The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
[Main archive index/search] [List information] [Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]
Edward Said: On Dignity and Solidarity On June 14, Edward Said spoke at the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee convention in Washington D.C. In this major address he spoke of Rachel Corrie, the so-called road map to peace, the failings of Abu Mazzen and the portrayal of the Arab world in the U.S. media. The national listener-sponsored radio and television show Democracy Now! aired the speech on June 26. To listen or watch Democracy Now's broadcast online click here THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT In early May of this year, I was in Seattle lecturing for a few days. While there, I had dinner one night with Rachel Corrie's parents and sister, who I think are here. In fact, I saw them. Where are they? Could you stand up, please? And I'm going to speak impressionistically, Craig, because I felt you were still reeling from the shock of your daughter's murder on March 16 in Gaza by an Israeli bulldozer. Mr. Corie told me that he himself had driven bulldozers, although the one that killed his daughter deliberately, because she was trying valiantly to protect a Palestinian home in Rafah from demolition, was not an ordinary caterpillar bulldozer, but a 60-ton behemoth specially designed by caterpillar. There’s a project right there -- to demonstrate and prevent as many of these caterpillars special house demolishing caterpillars from ever getting there--a mass action that as Americans we can do. They’re specially designed to destroy homes. They have no other purpose. And it's a far bigger machine than anything he had ever seen or driven. Two things struck me about my brief visit with the Corries. One was the story they told me about their return to the U.S. after their daughter's funeral. They had immediately sought out their U.S. senators, Patty Murray and Mary Cantwell, who are both Democrats, told them their story, and received the expected expressions of shock, outrage, anger, and promises of investigation. After both senators returned to Washington, the Corries, at least when I saw them in May, never heard from them again, and the promised investigation hasn't yet materialized, although there is talk about it. And there is talk that the senators are working behind the scenes to do something. As expected, the Israeli lobby had explained the realities to them, and both senators simply begged off. An American citizen was willfully murdered by the soldiers of a client state of the United States, using a United States built instrument of death, a terrorist instrument without so much as an official peep or even the routine investigation that has been promised her family. But the second and far more important aspect of the Rachel Corey story for me was the young woman's action itself. Heroic and dignified at the same time. She grew up in Olympia, a city 50 miles south of Seattle, and she had joined the international solidarity movement, gone to Gaza to stand with suffering human beings with whom she had never had any contact before. Her letters back to her family are truly remarkable documents of her ordinary humanity that makes for very difficult and moving reading. Especially when she describes the kindness and concern shown her by all the Palestinians she encounters who clearly welcome her as one of their own because she lives with them exactly as they do, sharing their lives and worries, as well as the horrors of the Israeli occupation and its terrible effects on even the smallest child. She understands the fate of the refugees and what she calls the Israeli government's insidious attempt at a kind of genocide by making it impossible for this almost impossible for this particular group of individuals to survive, those are her words. So moving is her solidarity that it inspires an Israeli reservist called Danny, who has refused service in the Israeli army to write her and tell her, and I quote from the letters, "you are doing a good thing. I thank you for it." What shines through all the letters she wrote home, and which were subsequently published in the London Guardian, is the amazing resistance put up by the Palestinian people themselves, average human beings put in the most terrible position of suffering and despair, but continuing to survive and stay on just the same. We've heard so much recently about the "road map" and the prospects for peace that we seem to have overlooked the most basic fact of all, which is that Palestinians have refused to capitulate or surrender, even under the collective punishment meted out to them by the combined might of Israel and the United States. It is that fact, that extraordinary fact of Palestinian resistance, which is the reason for the existence of a "road map" and all the numerous so-called peace plans before them, not at all because the United States and Israel and the international community have been convinced for humanitarian reasons that the killing and the violence must stop. If we miss that truth about the power of Palestinian resistance, despite all its failings and all its mistakes, and God knows there have been many, we miss everything. Palestinians have always been a problem for the Zionist project, and many solutions have perennially been proposed that minimize rather than solve the problem. The