Edward W. Said discusses Palestine, history of and struggles in the Middle East
BROADCAST: Oct. 1, 1984 | DURATION: 00:47:22
Edward W. Said talks about the importance of language in shifting perceptions of Middle Eastern people, refutes some opinions about Palestine, identities, and overlapping Eastern and Western cultures.
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Studs Terkel One of the I suppose you might say comical if it weren't so serious aspects of our day is the promiscuous misuse of language language. Always trigger words at a certain time at one time Wall Street was a trigger word. So was and is communist a trigger word. And so the word today I think in our times this decade terrorist the word terrorist. What is a terrorist? And how is that word used by, say, the establishment press or by commentators or by people generally, hearing that word so frequent-what is a terrorist? And it occurs to me this applies, when we think of Middle East, of course, we think of Arabs. And the word Arab is a rather generic word too isn't it? But we think of Arabs and we think of the Israeli conflict and we think of Northern Ireland and we think of Nicaragua and Central America as we did of Vietnam. Who and what is a terrorist? Now it occurred to me Edward Said is a scholar. Dr. Said teaches, professor of English at Columbia University and author of a remarkable book called "Orientalism" and a book called "The Question of Palestine" and it occurs to me Edward Said seated here. One of your colleagues and who agrees with you on the Middle Eastern problem is Noam Chomsky and Noam Chomsky is acknowledged by just about anybody as the great scholar in the world on the subject of linguistics. Not accidentally he and you are together on the subject of what we call the Middle East, but start with the word terrorist. My image, I, a reader, of that part of the country, Arab terrorists immediately.
Edward Said Right. Well, you know, the th-the thing about the word terrorist is that it's the most vague term in the world, in a sense, but also the most exact word. And I think what you're supposed to get into your head as soon as you hear it is: somebody who is menacing, somebody who is foreign, somebody who, for some reason, doesn't like America, and somebody who is probably an Arab, as you said. In other words, anybody whom we don't like. We don't know too much about him. We don't need to know. You notice the word is used a great deal, but it's always used about things that we don't know anything about. I mean you think of the bombing of the embassy terrorists did that, okay. Now, what does that mean? It covers just about everything and it's it suggests and signifies a kind of vague enemy. But but, and here's where your observation about language comes in. It now stands for everything that we not only don't know and don't like, but it's associated with groups of people, specific groups of people, and specifically Arabs, for example.
Edward Said Th-non-white, non-Christian, non-European. And it's just a blanket term so that your enemy is turned into it's it's a dehumanizing word. It strips the enemy of an identity and above all, it strips the enemy of a cause. A terrorist, there's no reason. I mean as we see it on the press every day when we hear the Secretary of State or the President talking about terrorism it's anybody who does anything to America, regardless of history. Terrorism is a word without history because the terrorist just does it for the sheer delight in killing. I mean this is the caricature we've built up. Now the result of that is that language has lost its meaning. I mean we cannot distinguish between an enemy with a reason to kill, with a reason to fight, with a reason to exist. He's just a terrorist. It's the one of the most frightening, it's, this is 1984. It's an Orwellian term. Chomsky's interested in that as am I. It's the failure to use words for exact historical human realities.
Edward Said Absolutely.
