art of resistance, Palestine

The Humanism Of Edward Said.

edward_said_jeremy_pollard_copy76925/photo: Jeremy Pollard/

The end of September marked fourteen years without Edward Said, literary theorist and an intellectual of a wide range. To commemorate Said and recall the magnitude of his works, we are in conversation with Judith Butler, Laleh Khalili, Avi Shlaim and Illan Pappé, asking them what they find most relevant and important in/about Edward Said’s work in this day and age.

Judith Butler, philosopher and gender theorist, professor at Department of Comparative Literature and the Program of Critical Theory, University of California: Said unerstood the work of imagination

“Said was able to imagine a world in which the legacy of colonialism could come to an end and a relation of equality in difference could take its place on the lands of Palestine. He understood the work of the imagination to be central to politics, for without an ‘unrealistic’ vision of the future, no movement could be made in the direction of peace based on a just and lasting solution.

He lived in the midst of conflict, and used the powers of art and literature, of the archive, testimony, and public appeal, to ask the world to imagine a future in which equality, justice, and freedom finally triumph over subordination, dispossession, and violence. Sometimes I think he was perhaps too good for this world, but that incommensurability between what he could imagine and what actually exists accounts in part for the power of his writing and his presence in the world.”

Laleh Khalili, researcher and professor of Middle East politics,  SOAS, London: The tender cadences and prophetic brilliance of Said’s prose

“Said’s Orientalism seems never to lose its relevance, even decades after its publication. In fact, the transformations (and failures in transformation) that have happened in the Middle East since the 2011 Arab Uprisings seem to give orientalist policy-makers and pundits another excuse to trot out the same old cliches.

But as I get older, I also become profoundly appreciative of Said’s insights into literature and the arts. His work on beginnings – and endings – his close and extravagantly generous reading of novels and stories, the insights he imparts about the social and political from the slightest sentences or paragraphs in the classics of English or French literature, make him ever more relevant. And as one reads more and more turgid academic and non-academic writings, one becomes ever more appreciative about the tender cadences and prophetic brilliance of his prose.”

Illan Pappé, historian and professor with the College of Social Sciences and International Studies, University of Exeter: Orientalism and Culture and Imperialism still relevant today

“I think Said’s two major contributions to knowledge are still relevant today as they were during his life time. His seminal works, Orientalism and Culture and Imperialism, which exposed the racist, reductionist and harmful Western discourse on the Orient, is still a crucial part of life. It is still the best analytical took we have for understanding how both the aggression of the West in the Middle East (the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan) and the reactions to it are still sustained as acceptable and legitimate through the power of this discourse.

Similarly, Said’s message in the various books and articles on Palestine is still valid today. In these works he exposed the level of fabrication and ignorance about a suffering of a people for more than a century and warned that this state of affairs will affect the Middle East and beyond. Both contributions are about power and knowledge and his legacy is still with us, give power to truth and you may be able to use knowledge for peace and reconciliation; leave at the hands of cynical stakeholders and conflict would continue to rage on.”

Avi Shlaim, historian and emeritus professor of International Relations, University of Oxford: Intellectual who never gave up hope on coexistence and peace

“Edward Said was an extraordinarily versatile and prolific scholar. His book Orientalism exposed the ideological biases behind Western perceptions of ‘the Orient’ and helped create a distinctive sub-field of what came to be called post-colonial studies. In addition to these literary pursuits, Said was a pianist of concert-playing standard and a leading music critic. Last but not least, he was a politically engaged intellectual and the most eloquent spokesman on behalf of the dispossessed Palestinian people.

Although Said’s calls for accommodation and peaceful co-existence earned him the displeasure of Arab radicals and few adherents on the Israeli side, he never abandoned the struggle. On the contrary, he continued to articulate his inclusive vision at every conceivable opportunity.  The world must see, he wrote, that ‘the Palestinian idea is an idea of living together, of respect for others, of mutual recognition between Palestinian and Israeli.’ This one sentence encapsulates the essence of Edward Said’s thinking. It is the most consistent theme in his voluminous writing on the subject, from The Question of Palestine to the last article.

