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

Coming Home: Queer South Asians and the Politics of Family.

Alok Vaid-Menon is a trans/national South Asian writer, performer, and solidarity activist who has organized with racial, economic, and gender justice movements across the world. His creative & political work grapples with questions of diaspora, trauma, race, desire, and politics. As a staff member of the audre lorde project (a grassroots organizing center for LGBT people of color) and ½ of the spoken word collaborationDARKMATTER, he is committed to building the collective power of young queer and trans people of color.

maxresdefaultAlok Vaid-Menon /image via youtube/

I discovered a great article on his website Return The Gayze, where he describes his own experience of ‘coming out’ and the way it differentiates from the experience of his white peers and the impressions they had of it. Here are some great excerpts from the article:

“The more that I’ve built community with other queer (South) Asians, the more I’ve begin to think about how these conversations about blood family are actually part of our movement work. That impromptu skillshare at the bar, that discussion potluck (I mean crying session), and those daily phone calls with extended blood family are campaign strategies that we are engaging in. What we are trying to do is create new language and framework that actually make sense for our experiences.

I want to suggest that our attachments to our blood families are not only sentimental, they are political. This sentimentality, this angst, this emotional labor is legitimate political work. Our turn toward our families of origin is part of a strategy of intimate organizing – a type of political work that often gets erased or dismissed by dominant white and masculine standards of queer visibility. In a political climate where radicalism is increasingly being attributed to individual activists developing individual political theory and finding individual liberation, our turn back to the blood family is a form of critique. It suggests a commitment to a type of collective liberation and a practice of solidarity where we refuse to allow our people to be disposable in our movement work.

In one telling of the story I ‘found’ my queerness and became an activist outside of my people. However, to subscribe to this story would be to relegate my family – and by extension, my people – into a space chiefly defined by its apathy and conservatism. White supremacy has long relied on such a trope: that immigrants and people of color are too ‘conservative’ and ‘too traditional.’  I bought into the story and defined my queerness and my politics always in contrast to my family of origin.

But what I soon learned is that as queer South Asians we navigate a complicated cultural landscape where we often are not afforded control of our own narratives. Our telling of personal violence often gets swallowed by white supremacy in the service of its racist and imperialist agenda. This is because the cultural logics that help maintain structural racism are stronger than our individual stories.

When my white peers would hear about the queerphobia I experienced from my people it would give power to a larger imperialist narrative that immigrants and people of color are traditional and conservative and therefore need to be educated or saved (read: occupied and exploited). My white peers would ask irrelevant questions like when my parents immigrated to this country and what access to education they had as if Western education and citizenship are necessary for queer politics. My white peers would ask me how fluent in English they were – as if access to English is at all correlated with queer violence. They would ask me why I was still in contact with them, why I didn’t just cut my connections.

What became evident is that my individual narratives could not pierce through the logics of orientalism which continue to find ways to position brown folks as ess developed than the Western world. What white queers don’t understand is that the entire mandate of racist assimilation in this country is about us being forced to give up our culture, tradition, and families. Assimilation has always been about us hating ourselves and feeling insecure in our bodies, families, and cultures. White folks do not understand how so many of us are not willing to leave our cultures for our queerness – how so many of us carry more complex identities than just our genders and sexualities.

Collectively we began to recognize that our immigrant families are not just transphobic, they are also ‘colonized.’ I learned the ways in which colonialism in South Asia and white supremacy in the United States has always relied on regulating the genders and sexualities of my people. I learned the ways in which racism operates by enforcing and policing the gender binary and compulsory heterosexuality on communities of color. I recognized that my family is just as broken as I am but they never had the time and space to really process and heal from the violence of colonialism, the terror of Partition, the trauma of diaspora – let alone the English to articulate it to me.

Rather than blaming my own communities for our lack of queer South Asian visibility I began to realize that our diaspora responds to racism with heteronormativity. External threat engenders intimate violence. In the white telling of the story my family is just prejudiced. But in my telling of the story my people have been so forcibly disconnected from their culture and tradition that they cling desperately onto heteronormativity to maintain some semblance of self. In the white telling of the story my people are acting from a place of power and violence. In my telling of the story my people are acting from a place of hurt.

Trauma seeps through generations.

For those of us who still have access to our families or communities of origin and can interact with them without fear of significant harm, I believe that it is important that we do this slow and intimate work of finding ways to translate our queerness. This work of coming to terms with our ‘queer’ and ‘(South) Asian’ identities cannot be the only site of our movement work (as is often the case). We must continue to mobilize in solidarity with other oppressed peoples and address prejudice within our own. Certainly we are all still trying to figure out the best strategies to do this work and to still remain safe and secure. Certainly we are going to fuck up. Certainly it’s some of the hardest work that we can do because often our validation relies on approval from the very people who may deny and abuse us. But this type of work feels important nonetheless to so many of us. And there is power and politics in that feeling. Like the same way so many of us know that we will invite our mothers to live with us when they get too old to care for themselves (regardless of what our queer communities might think).

Because when I think about the future, when I think about the world that I am fighting for… I know that I am not interested in being part of the revolution unless my mother will be right there beside me.”

Read the full article on Return The Gayze. And – listen to Alok’s Tactile Lerner poem.

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict

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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art of resistance, Azerbaijan

Faig Ahmed: Reorienting the Carpet Icons.

Faig Ahmed is an artist you want to hear about.

Azerbaijan-carpet-thread-installation5Faig Ahmed

He graduated from the Sculpture faculty at the Azerbaijan State Academy of Fine Art in Baku. Last ten years he has been working with various media, including painting, video and installation. Currently, he is studying the artistic qualities of Azerbaijani traditional rugs – he disassembles their conventional structure and randomly rearranges the resulting components of the traditional composition then combines these fragments with contemporary sculptural forms. 

Faig-Ahmed-9-650x322

On his work, he writes:

“Our opinions and decisions are resulting from the influences of our childhood. If we could know all the details of someone’s life we could easily predicted his reactions and choices. 
Tradition is the main factor creating the society as a self regulated system. Changes in the non-written rule happen under influence of global modern culture.

Faig-Ahmed-3-650x975
The carpet is a symbol of invincible tradition of the East, it’s a visualization of an undestroyable icon.
In my art I see the culture differently. This is more of expectation of a reaction because it’s exactly the change of the points of view that changes the world.

02-Faig-Ahmed-700x364
Slight changes in the form of a carpet dramatically change it’s structure and maybe make it more suitable for the modern life.
The Eastern culture is very reach visually. I cover it all in minimalistic forms, destroying the stereotypes of the tradition and creating new modern boundaries. A man can widen the borders and change them but no one has ever dare to break our spirit. “

444857fabf60d7f2cc756d11efe3f5da

All of these carpets are woolen and handmade. For more of Faig’s work, go to his official website. Enjoy.

Faig-Ahmed-6-650x962all images © Faig Ahmed

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