Studs Terkel One of the I suppose you might say comical if it weren't so serious aspects of our day is the promiscuous misuse of language language. Always trigger words at a certain time at one time Wall Street was a trigger word. So was and is communist a trigger word. And so the word today I think in our times this decade terrorist the word terrorist. What is a terrorist? And how is that word used by, say, the establishment press or by commentators or by people generally, hearing that word so frequent-what is a terrorist? And it occurs to me this applies, when we think of Middle East, of course, we think of Arabs. And the word Arab is a rather generic word too isn't it? But we think of Arabs and we think of the Israeli conflict and we think of Northern Ireland and we think of Nicaragua and Central America as we did of Vietnam. Who and what is a terrorist? Now it occurred to me Edward Said is a scholar. Dr. Said teaches, professor of English at Columbia University and author of a remarkable book called "Orientalism" and a book called "The Question of Palestine" and it occurs to me Edward Said seated here. One of your colleagues and who agrees with you on the Middle Eastern problem is Noam Chomsky and Noam Chomsky is acknowledged by just about anybody as the great scholar in the world on the subject of linguistics. Not accidentally he and you are together on the subject of what we call the Middle East, but start with the word terrorist. My image, I, a reader, of that part of the country, Arab terrorists immediately. Right. Well, you know, the th-the thing about the word terrorist is that it's the most vague term in the world, in a sense, but also the most exact word. And I think what you're supposed to get into your head as soon as you hear it is: somebody who is menacing, somebody who is foreign, somebody who, for some reason, doesn't like America, and somebody who is probably an Arab, as you said. In other words, anybody whom we don't like. We don't know too much about him. We don't need to know. You notice the word is used a great deal, but it's always used about things that we don't know anything about. I mean you think of the bombing of the embassy terrorists did that, okay. Now, what does that mean? It covers just about everything and it's it suggests and signifies a kind of vague enemy. But but, and here's where your observation about language comes in. It now stands for everything that we not only don't know and don't like, but it's associated with groups of people, specific groups of people, and specifically Arabs, for example. Certainly, third world. Th-non-white, non-Christian, non-European. And it's just a blanket term so that your enemy is turned into it's it's a dehumanizing word. It strips the enemy of an identity and above all, it strips the enemy of a cause. A terrorist, there's no reason. I mean as we see it on the press every day when we hear the Secretary of State or the President talking about terrorism it's anybody who does anything to America, regardless of history. Terrorism is a word without history because the terrorist just does it for the sheer delight in killing. I mean this is the caricature we've built up. Now the result of that is that language has lost its meaning. I mean we cannot distinguish between an enemy with a reason to kill, with a reason to fight, with a reason to exist. He's just a terrorist. It's the one of the most frightening, it's, this is 1984. It's an Orwellian term. Chomsky's interested in that as am I. It's the failure to use words for exact historical human realities. Yeah, see, isn't that amazing? If there's a promiscuousness in misuse of a word there has to be a promiscuity in also misthinking. Absolutely. And double thinking- Double -and
Studs Terkel Yes.
Edward Said And I notice it, you see it on the on the establishment press that they start to use the word too. They stop using the word the enemy or the other side or or giving identity to people and they start using the word terror. One of the great examples of this was during the during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Israeli journalists noticed that for one year before the Israeli invasion the military, the Israeli military, started to use the word terrorist instead of using the word Palestinian, and terrorist then became a species of vermin or cockroaches. In other words, they talk about cleaning out terrorist nests. And one Israeli journalist said that this made it possible for them to bomb refugee camps because if you assume in advance that they are terrorists, who live like insects, then you're bombing them and you're cleaning them out. They used to use words like cleaning them out. And after a while, the correspondents began to refer to them so at the time of the massacres at Sabra Shatila at the beginning, if you look at the press reports people believed the the the account that the Israeli army had allowed these people in there the Phalange, the fascists, who did the actual killing because they said they were cleaning out terrorists, which, who turned out to be women and children. So, you know, I think not enough attention is devoted to the the not just the horrible sort of anti-aesthetic quality of using words, you know, in a kind of repetitive and sort of dumb way, you know, the way you say terrorist terror, you know, like that. But also that you can actually provoke violence in a strange sort of way. In other words, if you if you say that something is X then you can treat it as X even though it may happen to be Y. And that's the frightening part of it.
Edward Said Precisely.
Studs Terkel -the victim. So the question is: when napalm is dropped from a plane, say on a village in Nicaragua or El Salvador, by the United States or a surrogate or by somebody else or as it was in Vietnam. That is not called terrorism.
