The legacy of Edward Said

Christopher Hitchens had been an unwilling critic of Edward Said's academic work, but in his moving eulogy focuses on the larger picture of the man himself, and his legacy in the context of the Palestine-Israel conflict:

His feeling for the injustice done to Palestine was, in the best sense of this overused term, a visceral one. He simply could not reconcile himself to the dispossession of a people or to the lies and evasions that were used to cover up this offense. He was by no means simple-minded or one-sided about this: In a public dialogue with Salman Rushdie 15 years ago, he described the Palestinians as "victims of the victims," an ironic formulation that hasn't been improved upon. But nor did he trust those who introduced pseudo-complexities as a means of perpetuating the status quo. I know a shocking number of people who find that they can be quite calm about the collective punishment of Palestinians yet become wholly incensed at the symbolic stone he once threw�from Lebanon! Personally, I preferred his joint enterprise with Daniel Barenboim to provide musical training for Israeli and Palestinian children. But for Edward, injustice was to be rectified, not rationalized. I think that it was, for him, surpassingly a matter of dignity. People may lose a war or a struggle or be badly led or poorly advised, but they must not be humiliated or treated as alien or less than human. It was the downgrading of the Palestinians to the status of a "problem" (and this insult visited upon them in their own homeland) that aroused his indignation. That moral energy, I am certain, will outlive him.

It's worth noting that Mustafa Barghouti and Sari Nusseibeh are the true heirs to Said's legacy - a vision of secular democracy and a unification of self-interest for both Jews and Arabs in Greater Israel-Palestine. It's not irony but simple tragedy that the ardent voices defending Zionism declare that the Palestians have no voices committed to peace - but then decry such voices who are their natural allies in self-interest as outright enemies. I'm not surprised to see Yourish or LGF spewing bile, but it was quite distressing to see Joe Katzman adopting the same binary viewpoint:

Said's conduct goes beyond mere intellectual disagreement. He was a key advocate on the side of an enemy that declared war on all of us many years ago. To win, those are the people we want dead or out of the picture. ... Is it right to be happy that Edward Said is dead, and to despise him in death? Would you feel that way for Stalin, Osama, Uday Hussein, and others...And if you did feel glad in those instances, then what's the key distinction that protects Said from similar scorn?

This is deeply dishonest - Said was never an advocate or supporter of those groups that desired to see Israel destroyed and innocents murdered. He was a key advocate of Palestinian self-determination, but the attitude expressed above amounts to declaring that the only moral and just outcome of the Israeli-Palestine struggle is for the Palestinians to be a subject and conquered people, with the illusion of sovereignity on their bantustan-reservation ghettos.

This is an attitude fundamentally at odds with the essential core of true Zionism, expressed thus by Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Silvan Shalom:

The Zionist vision of Israel's founders was to bring into the world a state in our ancient homeland to serve as a haven for our people from persecution. A place where the Jewish people could fulfill its right to self-determination in the modern era. A bastion of democracy and opportunity for all its citizens.

Our founders also made a promise not just to the people of Israel, but to the people of the Middle East as a whole - to pursue peace and to work for the common advancement of our region.
Israel stands ready to complete the circle of peace with all its neighbors. Real peace. Not just peace for the headlines, but peace which brings an end to violence and hostility, and positive change for the citizens of our region.

That vision is noble, and just, and Said's work was aligned with it in a way that Joe presumably doesn't understand, despite his Jewish heritage. Zionism has been hijacked from the Jewish visionaries, and turned to the cause of the Israeli partisans, much as Islam has been hjijacked from its 1400-year history of intellectual diversity and turned to the cause of Wahabbi partisans.

Despite the efforts of neo-zionists, the ideals expressed in the original Zionism live on - and partly due to Edward Said's efforts. Said co-founded the Palestinian National Initiative, which he talked briefly about in his visionary essay Emerging Alternatives in Palestine.

If you desire peace, work for justice. This is the path to a better future for Jews and Arabs alike in the Middle East. A path that Israeli partisans who decry Said as "high in the councils of the enemy" reject.

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