even more so, to Christian-Muslim marriages within the Arabic-speaking community, especially since the latter involved mainly Christian girls and Muslim boys.(68)
Salloum had one other major interest which needs to be mentioned, namely his fascination with the impressive success of Syrian Americans in commerce, especially since, for most of these immigrants, this was a new experience and not their original profession.(69) Salloum attributed this success to the Syrians’ hard work, their good common sense and their thrift. In addition, and most importantly, Salloum claimed, Syrians had an “instinct” for successful commerce, as a result of their descent from their “ancestors,” the Phoenicians.(70) It should also be noted that Salloum gave the Syrian woman much credit for the success of Syrian trade in America. According to him, the Syrian woman peddler was the key to a major change in what was traded. Because American women found it easier and friendlier to talk to women peddlers, female Syrian peddlers substantially increased the amount of trade for their community and changed the nature of what was traded, becoming primarily items of interest and use to women.(71)
NAOUM AND SALLOUM MOKARZEL: A COMPARISON
In comparing the contributions of Naoum and Salloum, it is important to note that, in a very real sense, (1) they had distinctly different personalities, (2) their abilities and education were different, and (3) each lived in and covered a different era in the life of the Arabic-speaking community.
While both Naoum and Salloum were bright, hard-working and committed to serving their community, Naoum was a towering figure who was at the center of every important issue facing the community. He had a powerful personality with an evident stubborn streak and a quick temper. He had a sharp and lively intellect which aided him in presenting powerful and logical arguments. It also, however, landed him in far too many controversies, especially since he never learned to control his tongue or to leash the language he used. He was extremely partisan – and was rewarded with strong partisan support whenever it was needed. However, discord within the community was often the inevitable outcome.
Salloum, on the other hand, appears to have been a perfect gentleman in his dealings with others, always careful in what he said or wrote. Any disagreement with others was on principle and never, it seems, involved a personal attack against anyone. Also, Salloum did not engage in (and apparently did not see the need to be involved in) all the issues/controversies of the day. He chose selectively what issues were important, and studied them carefully before he presented a rather meticulous scholarly account about them. His purpose was not to inject himself in the debate but rather to educate the community.
As to education, Naoum was an eclectic, reading widely but almost exclusively in Arabic and French. His English was not the best. Salloum, on the other hand, mastered the English language and used it with great effect, both in addressing Americans generally and also the younger generation of Syrians in the United States. Naoum spoke and wrote about any and all issues, but not always in depth. Salloum, on the other hand, specialized and wrote about a few issues on which he was very well informed.
Having immigrated to the United States in 1890, Naoum experienced a community-in-the-making. In the early part of the twentieth century, Syrians in America were groping to find their way in a foreign land. They did not so much represent a community as a coalition of several communities with the shared bond of language and former homeland. Otherwise, they often thought and acted as if they belonged to different “nations,” namely Maronites, Orthodox, Druze, or Muslims. They also acted as if they were a nizala, a group of people in temporary residence in the United States. Their beliefs, their values, their behavior were those of a people from “Syria” out on an errand, namely making as much money as possible in the quickest way and the shortest time possible. Naoum, therefore, was a product as well as a molder of that environment. He decried sectarianism and often simultaneously fostered it. While he was part of the larger Arabic-speaking community, he truly represented and spoke for a smaller part of that community, namely the Lebanese and even more so the Maronites. He never tired of preaching, mostly in the form of do’s and don’ts. He counseled harmony and good behavior and the need to give up bad Eastern habits in order not to shame their “race” in the host country.(72)
By the time Salloum came into his own, the nizala had moved much closer to being a community, having also come closer to agreeing on an acceptable identity. Salloum urged them to identify with, and contribute to, the American nation. They were urged to become full-fledged American citizens but also to retain pride of heritage, for fear that, otherwise, they would be completely assimilated.
Both brothers were liberal in their social philosophy and supportive of democracy and democratic practices. This meant that they actively sought better conditions for women in their community. They, therefore, worked long and hard to get their fellow Syrians to shed some of the traditional habits which they saw as outmoded and as contributing to the slow progress of the community. They also championed efforts for the education of Syrian youth. In all of this, the change they advocated had the ultimate objective of preserving the family and the best elements of the old traditions.
