Junblats & Arslans, Champions of Arabism!

On the benefits of etymology in the sociology of identity…

Since the days of Kamal bek Junblat (1917-77) and Emir Magid Arslan (1908-83), it seems that the Lebanese Druze community is increasingly keen on demonstrating and asserting its Arab identity, and its loyalty to Arab ideals, choices, etc.

Not long ago, I heard on TV Emir Talal Arslan–Magid’s son–proudly proclaiming the Arab origins of his family in front of a galvanized crowd of supporters. His rival Walid bek–Kamal’s son–, also adheres to the tradition holding that the Junblat family was the figurehead of the Qaysi Arabs. Qaysi Arabs are an Arab tribe named after its founder, Qays, and are known for their rivalry with the Yemeni Arabs, from whom the Yazbaki Arabs are branched. The Arslans are of Yemeni-Yazbaki descent; the Junblats are of Qaysi descent.

Whereas history does ascertain that both Arab tribes waged bitter wars against each other, there is little evidence proving that the Arslans and the Junblats are of Arab ancestry. To begin with, they do not even have Arabic names! “Arslan” is by no means an Arabic-sounding name. Yet, many Lebanese Druze Arslans also claim they are descendants of Lakhmid Arabs (Banu Lakhm). Well, if you go to Turkey, for instance, you might as well have a different opinion. Arslans are all over the place, and the name can have prefixes too (such as Bozarslan, etc.). I have absolutely no idea whether the name is Turkish, Kurdish, or Seljukid, but it means “lion” and for sure, it’s not Arab.

The same applies to the name of “Junblat.” We learned at school that it originates from the Kurdish name “Janbulad” (Jânbulâd). After doing some research, I found that the original name was can pulad (the c is pronounced dj, so you pronounce djân pulâd), which means “iron soul.” Can (djân) is the equivalent of the Arabic word jinn, meaning “spirit,” or “soul”; and pulad means “steel” (it gave the Arabic word fûlâdh).

Note that the Janpulads settled down in an Arabic-speaking region, hence the degeneration of Jânpulâd into Jânbulâd, which was perpetuated henceforth by our history textbooks. With time, Janbulad came to be written Junblât (emphatic t), and pronounced Jumblat, as it was inconvenient to pronounce the n directly followed by the b.

So here we are, two political Druze leaders of non-Arab origin claiming noble Arab ancestry. Which leads us to the moral: No matter what your origins are, you can always choose your identity.

Emir Talal & Walid bek.

Emir Talal & Walid bek.

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