He spent the last few years of his life trying to develop an entirely new strategy of peace, a new approach based on equality, reconciliation, and justice. ‘I …see no other way than to begin now to speak about sharing the land that has thrust us together, and sharing it in a truly democratic way, with equal rights for each citizen,’ Said wrote in a 1999. He was an intellectual who spent a lifetime grappling with the complexities and contradictions of the Arab-Israeli conflict and yet never gave up hope on coexistence and peace.”

• • •

This text was first published on H-Alter, in English and in Croatian.

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict

The Shadow of the West by Edward Said.

This month (25th of September) marked twelve years since Edward Said died. Middle East Revised will continue publishing excerpts from Said’s books, interviews and films about Said and his work, as a way of paying tribute to him.

After publishing an excerpt from the book Culture and Resistance, Conversations with Edward Said, (Interviews by David Barsamian)here is a link to The Shadow of the West, written by Said, and directed by Geoff Dunlop.

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict

Edward Said on Parochialism and Palestine.

edward said/Edward Said, photo via reformancers/

In ten days, on 25th of September, will be twelve years since Edward Said died. This month Middle East Revised will publish excerpts from Said’s books, interviews and films about Said and his work.

The following is an excerpt from Culture and Resistance, Conversations with Edward Said, Interviews by David Barsamian (South End Press, 2008.).

• • •

After you visited Israel, you went to Egypt, where you encountered some parochialism. Did that take you by surprise?

No, because I confronted it before. That is to to say, what you notice amongst Palestinians, whether inside Israel or on the West Bank and Gaza, is a sense of isolation. There’s no question that they live under the shadow of Israeli power. What is missing is easy and natural contact with the rest of the Arab world.

As a Palestinian, you can’t get to any place in the Arab world from Israel or the West Bank and Gaza without going through a fairly complicated procedure, which causes you to think three or four times before you do: crossing the border, you need permits, you go through endless customs. I must say, for Palestinians traveling throughout the Arab world – and this is also true of me, and I have an American passport, but the fact that it says on it that I was born in Jerusalem means that I’m always put to one side – you’re automatically suspected. So traveling and being in contact with the Arabs in the Arab world for Palestinains is very difficult.

More important even that is that very few Arabs who are not Palestinians come into Palestinian territories, and hardly any at all, practically none, go to Israel. One of the themes – and this is kind of complicated thing to explain, amongst the nationalist and radical intellectuals of most Arab countries, which would include the Gulf people, it certainly includes Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan – has been the opposition to what they called “normalization,” tatbee in Arabic, meaning the normalization of life between Israel and, in the case of Jordan and Egypt, Arab states who have made formal peace with Israel.

The peace with Egypt is described, as it is with Jordan, as a cold peace. The peace with Egypt is described, as it is with Jordan, as a cold peace. In other words, ordinary Jordanians or Egyptians, don’t go to Israel, have nothing to do with Israelis. Israeli tourists go to Jordan and Egypt and visit the historic sites in buses for short periods of time. But beyond that, there’s very little in the way of the kind of intercourse, say, exchanges between universities, learned societies, businesses, and so on, that occur between European countries or neighboring countries otherwise at peace in any other part of the world. One of the reasons for this has been the general refused, as an act of solidarity with Palestinians, of these intellectuals to have anything to do with Israel.

The problem this poses for Palestinians, trying to build institutions, is they are being cut off from the kind of help they can get from Arabs. For example, physicians and other medical professionals from Egypt, Syrian, Lebanon or Jordan could come and assist Palestinians in setting up clinics and hospitals. They could be involved in a whole range of activities from administration to the production of pharmaceuticals. But it doesn’t happen because of this stance against normalization. Similarly, university students who read important scholars, journalists, writers, and poets from various Arab countries don’t get the opportunity to meet them.

When I now encounter Arabs and go to those Arab countries, I say to them, especially to to the Egyptians, you can go to Palestine. You can go through Israel, because Israel and Egypt are at peace. You can take advantage of that to go to Palestinians and go to their institutions and help them, appearing, speaking, being there for some time, training them. No, they say, we can’t possibly allow our passports to be stamped. We won’t go to the Israeli embassy and get visas. We won’t submit to the humiliation of being examined by Israeli policemen at the border or their barrier.