Both journals, Al-Hoda and The Syrian World, were run efficiently and with much dedication. Both Naoum and Salloum were instrumental in introducing, encouraging and supporting new and often young writers, both male and female. Naoum would have liked Al-Hoda to be not only the best, but also the most independent Arabic-language newspaper. Unfortunately, this was not possible, in part because of Naoum’s character and ideology. Nevertheless, even though Al-Hoda was most partisan concerning a rather narrow definition of Lebanon and the Lebanese, it was open and liberal on most social issues. The Syrian World, on the other hand, again in part because of Salloum’s character and ideology, was almost fastidiously non-partisan. It adhered to a “policy of unbiased, unprejudiced public service.” It helped, of course, that Salloum’s definition of the Syrian community was more inclusive than Naoum’s.
The disagreement between the two brothers over the need for retaining Arabic and for establishing Arabic-language schools was in good part a debate about the demographics of the community and the identity of its members. In the end, the assumptions on which they based their conclusions were wrong. Now, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, the Arabic language continues to survive, and there are many Arabic newspapers and Arabic-language schools in North America, though their content and readership are not what Naoum had envisioned. On the other hand, the prevalence of Arabic speech, and Arabic-language newspapers and schools is exactly what Salloum would have expected – had he known of the large post-WWII wave of immigration from Arab (and Muslim) countries. This change in community composition makes it possible to preserve Arabic, which is what Naoum wanted. And, based on Salloum’s pragmatism and more inclusive community composition, he would likely see the need for Arabic language preservation
In any case, while the commitment of both Mokarzels was to the Syrian community and more specifically to Lebanon and the Lebanese, their whole being, identity, tradition and what they ended up communicating was done in Arabic (Naoum) and/or highlighted Arab heritage and culture (Salloum).
I would like to record my sincere gratitude to Eugene Paul Nassar for his careful reading of an earlier draft of this essay, and for his valuable comments. Unless otherwise so stated, the terms “Arabic-speaking” and “Syrian” will be used synonymously here in discussing the community that is commonly referred to today as Arab American. Obviously, the demographics of the community have changed a great deal – a factor which has also impacted the way successive generations and their leaders have reacted to and defined the main issues facing the community.
1. While it is true that the main focus of this essay is on the two brothers, Naoum and Salloum Mokarzel, it is, nevertheless, appropriate to highlight the fact that two other family members, both female, have also made contributions in their own right. Thus, if nothing else, Mary, Salloum’s daughter, is rightly credited with the fact of keeping both Al-Hoda and the Lebanese American Journal going for many years after her father and uncle were deceased. (Al-Hoda, 1898-1968. New York: Al-Hoda Press, 1968). In the case of Helen Hatab Samhan, Mary’s niece and Salloum’s granddaughter, her interest and commitment to the Arab-American community are clearly seen through the many administrative positions she has held within the American-Arab Association for Commerce and Industry, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) and the Arab American Institute (AAI). Furthermore, she has done research and written on Arab-American issues, including a Master’s thesis on the subject. (For a brief biographical sketch about and a chapter by Helen Hatab Samhan on community activism in defense of community rights, see Michael W. Suleiman, ed., Arabs in America: Building a New Future. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1999. (Forthcoming). See also, Helen Regina Hatab, “Syrian-American Ethnicity: Structure and Ideology in Transition.” Master’s thesis, American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon, 1975).
2. For brief biographies and a quick listing of the Mokarzel brothers’ accomplishments, see Al-Hoda Centennial: A Tribute to the Pioneers of the Arabic Press in America (1998). Brochure put out by the Al-Hoda Centennial Committee, chaired by Helen Hatab Samhan. See also, Adele L. Younis, The Coming of the Arabic-Speaking People to the United States. Edited by Philip M. Kayal (New York: Center for Migration Studies, 1995), pp. 236-247.
3. As will be discussed below, what constituted “Lebanon” was subject to change. Most importantly, after WWI, the Mt. Lebanon region was expanded to create the Lebanese Republic.