Edward Said No, because, you see, terrorism is always associated with what we think or what the government tell or the press tells us are these sort of stray people out there. Everything we do is right. You know, we are for freedom, we are for good, we are for justice, we are for everything. And it's not, you see, I think Studs I don't I don't think it's just the actual doing of the deed. I think you you you've got something that is, this is about language because also language can put distance between you and what you're doing. In other words, if you're saying that what you are involved in. I once had a student at Columbia who was in in in the Army in Vietnam and I said 'well what did you do in Vietnam?' And he said, I think he was maybe kidding me because you know I was an English professor. He said 'I did target retrieval.' And I said 'what does that mean?' He said 'it means bombing.' But I mean if you call it target retrieval, you see.
Edward Said Well, it it's eu-well it's a sort of euph-I mean I think it's worse than euphemism because euphemism is dressing up something, you know, in a kind of fancy w-but this, actually, as you said, puts distance, it sterilizes you might say. You know, if you if you cover it with a technical word and if you do, you know, you do it with a lot of footnotes and numbers and things of that sort it comes out-
Studs Terkel We'll come to footnotes by the way. I know one thing is on your mind. I had Joan Peters on my program. She wrote a book called "From Time Immemorial" that's in a sixth printing and is rather distinguished writers and scholars saying it's a great book, in which she's implying the undercurrent of the book is: there is no such thing as Palestinians and the Arabs are recent arrivals who pushed other Arabs to be out of this area, whether it be West Bank or Gaza. And, by the way, you are Palestinian.
Studs Terkel You don't exist okay. Well, I know it's your prerogative tonight to reply because I must admit, I did give her a pass. She had the hour. Okay, so it's your turn. Before that though, I have to come back to this matter of terrorist and of distance. I'm also literal now, in addition to the fact that them and us, we are not terror. The fact that a highly mechanized developed nation materially and technologically is of a distance from the others, the insects, the cockroaches. And the actual distance itself allows the person, the young man up there who may be dropping the stuff, not seeing the face of the other either, you see. And so there too, though, that is not a terrorist by that definition.
Edward Said Oh, I think it is absolutely and I think, I mean I don-I don't think we should minimize the the ugliness of this of any situation involving violence and the taking of human life. I mean that is that is bad. But but my feeling is, without wishing to excuse what has come to be called outrages or terrorism, any of that stuff, which which is bad. But I think we would go a long way to to under-to somehow minimizing its effects. If we A: didn't use language that distances ourselves from it and B: try to understand what might have produced it, you know. I mean there's a lot of, I mean anybody who who involves himself or herself in violence of that sort obviously is not doing it most of the time out of sheer mindless destructiveness. I mean what you're dealing with are people whose history, whose reality, whose whose culture has been abused. And dealing with a powerful and rich enemy such as, you know, some of the industrial western countries, for example, might it be, who have a record. I mean you've got to understand because I come from the third world, right. In my part of the world India etc. they were colonized for hundreds of years. So our feelings about the West are at best complicated, you know. I mean there's a long historical memory as you know. So that one should try and understand that and not dodge it with a label.
Studs Terkel And so let's go one step further before you come to Joan Peters' book. Stereotype and caricature another word Middle East. Now, Middle East to us of the Western world certainly us in the United States means one thing only: trouble. Middle East means terrorists Arabs and so the westernized-
Edward Said Yeah.
Edward Said It does have a history and it has, of course, all people, you know, sort of make myths and stereotypes out of other people that they've had dealings with, you know. I mean Arabs and Iranians, for example, have a long history of trading stereotypes and if you think of what if you go to the Middle East and see what people think about America it's it's, you know, it's the funniest thing, I mean it's like a cartoon. But as, you see, along with the stereotypes goes what you said earlier the question of power. I mean when we say that the Middle East is essentially terrorist and this that and the other thing. You're we're dealing with a society that is A: very much more complicated, but also a great deal weaker. I mean the the inequality in the strength and the power of these societies is very important. So that our stereotypes about them also make it possible for us to dismiss them in some way and, above all, to reduce them to something. It becomes easier if you say 'well, of course, all Arabs are this that and the other thing.' It's racist. Yeah. It's also it's also a way of controlling. In other words, that's all they are-
Edward Said Yeah.
