Letter of support: Kahlil Gibran Park in Edmonton, Alberta

Earlier this year, Edmonton City Councillor Jon Dziadyk (Ward 3) proposed naming a green space in the north side neighbourhood Beaumaris after Kahlil Gibran. You can read about the plan and community group with whom Coun. Dziadyk has partnered in this blog.

The Councilor’s office is preparing a package to submit to Edmonton’s Naming Committee. If, like me, you want to see this plan realized, please draft a of letter support to Coun. Dziadyk at jon.dziadyk@edmonton.ca, or to the mailing address below.

Here’s the letter I sent today.

December 2, 2020

Jon Dziadyk, City Hall
1 Sir Winston Churchill Square
Edmonton, AB T5J 2R7

Dear Council Dziadyk,

I would like to offer my enthusiastic support for renaming a green space in Beaumaris “Kahlil Gibran Park,” proposed by your office earlier this year.

Gibran, of course, is one of the most read and studied poets today. I recently collaborated with the Moise A. Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies on Turath (“Heritage”), an exhibition of early Arab American culture, which launched this year to coincide with the centenary anniversary of one of his greatest literary achievements. And, personally speaking, Gibran has forever been a role model to me as a Lebanese–Canadian writer and journalist.

However, I’d like to set aside the importance of his art to the world, and myself, to instead share my thoughts on his significance to the Lebanese diaspora.

Gibran migrated to North America at the turn of the last century, along with a massive wave of “Syrians” from modern-day Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and Palestine. Comprised of Christians, Muslims, Druz, and Jews, they’d fled famine, persecution, economic devastation, and Ottoman military conscription. Many stayed in the long-term and their legacies are apparent all around us: the invention of the ice cream cone, North America’s first purpose-built mosques, Steve Jobs, and The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, one of the top selling books of all time.

But despite the early success of Arabic speaking immigrants, many others (including my great-grandfathers) returned to their homeland during or after the First World War, hoping to enjoy an independent new Syria. Instead, they witnessed the carving up of “Greater Syria” to serve Europeans. The formation of Lebanon’s sectarian parliament exasperated divisions and precipitated the Civil War that drove tens of thousands of peace-seekers to Canada. Although the sectarianism has lessened dramatically, it hasn’t fully healed. Today, it’s common for Lebanese–Canadians to socialize around religious lines.

Gibran is that rare unifying icon to Lebanese, wherever they are. He transcends religion, partisanship, and nationalism. They see in Gibran the intellectual and artistic genius of their heritage. As Gibran embraced Greater Syrian culture and identity, he’s also cherished by Syrians and Palestinians, many of whom see him as their own.

Kahlil Gibran Park would be a heartfelt gift to 30,000 Albertans connected to these three beleaguered homelands. Placing his name somewhere in Beaumaris, where even fourth and fifth generation Arab Canadians continue to live, worship, shop, would be a significant sign of respect for their cultural impact on “Little Lebanon.”

Most of all, though, Kahlil Gibran Park would serve as a reminder to all visitors, regardless of ancestry, that Edmonton is a city that celebrates artistic genius, no matter where it originated.

Sincerely yours,

Omar Mouallem

Author, journalist, and documentary filmmaker

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