Islam on the Ebb
This article is one of many newspaper articles coming out of Britain in the late nineteenth century. It reports that families in Beirut were becoming wealthy. They were “even beating the West on its own commercial ground.” These journalists find that the reason for Middle Eastern success is their ability to adopt a “Western spirit.” Historians have repeated this Eurocentric view as fact. However, the Levantine companies competed with British companies because they used business techniques that were different from their rivals.
This source is a part of the The Forgotten Beirut-based Companies in the Global History of Capitalism teaching module.
Islam on the Ebb
Old Beyrout is characteristically Easter, each trade or industry being, as a rule, localized in its own quarter. The invasion of the West, of which I have spoken in previous letters, is far more conspicuous here than in Haifa, Jaffa, or even Jerusalem. The Mohammedans compose little more than third of the population. They are being elbowed out by the Syrian and other Christian inhabitants, in whose hands are most of the industries and commerce of the port. Islam and all that it means are on the ebb, and the aggressive West is taking its place.
As far as this chapter of modern history may be read in stone, you may read it plainly enough from the top of Ras Dimitri. From this point of view one sees how the Eastern element is being swamped by the Western, or by the Christian Syrian element that is so rapidly absorbing the Western spirit, and even beating the West on its own commercial ground. A splendid view this is of Beyrout from Ras Dimitri. The entire town of 125,000 inhabitants is spread before you like a map, sloping upwards towards the west. Behind you, and on your right hand, are the ranges of Mount Lebanon, dominated by the peak of Sannin, nearly nine thousand feet high. The slopes of the Lebanon, as far as you can see, are dotted over with villages, and with the residences of well-to-do merchants and others of Beyrout, who betake themselves to the hills in the hot months. The plain between the hills and the sea looks like a vast orchard, and the whole is enclosed in a semi-circle of blue sea.
The part of Beyrout next to your position on Rae Dimitri is new, and I steadily spreading eastwards. Much of it is occupied by large mansions, which is would be scarcely be an exaggeration to call palaces. The land and the palaces are the property of the millionaire Syrian bankers, the Sursocks, who, with the Sultan of Turkey, are owners of the Plain of Esdraelon in Palestine. The plain is one of the most fertile regions in the Turkish Empire. Villages and their inhabitants in Esdraelon are as much the personal property of property of the Sursocks as the Syrian peasantry and their homes were the chattels of the Princes, Count, and Kings of the Latin Kingdom of seven centuries ago.
Linlithgowshire Gazette and Lothians Chronicle. "Islam on the Ebb." Nov. 26, 1898.