I find this argument vaguely plausible on one level but really quite cowardly on the other. It would seem to me that if they took their pride out of it, if they did go through an Israeli checkpoint or barricade or border, they would be doing what other Palestinians do every day and see what it’s like. Second, as I keep telling them, by doing that it’s not recognizing Israel or giving Israel any credit.

On the contrary, it’s going through that in order to demonstrate and be with Palestinians and help them. For example, as Palestinians face the Israeli bulldozers as they expropriate land and destroy houses for settlements, it would be great if there were a large number of Egyptians and Jordanians and others who could be there with Palestinians confronting this daily, minute-by-minute threat. And the same in universities. Well-known writers, intellectuals, historians, philosophers, film starts could go, but they say, We don’t want to have to request visas from the Israeli consulate in Cairo. I said, You don’t even have to do that. You can ask the Palestinian Authority, which has an ambassador in Cairo, to give you an invitation to go to Gaza, and then you can go to the West Bank.

So there are ways of getting around it. It’s not so much only parochialism as also a kind of laziness, a kind of sitting back and expecting somebody else to do it. I think that’s our greatest enemy, the absence of initiative [my emphasis]. We’re always expecting that the Israelis are out there, the Americans, concocting conspiracies, the Ford Foundtion. Many people want to work with these people groups but are afraid to do it publicly. They do it surreptitiously.

And in public they express opposition and say, We are going to remain untouched by this. We are not going to normalize. We refuse to have anything to do with imperialism. We refuse to sit down and plan something that could actually help Palestinians and actually deal with Israel, not as a fictional entity but as a real power that is in many ways negatively affecting Arab life.

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art of resistance

Five For Friday: Lectures and Interviews on Middle East and Islam.

Five For Friday is a new category on Middle East Revised. Two times a month, on Friday, there’ll be five things to pay attention to concerning MENA region – films, videos, interviews, testimonials, songs, lectures, debates, etc.

This Friday – it’s interviews and lectures – on Middle East and Islam (hot topics of everyday). These five are a must-see.

1. Eqbal Ahmad – Terrorism Ours vs. Theirs 

Just months before his death, Eqbal Ahmad, great Pakistani political scientist and writer, gave this lecture in Colorado.  He talked about who and what defines terrorism.

2. Edward Said – Last Interview

It’s not only that this is the last interview Edward Said gave, it’s that it lasts for more than three hours in which he discusses almost everything. Wonderful!

3. Robert Fisk – State of Denial: Western journalism and the Middle East 

Robert Fisk has given many great lectures during the last couple of decades, but I chose this one for it focuses on the burning issues of the Western mainstream media.

4. Chris Hedges and Sam Harris: Debating Religion (Islam) & Politics (Middle East)

This one is basically – how Chris Hedges exposes the hollowness in the ‘know-it-all’ rethoric of Sam Harris.

5. Edward Said and Salman Rushdie – Ta(l)king The Box Away.

Rushdie and Said are talking about Said’s book After the last sky and the Palestinian experience (“unlike other colonial experiences – we weren’t exploited, we were excluded”, says Said). There’s also a fun story about Israeli broadcasters and Palestinian guerrilla – a cherry on top!

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(Interview) DAM: When The Levee Breaks.

I guess this is my first Throwback Thursday. Half a year ago, I did an interview with DAM’s Suhell Nafar, it was published on Reorient Magazine, but I never reposted it here. It was a lovely interview and I enjoyed it very much, so I am posting it here today.

• • •

Heralded by Le Monde as ‘the spokesmen of a new generation’, the members of DAM – the first [known] Palestinian hip-hop crew and among the first musicians to rap in Arabic – began working together in the late 90s. Struck by the uncanny resemblance of the streets in a Tupac video to those of their own neighbourhood in Lod, brothers Tamer and Suhell Nafar, along with Mahmoud Jreri were inspired to tell their stories through song. They’ve come a long way since the 90s, and part of their tale has been documented in the acclaimed film, Slingshot Hip Hop, directed by Jackie Reem Salloum. As well, a year ago, they released the long-awaited album, Dabke on the Moon, to popular acclaim. Despite their growing popularity, however, they’re still largely unknown in many parts of the world, including the Middle East.

To find out more about the group and to help shine a light on their music, I spoke with Suhell Nafar, with whom I discussed DAM’s projects, the universality of their messages, and their role in the Palestinian struggle.

