[spectre] After survival, what happens? Edward Said

Julie bluedahlias@mindspring.com
Sun, 7 Apr 2002 11:25:01 -0700

please excuse cross-posting

> Subject: After survival, what happens? Edward Said
> Thinking ahead
> After survival, what happens? Edward Said offers thoughts in a time of
> Anyone with any connection at all to Palestine is today in a state of
>stunned outrage and shock. While almost a repeat of what happened in 1982,
>Israel's current all-out colonial assault on the Palestinian people (with
>George Bush's astoundingly ignorant and grotesque support) is indeed worse
>than Sharon's two previous mass forays in 1971 and 1982 against the
>Palestinian people. The political and moral climate today is a good deal
>cruder and reductive, the media's destructive role (which has played the
>part almost entirely of singling out Palestinian suicide attacks and
>isolating them from their context in Israel's 35-year illegal occupation
>of the Palestinian territories) greater in favouring the Israeli view of
>things, the US's power more unchallenged, the war against terrorism has
>more completely taken over the global agenda and, so far as the Arab
>environment is concerned, there is greater incoherence and fragmentation
>than ever before.
> Sharon's homicidal instincts have been enhanced (if that's the right
>word) by all of the above, and magnified to boot. This in effect means
>that he can do more damage with more impunity than before, although he is
>also more deeply undermined than before in all his efforts as well as in
>his entire career by the failure that comes with single-minded negation
>and hate, which in the end nourish neither political nor even military
>success. Conflicts between peoples such as this contain more elements than
>can be eliminated by tanks and air power, and a war against unarmed
>civilians -- no matter how many times Sharon lumberingly and mindlessly
>trumpets his stupid mantras about terror -- can never bring a really
>lasting political result of the sort his dreams tells him he can have.
>Palestinians will not go away. Besides, Sharon will almost certainly end
>up disgraced and rejected by his people. He has no plan, except to destroy
>everything about Palestine and the Palestinians. Even in his enraged
>fixation on Arafat and terror, he is failing to do much more than raise
>the man's prestige while essentially drawing attention to the blind
>monomania of his own position.
> In the end he is Israel's problem to deal with. For us, our main
>consideration now is morally to do everything in our power to make certain
>that despite the enormous suffering and destruction imposed on us by a
>criminal war, we must go on. When a renowned and respected retired
>politician like Zbigniew Brzezinski says explicitly on national television
>that Israel has been behaving like the white supremacist regime of
>apartheid South Africa, one can be certain that he is not alone in this
>view, and that an increasing number of Americans and others are slowly
>growing not only disenchanted but also disgusted with Israel as a hugely
>expensive and draining ward of the United States, costing far too much,
>increasing American isolation, and seriously damaging the country's
>reputation with its allies and its citizens. The question is what, in this
>most difficult of moments, can we rationally learn about the present
>crisis that we need to include in our plans for the future?
> What I have to say now is highly selective, but it is the modest fruit of
>many years working on behalf of the Palestinian cause as someone who is
>from both Arab and Western worlds. I neither know nor can say everything,
>but here are some of the handful of thoughts I can contribute at this very
>difficult hour. Each of the four points that follow here is related to the
> 1) For better or for worse, Palestine is not just an Arab and Islamic
>cause, it is important to many different, contradictory and yet
>intersecting worlds. To work for Palestine is necessarily to be aware of
>these many dimensions and constantly to educate oneself in them. For that
>we need a highly educated, vigilant and sophisticated leadership and
>democratic support for it. Above all we must, as Mandela never tired of
>saying about his struggle, be aware that Palestine is one of the great
>moral causes of our time. Therefore, we need to treat it as such. It's not
>a matter of trade, or bartering negotiations, or making a career. It is a
>just cause which should allow Palestinians to capture the high moral
>ground and keep it.
> 2) There are different kinds of power, military of course being the most
>obvious. What has enabled Israel to do what it has been doing to the
>Palestinians for the past 54 years is the result of a carefully and
>scientifically planned campaign to validate Israeli actions and,
>simultaneously, devalue and efface Palestinian actions. This is not just a
>matter of maintaining a powerful military but of organising opinion,
>especially in the United States and Western Europe, and is a power derived
>from slow, methodical work where Israel's position is seen as one to be
>easily identified with, whereas the Palestinians are thought of as
>Israel's enemies, hence repugnant, dangerous, against "us." Since the end
>of the Cold War, Europe has faded into near-insignificance so far as the
>organisation of opinion, images and thought are concerned. America
>(outside of Palestine itself) is the main arena of battle. We have simply