Studs Terkel A
Edward Said Yeah.
Studs Terkel Orientation.
Edward Said Yeah.
Edward Said No I'm not Naipaul. No, because I mean Naipaul really hates where he comes from, you see. I mean and he spends all of his time I think. I mean I've written about him and he's a he's a he's a very fine writer. But you see, his idea is that the East or or the or wherever, he's an Indian from Trinidad. But he thinks that the whole third world is just one immense mass of of lies and deceit and so on. But unfortunately, there he plays into the hands of people in the West who like to think that that's what's wrong with-and above all he's an apologist for colonialism. He he thinks that the best days of Africa was when the French and the British were there. See I I don't think
Edward Said There-
Edward Said -culture-
Edward Said Yeah yes Philistine which is which is the which is the place of the which is the place in the Middle East from which I come. And, you know, to to fou-approximately four million Palestinians. It is it has a meaning. I mean
Edward Said Well, it was, it's used, for example, by all the Arab geographers of the Middle Ages. It's well known in in Arabic writing from the beginning of the of the Arabian conquest of the seventh and eighth centuries. So I mean what you now hear is that Palestine really never existed and so on and so forth. But of course, it did. It it also had was a Roman name, I mean the Romans used it as a province in their empire. But to all Arabs it has had a historical meaning because it signified the place where Jerusalem Al-Quds was, which is one of the, it's the third holiest city in Islam. And of course, for Arab Christians, I'm a Christian, I mean I come from a Christian background. It also means, obviously, the place of Christianity. I mean Palestine. So in all these senses, it's a real place. But what is amusing is the sense in which since, oh the last 25 or 30 years there's been a concerted attempt. There you go. Now, to strip what we were talking about is overloading a word with too many meanings. Terrorism means everything we don't like. What you have here is a word Palestine, which is being stripped of meaning. So that in my own lifetime in my own lifetime I watched Palestine disappear. I mean actually, it did disappear when it became Israel in 1948. But also retrospectively, not content with also doing that, we've watched as Palestinians our history disappear. We've watched our society disappear and we've watched now even our identities disappear. So we're told now that we never really existed, you see. And it's a, it's as if is and it's it's part of the same process by which, you know, a reality is denuded of any of any density of any of any existence, extraordinary, it's extraordinary. The better to be able to wipe us out like vermin, you see.
Edward Said My father's family comes from Jerusalem. And my father and grandfather and great-grandfather were in Jerusalem as as many generations as maybe seven or eight generations as far as I know, I mean recorded. My mother's family comes from Nazareth and from Safed. And there too, I mean there's a long history and more important than that I, we between us there are a large number of people. And I know because it's of great interest to me where each of them came from where they went etc. And there's a long history of not only my family, but my family's friends, who lived in these places and for whom Palestine was their place of birth and of origin. It's quite an extraordinary thing to discover, you know, that you don't really, that none of this is true. Somehow somebody saying it's in a book today, well none of this is true, you're all sort of [immigrants?]