DAM-slider/photo via DAM/

Who is DAM?

I was a little kid when we started. We grew up, our political views changed … we’ve seen a lot of things, travelled around, performed, met people … we’ve seen things from so many perspectives … our writing [kept getting] stronger, we got stronger [as a result].

And Palestine today? How do you see the peace negotiations?

The same situation, the same occupation. About the peace negotiations: [they’ve] been sold out; nobody here even paid much attention to them – we expected nothing from them. You can’t have peace or talk [about] peace when there are new settlements being built, when there’s ongoing police brutality … Palestine today is not much different than the Palestine of my childhood. There are these little moments – moments when everything seems worse, or moments of hope, when [things] get better; But all in all, [there have been] no big changes.

In a way, it could be argued that the Palestinian situation has taken away many freedoms of life to become a meaning in itself, in terms of resistance. What do you think about the Palestinian cause being such an important part of life and identity in Palestine?

Well, that’s really bothering … this is what [we are] dealing with in our [songs]. Life here … it’s not black and white, you know – it’s colourful; there are happy songs, love songs, etc. There are many layers to Palestinian life and identity – not just [the] occupation. It’s like Mahmoud Darwish wrote in his poem: Palestinians don’t only die from occupation – they die because of diseases, getting old, etc. Palestinians existed before [the] occupation, and will exist after this occupation.

Just as Edward Said wrote about many local Palestinian issues, such as the weaknesses of the Palestinian leadership, your songs deal with issues within Palestine – not just with respect to outsiders and/or aggressors and their allies. In If I Could Go Back in Time from Dabke on the Moon, you address the problem of honour killings, for instance.

If we use our music to rap only against the occupation, I think it would be fake; it would be using dead people for our fame, in a way. Rapping about women’s rights is as important as rapping about the occupation. You know, without social justice, there’s no freedom; so, we feel it’s important to raise our voices and bring [to light] all the issues Palestinians [are facing] today.

When you started out, the hip-hop scene in Palestine was almost non-existent. Slingshot Hip Hop follows your story, as well as that of the growing Palestinian hip-hop scene. You were also among the first to encourage female rappers to join you and create music of their own. How is the situation now?

The scene is much bigger now, in general. When we started, there were no hip-hop studios, no producers – nothing. In the last 15 years, it [has] changed a lot; there are many studios now … there are rock, pop, [and] reggae singers too – not just rappers. There’s a whole new generation, and I feel [the singers] are getting stronger and stronger. There are [many] more female rappers too, of course. There are these two girls, Dammar … I used to see them at protests, and then I saw them rapping. They are seventeen now, and great; they are protesting, rapping, [and] break dancing.

How about collaborations with other Palestinian rappers? In Slingshot Hip Hop, one sees how hard it is for rappers from Gaza to perform and make music together. How has the situation changed, if at all?

Well, I have to say it’s easier now than [when] Slingshot Hip Hop [was made]. The Internet has developed, and there are social networks, so we always keep in touch, [and] exchange our thoughts, ideas, projects, etc. We recently did the Israel vs. Palestine Rap News24, which was a great collaboration. There are more platforms for [these sorts of projects] now. That’s about it. But about Gaza – people from Gaza still can’t come to us, and we still haven’t been in Gaza. We never went there. Ever.

Your new album is finally out, after much anticipation. What is Dabke on the Moon all about, in a nutshell?

Ok … so, dabke is a traditional folk dance. There’s this thing all these modern countries [do]: when they go to the moon, they stick a flag on it. It’s always [about] this patriotic stuff. We don’t care about that … we care about art; and when we go to the moon, we want to dance on the moon. The idea for the name came to my brother, Tamer. He was reading the newspaper, and saw all this stuff about NASA going to the moon, and [then] he turned the page and there was news about people from Gaza digging tunnels. [There] was this great contrast … part of the money used against Palestinians comes from NASA’s homeland, so in a way, what’s helping NASA go up is at the same time pushing us down.

