Curious about the origins of Pat Robertson’s outrageous comments about Haiti’s latest agony, my research turned up this interesting nugget in Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haiti): “In 1912 Syrians residing in Haiti participated in a plot in which the presidential palace was destroyed.” Syrians in Haiti? My spider-sense for all things Levantine was tingling, so I digressed from my original quest… Here are a couple of related 1911 pieces in the New York Times:
Both of these articles mention Khalil Khayat (“the Syrian poet”). The name shows up in some old early 1900s Harper’s and Atlantic articles and there is a street in Alexandria by the same name. He is mentioned as the editor of Kawkab Elhorriah, or Star of Liberty, in Norman Duncan’s “The Soul of the Street — Correlated Stories of the New York Syrian Quarter” (1900, http://www.archive.org/stream/cihm_06072#page/n19/mode/2up). But I digress…
Brenda Gayle Plummer’s “Race, Nationality, and Trade in the Caribbean: The Syrians in Haiti, 1903-1934” (The International History Review, http://www.jstor.org/pss/40105175) confirms these “Syrians” were actually Lebanese Christians. Here’s a quote from the web site Countries and their Cultures (http://www.everyculture.com/Ge-It/Haiti.html):
“The only ethnic subdivision is that of the syrians, the early twentieth-century Levantine emigrants who have been absorbed into the commercial elite but often self-identify by their ancestral origins.”
…which brings me back to the name Khalil Khayat. It is mentioned (in http://adonis49.wordpress.com/2009/06/30/dilemma/, an article about the 1919 post-WW1 League of Nations meetings in Paris to divvy up the spoils of war) as the name of one of the founders of the “Moderate Syrian Party” in Cairo. This party was advocating a temporary US mandate over all Syria (then the populations comprising the current states of Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan). The article continues:
“In the small town of Mansoura, Egypt, a journalist Jubran Tueny Sr. (later the founder of the daily Al Nahar (The Day) in Lebanon) was for a French mandate over an independent Greater Lebanon on the ground that France saved the Lebanese immigrants from slaughter in Haiti while the US did not deign to intervene.”
And there you have it, a slightly unraveled thread from the tangled web of history that meanders from Haiti back to our beloved Lebanon.
As for the wackadoodle stuff Pat Robertson said this week (while his black bobble-head sidekick bobbled silently and obediently)… Apparently this story about Haiti and the Devil has been circulating for years. Here’s a blog post from three years ago, in which the writer finally starts to wake up and question some of the drivel she’s being fed:
One of the comments following her blog post contains a venomous link to Tom Barrett’s 2004 article “Government Of The Devil, By The Devil, And For The Devil” (American Daily, http://www.americandaily.com/article/95) which makes Robertson’s rant seem almost tame by comparison. Barrett’s source for codswallop like “it is a matter of well-documented historical fact that the nation of Haiti was dedicated to Satan 200 years ago” (sound familiar?) is, of course, a second-generation missionary. These unimpeachable darlings of the right-wing talkshow circuit, like the zealots who peddle for-profit perversions like Zionism and a hatred of Islam to their fawning flocks, have discovered that there is gold in frenzied fantasies about dark-skinned heathen savages who somehow manage to usurp the God-given authority of benevolent white Christians. Barrett himself is a real piece of work (http://www.americandaily.com/author/9), but I digress…
The blog also contains a very good link to Jean Gelin’s 2005 “God, Satan, and the Birth of Haiti” (BlackandChristian.com, http://www.blackandchristian.com/articles/academy/gelin-10-05.shtml). Dr. Gelin is (like Robertson and Barrett) a licensed minister who holds a Ph.D. in plant sciences and works as a scientist in agricultural research. Here’s his studied conclusion:
“I would not be surprised if the satanic pact idea (followed by the divine curse message) was put together first by foreign missionaries and later on picked up by local leaders. On the other hand, it is equally possible that some Haitian church leaders developed the idea on their own using a theological framework borrowed from those same missionaries who subsequently propagated the message around the world. Either way, because of this message, Haiti has been portrayed as the country born out of Satan’s benevolence and goodwill toward mankind.”
Part 2 of Gelin’s article: http://www.blackandchristian.com/articles/academy/gelin-11-05.shtml
One final, personal digression for the handful of readers who may have stuck with me this far… We are on the eve of our national remembrance of the life and message of Martin Luther King. I can think of no better way to honor his legacy than by helping the people of Haiti. Will you help, too?