Edward Said It's it's an extraordinary thing because here what what what you have, actually, in the last, I think it all goes back to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon where what was at issue, you see, was Palestinian nationalism. The existence of a Palestinian people which had acquired national and international dimension. The United Nations, peace conferences, people talking about the Palestinians. President Carter talked about the Palestinian need for a Palestinian homeland. The attack of the Israelis was to wipe out Palestinian nationalism because Israelis understand that P-Israel, who for better or for worse, is built upon the ruins of Arab Palestine or whatever was in Palestine, okay. So there was this Palestinian identity and it had to had to be destroyed as as a political and national thing. There are also many Arabs inside Israel who are Palestinians. Israel has 650,000 Palestinian citizens in addition to the 1.3 million people on the West Bank and Gaza, which have been occupied since 1967. Now, this book that we're talking about, it seems to me, is part of the phenomenon to strip these people of any national identity, to just call them miscellaneous Arabs. I mean what is the point of the book? The books argues that the people who call themselves Palestinian are not really Palestinian. Palestine, she says, and Israelis have said this from the beginning when when the when they came to Pal-the Zionists when they first came to Palestine. They said 'Palestine is empty it's an uninhabited land and therefore we can take it over.' I I think this is, strictly speaking, unique in the history of of conquest and settlement. I mean when Americans when the Puritans came to America they they saw the Indians. When the Zionists came to Palestine from Europe they didn't see the Palestinians, and historically they found it impossible to acknowledge existence of another people. In this way, they were like many Europeans who were coming to parts of the third world in Africa. So, they didn't recognize that the people who were there as having an equal right. Now, what you have in this book is, first of all, the repetition of an argument. The book is totally unoriginal. That's what's extraordinary about it. It was, it's been passed by a lot of famous people like Saul Bellow and Barbara Tuchman and so on as a as an important work of scholarship. In fact, she simply repeats the arguments made by Israelis and Zionist apologists beginning in the m-in the late 40s and the early 50s including a man called Frankenstein. She lifts whole parts of the book, I mean she takes the argument and so on. And she proves that the Palestinians in fact were not there, and not only that, but that there was a Jewish majority in Palestine. She relies on figures from a Turkish demographer Kemal Karpat, who is now at the University of Wisconsin, who is a well-known demographer, who did work on the Ottoman census of 1892, and she completely falsifies his figures. She reduces them by about a tenth and proves that most of the Palestinians who were in areas of Palestine, taken over by Israel in 1948, were really from other parts of the Arab world. They were not really Palestinians. Now, her sources her her her her her references and so on, once you check them, almost all fall down. She misquotes, she misappropriates testimony from from various bodies like the British committee's investigation and so on. The idea being that the Palestinians have no right to be there. In other words, most Israelis will admit that there are Palestinians there and it's a problem for them.
Edward Said In fact, in fact if I might just mention something. The most distinguished Israeli historian of the Palestinian Arab national movement, a man called Yehoshua Porath, says, now he's written two of the most distinguished volumes on they are called "The Emergence of the Palestinian Arab National Movement" published in in America and in England. And he says 'let us not have any more discussions by any of our ideologues about the non-existence of the Palestinians.' He said 'that's a mischievous and evil argument.' This is an Israeli speaking. And here you have Americans saying that they don't exist and using demography statistics that no Israeli or very few Israelis would want to use today because they deal with them, they see them every day. And these are people we're talking about Palestinians, for whom places like Lydda and Haifa and so are all places of actual residents. They mean something and they were from there. And these are people scattered all around. She says that they are now, in fact, not really refugees. They just simply went back to where they came from. Whereas many Israeli sources record the actual dispersal of the Palestinians 800 plus thousand of them in 1948 who were driven out.
Edward Said Yes.
Studs Terkel That it was a deliberate planned move by Ar-the word Arab is used generically. Every region. But Arabs used other Arabs the nomadic transient homeless ones and shoved them into these areas, you know, said about two years ahead two years ago recently-
Edward Said Yes, see, that's simply, that's simply untrue because one of the things that's missing from her book is the simple fact that up until 1948 the entire area of Palestine that was settled by Jews and owned by Jews, you know, the Jews, when they came there, bought land. Do you know what it amounted to in the total surface of Palestine? You, she does not mention it at all. They owned less th- or approximately 6 percent of the whole of Palestine. And she makes it sound as if the Jews had sort of bought land all up and down in Palestine and the Arabs were flooding in there to take advantage of these great settlements. She doesn't mention that it was a minuscule tiny portion of the total land surface of Palestine, that's number one, okay. Number two: what she also doesn't mention is that all the Jewish settlements in Palestine up to 1948 were totally excluded Arabs from any possible benefit that they might have. The concept of Jewish Labor, which was in, which was central to the settlements, Zionist settlement, exclude