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Sunday, September 11, 2005

September 11 and the imaginary thresholds

Today is the fourth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. I can't think of anyone better than Edward Said to offer some perspective. The late Palestinian-American intellectual, whose passing was a great loss to those of us who desperately need an intellectual role model and guide, penned this on September 16, 2001 for the Guardian.

What is bad about all terror is when it is attached to religious and political abstractions and reductive myths that keep veering away from history and sense. This is where the secular consciousness has to try to make itself felt, whether in the US or in the Middle East. No cause, no God, no abstract idea can justify the mass slaughter of innocents, most particularly when only a small group of people are in charge of such actions and feel themselves to represent the cause without having a real mandate to do so.

Besides, much as it has been quarrelled over by Muslims, there isn't a single Islam: there are Islams, just as there are Americas. This diversity is true of all traditions, religions or nations even though some of their adherents have futiley tried to draw boundaries around themselves and pin their creeds down neatly. Yet history is far more complex and contradictory than to be represented by demagogues who are much less representative than either their followers or opponents claim. The trouble with religious or moral fundamentalists is that today their primitive ideas of revolution and resistance, including a willingness to kill and be killed, seem all too easily attached to technological sophistication and what appear to be gratifying acts of horrifying retaliation. The New York and Washington suicide bombers seem to have been middle-class, educated men, not poor refugees. Instead of getting a wise leadership that stresses education, mass mobilisation and patient organisation in the service of a cause, the poor and the desperate are often conned into the magical thinking and quick bloody solutions that such appalling models pro vide, wrapped in lying religious claptrap.

On the other hand, immense military and economic power are no guarantee of wisdom or moral vision. Sceptical and humane voices have been largely unheard in the present crisis, as 'America' girds itself for a long war to be fought somewhere out there, along with allies who have been pressed into service on very uncertain grounds and for imprecise ends. We need to step back from the imaginary thresholds that separate people from each other and re-examine the labels, reconsider the limited resources available, decide to share our fates with each other as cultures mostly have done, despite the bellicose cries and creeds.

'Islam' and 'the West' are simply inadequate as banners to follow blindly. Some will run behind them, but for future generations to condemn themselves to prolonged war and suffering without so much as a critical pause, without looking at interdependent histories of injustice and oppression, without trying for common emancipation and mutual enlightenment seems far more wilful than necessary. Demonisation of the Other is not a sufficient basis for any kind of decent politics, certainly not now when the roots of terror in injustice can be addressed, and the terrorists isolated, deterred or put out of business. It takes patience and education, but is more worth the investment than still greater levels of large-scale violence and suffering.

Thank you for posting this.
We miss Edward Said so much.
He is irreplacable.
PS. Keep up this great blog
Puhlllease spare us the Said thing.

Don't know about who Bitar is, but obviously a guy selling his linked editorial from a review having to do with the infamous french ENA (of Chirac, Villepin, Jospin and all the fearless "leaders" of France, left to right, if there is a difference).

The French should thank the ENA for the wonderful mess it made of French politics and bureaucracy, as much as Arab intellectuals should thank Edward-the- poseur-Said for the heights of modern arab "scholarship".

I'll leave it to others to debate the merits of Said "scolarship" (for the umpteenth time). I'll only note his ideas helped improve no one's life in the Middle East.
JW(make my day Eastwood),

Edward Said was an honest and decent man.

A gunsliger like you has not earned the right to criticize him.

We have all benifited from his legacy.

I have not benefitted from his legacy. Speak for yourself and good for you Issam.

But stop lecturing me (and others), I know my rights.

PS. Eddie boy may have been a decent guy, but so is the grocer down the street from you. Go read his essays.
JW,only a gunsliger like you could fail to recognize Said's intellect.

His greatness was recognized by academia, the media and his enemies.

It is a discredit to you to belittle him.

I have read almost all of his essays and have met him twice. He puts Charles Malik to shame when it comes to intellect and honesty.

all right "Josie" that's enough. you have the right to disagree with Edward Said's ideas, but it's quite useless and insulting not to mention cheap and cowardly to belittle the man who, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, was a distinguished intellectual widely respected in academic and intellectual circles all over the world. I and countless others have benefited greatly from his work. I am sorry you didn't. It is your choice to look up to killers, ours to revere the greatest and possibly last humanist this screwed up world has known.

Now if you have something to say in relation to the ideas expressed in this particular post, please do so. Otherwise, I suggest you spit your worthless gob elsewhere.
Just a note - I don't know if this is what JW meant when he said that Edward Said didn't benifit us, but practically speaking, Said didn't benifit us. I will admit, I greatly enjoyed his academic works, but I have to draw (a possibly extreme paralles) to mathematics. Pure mathematics (which is similar to Said's humanity) is beautiful, but it just isn't as applicable as applied mathematics ...
Lazarus you are being generous to JW . I can assure you that he views Edward Said and his ideas with disrespect.

Pure Mathematics is the mathematics which underlies all applications. Said's genius was that he was able to look at the problems of Palestine and envision a one state solution that would satisfy the aspirations and rights of both peoples.

Maybe I should leave you guys alone, since I seem to have stumbled on the Said Admiration Society web site. But I'll give it a shot:

there isn't a single Islam: there are Islams, just as there are Americas

Yet history is far more complex and contradictory than to be represented by demagogues

On the other hand, immense military and economic power are no guarantee of wisdom or moral vision.

Demonisation of the Other is not a sufficient basis for any kind of decent politics,

I see nothing deep or new or enlightening here, beyond vague generalities bordering on New Age stuff.

In my view Said main PRACTICAL contribution has been a negative one. He gave you guys the "orientalist" epithet to hurl at anyone who disagrees with you/him (and/or is not from the region).

He gave PC cover to the failed ideas of yesteryear which are alive and well as seen on this blog and others. Yes he was at times critical of Arab leaders, but it was too late, too little and in trivial contexts.

Kais tells me:
It is your choice to look up to killers

Where do you get that? Relax Kais it's just a pic and a movie.

Finally you all are in awe of his great contribution. What is it? Issam says one-state solution to the Palestine issue. Come on, Said did not invent that, and even if he did so what?

PS. Being highly regarded in the French, English and Gender studies halls of academe ain't exactly the pinnacle, but must have meant a lot to the Palestinian guy in Ein Helwe awaiting a solution to his refugee status.
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