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Edward Said: When will we resist?

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  • World View <ummyakoub@yahoo.com>
    When will we resist? Edward Said: The US is preparing to attack the Arab world, while the Arabs whimper in submission ... One opens the New York Times on a
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 8, 2003
      When will we resist?

      Edward Said: The US is preparing to attack the Arab world, while the
      Arabs whimper in submission


      One opens the New York Times on a daily basis to read the most recent
      article about the preparations for war that are taking place in the
      United States. Another battalion, one more set of aircraft carriers
      and cruisers, an ever-increasing number of aircraft, new contingents
      of officers are being moved to the Persian Gulf area. An enormous,
      deliberately intimidating force is being built up by America
      overseas, while inside the country, economic and social bad news
      multiply with a joint relentlessness.

      The huge capitalist machine seems to be faltering, even as it grinds
      down the vast majority of citizens. None the less, George Bush
      proposes another large tax cut for the 1% of the population that is
      comparatively rich. The public education system is in crisis and
      health insurance for 50 million Americans simply does not exist.
      Israel asks for $15bn in additional loan guarantees and military aid.
      And the unemployment rates in the US mount inexorably, as more jobs
      are lost every day.

      Nevertheless, preparations for an unimaginably costly war continue
      without either public approval or, at least until very recently,
      dramatically noticeable disapproval. A generalised indifference among
      the majority of the population (which may conceal great overall fear,
      ignorance and apprehension) has greeted the administration's
      warmongering and its strangely ineffective response to the challenge
      forced on it recently by North Korea. In the case of Iraq, with no
      weapons of mass destruction to speak of, the US plans a war; in the
      case of North Korea, it offers economic and energy aid. What a
      humiliating difference between contempt for the Arabs and respect for
      North Korea, an equally grim and cruel dictatorship.

      In the Arab and Muslim worlds, the situation appears more peculiar.
      For almost a year American politicians, regional experts,
      administration officials and journalists have repeated the charges
      that have become standard fare so far as Islam and the Arabs are
      concerned. Most of this predates September 11. To today's practically
      unanimous chorus has been added the authority of the UN human
      development report on the Arab world, which certified that Arabs
      dramatically lag behind the rest of the world in democracy, knowledge
      and women's rights.

      Everyone says (with some justification, of course) that Islam needs
      reform and that the Arab educational system is a disaster - in
      effect, a school for religious fanatics and suicide bombers funded
      not just by crazy imams and their wealthy followers (such as Osama
      bin Laden) but also by governments who are the supposed allies of the

      The only "good" Arabs are those who appear in the media decrying
      modern Arab culture and society without reservation. I recall the
      lifeless cadences of their sentences for, with nothing positive to
      say about themselves or their people and language, they simply
      regurgitate the tired American formulas already flooding the airwaves
      and pages of print. We lack democracy, they say, wehaven't challenged
      Islam enough, we need to do more about driving away the spectre of
      Arab nationalism and the credo of Arab unity. That is all
      discredited, ideological rubbish. Only what we and our American
      instructors say about the Arabs and Islam - vague, recycled
      Orientalist clichés repeated by tireless mediocrities such as Bernard
      Lewis - are true, they insist. The rest isn't realistic or pragmatic
      enough. "We" need to join modernity - modernity in effect being
      western, globalised, free marketed, democratic, whatever those words
      might be taken to mean. There would be an essay to be written about
      the prose style of licensed academics like Fuad Ajami, Fawwaz Gerges,
      Kanan Makiya, Shibli Talhami, Mamoon Fandy, whose very language reeks
      of subservience, inauthenticity and the hopelessly stilted mimicry
      that has been thrust upon them.

      The clash of civilisations that George Bush and his minions are
      trying to fabricate as a cover for a pre-emptive oil and hegemony war
      against Iraq is supposed to result in a triumph of democratic nation-
      building, regime change and forcible modernisation à l'Américaine.
      Never mind the bombs and the ravages of the sanctions, which are
      unmentioned. This will be a purifying war whose goal is to throw out
      Saddam and his men and replace them with a redrawn map of the whole
      region. New Sykes Picot. New Balfour. New Wilsonian 14 points. New
      world altogether. Iraqis, we are told by the Iraqi dissidents, will
      welcome their liberation, and perhaps forget entirely about their
      past sufferings. Perhaps.

      Meanwhile, the soul-and-body destroying situation in Palestine
      worsens all the time. There seems no force capable of stopping Ariel
      Sharon and his defence minister Shaul Mofaz, who bellow their
      defiance to the whole world. We forbid, we punish, we ban, we break,
      we destroy. The torrent of unbroken violence against an entire people

      As I write these lines, I am sent an announcement that the village of
      Al-Daba' in the Qalqilya area of the West Bank is about to be wiped
      out by 60-tonne American-made Israeli bulldozers: 250 Palestinians
      will lose their 42 houses, 700 dunums of agricultural land, a mosque
      and an elementary school for 132 children. The UN stands by, looking
      on as its resolutions are flouted on an hourly basis. Alas, George
      Bush identifies with Sharon, not with the 16-year-old Palestinian kid
      who is used as a human shield by Israeli soldiers.

      Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority offers a return to peacemaking
      and, presumably, to Oslo. Having been burned for 10 years, Arafat
      seems inexplicably to want to have another go at it. His faithful
      lieutenants make declarations and write opinion pieces for the press,
      suggesting their willingness to accept anything, more or less.
      Remarkably, though, the great mass of this heroic people seems
      willing to go on, without peace and without respite, bleeding, going
      hungry, dying day by day. They have too much dignity and confidence
      in the justice of their cause to submit shamefully to Israel, as
      their leaders have done. What could be more discouraging for the
      average Gazan who goes on resisting Israeli occupation than to see
      his or her leaders kneel as supplicants before the Americans?

      In this entire panorama of desolation, what catches the eye is the
      utter passivity and helplessness of the Arab world as a whole. The
      American government and its servants issue statement after statement
      of purpose, they move troops and material, they transport tanks and
      destroyers, but the Arabs individually and collectively can barely
      muster a bland refusal. At most they say no, you cannot use military
      bases in our territory, only to reverse themselves a few days later.

      Why is there such silence and such astounding helplessness? The
      largest power in history is about to launch a war against a sovereign
      Arab country now ruled by a dreadful regime, the clear purpose of
      which is not only to destroy the Ba'ath regime but to redesign the
      entire region. The Pentagon has made no secret that its plans are to
      redraw the map of the whole Arab world, perhaps changing other
      regimes and borders in the process. No one can be shielded from the
      cataclysm if and when it comes. And yet, there is only long silence
      followed by a few vague bleats of polite demurral in response.
      Millions of people will be affected, yet America contemptuously plans
      for their future without consulting them. Do we deserve such racist

      This is not only unacceptable: it is impossible to believe. How can a
      region of almost 300 million Arabs wait passively for the blows to
      fall without attempting a collective roar of resistance? Has the Arab
      will completely dissolved? Even a prisoner about to be executed
      usually has some last words to pronounce. Why is there now no last
      testimonial to an era of history, to a civilisation about to be
      crushed and transformed utterly, to a society that, despite its
      drawbacks and weaknesses, nevertheless goes on functioning?

      Arab babies are born every hour, children go to school, men and women
      marry and work and have children, they play and laugh and eat, they
      are sad, they suffer illness and death. There is love and
      companionship, friendship and excitement. Yes, Arabs are repressed
      and misruled, terribly misruled, but they manage to go on with the
      business of living despite everything. This is the reality that both
      the Arab leaders and the US ignore when they fling empty gestures at
      the so-called "Arab street" invented by banal Orientalists.

      Who is now asking the existential questions about our future as a
      people? The task cannot be left to a cacophony of religious fanatics
      and submissive, fatalistic sheep. But that seems to be the case. The
      Arab governments - no, most of the Arab countries from top to bottom -
      sit back in their seats and just wait as America postures, lines up,
      threatens and ships out more soldiers and F-16s to deliver the punch.
      The silence is deafening.

      Years of sacrifice and struggle, of bones broken in hundreds of
      prisons and torture chambers from the Atlantic to the Gulf, families
      destroyed, endless poverty and suffering. Huge, expensive armies. For

      This is not a matter of party or ideology or faction: it's a matter
      of what the great theologian Paul Tillich used to call ultimate
      seriousness. Technology, modernisation and certainly globalisation
      are not the answer for what threatens us as a people now. We have in
      our tradition an entire body of secular and religious discourse that
      treats of beginnings and endings, of life and death, of love and
      anger, of society and history. This is there, but no voice, no
      individual with great vision and moral authority seems able now to
      tap into that and bring it to attention.

      We are on the eve of a catastrophe that our political, moral and
      religious leaders can only just denounce a little bit while, behind
      whispers and winks and closed doors, they make plans somehow to ride
      out the storm. They think of survival, and perhaps of heaven. But who
      is in charge of the present, the worldly, the land, the water, the
      air and the lives dependent on each other for existence? No one seems
      to be in charge.

      There is a wonderful expression that very precisely and ironically
      catches our unacceptable helplessness, our passivity and inability to
      help ourselves now when our strength is most needed. The expression
      is: will the last person to leave please turn out the lights? We are
      that close to a kind of upheaval that will leave very little standing
      and perilously little left even to record, except for the last
      injunction that begs for extinction.

      Hasn't the time come for us collectively to demand and formulate a
      genuinely Arab alternative to the wreckage about to engulf our world?
      This is not only a trivial matter of regime change, although God
      knows that we can do with quite a bit of that. Surely it can't be a
      return to Oslo, another offer to Israel to please accept our
      existence and let us live in peace, another cringing, crawling,
      inaudible plea for mercy? Will no one come out into the light of day
      to express a vision for our future that isn't based on a script
      written by Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, those two symbols of
      vacant power and overweening arrogance? I hope someone is listening.

      · Edward Said is professor of English and comparative literature at
      Columbia University, New York. His books include Orientalism and
      Covering Islam. His latest work, Parallels and Paradoxes, cowritten
      with Daniel Barenboim, will be published by Bloomsbury in March
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