Dabke on the Moon is a special album. The production is great – we had an excellent producer, Nabil Nafar. And, the most important thing: the album is much more personal [than our previous ones]. In If I Could Go Back in Time, we did not sing about honour killings in general – we sang about the stories from our city. In only one year, more than 13 girls were killed … Some of them we knew … we knew their parents. Also, when we sing about prisoners, we don’t sing about [them] in general – we [tell] stories of real people … people we know. It was hard, and I think you feel that when you listen to the album.

I think this leads us to the question of whether music and art can bring about meaningful change in societies. What do you think about this with respect to Palestine?

It’s like Tupac said: I’m not saying I’m gonna change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world. That’s what we are doing; we’re just a piece of the puzzle. There are many others – activists, writers, painters, politicians … we’re building this ‘puzzle’ slowly, and I hope it will [turn into] something beautiful. You know, this is not a conflict; if [both] sides had equal resources and power, it would be a conflict. But they don’t; this is a war. Art is important.

When you come to Palestine, you will see the most unique rap performances; you’ll see people from the age of five to the age of 90 dancing and clapping in the audience – male, female, Muslims, Christians, of all ages and religions. It’s important for us to create art, to raise [our] voices. We are the lucky ones who are still able to travel, to go around, to meet people. If I can get out, I need to use that and speak, to be a sort of PR for the Palestinian cause. You know, I’ve met people who [have] said to me, ‘I started learning Arabic because of DAM’. I’ve met Jews who [have] said it [has] helped them get a better insight [into the Palestinian situation], etc. Just think about the Natives in the USA, about African-Americans, about all those struggles … through hip-hop, we learn so much about the prisoners of this world. I feel we have to teach the way we were taught. It’s this ‘boomerang’ of hip-hop: it never stops, and it never stays [in] the same place. That is what I love so much about it.

• • •

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Remembering Edward Said: In the name of Humanism.

“Humanism is the only – I would go so far as saying the final- resistance we have against the inhuman practices and injustices that disfigure human history.

Edward Said

The end of September (25th of September to be precise) marked eleven years without Edward Said, literary theorist and an intellectual who was a founding figure of the critical-theory field of Post-colonialism, and a strong advocate of political and human rights of the Palestinian people. His capital work, Orientalism,  preseneted the Western study of Eastern cultures and, in general, the framework of how The West perceives and represents The East.

It’s hard to label people as heroes in today’s world, but I would say Said was one. Living in exile, he chose not to look the other way and forget the injustice and struggle in his homeland, but to fight, to raise awareness, to dedicate his life, his time, dedicate it to better understanding, to fairness, even if it meant (and it often did) repeating things all the time, hitting the wall all over again. Even in his last years and months, sick and exhausted (over a decade fighting with leukemia), he was writing, giving three hour interviews, and finishing documentaries about Palestine. Now, that’s dedication.

Said’s great intellect and his inexhaustible energy are strongly missed. Many of the things Said wrote about – from  cultural representations of the East to the question of Palestine – remain a hot topic (and a burning issue) today. To commemorate Said and recall the magnitude of his works, I’ve decided to gather some of the great thoughts and excerpts from his books and essays, and provide links to some of his great interviews.

edward saidEdward Said /photo via reformancers/

No one today is purely one thing. Labels like Indian, or woman, or Muslim, or American are not more than starting-points, which if followed into actual experience for only a moment are quickly left behind. Imperialism consolidated the mixture of cultures and identities on a global scale. But its worst and most paradoxical gift was to allow people to believe that they were only, mainly, exclusively, white, or Black, or Western, or Oriental. Yet just as human beings make their own history, they also make their cultures and ethnic identities. No one can deny the persisting continuities of long traditions, sustained habitations, national languages, and cultural geographies, but there seems no reason except fear and prejudice to keep insisting on their separation and distinctiveness, as if that was all human life was about. Survival in fact is about the connections between things; in Eliot’s phrase, reality cannot be deprived of the “other echoes [that] inhabit the garden.” It is more rewarding – and more difficult – to think concretely and sympathetically, contrapuntally, about others than only about “us.” But this also means not trying to rule others, not trying to classify them or put them in hierarchies, above all, not constantly reiterating how “our” culture or country is number one (or not number one, for that matter).” /from the book Culture and Imperialism/

