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Lebanonwire, December 4, 2003

The Daily Star

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UN House conference remembers Said
Session looks at academic’s contribution to palestinian cause

Sister of activist asks: ‘What was it about Edward that made him such a threat to Israelis and their friends in the US?’

Nayla Assaf
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, Said’s sister.
This question was addressed by all three speakers as they described Said’s 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. 21.
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 Said’s views,
was a threat to freedom of thought and would create major havoc in US academia, according to Makdissi.
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 Edward’s words is that he was telling the truth,” she concluded.
Hout said that Said’s power lay in his ability to analyze the Palestinian cause from a humanist’s 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 one’s 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 together.
Hout questioned whether Said was more of a politician or more of an academic, answering: “I don’t 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 people’s 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 camps.”
“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 Said’s passion for the Palestinian cause and his criticism of the main actors on both sides of the conflict helped raise awareness of the issue.

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