We are gathered this evening to celebrate a book which Quartet published recently, Defeating Cancer, and to salute the epic achievements of its author, Dr Philip A. Salem M.D.
Dr Philip Salem is Lebanese, from a small country with a population of no more than 5 million, though the ‘Land of the Cedars’ has always been known throughout ancient and modern times for its inventors, writers, artists and scientists – many of them emigrants. It is well known that the Phoenicians, the ancient residents of Lebanon, invented the alphabet and spread it to the world. Their boats sailed to Europe and Africa, and according to some theories, the Phoenicians may have even been the first to cross the Atlantic and discover the American continent.
In the modern era, the Lebanese began to emigrate in significant numbers at the beginning of the 18th century, primarily to Europe, the Americas and Africa. Some Lebanese researchers put the number of Lebanese emigrants, including their children and grandchildren, at between 11 and 16 million. These emigrants have included some prominent intellectuals, scholars and inventors. The most famous perhaps being Gibran Khalil Gibran (1883-1931), who became popular in the West as a poet and painter after emigrating to the United States and publishing his books in English.
Quartet Books over the years have published works about Gibran, as well as Lebanese writers such as Amin Maalouf and Hanan al-Shaykh. But tonight we honour the scientists. Among the most prominent Lebanese scientists was Hassan Kamel al-Sabah, born in Nabatieh, in southern Lebanon who earned the moniker the ‘Edison of the Orient’. One of his inventions was a device for image transfer, a technology still used today in photoelectric imaging, and was the foundation for modern cinema, in particular CinemaScope.
Peter Medawar was a British doctor of Lebanese descent. In 1953, Medawar discovered that injecting mice embryos during the development stage with cells taken from the tissues of adult mice enabled the young mice to successfully accept a patch of skin from the older mice. Medawar and the Australian scientist Sir Frank Burnett received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1960 for their discovery of acquired immunological tolerance.
Michael Ellis DeBakey was an American doctor and inventor of Lebanese origin and one of the pioneers of heart surgery who served as a medical consultant to every US president over the course of five decades.
And talking of presidents, Quartet would publish the memoirs of the legendary ‘Lucky’ Roosevelt who remained one of Ronald Reagan’s most important confidantes and a legendary Washington hostess. Let’s also not forget another iconic Lebanese diplomat, Charles Malik, whose work in the United Nations led to his drafting the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
These Lebanese innovators like Gibran, Medawar and DeBakey are numerous in Lebanon and abroad. Some of them gained fame, while others remained obscure. Most inventions and scientific achievements by Lebanese were made abroad, especially in the United States and all over the globe.
Which is why tonight’s celebration is more than just a conventional publisher’s book launch: Dr Salem is a world-renowned cancer physician, researcher and author following in the mighty tradition and footsteps of his fellow Lebanese. His achievements and his provenance are to be honoured accordingly.
Finally, I want to mention George Zakhem whose own endeavours are a shining example of a man who never forgot his roots. His sterling efforts to both endow and stabilise the financial stability of the Lebanese American University have enabled so many Lebanese students to benefit from a world-class university education in their own country.
And for what I will always be eternally grateful, apart from his friendship, is introducing me to Dr Philip Salem in the first place. George has been a wonderful friend to me, and to Quartet. His encouragement for almost everything I’ve ever wanted to do has been an irreplaceable support, and he will always remain an inspiration to me and to others.