“The Orient and Islam have a kind of extrareal, phenomenologically reduced status that puts them out of reach of everyone except the Western expert. From the beginning of Western speculation about the Orient, the one thing the Orient could not do was to represent itself. Evidence of the Orient was credible only after it had passed through and been made firm by the refining fire of the Orientalist’s work.” /from the book Orientalism/

In a great interview for Ha’aretz (Said mentions it in the above posted  interview Reflections on Exile with Brian Lamb), Said provides a detailed insight on the issue of Palestine. Ari Shavit describes the meeting with Said:

His hair has turned gray over the past year. The cancerous growth in his stomach bothers him too. Nevertheless, Edward Said is still a very handsome man, punctilious about his appearance and his dress. A silk handkerchief protrudes from his jacket pocket and the gold watch on his wrist glitters when he stretches out his hand to take a sip from the bottle of Pelegrino on his desk.

He exudes charm. The most widely known Palestinian intellectual in the West, he is warm, learned and cunning. Highly political, emotional, with a sense of humor. He skips lightly and gracefully from poetic quotations from Dante to Zionist-damning quotations from Sternhell – and back again. He takes obvious delight in moving between the various languages and between the cultural levels on which he lives. Between the different identities that skitter within him. As though celebrating his ability to be British and American and Arab all at the same time. Both a refugee and an aristocrat, both a subversive and a conservative, both a literateur and a propagandist, both European and Mediterranean.”

In an answer to the question “Is this a symmetrical conflict between two peoples who have equal rights over the land they share?” Said answers:

“There is no symmetry in this conflict. One would have to say that. I deeply believe that. There is a guilty side and there are victims. The Palestinians are the victims. I don’t want to say that everything that happened to the Palestinians is the direct result of Israel. But the original distortion in the lives of the Palestinians was introduced by Zionist intervention, which to us – in our narrative – begins with the Balfour Declaration and events thereafter that led to the replacement of one people by another. And it is continuing to this day. This is why Israel is not a state like any other. It is not like France, because there is continuing injustice. The laws of the State of Israel perpetuate injustice.

This is a dialectical conflict. But there is no possible synthesis. In this case, I don’t think it’s possible to ride out the dialectical contradictions. There is no way I know to reconcile the messianic-driven and Holocaust-driven impulse of the Zionists with the Palestinian impulse to stay on the land. These are fundamentally different impulses. This is why I think the essence of the conflict is its irreconcilability.

“Not one of our political spokespeople—the same is true of the Arabs since Abdel Nasser’s time—ever speaks with self-respect and dignity of what we are, what we want, what we have done, and where we want to go. In the 1956 Suez War, the French colonial war against Algeria, the Israeli wars of occupation and dispossession, and the campaign against Iraq, a war whose stated purpose was to topple a specific regime but whose real goal was the devastation of the most powerful Arab country. And just as the French, British, Israeli, and American campaign against Gamal Abdel Nasser was designed to bring down a force that openly stated as its ambition the unification of the Arabs into a very powerful independent political force.”  /from the book Power, Politics and Culture/

The Orient is watched, since its almost (but never quite) offensive behavior issues out of a reservoir of infinite peculiarity; the European, whose sensibility tours the Orient, is a watcher, never involved, always detached, always ready for new examples of what the Description de l’Egypte called “bizarre jouissance.” The Orient becomes a living tableau of queerness.” /from the book Orientalism/

In his essay Islam Through Western Eyes for The Nation in 1980, Said writes:

„The media have become obsessed with something called ‘Islam,’ which in their voguish lexicon has acquired only two meanings, both of them unacceptable and impoverishing. On the one hand, ‘Islam’ represents the threat of a resurgent atavism, which suggests not only the menace of a return to the Middle Ages but the destruction of what Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan calls the democratic order in the Western world. On the other hand, ‘Islam’ is made to stand for a defensive counterresponse to this first image of Islam as threat, especially when, for geopolitical reasons, ‘good’ Moslems like the Saudi Arabians or the Afghan Moslem ‘freedom fighters’ against the Soviet Union are in question. Anything said in defense of Islam is more or less forced into the apologetic form of a plea for Islam’s humanism, its contributions to civilization, development and perhaps even to democratic niceness.“

He continues to say:

