Nothing in my view is more reprehensible than those habits of mind in the intellectual that induce avoidance, that characteristic turning away from a difficult and principled position, which you know to be the right one, but which you decide not to take. You do not want to appear too political; you are afraid of seeming controversial; you want to keep a reputation for being balanced, objective, moderate; your hope is to be asked back, to consult, to be on a board or prestigious committee, and so to remain within the responsible mainstream; someday you hope to get an honorary degree, a big prize, perhaps even an ambassadorship. For an intellectual these habits of mind are corrupting par excellence. If anything can denature, neutralize, and finally kill a passionate intellectual life it is the internalization of such habits. Personally I have encountered them in one of the toughest of all contemporary issues, Palestine, where fear of speaking out about one of the greatest injustices in modern history has hobbled, blinkered, muzzled many who know the truth and are in a position to serve it. For despite the abuse and vilification that any outspoken supporter of Palestinian rights and self-determination earns for him or herself, the truth deserves to be spoken, represented by an unafraid and compassionate intellectual.
So far as the United States seems to be concerned, it is only a slight overstatement to say that Muslims and Arabs are essentially seen as either oil suppliers or potential terrorists. Very little of the detail, the human density, the passion of Arab-Moslem life has entered the awareness of even those people whose profession it is to report the Arab world. What we have instead is a series of crude, essentialized caricatures of the Islamic world presented in such a way as to make that world vulnerable to military aggression.
Edward Said, Orientalism (via nemophilablues)
The main task for American intellectuals is … to figure out how this country’s staggering power can be harnessed for communal coexistence with other societies, rather than for violence against them. Certainly such a task cannot be helped by trading in metaphysical abstractions while we charge about the world as if we were the only people who counted. Nor will it be helped by declaring ourselves to be in a perpetual state of siege, partners in this protracted insanity with the Middle East’s diehard rejectionists.
› The Essential Terrorist (1988) | Edward Said
Have we become so assured of the inconsequence of millions of Arab and Moslem lives that we assume it is a routine or unimportant matter when they die either at our hands or at those of our favored Judeo-Christian allies? Do we really believe that Arabs and Moslems have terrorism in their genes?
The worst aspect of the terrorism scam, intellectually speaking, is that there seems to be so little resistance to its massively inflated claims, undocumented allegations and ridiculous tautologies. Even if we allow that the press, almost to a man or woman, is so traduced by moronic notions of newsworthiness, spectacle and power that it cannot distinguish between isolated and politically worthless acts of desperation and orchestrated attempts at genocide, it is still difficult to explain how or why it is that those who should know better either say nothing or leap on the bandwagon. Only a handful of people, like Noam Chomsky and Alexander Cockburn, seem willing to ask publicly why facts are never discussed or how it has become customary to judge evidence entirely on the basis of what race, party or creed delivers it up. If you say that the United States supplied Israel with the cluster bombs used to kill Palestinian children in Beirut, you, and by extension your statement, are dismissed, not because the statement is untruthful but because you are “a Palestinian (or Arab or Moslem) spokesman,’ as if that fact doomed you irremediably to spreading terrorist lies. But no one says to Claire Sterling and Jillian Becker that their unverifiable claims about “international terrorist conventions’ and various “terrorist agreements,” for which no proof or contents are ever given, are unacceptable as evidence. And other Orientalists do not challenge Lewis and Kedourie for the bilge they regularly spill out on Arab or Islamic culture, which would be considered the rankest racism or incompetence in any other field.
Past and future bombing raids aside, the terrorism craze is dangerous because it consolidates the immense, unrestrained pseudopatriotic narcissism we are nourishing. Is there no limit to the folly that convinces large numbers of Americans that it is now unsafe to travel, and at the same time blinds them to all the pain and violence that so many people in Africa, Asia and Latin America must endure simply because we have decided that local oppressors, whom we call freedom fighters, can go on with their killing in the name of anticommunism and antiterrorism? Is there no way to participate in politics beyond the repetition of prefabricated slogans? What happened to the precision, discrimination and critical humanism that we celebrate as the hallmarks of liberal education and the Western heritage?
In short, the elevation of terrorism to the status of a national security threat (though more Americans drown in their bathtubs, are struck by lightning or die in traffic accidents) has deflected careful scrutiny of the government’s domestic and foreign policies. Whether the deflection will be longstanding or temporary remains to be seen, but given the almost unconditional assent of the media, intellectuals and policy-makers to the terrorist vogue, the prospects for a return to a semblance of sanity are not encouraging.
Edward Said, The Essential Terrorist
The life of an Arab Palestinian in the West, particularly in America, is disheartening. There exists here an almost unanimous consensus that politically he does not exist, and when it is allowed that he does, it is either as a nuisance or as an Oriental. The web of racism, cultural stereotypes, political imperialism, dehumanizing ideology holding in the Arab or the Muslim is very strong indeed, and it is this web which every Palestinian has come to feel as his uniquely punishing destiny.
Edward Said (via lyddawiyya)
It is my conviction that culture works very effectively to make invisible and even ‘impossible’ the actual affiliations that exist between the world of ideas and scholarship, on the one hand, and the world of brute politics, corporate and state power, and military force, on the other. The cult of expertise and professionalism, for example, has so restricted our scope of vision that a positive (as opposed to an implicit or passive) doctrine of noninterference among the fields has set in. This doctrine has it that the general public is best left ignorant, and that the most crucial policy questions affecting human existence are best left to ‘experts,’ specialist who talk about their specialty only, and–to use the word first given wide social approbation by Walter Lippmann in Public Opinion and The Phantom Public–‘insiders,’ people (usually men) who are endowed with the special privilege of knowing how things really work and, more important, of being close to power.
Edward Said, “Opponents, Audiences, Constituencies, and Community” in Reflections on Exile and Other Essays (via edward-said)
(Source: , via jayaprada)
“But is it too much to ask of anyone concerned with our Middle Eastern policy to read Said’s trilogy—that is, before they encourage a military attack on Iran by proxies—be they French, Israeli, British, or Saudi Arabian? Wouldn’t it be truly audacious if Barack Obama, class of 1983, had done a close enough reading of the three Orientalism texts—with their subtext of humiliation endured by colonized peoples—to cite them as a reason for his praiseworthy reluctance to move from sanctions to violence? That before he wasted one more life, one more dollar in Islamic Afghanistan, Obama showed some interest in his old professor instead of reading the dubious Robert Kagan? And furthermore, that the president of the United States consider following the fine example of the president of Columbia University and be willing to meet with Iran’s, shall we say, flaky, President Ahmahdinejad? After all, Obama has already visited another religiously intolerant abettor or terrorists and officially anti-Israel head of state, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.”
— As’ad AbuKhalil commenting on Obama’s views that he’d “rather read Shakespeare’s plays than the criticism [Edward Said’s Orientalism].”
Correction: The above is AbuKhalil quoting John R. MacArthur’s keynote speech at a Columbia University. Thanks Versaria!
The power to narrate, or to block other narratives from forming and emerging, is very important to culture and imperialism, and constitutes one of the main connections between them.
Edward Said (via mutualaddiction)
(Source: so-treu, via matryushka)
Every single empire in its official discourse has said that it is not like all the others, that its circumstances are special, that it has a mission to enlighten, civilize, bring order and democracy, and that it uses force only as a last resort. And, sadder still, there always is a chorus of willing intellectuals to say calming words about benign or altruistic empires, as if one shouldn’t trust the evidence of one’s eyes watching the destruction and the misery and death brought by the latest mission civilizatrice.
Edward Said (via fearandwar)
› Missing Edward Said | Alexander Alessandrini
For me, the most urgent locus for this problematic is the Palestinian question. During the history of my own direct political involvement, we went from the goal of one secular democratic state, to the immense transformation that in November 1988 took place in Algiers, in which I participated. We turned ourselves from a liberation movement into an independence movement. We talked about two states, an Israeli state and a Palestinian state. Now the principal political struggle concerns the price of having willingly committed ourselves to national independence. It’s the tragedy, the irony, the paradox of all anti-imperialist or decolonizing struggles that independence is the stage through which you must try to pass: for us independence is the only alternative to the continued horrors of the Israeli occupation, whose goal is the extermination of a Palestinian national identity. Therefore, the question for me is: how much of a price are we going to pay for this independence—if we can get it at all—and how many of the goals of liberation will we abandon? I don’t at all mean “liberating” Israel, or the whole of Palestine; I’m talking about ourselves as a movement, as a people. How much of a price are we going to pay in deferred liberation? This involves very concrete problems. What are you going to do about, for example, the three million Palestinians who are not from the West Bank in the diaspora? What formula do we have for that? What is the price we’re going to pay in political compromises with our neighbors, Jordan, Israel, Syria, Egypt, etc.? And with the super-partner of them all, the United States? This, after all, is a moment which is dominated by the United States.
What is striking about this analysis is not simply its accuracy, or its ability to foresee a set of problems that continue to define the question of Palestinian liberation (I should note that I am certainly not trying to grant Said the sort of “prophet” status that has sometimes been accorded to Fanon thanks to his predictions regarding the future of post-colonial African nation-states—although it is striking, and sobering, that both Fanon and Said are at their most “prophetic,” that is to say their most accurate in their predictions, when they are delivering bad news about the future to come). It is the way that Said redefines the question of Palestine as the question of decolonization, and accordingly, not just of independence, but of liberation. This is, on the one hand, politically a radically simplifying move, since it forces one to take a position: for or against colonialism, for or against decolonization? On the other hand, it is not thereby a simplistic move, since it opens out onto a whole series of vexed and complicated questions, questions that have yet to be addressed satisfactorily.
› Missing Edward Said | Anthony Alessandrini
A renewed form of Saidian impatience and intemperance is badly needed today, especially given the current state of the left, particularly the intellectual left, and particularly in the United States. It sometimes seems as though the main work being done is the pointing out of contradictions and hypocrisies, as though this was a form of political work in and of itself. Much (though by no means all) of the discourse around the Arab Spring among the US left has taken such a form. It is hypocritical, we are told, that the US claims to be supporting democratic movements in the region, while taking an active role in the brutal suppression of popular democratic movements in Bahrain and Yemen. It is hypocritical for the UN Security Council to authorize air strikes in order to protect civilian populations in Libya, when it would not (and will not) take the same steps to protect civilians in Gaza. It is hypocritical for President Obama to claim to support Palestinian statehood and then oppose the bid for Palestinian statehood at the UN.
To which the only possible responses are: yes, and yes, and yes. But a bit of Saidian intemperance would lead us to follow this with: And so? What follows from this identification of such moments of contradiction and hypocrisy? That’s yet to be determined; but what is certain is that it will involve a long process of contestation and struggle requiring both the virtues of solidarity and those of criticism, both the patient analysis required by public intellectual work and the impatience born of urgency. All these are sorely needed.