official Israeli policy, no matter what--whether Ariel Sharon uses the word occupation or not, or whether or not he dismantles a rusty, unused tower or two, has always been not to accept the reality of the Palestinian people as equals, nor even to admit that their rights were scandalously violated all along by Israel. Whereas a few courageous Israelis over the years have tried to deal with its other concealed history, most Israelis and what seems like the majority of Americans, of American Jews, have made every effort to deny, avoid, or negate the Palestinian reality. That is why there is no peace. Moreover, the "road map," as I told the Secretary [of State Colin Powell] yesterday, the "road map" says nothing about justice or about the historical punishment meted out to the Palestinian people for too many decades to count. What Rachel Corrie's work in Gaza recognized, however, was precisely the gravity and the density of the living history of the Palestinian people at the national community and not merely a collection of deprived refugees. That is what she was in solidarity with. And I want to remind you that that kind of solidarity is no longer confined to a small number of intrepid souls here and there, but is recognized the world over. Five years ago, Rachel Corrie would not have gone to Palestine. She wouldn't have perhaps heard about it. Now the situation has changed. In the past six months, I have lectured on four continents to many, many thousands of people. What brings them together is Palestine and the struggle of the Palestinian people, which is now a byword for emancipation and enlightenment, regardless of all the villification heaped on them by their enemies. Whatever the fact, whenever the facts are made known, there is immediate recognition and an expression of the most profound solidarity with the justice of the Palestinian cause and the valiant struggles by the Palestinian people on its behalf. It's an extraordinary thing that Palestine this year was a central issue, both during the antiglobalization meetings in Porto Alegre, Brazil, as well as during the Davos meetings, at both ends of the worldwide political spectrum. Just because our fellow citizens in this country are fed an atrociously biased diet of ignorance and misrepresentation by the media, when the occupation is never referred to in lurid descriptions of suicide attacks, the apartheid wall which is 25 feet high, five feet thick, and 350 kilometers long that Israel is building is never shown on CNN and the networks, or is so much as referred to in passing throughout the lifeless prose of the road map. And the crimes of war, the gratuitous destruction and humiliation, the maimings, the house demolitions, agricultural destruction and death imposed on Palestinian civilians are never shown for the daily, completely routine ordeal that they are. One shouldn't be surprised that Americans in the main have a very low opinion of Arabs and the Palestinians. After all, please remember that all the main organs of the main establishment, of the established media from left liberal all the way over to fringe right are unanimously anti-Arab, anti-Muslim, and anti-Palestinian. Look at the media during the buildup to the illegal and unjust war against Iraq. And look at how little coverage there was of the immense damage against Iraqi society done by the 12-year sanctions. And look how relatively fewer counts, journalistic accounts there were of the immense worldwide outpouring of opinion against the war. Hardly a single journalist, except Helen Thomas, who's an Arab-American, has taken the administration to task for the outrageous lies and confected facts that were spun out about Iraq as an imminent military threat to the United States before the war, just as now the same government propagandist who cynically invented facts about weapons of mass destruction are now more or less forgotten or shrugged off as irrelevant. They're let off the hook by media heavies in discussing the inexcusable situation for the people of Iraq that the United States has now singlehandedly and irresponsibly created there. However else one blames Saddam Hussein as a vicious tyrant that he was, he had provided the people of Iraq with the best infrastructure of services like water, electricity, health, and education of any Arab country. None of this is any longer in place. It's no wonder then that with the extraordinary fear of seeming anti-semitic by criticizing Israel for its daily crimes of war against innocent, unarmed Palestinian civilians, or criticizing the U.S. government and being called anti-American for its illegal war and its dreadfully run military occupation, that the vicious media and government campaign against Arab society, culture, history, and mentality, to say nothing of the campaign against Arab Americans and Muslim Americans in this country, has been led by neanderthal publicists and "orientalists" like Daniel Pipes and Bernard Lewis. This has brought too many of us into believing that Arabs really are an underdeveloped, incompetent, and doomed people, and that with all the failures in democracy and development, Arabs are alone in this world for being retarded, being behind the times, unmodernized, and deeply reactionary. Here is where dignity and critical historical thinking must be mobilized to see what is what, and to disentangle truth from propaganda. No one would deny that most