„The Islamic Orient today is important for its resources or for its geopolitical location. Neither of these, however, is interchangeable with the interests, needs or aspirations of the native Orientals. Ever since the end of World War II, the United States has been taking positions of dominance and hegemony once held in the Islamic world by Britain and France. With this replacement of one imperial system by another have gone two things: first, a remarkable burgeoning of academic and expert interest in Islam, and, second, an extraordinary revolution in the techniques available to the largely private-sector press and electronic journalism industries. Together these two phenomena, by which a huge apparatus of university, government and business experts study Islam and the Middle East and by which Islam has become a subject familiar to every consumer of news in the West, have almost entirely domesticated the Islamic world. Not only has that world become the subject of the most profound cultural and economic Western saturation in history–for no non-Western realm has been so dominated by the United States as the Arab-Islamic world is dominated today–by the exchange between Islam and the West, in this case the United States, is profoundly one-sided.“

In this interview with Salman Rusdie, Said talks about the Palestinian experience, saying that unlike other colonial experiences – we weren’t exploited, we were excluded. And that is the essence of the Palestinian struggle.  Let us remember that and let us remember Said.

The 2014 Edward Said Memorial Lecture was held yesterday and you can watch the full lecture by Judith Butler „What is the value of Palestinian lives?“ on The Jerusalem Fund

 

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Edward Said’s Diary: On encounters with Sartre, de Beauvoir and Foucault.

I recently stumbled upon Edward Said‘s diary from his journey to France in 1979 and his encounters with Sartre, de Beauvoir and Foucault. The full diary can be found on London Review of Books, and here are the excerpts:

For my generation he (Sartre) has always been one of the great intellectual heroes of the 20th century, a man whose insight and intellectual gifts were at the service of nearly every progressive cause of our time. Yet he seemed neither infallible nor prophetic. On the contrary, one admired Sartre for the efforts he made to understand situations and, when necessary, to offer solidarity to political causes. He was never condescending or evasive, even if he was given to error and overstatement. Nearly everything he wrote is interesting for its sheer audacity, its freedom (even its freedom to be verbose) and its generosity of spirit.

edward-said-smile-largeEdward Said

“When I arrived, I found a short, mysterious letter from Sartre and Beauvoir waiting for me at the hotel I had booked in the Latin Quarter. ‘For security reasons,’ the message ran, ‘the meetings will be held at the home of Michel Foucault.’ I was duly provided with an address, and at ten the next morning I arrived at Foucault’s apartment to find a number of people – but not Sartre – already milling around. No one was ever to explain the mysterious ‘security reasons’ that had forced a change in venue, though as a result a conspiratorial air hung over our proceedings. Beauvoir was already there in her famous turban, lecturing anyone who would listen about her forthcoming trip to Teheran with Kate Millett, where they were planning to demonstrate against the chador; the whole idea struck me as patronising and silly, and although I was eager to hear what Beauvoir had to say, I also realised that she was quite vain and quite beyond arguing with at that moment.”

SARTRE BEAUVOIRSartre & Beauvoir

As that day wore on, I slowly discovered that a good deal of negotiating had gone on beforehand to bring the seminar about, and that what participation there was from the Arab world was compromised, and hence abridged, by all the prior wheeling and dealing. I was somewhat chagrined that I hadn’t been included in any of this. Perhaps I had been too naive – too anxious to come to Paris to meet Sartre, I reflected. There was talk of Emmanuel Levinas being involved, but, like the Egyptian intellectuals whom we’d been promised, he never showed up. In the meantime all our discussions were being recorded and were subsequently published in a special issue of Les Temps modernes (September 1979). I thought it was pretty unsatisfactory. We were covering more or less familiar ground, with no real meeting of minds.

Beauvoir had been a serious disappointment, flouncing out of the room in a cloud of opinionated babble about Islam and the veiling of women. At the time I did not regret her absence; later I was convinced she would have livened things up. Sartre’s presence, what there was of it, was strangely passive, unimpressive, affectless. He said absolutely nothing for hours on end. At lunch he sat across from me, looking disconsolate and remaining totally uncommunicative, egg and mayonnaise streaming haplessly down his face. I tried to make conversation with him, but got nowhere. He may have been deaf, but I’m not sure. In any case, he seemed to me like a haunted version of his earlier self, his proverbial ugliness, his pipe and his nondescript clothing hanging about him like so many props on a deserted stage.”

