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CHARLES HABIB MALIK, A
by Thomas C. Murray
pageantry and the gathering of world leaders in New York City this month,
I could not help but to think back to the 1950’s when I
first met Charles H. Malik, a man who played a major role in
the shaping of the United Nations. He would become my friend
and mentor, and it would be from a master diplomat that I would receive many
lessons regarding the UN.
completing his college studies in his native Beirut, Lebanon, he aspired to the
field of education and became a professor of philosophy at
the American University of Beirut. Recognizing his talents,
the newly- created Lebanese government appointed him to represent his country in
San Francisco for the UN Charter signing ceremony in April 1945.
fledgling years of the United Nations, Malik worked on the Human Rights
Commission, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, and in 1948 would help craft the
International Declaration of Human Rights.
He succeeded the former “first lady” as the chairman of that
important Commission, and he later became President of the UN’s Economic and
diplomatic successes behind him, his country called upon him to serve as its
Ambassador to the United States, and later as its Foreign
Minister. Known as the “philosopher” in academic
circles, his mettle would be put to the test in 1958 when President Nasser of the United Arab Republic (UAR) had hopes of
incorporating pro-Western, Lebanon into the UAR. Toward that
end, Syria, a member state of the UAR, proceeded to send
guerillas over its border into Lebanon with the hopes of toppling its
pro-Western government. That fate seemed
in early June under a cloak of secrecy, Foreign Minister Charles Malik
flew to New York where he would present his case before the Security
Council (SC), the UN organ that considers threats to world
peace. The forces of communism, as well as the UAR, did not
want the seasoned diplomat to succeed.
At the time, I
was working my way through college at the Harvard Club (HC) of New York City and
had gotten to know Dr. Malik during his many stays at the Club. A bond developed
between myself and the diplomat, and in time, I looked to him as a mentor, for
he too, worked to pay for his post-graduate work at Harvard University. He
took an interest in me and often inquired about my progress at Iona
It looked like
that Lebanon’s Foreign Minister would present his case at an emergency
session of the Security Council on Thursday, June
5th. I wanted to see my mentor in action and
waited on a long line to attend the June 5th session. I made it and was seated
in the visitors’ gallery of the Council chambers, when the
President of the SC announced that the debate had been
deferred for one day. I still remember how frustrated I felt on hearing
On Friday, June 6th, I arrived at the Harvard Club in
mid-afternoon, hoping to ask Dr. Malik to issue a pass so
that I might be able to bypass the long lines. I mustered up enough courage and presented my request to the busy diplomat. Before I
knew it, I was heading off with Dr. Malik and his entourage
to the UN , replete with a police escort. Yes, I was there
on the floor of the SC, right behind the Lebanese delegation, when Dr.
Malik accused the UAR of “massive, illegal, and unprovoked
intervention in the internal affairs of Lebanon.” For this
future history teacher, it was a day to remember.
After two weeks
of debate, the SC voted to send an observation team into Lebanon. It
didn’t do much good, as Syrian guerillas circumvented the UN
observers and continued to cross over the border into
Lebanon. A very real threat of destabilizing this bulwark of democracy in the Mid-east was present. The Lebanese government requested
U.S. assistance and on July 14th, Dr. Malik met with U.S.
Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles in Washington, D.C.
and was advised him that the president of the U.S. would help Lebanon.
He did. On July 15, U.S. Marines landed in Lebanon for the
purpose of peacekeeping – the Eisenhower Doctrine had now
been implemented. Unfortunately, their presence, was just that, a presence, and an ineffective one, at that. Things got so bad that
a rare emergency session of the UN General Assembly (GA) was
held in mid-August. The Russian bear was snarling and
practicing Soviet style “brinksmanship.” President Eisenhower came up
from Washington to address the General Assembly. War drums
were beating and the world was watching.
The tension was
defused when Dr. Malik met with representatives of nine other Arab nations, including the UAR, in a suite at the Hotel Pierre. The Lebanese
diplomat pleaded with the delegates not to draw the rest of
the world into an Arab-related problem, but rather, try of
resolve it within their “own house.” A resolution was drafted at the hotel
meeting, and all ten Arab countries signed on. It was
officially proposed to the General Assembly on August 22nd and ratified the same
day. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Marines and the UN observers would be
withdrawn from Lebanon. These behind the scenes maneuvers, on Dr. Malik’s part,
showed his magnanimity as a diplomat and his resolve in preserving world peace.
He was ready for his next role on the world stage.
That came a
month later when Charles Malik was elected President of the UN General
Assembly, besting his opponent by a 45-31 vote, in one of
the most hotly contested elections in the history of the UN.
He invited me to attend the opening session of the GA but I
declined, stating that second Tuesday in September was my first day of teaching
at Essex Catholic High School in Newark. My fellow educator
understood. On September 23rd, I received the following
message in a telegram he sent to me at the Harvard Club:
We must all dedicate ourselves
anew to the cause of peace with justice throughout
On December 8th, Dr Malik
received a delegation of some thirty students from Essex Catholic High School in a conference
room in the executive area of the 38th floor. He had
schedule and as a result we waited about a half an hour. In the meantime, a
couple of the
students had to use the restroom, and while walking down the corridor,
Roosevelt, engaging her briefly in conversation. I would have given my
right arm to meet
her. Today, I consider her the greatest woman of the twentieth century.
students listened attentively as Dr. Malik gave us a briefing and, in turn, we
presented him with a
peace plaque on behalf of our school.
February 4, 1959, I arranged for Dr. Malik to visit my alma
mater, Iona College in New Rochelle, where he delivered his
“Limitations and Possibilities of the United Nations” speech, considered by many to
be one of the most objective speeches ever delivered by a high- ranking UN leader.
An honorary degree was conferred upon him at the convocation, one of sixty that he
received during his lifetime.
During his term as GA president, I met twice with him on social occasions
– once for the circus with his wife, Eva, and son Habib; the second for dinner the
following week. Upon
finishing off his term, Dr. Malik returned to the field of education, serving as
a visiting professor
at Dartmouth and the American University in Washington,
In a small way, I have tried to keep his
legacy alive. While moderator of the Essex Catholic High School’s “Social Science
Federation,” a student club, I created the “Dr. Charles H. Malik
Citation,” which was
awarded, only when merited, to an outstanding member of the Federation. I continued the tradition
when I moved down to Mater Dei High School in the bay-shore area of New
Although Charles H. Malik passed away in 1987, his legacy lives on. While
many problems still
plaque the UN, we are reminded by his Iona speech; that the UN is not a
organization, it is only as strong as its members (at present 191) want it to
be--within the scope
of its Charter. Some people expect too much, others, too little from the world
body. However, it’s
like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). At times, I deplore
some of the clients,
the ACLU represents. Nonetheless, I think it is best to have an
organization that is
devoted to protecting our Constitutional guarantees rather than not to have one
at all. The same may
be said of the UN. Something is certainly better than
world is definitely a better place today because of the UN, and for that, we
must never forget,
one of its courageous pioneers, Dr. Charles Habib
(C) 2005, by Thomas C. Murray, All Rights Reserved.
This essay includes excerpts from Chapter 10,
“The Bellhop and the Diplomat,” of Just a Kid from Hell’s
Kitchen: A Memoir (not yet
Thomas C. Murray is a Director of THE CITIZEN for Social
Responsibility. He recently published a book of poetry, "The Spirit of '69", and is currently completing an
autobiography, to be published in 2006. T.C. Murray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted October 05, 2005
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