Arab countries today are ruled by unpopular regimes and that vast numbers of poorly disadvantaged young Arabs are ruled by--are exposed to the ruthless forms of fundamentalist religion. Yet it is simply a lie to say, as The New York Times in its editorials and in its news reporting regularly say, that Arab societies are "totally controlled" and that there's no freedom of opinion, no civil institutions, no functioning social movement for and by the people. Press laws notwithstanding, you can go to downtown Amman today and buy a Communist party newspaper there, as well as an Islamist one. Egypt and Lebanon are full of papers that suggest much more debate and discussion than these societies are given credit for. The satellite channels are bursting with diverse opinions in a dizzying variety. Civil institutions are, on many levels, having to do with social services, human rights, syndicates, women's rights, and research institutes, very lively all over the Arab world. In Palestine alone, there are over 1,000 N.G.O.'s, and it is this vitality and this kind of activity that has kept society going despite every American and Israeli effort made to vilify, stop, or mutilate it on a daily basis. And if you compare, as I think salutary to do, the American media and its reporting, especially the leading newspapers like The Post or The New York Times on the op-ed page, or FOX or CNN, you compare those with the Arab satellite channels or the newspapers that one can read, you know, published in London, published in Beirut, published in Cairo, etc., I mean, who are we kidding? The range of opinion is much greater in the Arab world than it is here. This propaganda campaign has made even Arabs believe the lies about them that, of course, are being put out by people who wish them no good, but to want portray them as sort of retarded, you know, primitives, who are basically trivial and sort of out of it in general. Under the worst possible circumstances, Palestinian society has neither been defeated, nor has it crumbled completely, and this is, of course, Sharon's predicament. Kids still go to school. Doctors and nurses still take care of their patients. Men and women go to work. Organizations have their meetings, and people continue to live. Which seems to be an offense to Sharon and the other extremists who simply want Palestinians either in prison or driven away altogether. The military solution that they've tried hasn't worked at all and never will work. Why is that so hard for Israelis and Americans to see? So I want to suggest that it's our role to help them to understand this not by suicide bombers, but by rational arguments, mass civil disobedience by organized protests here and everywhere. The point I'm trying to make is that we have to see the Arab world generally, and Palestine in particular, in more comparative and critical ways than silly books like Bernard Lewis' "What Went Wrong." And Paul Wolfowitz's ignorant statements about bringing democracy -- he should bring democracy to the Pentagon. How about that? His arguments about bringing democracy to the Arab and Islamic world can even begin to suggest-- whatever else is true about the Arabs, there is an active dynamic at work because, as real people, they live in a real society and not in some, you know, day dream or wet dream invented by Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. With all sorts of currents and counter-currents in it that can't easily be caricatured as just one seething mass of violent fanaticism. The Palestinian struggle for justice is especially something with which one expresses solidarity rather than endless criticism and dismissive, frustrating discouragement, and crippling devisiveness. Remember, the solidarity shown towards Palestine here and everywhere in Latin America, Africa, Europe, Asia, and Australia. And remember also that there is a cause to which many people have committed themselves, difficulties and terrible obstacles notwithstanding. Why? Because it is a just cause, a noble ideal, a moral quest for equality and human rights. I want now to speak about dignity which, of course, has a special place in every culture known to historians, anthropologists, sociologists and humanists. I shall begin by saying that it is a radically wrong orientalist, and even, indeed, racist proposition to accept the fact or notion or the theory that unlike Europeans and Americans, Arabs -- and we're told this all the time in the media -- Arabs have no sense of individuality, they have no regard for individual life, no values that express love and intimacy and understanding that are supposed to be the exclusive property of culture like those of Europe and America that had the Renaissance, the reformation, and enlightenment. Among many others, it is the vulgar Thomas Friedman who has been peddling this absolute rubbish which has, alas, been picked up not by many other Americans, and this is the sad part of it, but by equally ignorant and self-deceiving Arab intellectuals. I don't need to mention any names here. They have seen the atrocities of 9/11, a sign that the Arab and Islamic world are somehow more diseased and more dysfunctional than any other, and that terrorism is a sign of a wider distortion than has occurred in any other culture. We can leave to one side the slightly inconvenient fact that between them Europe and the United States account for 80% of the violent deaths