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October 19, 2009

Kahlil Gibran, Spirits Rebellious, 120 pgs

The Philosophical Library, New York 1947

Translated by Anthony Rizcallah Ferris


“When first published in the original Arabic, this book aroused considerable agitation and intrigue.  It was burned publicly in the Beirut market place by furious church and state officials, who denounced it as poisonous and dangerous to the peace of the country.  Gibran himself was exiled.  But this was at a time when Lebanon was in virtual slavery to oppressive Turkish rule.  Years later his exile was remanded, and the church embraced him without conciliation on his part.  Yet the record remains as Gibran wrote it here: his profoundly felt anger and indignant protest at the vicious inequality of man and woman in marriage – the wretched failure of the principles of the law and justice – and the corrupt, thieving practices of religious administration in the Near East [sic] of his time.” – From the dusk jacket of the book.

This rather short offering from Gibran is divided into three sections, each of with dealing with a corresponding theme.  The first, Madame Rose Hanie, deals with the nature of the relations between a man and woman.  The second, The Cry of the Graves, examines the nature and subjectiveness of earthly justice.  The third and by far the lengthiest, Kahlil the Heretic, expands on the themes developed in the previous parts and ties them into the socio-politico-religious fabric that makes up an oppressive society.  The themes transcend the time and place – early twentieth-century Lebanon – and take on a universal importance and resonance.  Key to Gibran’s understanding of justice is Law, which can in turn be divided into its dialectical opposites of human and natural law.

Human law is that which has been constructed over time by the dictates of society and religion for the supposed harmonious order that it creates and ensures.  For Gibran this is more than just a hypocritical notion, it is a deceiving one as well.  Human law in most cases serves only to protect the interests of the powerful against the defenseless, to enforce the structure of classes based on the exploitation of the people.  Whether it is the dominance of man over woman within the structure of marriage, the judgment arbitrarily meted out to the meek by those above judgment themselves, or the brutal force that is necessary to create the division between the rulers and the ruled; human law is inherently geared to foster injustice while it claims just the opposite.

Juxtaposed to this is Gibran’s concept of natural law, namely that which disregards the mores of society and aspires to reach a true justice for all.  For how can something be illegal, asks Gibran, if it is inspired by the heart and seeks to address the real grievances of human existence?  To steal a bushel of wheat from a rich landlord who has deprived you of work to feed you starving family, to seek the a love that was denied you by the confinement of unloving marriage, to speak to gospel of Jesus to those who abuse his name and tarnish his legacy; are these not acting according to a higher natural law regardless of which human law they contravene?  To deprive another human of Life and mete out Death due to the dictates of the laws of society is but an abomination of the true natural law, yet these are exactly the circumstances that we find ourselves under again and again.  It is only through adhering to natural law and by speaking this truth to others that there is any hope of escaping the chains of bondage imposed by the ossified codes of class society.

Gibran makes a characteristically eloquent appeal to all of us to see beyond the petty and often unjust laws that humans have created for one another.  His spirit rebels at the chasm created between what he perceives to be the natural order of things as instigated by God and artificial and oppressive order created by humans to attain control over one another.  It is only by seeing the truth in the oppression all around us that we have any hopes of transcending it.  We as humans will never be truly free until we recognize Law for what it is and until we do we will be bound under the exploitation and oppression of the few over the many.

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