4. Almost all unsigned articles in Al-Hoda were written by Naoum. In any case, at least those in the form of editorials or meditations were. In referring to these unsigned pieces, Naoum Mokarzel is given recognition as the author but his name is not cited in the endtnote. When there is a signed piece, the name is noted. The same formula is followed in the case of Salloum Mokarzel as well.
5. “Articles Section,” Al-Hoda, 1st issue, 22 Feb. 1898, p. 5. See also, Joseph George Ajami, “The Arabic Press in the United States since 1892: A Socio-Historical Study.” Ph.D. diss., Ohio University, Athens, OH, 1987.
6. Henry M. Melki, “Arab-American Journalism and Its Relation to Arab-American Literature.” (Arabic text). Ph.D. diss., Georgetown University, Washington, DC, 1972, pp. 44, 55.
7. Naoum’s and Al-Hoda’s partisanship was clearly in evidence during the inter-sectarian (especially Maronite-Orthodox) squabble which, for a short period early this century, turned violent. For the extremely partisan accounts of this incident, see the 1905 issues of Al-Hoda, and Meraat-ul-Gharb.
8. “The New Newspaper and Al-Hoda,” Al-Hoda, 1 May 1901, p. 1.
9. Ibid. p. 1.
10. “A Friendly Word,” Al-Hoda, 1 March 1902, p. 5.
11. See the following articles in particular, all of them appearing in Al-Hoda in 1902: “Every Syrian Should Read This,” 15 February, pp. 1-2; “Three Fortresses of Patriotism,” 15 February, p. 4; “The Maronite Charitable Association in Philadelphia,” 19 February, p. 4; and “The Diocesan Council,” 26 Feb., p. 2.
12. Al-Hoda, 23 May 1899, p. 20. See also Michael W. Suleiman, “Arab-Americans and the Political Process.” In The Development of Arab-American Identity, edited by Ernest McCarus, 37-60. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1994.
13. “Syrian Patriotism and American Naturalization,” Al-Hoda, 24 August 1908, p. 4.
15. “Syrians and American Citizenship,” Al-Hoda, 4 May 1910, p. 1.
16. Kalil A. Bishara, The Origin of the Modern Syrian (New York: Al-Hoda Publishing House, 1914). English and Arabic text. See also, Michael W. Suleiman, “Early Arab-Americans: The Search for Identity.” In Crossing the Waters: Arabic-Speaking Immigrants to the United States before 1940, edited by Eric J. Hooglund, 37-54. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1987.
17. Bishara, Origin of the Modern Syrian, p. 27 (English section).
18. Al-Hoda, 1898-1968, p. 25. Also, in 1917, i.e. during WWI, Naoum openly campaigned for an independent Lebanon, under French protection. See the “meditation” entitled “Who Are We?” in Naoum Mokarzel, Mukhtarat al-khawater (Selected Meditations), vol. I. New York: Al-Hoda Press, 1932, pp. 189-192.
20. Ibid. The gap between Lebanese and non-Lebanese Arab Americans narrowed a great deal in the 1980s, at least among politically-active Arab Americans. See Michael W. Suleiman, “The Arab Community in the United States: A Comparison of Lebanese and Non-Lebanese.” In The Lebanese in the World: A Century of Emigration, edited by Albert Hourani and Nadim Shehadi, 189-207. London: I.B. Tauris, 1992.
21. Ameen Rihani, al-Muhalafa al-thulathiyya fi al-mamlaka al-hayawaniyya (The Tripartite Alliance in the Animal Kingdom). New York: Al-Hoda Publishing House, 1903.
22. “An Open Letter,” Al-Hoda, 20 April 1904, p. 1.
23. “Are We in the Dark Ages?,” Al-Hoda, 25 April 1904, p. 2.
24. “A Critique by Two Writers,” Al-Hoda, 19 April 1904, p. 2.
25. “Is Trinity Possible?,” Al-Hoda, 21 April 1904, p. 2; and “The Virginity of the Virgin,” Al-Hoda, 22 April 1904, p. 2.
26. “Are We in the Dark Ages?,” op. cit., p. 2.