programmatically, politically excluded Arab. So what she said, they were coming there because of Jewish prosperity. But the Jewish prosperity were for Jews, it wasn't for Arabs. So I mean the myth that's number th-the other thing that she says is the Arabs left because they were told to leave. In fact one of her main sources a man called James Parkes, who wrote a book called "Whose Land", says that, I mean one of her sources on whom she relies a great deal, she doesn't mention it, says in fact that there's been no, there's not a single scrap of evidence to prove that the Arabs left other than because they were afraid and they were terrorized into leaving. If I might just make one last point on this same question. Her other main source is a man called Neville Mandel. Most of the book the argument is take it from Bernard [Ernst] Frankenstein's book on "Justice for my People." It it's a book that came out in the early 50s and a lot of her arguments come from that book. But another source that she used is a man called Neville Mandel who's a distinguished historian of Palestine before 1917 before the Balfour Declaration. He makes it absolutely clear that before the Balfour Declaration in 1917 there was such a thing as as Palestinian nationalism. The Palestinians had a sense of identity and as early as 1876 there were Palestinian deputies who were sent to the Ottoman parliament. So, I think this whole argument about numbers is it's just a tremendous fog. And if you read the book it's written in an astonishingly bad language, and it's full of venom and hatred for the Palestinians who are described over and over again as terrorists and people who have no legitimate right to Palestine. It's an extraordinary. It's an extraordinary performance.
Studs Terkel No.
Edward Said Not here not here. And it's one of the things that is very striking and I I really have to sort of take my hat off to Israeli journalists because Israeli journalism is much more open for reasons that I cannot understand than American journalism and in the American Jewish community. I mean an Israeli journalist will write about the torture in the West Bank, about the detentions that blowing up of houses, the punishments, the occupation of South Lebanon in great detail. The American press, for the most part, avoids complicated subject, complicated in quotation marks, subjects like that. And above all, American Jews, with a few exceptions, like Noam Chomsky whom we talked about earlier and a few others who are beginning
Edward Said I. F. Stone, you know, there are a number of people that one could point to. But by and large both the organizations and the mass of individuals tend to follow a line and look at look at the presidential candidates, the middle, I mean we're in a presidential election. We are we are the most powerful nation in the Middle East today outside of the area and our policy is a joke. I mean we don't have a policy. Everybody is sort of outbidding, you know, Mondale and Reagan are outbidding each other saying 'who could be more for the Jews?'
Studs Terkel Now, we're coming to something interesting here, we have to go back to history again and stereotype and caricature as indeed Jews have been stereotyped down through the years and all minority peoples have. So we come to Middle East again, the Arab, the exotic, the different, the non-us-
Edward Said Non-us.
Edward Said Right.
Studs Terkel -that's now in paperback Edward Said's book "The Question of Palestine" that Anthony Lewis, The New York Times columnist, calls 'a compelling call for identity and justice.' And that's Vintage Publishers available. The question of, which means [hey?] the question of X as you put-
Studs Terkel You-
Edward Said -I mentioned I mentioned it, right right. Yeah I mean because Palestine is not an ordinary place, let's face it. I mean Palestine is a place where with which Christians think is theirs, which Muslims think is theirs, which Jews think is there, which Arabs thinks. I mean if you think of Shakespeare's plays, for example. Henry the Fourth, you know, everybody knows Falstaff and so on, the point of the, one of the major points in that play is that the old King Henry the Fourth wants to before he dies he wants to go to Jerusalem. I mean if you think of Dante, I mean European culture without Palestine and the Holy Land is is an unimaginable thing right? Now, the interesting thing is that everybody makes his own Palestine. And that's really what what in a sense I was writing in this book. You have one traveler who goes there and he says 'it's the most flowery verdant wonderful place' and then you have another traveler going the same time and he'll say 'it's desolate waste and all the rest of it.' You have a third traveler third traveler who will go there and what does he see? He remembers the Bible and he starts to quote the Bible. And he sees in through his eyes the scenes of the Bible. It doesn't matter what's actually there, you see, that's the point. The point is that you can make of it what you want by talking about it, but it's because it's a special place. And my argument and the argument what I think of most of us Palestinians is: okay, so it's a special place, but let's not forget let's not forget that the people who actually were there. Very humble who don't who can't get on the Studs Terkel Show. You you wouldn't know them. Nevertheless, for them it's also their home, you see. And what we are watching here is this kind of sort of wiping away of not just an official history, but a lived history, of which which is, you know, what I mean what people say in memory and and, you know, I mean if I listen to my mother or my grandmother talk about the Palestine they grew up in it's very different from statistics and travelers European travelers of course who have a different interest. I mean they're interested in, you know, the water, they're interested in the mountains, things of that sort. Concrete daily life and that's in a in a sense what, to come back to your original point, that's what language begins from. It doesn't begin from ideas, it begins from from the human circle
Edward Said Exactly.