of the 20th century. I mean, that's just a little unimportant fact. The Islamic world in those conflicts hardly provided a fraction of that damage. And behind all of that specious, unscientific nonsense about wrong and right civilization, there is the grotesque shadow of the great false prophet, Samuel Huntington, who has led a lot of people to believe that the world can be divided into distinct civilizations battling against each other forever. On the contrary, Huntington is dead wrong on every point he makes. No culture or civilization exists by itself. None is made up of things like individuality and enlightenment that are completely exclusive to it, and none exists without the basic human attributes of community, love, value for life, and all the others. Even Arabs have those things in their culture. To suggest otherwise, as he does, is the purist, invidious racism of the same stripe, as people who used to argue that Africans have naturally inferior brains or that Asians are really born for servitude, or that Europeans are a naturally superior race. This is a sort of parody of Hitlerian science directed uniquely today against Arabs and Muslims. And we must be very firm, of not even going through the motions of arguing against it. It is the purest drivel. On the other hand, there's the much more credible and serious stipulation that like every other instance of humanity, Arab and Muslim life has an inherent value and dignity which are expressed by Arabs and Muslims in their unique cultural style, and those expressions need not resemble or be a copy of one approved model certified by Richard Perle, suitable for everyone. The whole point, the whole point about human diversity is that it is, in the end, a form of deep coexistence between very different forms of individuality and experience that can't all be reduced to one superior form that we should all follow. And that's behind this absolutely ridiculous, this hubristic, arrogant idea that somehow America has gone to Iraq to liberate the Iraqis and show them the true way. I mean, who gave them that authority? What came over President Bush to--I mean, who can barely get himself on to a golf course? This is the serious argument foisted on us by pundits all over the mainstream media who beware the lack of development and knowledge in the Arab world, and has been picked up by the United Nations in that Arab human development report, which is full of the most immature and purile generalizations about how many books are translated. For example, they say 300 books have been translated in the Arab world only. Well, how many books have been translated from other languages into America? Only 300? And this is the most powerful, richest, most developed culture in the world. If you ask how many books from Arabic have been translated into English, I'll tell you what the figure is in this country-it's 13 books in the last four years. That shows how advanced America is, right? And these are the figures that this report bandies about so that more Arabs feel, we're terrible, we're really behind everybody, and we really have to take it on the chin and blame ourselves as some guy on television said, "It's a wakeup call for the Arab world." As if the Arab world has been asleep waiting for this guy to wake it up. My God. All one has to do, if one has the sense, is to look at the huge variety of literature, of cinema, of theater, of painting, of music and popular culture produced by and for Arabs from Morocco to the Gulf. Surely that needs to be assessed. And let me, in this connection, mention something that I'm sure most of you don't even know about. Under the worst possible conditions, you know, on the West Bank, Ramallah is a city under siege most of the time. There are curfews. People can't get from one town to another, one part of a town to another. There's always the fear of getting picked up by the Israelis and detained. There are 5,000 prisoners now held without being charged by Israelis. In spite of all this, and the bombings and the house demolitions, etc., there is now a flourishing Palestinian music conservatory where hundreds of eager kids come for piano lessons and violin lessons and clarinet lessons and cello lessons, under fire, to teachers who give of their time and of their gifts freely. And now this has spread all over the West Bank, not just in Ramallah, but there is a branch in Jerusalem, there’s one in Bethlehem, and so on and so forth. Now, I have some papers here. I'm not good at selling things but, here's a recording made by a group from the conservatory of Arabic music, a C.D. Here is an account of it, and here's some leaflets which will be available at the back of the hall for you to look at, and I recommend it. It's a very worthwhile, humane project to support. It's precisely this will kind of thing that never gets mentioned. They just talk about suicide bombers, right? But the Palestinian kids are very gifted, that there is a marvelously accomplished young Palestinian pianist who's now playing at the best halls all over the world. That there's another one who's only 13 or 14 years old who's considered to be a child prodigy, all of them having connections with this conservatory. That's never mentioned. It's all suicide bombers and fundamentalists. So surely those things need to be assessed. As indications of whether or not Arabs are developed, and not just how on any given day statistical