27. Al-Hoda, 22 January 1902, pp. 4, 5. There was no title for this article.
28. See N. Mokarzel, Mukhtarat al-khawater, passim, especially, pp. 102107 and pp. 119-123.
29. “Are We More in Need of Schools or Churches?,” Al-Hoda, 1 July 1904, p. 2.
30. “The School and the Church,” Al-Hoda, 11 October 1904, p. 2.
31. Naoum Mokarzel, “Which Is Better to Have, Churches or Schools?,” Al-Akhlaq, vol. 4, no. 6 (June 1923), p. 6.
32. “You Are What Your Womenfolk Are,” Al-Hoda, 27 April 1904, p. 2.
36. “Do Not Treat Women Unjustly,” Al-Hoda, 26 August 1904, p. 2. See also, “Educating Women,” Al-Hoda, 22 September 1904, p. 2.
37. “Discussions of and about Women,” Al-Hoda, 30 June 1904, ‘p. 2; and “Meditations,” 18 October 1904, p. 2.
38. “It Is Our Duty,” Al-Hoda, 14 August 1907, p. 4.
39. “Women’s Rights,” Al-Hoda, 22 February 1898, p. 9.
41. “Discussions of and About Women,” op. cit., p. 2.
42. “Meditations,” Al-Hoda, 18 October 1904, p. 2. The complete sentence translates as follows: “If man, who is the most perfect, the best, the most beautiful of God’s creations and who is dominant in this world, hates his brother and seeks to insult and ridicule him for no reason other than jealousy, how can we blame the woman, who is a portion of man [i.e. less than man], if she follows in his footsteps and does what he does? Or can we blame her if she works to lower [the status of] other women, her sisters, when [as is well-known] women are famous for their jealousy?”
43. Naoum Mokarzel, “The Social Trilogy,” Al-Akhlaq, vol. 4, no. 3 (March 1923), p. 6. See also his “Whether Married or Not, She Works,” Al-Hoda, 25 October 1902, p. 1; and “The Syrian-American Marriage,” Al-Hoda, 15 April 1904, p. 2.
44. “It Is a Syrian Crime,” Al-Hoda, 1 April 1905, p. 4.
45. See Vance Bourjaily’s characterization of Salloum in Gregory Orfalea, Before the Flames: A Quest for the History of Arab Americans (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1988), p. 136.
46. Salloum A. Mokarzel, “History of Syrians in New York City: Metropolis Is Now Their World-Trade Center,” New York American, 3 October 1927, pp. 13, 18. An edited version of this article was “reprinted” in The Syrian World, vol. 2, no. 5 (November 1927), pp. 3-13, under the title “History of the Syrians in New York.” Since copies of the New York American article are difficult to read, the references and quotes are from The Syrian World piece.
47. Ibid., p. 6.
48. Salloum A. Mokarzel, “Can We Retain Our Heritage? A Call to Form a Federation of Syrian Societies,” The Syrian World, vol. 3, no. 5 (November 1928), pp. 36-40. See also W. A. Mansur, “A Federation of Syrian Societies,” The Syrian World, vol. 3, no. 6 (December 1928), pp. 3-9.
49. Ibid., p. 36.
50. Ibid., p. 36.
51. Ibid., p. 36. Salloum used the word “apprehensible” when the context makes it obvious that he meant “reprehensible.”
52. N.A. Mokarzel, “Arabic as an Asset,” The Syrian World, vol. 2, no. 12 (June 1928), pp. 17-18.
53. Ibid., p. 18.
54. Ibid., p. 18.
55. “The Americanized Arabic,” Al-Hoda, 1 June 1908, p. 4.
56. Salloum A. Mokarzel, “History of the Syrians in New York,” op. cit., p. 6.
57. Salloum Mokarzel, “The Future of the Arabic Language in America,” Al-Akhlaq, vol. 4, no. 8 (August 1923), p. 5.
58. Ibid., p. 8.
59. “Arabic Newspapers in America,” The Syrian World, vol. 36, no. 11 (May 1928), p. 36. See also some discussion of this point in Alixa Naff, Becoming American: The Early Arab Immigrant Experience (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1985), p. 325.
