A recent book by ACRPS Researcher Jamal Barout was the focus of attention during a special session of the Sixty-Sixth Beirut Annual Book Fair, on Wednesday, 6 December. Barout was in the Lebanese capital to discuss his book Kessrouan Campaigns published earlier in the year by the ACRPS. The work deals with the military raids on the region of Kessrouan, in the Mount Lebanon region, by the Mameluke armies between 1292 and 1305. Barout's work takes in the theological impact of these military adventures to impose religious orthodoxy on the communities of Mount Lebanon, especially as they relate to the jurisprudence of Damascene scholar Ibn Taymiya, and their lasting symbolic and historical significance of Lebanon.
Sociology over History
Introducing the book, Ahmad Hoteit explained the difficulties which the subject matter held out, specifically that the demographic changes to affect the Mount Lebanon region during that time continue to echo down the ages. Hoteit suggested that Barout's work was dominated by political sociology at the cost of understanding the historiography of Kessrouan. Hoteit suggested that Barout's work reframed the political struggle between the Mamelukes and their Tatar counterparts based in Greater Syria for domination of the Eastern Mediterranean as a confessional Sunni-Shia struggle. In contrast, the speaker said, Barout chose to explore the work of contemporary Lebanese historians who approached the late medieval era as representatives of their sects and thereby serve only to view these historical events through a confessionalist lens.
The second speaker to address Jamal Barout was Nael Abou Shaqra. Abou Shaqra pointed to the author's efforts to "unveil" the secrecy surrounding the confessional identity of the people who lived in Kessrouan during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Ultimately, according to Abou Shaqra, these efforts were not rewarded: they instead led readers to be swamped in a sea of opacity. The author's reliance on a multiplicity of sources, said Abou Shaqra, led necessarily and unavoidably to the contradictory conclusions about the sectarian identity of the people who lived in the Kessrouan region at the time.
The Difficult Task of Objectivity
Following on from the two discussants, Barout explained the difficulty of his task as "being transparently objective, but objectivity is not easy". Barout also explained the difficulties of writing a historical work which went beyond Lebanese themes to encompass the "modern theology of Sunni Islam". Barout added that critiques of historical writing based on historiography were applicable to historians from countries across the globe.