December 10, 2018 – A symposium celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and the life one of its key drafters: Lebanese philosopher, academic, and diplomat Charles Malik.
Dr. Edward Alam, Benedict XVI Endowed Chairperson, opened the proceedings with a heartfelt good morning, reflecting on Charles Malik’s work on the UDHR, what Malik would think of the changes the world has undergone since, and hoped newer audience members who were perhaps less familiar with Malik’s work would come away from the symposium with a clearer picture of what he was like and what his answers to the different approaches to human rights today would be.
Majid Bou Hadir, Director of Public Affairs and Protocol at NDU, spoke next, representing the President of NDU, Fr. Pierre Najem, who could not attend the proceedings. Fr. Najem’s speech, delivered by Bou Hadir, praised Charles Malik’s achievements, from his works of philosophy, to his time as Lebanon’s foreign secretary, his faith, and firm conviction in freedom of thought.
Dr. Ameen Rihani, Secretary General of the Institute of Lebanese Thought (ILT), spoke highlighting the ILT’s achievements in seeking after prominent Lebanese authors of the past 1100 years. In particular, Dr. Rihani celebrated the launching of a new book on Charles Malik’s philosophy: On the Philosophical Thought of Charles Malik, the first volume in a series that the ILT is publishing on the life and works of Charles Malik. Dr. Rihani then presented a copy of the book to Tony Nasrallah, Researcher at the Institute for Lebanese Thought and one of the symposium’s main organizers, and Dr. Habib Malik, Charles Malik’s son and Associate Professor of History and Cultural Studies at the Lebanese American University.
Finally, a video message from Nicolas Daoud, Director of Nicolas Daoud & Co Pty Ltd, was played, where Daoud talked about how much of an inspiration Charles Malik was, and the value of bringing the life of this great Lebanese thinker to light.
The opening was followed by a documentary on Charles Malik’s life, chronicling his youth in Lebanon, his time in the USA and Germany, his work on the UDHR, and the lasting impact he had on Lebanese life.
The symposium consisted of a series of panels tackling the life of Charles Malik and how it influenced his work on the UDHR, with particular focus given to his work on Articles 18 and 26: the articles for freedom of religion, and freedom to change one’s religion in particular, and the right to a free education respectively.
Keynote speaker, Dr. Glenn Mitoma, Assistant Professor of Human Rights and Education at the Thomas J. Dodd Center, University of Connecticut, gave a talk on the education of Charles Malik. Dr. Mitoma emphasized the dual nature of Malik’s education: both social and curricular, and noted the influence this multi-faceted education must have had on Malik’s approach to Article 26.
Dr. Mitoma’s talk was followed by presentations by Dr. Hans Ingvar Roth, Professor of Human Rights at the Institute of Turkish Studies at Stockholm University, and Dr. Sarhan Dhouib, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Kassel in Germany.
Dr. Roth’s talk focused on P.C. Chang, one of the other significant drafters of the UDHR, the relationship Chang had with Malik, and how they informed each other’s contributions to the UDHR. Dr. Dhouib presented an extensive treatise on the philosophical context of Malik’s work and the idea of the human, or person, as a bridge between the isolationist concept of the individual, and the collectivist notion of community, upon which the rights can be drawn.
After a quick lunch, a second panel consisting of Dr. Kathy Tannous, Senior Research Fellow at the Translational Health Research Institute at Western Sydney University in Australia, and Tony Nasrallah, Researcher at the Institute for Lebanese Thought at NDU.
Dr. Tannous’s talk expanded on Dr. Mitoma’s work situating Malik’s work in a biographical context, with particular emphasis placed on the influence of Malik’s background on his insistence on the importance of religious liberty as a fundamental human right and his work on Article 18.
Tony Nasrallah then presented a talk on Malik’s attempt to get a clause for the protection of minorities added to the UDHR. Nasrallah’s talk contextualized Malik’s approach to minorities within his life growing up in Lebanon, his time spent in Germany in the 1930s, where his Semitic features led to him being ostracized and physically assaulted by a member of the Nazi party, and how it informed his approach to preparing a clause for minorities in the UDHR. Nasrallah reflected on how even though Malik’s clause on minorities was opposed, and eventually shot down, it nevertheless demonstrated how ahead of his time Malik was.
The symposium concluded with an interview with Dr. Seyed-Massoud Moosavi-Karimi, President of the Mofid University in Iran. The dialogue tackled the contentious nature of universals with Dr. Moosavi-Karimi presenting a thorough and provocative examination of how the notions “Universal,” “Human,” and “Rights” have changed over the course of human history, and how this might inform approaching them in future.
Dr. Habib Malik closed out the symposium with a reflection on all the talks that had been made with particular attention paid to the discourse on the universality of human rights. Dr. Malik discussed the timelessness of the UDHR, that in spite of attempted amendments and even replacements, it has nevertheless stood the test of time. “[If the writers were around today] they would be happy that their work 70 years ago has endured, and has borne fruit.”
Reflecting on the proceedings, Dr. Edward Alam said: “It was an exhilarating event because of the depth and learning contained within the papers by international speakers. The only regret is that there were very few students involved. We hope that in future, more students will attend such events, because after all the university exists because of them.”