Being Arab

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Being Arab by Samir Kassir

Translated from French by Will Hobson

Published by Verso, Oct 2006


Being Arab * explores what Samir Kassir describes as the “Arab malaise”, the political and intellectual stagnation of the Arab world. In searching to understand how the region arrived at this point, Kassir turns to the past, recounting the Arab “golden age”, the extraordinary flowering of cultural expression in the nineteenth century that continued into the twentieth as, from Cairo to Baghdad and from Beirut to Casablanca, painters, poets, musicians, playwrights and novelists came together to create a new, living Arab culture. Investigating the huge impact of modernity on the region, and the shockwaves that turned society upside-down, Kassir suggests that the current crisis in Arab identity lies in the failure to come to terms with modernity and embracing false solutions such as pan-Arabism and Islamism.

Being Arab is a clarion call, urging Arabs to look their own history in the face, to reject Western double standards and Islamism alike, and to take the future of the region into their own hands.



Samir Kassir (1960-2005) was one of Lebanon’s best-known journalists and historians. A columnist for the daily newspaper An-Nahar, he also wrote regularly for Le Monde Diplomatique, and published a number of important works in French, including a history of Beirut, and a study of the Lebanese civil war. One of the most prominent voices on the Arab left, Kassir was a strong campaigner for the Palestinian cause, and a vocal critic of the Syrian occupation of Lebanon. He was assassinated by a car bomb in Beirut on Thursday June 2 2005.


Former Contributing Editor at Granta Books, Will Hobson is a critic and translator from the French and German, whose translations include Viramma: A Pariah’s Life, Viramma (Verso); The Battle, Patrick Rambaud (Picador); Sans Moi, Marie Desplechin (Granta); Benares, Barlen Pyamootoo (Canongate); and The Dead Man in the Bunker, Martin Pollack (Faber). He writes for the Independent on Sunday, the Observer and Granta magazine, and translated Greenpeace’s presentation to the Pope before the Kyoto Summit into Latin.



Being Arab was launched on 11 December 2006 at the Frontline Club with a screening of Samir Kassir: What are you writing?, followed by a Q&A with filmmaker Ephrem Kossaify and Gisele Khoury.

Being Arab was also presented on 25 January 2007 at the French Institute in an event titled The Middle East, Gateway to World Peace?

Being Arab won the 2007 Index on Censorship Book Award for freedom of expression.

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