Edward Said Yes.
Edward Said Sure.
Edward Said Yes.
Edward Said Yes.
Edward Said History really is based on on in in in a sense it begins really in this sort of everyday practice of doing the things that make you human, you know. It's not it's not just, you know, eating and drinking and sleeping and so on. But it's also affection, and it's also the ties, the family ties, that between members of a family and ties them to their place, you know. And if you listen as I have, not only to my own family, but to the people who lived in the the camps. For them, even the children, for example, who have never been to Palestine who had been born abroad, for them it's a real place. I mean those born, now, as opposed to newspeak, a kind of falsified language of abstractions and statistics that gets away from the human and and the just, you see, that's the point.
Studs Terkel You know, we're talking Edward Said. And as you can gather it's a different approach, one we haven't heard, toward the subject of Middle East specifically Palestine. Are there really Palestinians? Well, I think I'm facing one right now. [laughing]
Studs Terkel A hi [laughing] a highly literate and thoughtful one who teaches professor of English at Columbia University and author of number of books "Orientalism", for one, and and "The Question of Palestine", for another. And you've written also about the quite remarkable philosopher critic who recently died Michel Foucault. But perhaps your thoughts generally about you, the world today, maybe even your memories for the last half of the program. Edward Said professor of English at Columbia University and the subject is his homeland [laughing] of of his fathers and mothers. Palestine it's called. So, as, oh and we mentioned the Western travelers and you said they see it each from a different point of view. Not the point of view of the indigenous person living there. But I know Twain spoke of it and others, De Lamartine-
Edward Said Yeah, yeah, Twain Twain really didn't like it at all. I think one of the motifs of a lot of the late sort of nineteenth-century people who came there, very sophisticated people, was that they thought it would be a much grander and interesting place than it was and it really wasn't. I mean it was essentially a kind of basically rural place, you know. Obviously, it didn't have didn't have the language, didn't understand what people were saying and felt, you know, the sense of wonder at how all these great religions sprung up from there, I mean how could it have happened? I mean it's the sense you get from the innocence abroad, you know, I mean where does Christianity come from? Surely not this. And he w-actually he talks about something that my father told me. My father grew up in Jerusalem. He was born in 1895. So, it must have been around the turn of the century about 30 40 years after Twain was there. And Twain, you remember, says that a lot of people around there were showing him pieces of the True Cross. One of the stories I remember my father telling me that as a boy he used to sell crowns of thorns to the tourists. I mean, you know, coming to Palestine, you know, you want to get something from there. [Both men laughing] So a crown of thorns. I don't think he traded in pieces of the True Cross, but I know that the crowns of thorns were were very big in that in those days. So there's a lot of that, and I think that one of the reasons I have such strong feelings about organized religions I mean negative feelings about orani-is that I I grew up in a pla-I was born in a place in which religion was really the sort of the product of the place, you know, I mean like places, you know, make steel, you know, or cars, Detroit makes cars. Jerusalem makes religions, and I've always thought of it as something rather rather rather less pleasant and-
Edward Said Rather commercial. [Studs Terkel laughing] Yeah, well I mean especially if you go into some of the shrines in Jerusalem like this Holy Sepulchre where the place is a crisscross of little chapels, you know. I remember I was there once. The last time I was there 1962. This was before the '67 War and I was with a friend and there was a tourist guide going on about the chapels and so on and we were standing near the place where Christ was supposed to have been actually buried in the Sepulchre. And the person was talking about, this is the Greek Orthodox Chapel and this is where Christ is buried and then I felt a little tug at my arm and there was this little monk who was a Copt. He said listen don't believe a word this man is saying. [Studs Terkel laughing] Christ was buried over here in the Coptic Chapel. I mean it was appalling, you know, I thought the whole notion. And then, you know, the play you you would hear stories of how they would quarrel over who sweeps which part of the church and so on and so forth. So that the aura of religion, in a sense, was totally lost for me, you know. It just become a place of sights and so on and so forth and and commerce really.