>never learned the importance of systematically organising our political
>work in this country on a mass level, so that for instance the average
>American will not immediately think of "terrorism" when the word
>"Palestinian" is pronounced. That kind of work quite literally protects
>whatever gains we might have made through on-the-ground resistance to
>Israel's occupation.
> What has enabled Israel to deal with us with impunity, therefore, has
>been that we are unprotected by any body of opinion that would deter
>Sharon from practicing his war crimes and saying that what he has done is
>to fight terrorism. Given the immense diffusionary, insistent, and
>repetitive power of the images broadcast by CNN, for example, in which the
>phrase "suicide bomb" is numbingly repeated a hundred times an hour for
>the American consumer and tax-payer, it is the grossest negligence not to
>have had a team of people like Hanan Ashrawi, Leila Shahid, Ghassan
>Khatib, Afif Safie -- to mention just a few -- sitting in Washington ready
>to go on CNN or any of the other channels just to tell the Palestinian
>story, provide context and understanding, give us a moral and narrative
>presence with positive, rather than merely negative, value. We need a
>future leadership that understands this as one of the basic lessons of
>modern politics in an age of electronic communication. Not to have
>understood this is part of the tragedy of today.
> 3) There is simply no use operating politically and responsibly in a
>world dominated by one superpower without a profound familiarity and
>knowledge of that superpower -- America, its history, its institutions,
>its currents and counter- currents, its politics and culture; and, above
>all, a perfect working knowledge of its language. To hear our spokesmen,
>as well as the other Arabs, saying the most ridiculous things about
>America, throwing themselves on its mercy, cursing it in one breath,
>asking for its help in another, all in miserably inadequate fractured
>English, shows a state of such primitive incompetence as to make one cry.
>America is not monolithic. We have friends and we have possible friends.
>We can cultivate, mobilise, and use our communities and their affiliated
>communities here as an integral part of our politics of liberation, just
>as the South Africans did, or as the Algerians did in France during their
>struggle for liberation. Planning, discipline, coordination. We have not
>at all understood the politics of non- violence. Moreover, neither have we
>understood the power of trying to address Israelis directly, the way the
>ANC addressed the white South Africans, as part of a politics of inclusion
>and mutual respect. Coexistence is our answer to Israeli exclusivism and
>belligerence. This is not conceding: it is creating solidarity, and
>therefore isolating the exclusivists, the racists, the fundamentalists.
> 4) The most important lesson of all for us to understand about ourselves
>is manifest in the terrible tragedies of what Israel is now doing in the
>occupied territories. The fact is that we are a people and a society, and
>despite Israel's ferocious attack against the PA, our society still
>functions. We are a people because we have a functioning society which
>goes on -- and has gone on for the past 54 years -- despite every sort of
>abuse, every cruel turn of history, every misfortune we have suffered,
>every tragedy we have gone through as a people. Our greatest victory over
>Israel is that people like Sharon and his kind do not have the capacity to
>see that, and this is why they are doomed despite their great power and
>their awful, inhuman cruelty. We have surmounted the tragedies and
>memories of our past, whereas such Israelis as Sharon have not. He will go
>to his grave only as an Arab-killer, and a failed politician who brought
>more unrest and insecurity to his people. It must surely be the legacy of
>a leader that he should leave something behind upon which future
>generations will build. Sharon, Mofaz, and all the others associated with
>them in this bullying, sadistic campaign of death and carnage will have
>left nothing except gravestones. Negation breeds negation.
> As Palestinians, I think we can say that we left a vision and a society
>that has survived every attempt to kill it. And that is something. It is
>for the generation of my children and yours, to go on from there,
>critically, rationally, with hope and forbearance.
> Conscientious Objector
> I shall die, but that is all I shall do for Death.
> I hear him leading his horse out of the stall; I hear the clatter on the
> He is in haste; he has business in Cuba, business in the Balkans, many
>calls to make this morning.
> But I will not hold the bridle while he cinches the girth.
> And he may mount by himself: I will not give him a leg up.
> Though he flick my shoulders with his whip, I will not tell him which way
>the fox ran.
> With his hoof on my breast, I will not tell him where the black boy hides
>in the swamp.
> I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death; I am not on his
> I will not tell him the whereabouts of my friends nor of my enemies either=
> Though he promise me much, I will not map him the route to any man=92s doo=
> Am I a spy in the land of the living, that I should deliver men to Death?
> Brother, the password and the plans of our city are safe with me; never
>through me
> Shall you be overcome.
> =96 Edna St. Vincent Millay  (1892 - 1950)
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