tables of industrial production either indicate an appropriate level of development or they show failure. The more important point I want to make, though, is that there's a very wide discrepancy which we all feel today between our culture and society on the one hand, and the small group of people who now rule these societies. Rarely in history has such mediocrity and such an absence of creativity and independent thought been so concentrated in so tiny and unrepresented a group, unrepresentative of a group as the various kings, generals, sultans and presidents, all of them overweight, who preside who preside today over the Arabs. The worst thing about them --the worst thing about them as a group, almost without exception, is that they represent only the lowest, the most uninteresting common denominator of their people. This is not just a matter of democracy or no democracy. It is that they seem radically to underestimate themselves and their people, in ways that close them off, that make them intolerant and fearful of change, frightened of opening up their society to their people, terrified most of all that they might anger "big brother," that is the United States. Instead of seeing that their citizens are the potential wealth of their nation, they regard them all as guilty conspirators, vying for the ruler's power. This is the real failure, how during the terrible war against the Iraqi people, not a single Arab leader had the self-dignity and confidence to say something about the pillaging and military occupation of one of the most important Arab countries. Fine. Fine, it was an excellent thing that Saddam Hussein's appalling regime is no more. Who could fight with that? Who could disagree? But who appointed the U.S. to be the Arab mentor, to be almost, the nanny? Who asked the United States to take over the Arab world, allegedly on behalf of its citizens and bring it something called democracy, especially at a time when, in our own country in America, the school system, the health system, and the whole economy are degenerating into the worst level since the 1929 depression. Why was the collective Arab voice not raised against the U.S.'s flagrantly illegal intervention? Where the French objected, but the Arabs said nothing, which did so much harm and inflicted so much humiliation upon the entire Arab nation. This is truly a colossal failure in nerve, in dignity, in self-solidarity. With all the Bush administration's talk about guidance from the almighty--we heard some of it last night--doesn't one Arab leader have the courage to say as a great people we are guided by our own lights and traditions and religions? But nothing. Not a peep. As the poor citizens of Iraq live through the most terrible ordeal and the rest of the region quakes in its collective boots, each one petrified that its country may be next. And as for what's happening to Palestinians, Egypt still has commercial and, of course, diplomatic relationships with Israel, as do Jordan and Morocco, all to safeguard their rulers' continuing U.S. patronage. How indecent. How indecent and indecorous the embrace of George Bush, the man whose country--whose war destroyed an Arab country gratuitously by the combined--how indecent it was that the combined leadership of the major Arab countries last week embraced him so warmly. Was there no one there who had the guts to remind George W. what he had done, to humiliate and bring more suffering to the Arab people than anyone before him, and must he always be greeted with hugs and smiles and kisses and low bows? Where is the domestic, the diplomatic and political and economic support necessary to sustain an anti-occupation movement on the West Bank and Gaza? Instead, all one hears is that foreign ministers preach to the Palestinians to mind their way, avoid violence, and keep at the peace negotiations, even though it has been so obvious that Sharon's interest in peace is just about zero. There has been no-- there has been, I mean, this is unimaginable. Unimaginable that there has been no concerted Arab response to the separation wall or to the assassinations or to the collective punishment. Only a bunch of tired cliches repeating the well-worn formulas authorized by the state department. Perhaps the one thing that strikes me as the low point in Arab ability to grasp the dignity of our own and our Palestinian cause is express, I'm very sorry to say, by the current state of the Palestinian authority. Abu Mazzin, a number two colorless figure with no political support among his own people was picked for the job by Israel and the United States precisely because he has no backbone and no constituency. He's not an orator, or a great organizer. He doesn't know any languages except Arabic, about which I'm not so sure, and nor is he anything more than a dutiful aide to Yasser Arafat. And because I'm afraid they see in him a man who will do Israel's bidding, how could even Abu Mazen stand there to pronounce words written for him like a ventriloquist ‘s puppet by some state department functionary. Instead of saying I'm not going to read from your speech, I'm going to read my speech. He didn't even have the dignity to say that. And he reads a speech in which he commendably speaks about Jewish suffering, but then amazingly says next to nothing about his own people suffering at the hands of Israel. How could he accept so undignified and manipulated a