60. Salloum Mokarzel, “Do We Need Arabic-Language Schools in America?,” Al-Akhlaq, vol. 5, no. 1 (January 1924), p. 45.
61. “The Arabic Language in the Mahjar,” Al-Hoda, 27 October 1949, p. 4.
62. Salloum A. Mokarzel, “History of the Syrians in New York,” op. cit., pp. 4-5. See also, Philip K. Hitti, “Are the Lebanese Arabs?” The Syrian World, vol. 5, no. 6 (February 1931), pp. 5-16. Note that, following the popular “scientific” theories of that time period, both Salloum Mokarzel and Philip Hitti emphasized the Phoenician “racial” stock of the Lebanese and that, on that basis, the Lebanese were seen as not of Arab “stock.”
63. For a quick reference, see John G. Moses, with the assistance of Eugene Paul Nassar, Annotated Index to the Syrian World, 1926-1932 (St. Paul, MN: University of Minnesota, Immigration History Research Center, 1994).
64. G. K. Gibran, “To Young Americans of Syrian Origin,” The Syrian World, vol. 1, no. 1 (July 1926), p. 5.
65. On this point and the more general question about the role of women in the Arabic-speaking community, see the excellent study by Evelyn Shakir, Bint Arab: Arab and Arab American Women in the United States (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997). For specific personal vignettes, see Joanna Kadi, ed., Food For Our Grandmothers: Writings by Arab-American and Arab-Canadian Feminists (Boston: South End Press, 1994). For issues affecting newer arrivals among Muslim Arab-American women, see Barbara C. Aswad and Barbara Bilge, eds., Family and Gender among American Muslims: Issues Facing Middle Eastern Immigrants and Their Descendants (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1996).
66. For some of W.A. Mansur’s writings on this issue, see the following articles, all published in The Syrian World: “Problems of Syrian Youth in America” (Part I), vol. 2, no. 6 (December 1927), pp. 8-12; “Problems of Syrian Youth in America” (Part II), vol. 2, no. 7 (January 1928), pp. 9-14; “What Every Syrian Boy and Girl Ought to Know,” vol. 5, no. 4 (December 1930), pp. 5-13. See also his earlier article, “The Ten Commandments of Success Addressed to the Syrian Youth in America,” vol. 1, no. 5 (November 1926), pp. 25-32.
67. See the following articles which Salloum Mokarzel wrote in The Syrian World under the pseudonym, Akel Hakim (The Sage of Washington Street): vol. 3, no. 5 (November 1928), pp. 27-32; vol 3, no. 6 (December 1928), pp. 2025; vol 3, no. 7 (January 1929), p. 18; and vol 6, no. 3 (November 1931), pp. 38-40. All of these articles discussed young people in the community and the problems within marriage as well as the fact that many girls never got married.
68. Salloum A. Mokarzel (The article was identified as written “by the Editor”), “Christian-Moslem Marriages,” The Syrian World, vol. 2, no. 10 (April 1928), pp. 9-15. It should be noted that Naoum had objected to Christian-Muslim marriages over twenty years earlier. See his “A Protest against Al-Hoda from a Fellow Syrian,” Al-Hoda, 2 May 1904, p. 2.
69. An early indication of this interest was the publication by S. A. Mokarzel and H.F. Otash, The Syrian Business Directory, 1st ed. (1908-1909). In both Arabic and English. (New York: Al-Hoda Press, 1908).
70. Salloum Mokarzel, “Syrian Commerce in the American Mahjar,” As-Sayeh (al-Sayeh), 19 January 1920, p. 34.
71. Ibid. See also, Salloum Mokarzel, Tarikh al-tijara al-Suriyya fi al-mahajir al-Amrikiyya (The Commercial History of Syrian Immigrants in the Americas). New York: Syrian-American Press, 1920).
72. In fact, most of the selections included in Mukhtarat al-khawater were ones which counseled good behavior.
Michael W. Suleiman is University Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Kansas State University, Manhattan. He is also a former President of the Association of Arab-American University Graduates.
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