Sure enough Sartre did have something for us: a prepared text of about two typed pages that – I write entirely on the basis of a twenty-year-old memory of the moment – praised the courage of Anwar Sadat in the most banal platitudes imaginable. I cannot recall that many words were said about the Palestinians, or about territory, or about the tragic past. Certainly no reference was made to Israeli settler-colonialism, similar in many ways to French practice in Algeria. It was about as informative as a Reuters dispatch, obviously written by the egregious Victor to get Sartre, whom he seemed completely to command, off the hook. I was quite shattered to discover that this intellectual hero had succumbed in his later years to such a reactionary mentor, and that on the subject of Palestine the former warrior on behalf of the oppressed had nothing to offer beyond the most conventional, journalistic praise for an already well-celebrated Egyptian leader. For the rest of that day Sartre resumed his silence, and the proceedings continued as before. I recalled an apocryphal story in which twenty years earlier Sartre had travelled to Rome to meet Fanon (then dying of leukemia) and harangued him about the dramas of Algeria for (it was claimed) 16 non-stop hours, until Simone made him desist. Gone for ever was that Sartre.

foucaulta29Foucault

Foucault very quickly made it clear to me that he had nothing to contribute to the seminar and would be leaving directly for his daily bout of research at the Bibliothèque Nationale. I was pleased to see my book Beginnings on his bookshelves, which were brimming with a neatly arranged mass of materials, including papers and journals. Although we chatted together amiably it wasn’t until much later (in fact almost a decade after his death in 1984) that I got some idea why he had been so unwilling to say anything to me about Middle Eastern politics. In their biographies, both Didier Eribon and James Miller reveal that in 1967 he had been teaching in Tunisia and had left the country in some haste, shortly after the June War. Foucault had said at the time that the reason he left had been his horror at the ‘anti-semitic’ anti-Israel riots of the time, common in every Arab city after the great Arab defeat. A Tunisian colleague of his in the University of Tunis philosophy department told me a different story in the early 1990s: Foucault, she said, had been deported because of his homosexual activities with young students. I still have no idea which version is correct. At the time of the Paris seminar, he told me he had just returned from a sojourn in Iran as a special envoy ofCorriere della sera. ‘Very exciting, very strange, crazy,’ I recall him saying about those early days of the Islamic Revolution. I think (perhaps mistakenly) I heard him say that in Teheran he had disguised himself in a wig, although a short while after his articles appeared, he rapidly distanced himself from all things Iranian. Finally, in the late 1980s, I was told by Gilles Deleuze that he and Foucault, once the closest of friends, had fallen out over the question of Palestine, Foucault expressing support for Israel, Deleuze for the Palestinians.”

For reasons that we still cannot know for certain, Sartre did indeed remain constant in his fundamental pro-Zionism. Whether that was because he was afraid of seeming anti-semitic, or because he felt guilt about the Holocaust, or because he allowed himself no deep appreciation of the Palestinians as victims of and fighters against Israel’s injustice, or for some other reason, I shall never know. All I do know is that as a very old man he seemed pretty much the same as he had been when somewhat younger: a bitter disappointment to every (non-Algerian) Arab who admired him. Certainly Bertrand Russell was better than Sartre, and in his last years (though led on and, some would say, totally manipulated by my former Princeton classmate and one-time friend, Ralph Schoenman) actually took positions critical of Israel’s policies towards the Arabs. I guess we need to understand why great old men are liable to succumb either to the wiles of younger ones, or to the grip of an unmodifiable political belief. It’s a dispiriting thought, but it’s what happened to Sartre. With the exception of Algeria, the justice of the Arab cause simply could not make an impression on him, and whether it was entirely because of Israel or because of a basic lack of sympathy – cultural or perhaps religious – it’s impossible for me to say. In this he was quite unlike his friend and idol Jean Genet, who celebrated his strange passion for Palestinians in an extended sojourn with them and by writing the extraordinary ‘Quatre Heures à Sabra et Chatila’ and Le Captif amoureux. A year after our brief and disappointing Paris encounter Sartre died. I vividly remember how much I mourned his death.”

For more, go to London Review of Books.

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