Spirit of the Phoenix: Beirut and the Story of Lebanon
By Sehr Sarwar
The Khalili Lecture Theatre at SOAS played host to Tim Llewellyn this evening, for a talk on the importance of Lebanon in world affairs. The event also served as a book promotion for his latest publication, titled “Spirit of the Phoenix: Beirut and the Story of Lebanon”. We are very lucky to have had Tim on our Arab British Centre board of trustees since 2004 and many fellow trustees attended the event to support him and get a copy of his book signed after the talk.
Organised by the ABC and CAABU, the event was full to capacity with some keen listeners even having to perch on the stairs. Tim was the BBC’s Middle East Correspondent based in Beirut from 1975 to 1980 covering the Lebanese Civil War, the Palestinian struggle and the Iranian Revolution. He put together this book with the intention of it being a “go-to” guide to Lebanon for those interested in learning more about the roots of conflict in the region and for anyone unfamiliar with Lebanon.
The evening was chaired by Lebanese academic and SOAS professor, Gilbert Achcar, who Tim admitted had “probably forgotten more than I ever knew about Lebanon!” Gilbert spoke about how the book is wonderfully presented as a series of vignettes that show how Tim has empathised with the country through his time both visiting and working there. The style adopted throughout the book, is one that Tim described as “very Christopher Isherwood” and his Berlin Stories.
Tim has tried to make his book very personal and from the point of a Western journalist putting across his point view yet admitted that coverage by the English speaking media from Lebanon was very much influenced by those who the reporters were surrounded by. ‘Spirit of the Phoenix: Beirut and the story of Lebanon’ attempts to answer such questions as what is Lebanon all about? Why has this tiny, fertile Mediterranean country become a byword for violence and chaos in the minds of much of the world? It is a journey of political and historical discovery in which he tells the stories of the Druze, the Maronites, the Shia, the Sunni, and all the rest.
The title of the book refers to the spirit of the Lebanese people, which Tim suggested may have to be called on upon soon as Lebanon is still an easy target for Israel’s might. Although there was a grave tone to Tim’s words on how he is not sanguine for the future of Lebanon, his anecdotes livened up the evening and he promised there were many more featured in his book. You can read a taster of Tim’s writing here, on our website with his Featured Article titled “An Early Afternoon in Beirut”.