role for himself, and how could he forget his representation of a people that has been fighting heroically for over a century, just because the U.S. and Israel have told him that he must? And when Israel simply says that there will be a Palestinian state without any contrition for the horrendous amount of damage it has done, the uncountable war crimes, the sheer, sadistic, systematic humiliation of every single Palestinian man, woman, and child, I must confess to a complete lack of understanding as to why a leader or representative of that longsuffering people doesn't so much as take note of it, to say there's this. You know, we don't want to you account for it, we just want you take notice of it. I am filled with incomprehension. Has he entirely lost his sense of dignity? Has he forgotten that since he's not just an individual, but also the bearer of his people's fate especially at a crucial moment? Is there anyone who is here, who is not bitterly disappointed in his total failure to rise to the occasion and stand with dignity, the dignity of his people’s experience and cause, and testify to it with pride and without compromise, without ambiguity, without the half-embarrassed, half-apologetic tone that Palestinian leaders take when they are begging for a little kindness from some totally unworthy white father. But that has been the behavior, but that has been the behavior of Palestinian leaders since Oslo, and alas, even since Haj Amin, a combination of misplaced, juvenile defiance and plaintive supplication. Why on earth do they always think it is absolutely necessary to read scripts written for them insultingly by their enemies? The basic dignity of our life as Arabs in Palestine, throughout the Arab world and here in America, is that we are our own people with a heritage, a history, a tradition, and above all, a language. It needn’t be Arabic, it could be English, but it's our language, as Palestinians that is more than adequate to the task of representing our real aspirations, since those aspirations derive from the experience of dispossession and suffering that has been imposed on each Palestinian since 1948. Not one of our political spokespersons--the same is true of the Arabs… ever speaks with self-respect and dignity of what we are, what we want, what we have done, and where we want to go. Slowly, however, and I conclude here, the situation is changing, and the old regime made up the Abu Mazens of this world is passing and will gradually be replaced by a new set of emerging leaders all over the Arab world. Leaders who are more self-confident and who have a better idea of themselves than the old leaders did. The most promising is made up, I think, of a new Palestinian organization whose members are called the National Political Initiative in Palestine. They are grass roots activists whose main activity is not pushing papers on a desk, nor juggling bank accounts, nor looking for journalists to pay attention to them, but who come from the ranks of the professionals, the working classes, and young intellectuals and activists, teachers, doctors, lawyers, working people who have kept society going while also fending off daily Israeli attacks. Second, these are people--these are people committed to the kind of democracy and popular participation undreamt of by the Palestinian authority whose idea of democracy is stability and security for itself. Lastly, they offer social services to the unemployed, health to the uninsured and the poor, proper secular generation to a new generation who must be taught the realities of a modern world, not just the extraordinary worth of the old world. For such programs, the National Political Initiative stipulates that getting rid of the occupation is the only way forward, and that in order to do that, a representative national unified leadership be elected freely to replace the cronies, the outdated, and the ineffectiveness that have plagued Palestinian leaders for the past century. Only if we respect ourselves as Arabs and Americans finally, and understand the true dignity and justice of our struggles, only then can we appreciate why, almost despite ourselves, so many people all over the world, including Rachel Corrie and the two young people wounded with her from I.S.M., Tom Hurndel and Brian Avery, have felt it possible to express their solidarity with us. I leave you with one last irony. Isn't this astonishing that all the signs of popular solidarity that Palestine and the Arabs receive occur with no comparable sign of solidarity and dignity for ourselves, that others admire and respect us more than we do ourselves? Isn't it time we caught up with ourselves, with our own status, and made certain that our representatives here and elsewhere realize there's a first step. That they are fighting for a just and noble cause, and that they have nothing to apologize for or anything to be embarrassed about. On the contrary, they should be proud. We should all be proud of what our people have done and proud also to represent them. Thank you very much. ________________________________________________________________ The best thing to hit the internet in years - Juno SpeedBand! Surf the web up to FIVE TIMES FASTER! Only $14.95/ month - visit www.juno.com to sign up today! _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email firstname.lastname@example.org All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk