|UN House conference
Session looks at academics
contribution to palestinian cause
activist asks: What was it about Edward that made him such a threat to Israelis and
their friends in the US?
Daily Star staff
The Palestinian cause was justified and was defended most
effectively when one relied on the truth, according to speakers at the UN House in Beirut
on Tuesday evening.
The panel discussion, entitled Edward Said and the Question of Palestine: Criticism and
Solidarity, was chaired by Tarif Khalidi, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan professor of Arabic and
Islamic Studies at the American University of Beirut, and included as speakers writer Jean
Said Makdisi, member of the Palestine National Council Shafiq al-Hout and editor in chief
at Al-Adab Magazine Samah Idriss.
What was it about Edward that made him such a threat
to Israelis and their friends in the United States? asked Makdisi, Saids
This question was addressed by all three speakers as they described Saids passion
for the Palestinian cause and his constant criticisms of its main players.
Makdissi recalled the many threats Said received during his lifetime, adding that
today a new but more powerful and potentially more dangerous kind of threat,
was emerging: US House of Representatives Bill 3077, which was passed unanimously on Oct.
Bill 3077, named the International Studies in Higher Education Act, calls for the
establishment of an international education advisory board that would advise
the US Department of Education and Congress on issues of international education and make
recommendations to program directors at the federal level.
The bill, which was inspired by critics of Saids views,
was a threat to freedom of thought and would create major havoc in US academia, according
She argued that Israel was just as threatened, if not more so, by words, thoughts and
ideas as they were by bombs. She went on to ask why, in light of this, the
professors of the Lebanese University are being treated with such contempt by their
government. She added that academia, education and research were also being
neglected in the country.
The Palestinian cause is a just cause. It needs no tactics, no strategies to win an
inch here or an inch there. The power of Edwards words is that he was telling the
truth, she concluded.
Hout said that Saids power lay in his ability to analyze the Palestinian cause from
a humanists point of view rather than as a Palestinian. He was just as
concerned about South Africa, he added. He visited it, was moved by it and
respected its example.
He did not have two or three languages to approach the situation, like those who
hold a press conference in front of the international community in one language, as we saw
yesterday in Switzerland (with the Geneva Initiative by former Palestinian Information
Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo), and then use another when they are inside the Palestinian
camps, Hout said.
He added that life in exile usually forced people to make one of three choices: the
easy way, which is a life of nostalgia
or, on the other hand, breaking the
connections with the past and with ones roots or even turning against them.
But Edward chose the third. It is a hard choice, which requires great strength
Edward was the son of the American system, but he was a progressive son and in some
ways a leftist son, he said.
Edward believed that having two nations side-by-side was an impossible
solution, he said, adding that throughout his life he pursued the same goal of one
secular democratic Palestinian state where Muslims, Jews and Christians could live
Hout questioned whether Said was more of a politician or more of an academic, answering:
I dont know, because his solution for a secular state proposed in 1974 is now
close to impossible, but even as he was dying, he still believed in this solution.
Meanwhile, Idriss remembered Said as a constant critic of the Palestinian Authority, which
was transformed through Oslo into a mere police force to defend Israel, oppressing its own
people and intellectuals, and embezzling the peoples money and the funds from
international aid organizations, he said.
He added that Said represented the stupidity of those who refused normalization
while ignoring the miserable state of the Palestinians living in refugee
Still, Said rejected suicide operations, and saw no solution without a real
partnership with moderate Israelis, he added.
At the end of the panel discussion, the three speakers agreed that Saids passion for
the Palestinian cause and his criticism of the main actors on both sides of the conflict
helped raise awareness of the issue.