Studs Terkel You know, I'm thinking as you're talking because this is fantastic. I'm thinking about something that's different cultures in different parts of the world. Yet, a dominant society such as ours or it could be another one equally as highly industrialized said if only they were like us we'd be good to the because you talk about this [unintelligible] to make the East Western.
Edward Said Yes.
Edward Said Yeah.
Edward Said Yeah.
Edward Said Yeah.
Edward Said Yeah, that's actually one of the great kind of struggles, I think, in the modern world is what you were talking about the homogenizing, you know, where we want to turn everybody into-and to a certain extent we've succeeded. I mean you can find Cokes and blue jeans and hotdogs all over the world right? But there's
Edward Said -disco the whole th-absolutely, I mean you see it everywhere. But on the other hand, there seems to be, I mean I don't know whether it's a biological thing, but it there seems to be a rather stubborn resistance somehow in the human being to retain some sense of not only personal identity, nobody wants to become a number, but also a kind of cultural identity which is different, I mean you want to hold on. Now, strangely enough, you're speaking about the Middle East where the word Arabs supposed to cover everything. Now, I grew up in a society, look at this, I mean it's ha-most people find this hard to believe but it's true. I am first of all, not only an Arab, but I'm a Palestinian, I'm a Christian, and I'm even in even more of a minority. I'm a Protestant, and not only a Protestant, but I was born and raised as an Episcopalian. [Studs Terkel laughing] I mean it's exactly it's funny, it's funny. But listen, I grew up I grew up with other Christians orth-Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Melkite, Nestorians, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Armenians, Copts, Jews, different kinds of Muslims, Druses, all of these are part of the mix of what we call the Middle East. Now, it's a highly plural society in which all of these cultures, most of them tremendously old, have retained their identity. Now, sometimes it's almost comic. I mean why do why do they bother? Why don't they all just convert to say Islam or or just mainstream Christianity or Judaism and forget the wh-but they don't. And I like that, I mean I think the idea of a kind of endless kind of-
Edward Said Pluralism.
Edward Said Well, and there's also something almost, you know, it's almost it's almost antiquarian about, you know, talking to people whose heritage can be traced back and for which they f-now, there is a point at which though these little sects and so on can become extreme. I mean you have an example in Lebanon right? Now my mother is half Lebanese and the Christian Lebanese very tragically, you see, have been involved in a struggle to not just to retain their identity, but to use their identity to lord it over other identities. You understand I'm trying to say? I mean that's when it gets to be bad. I mean it's not just coexistence, but it's really the so afraid are you of losing your identity that you've got to fight the other guy and and and right him. And that's where the problems begin, I think,
Studs Terkel Do you know, I'm thinking, in listening to you, you know, this is fresh stuff that I know, the audience nor I have heard because all we know is something general and vague under the heading Arab and you might add the word terrorist on occasion. But Arab, now we come to something else. This is perhaps what. The toward the end of your book the the the paperback, the question of how you say. You speak of the Jews and Arabs tied together-
Edward Said Right.
Edward Said Right.
Edward Said Yeah, I think I think it's very important to realize that that no matter what happens the Jews in the Middle East in Israel are in a w-in essentially an Arab and Islamic world. I mean they're there, the Arabs number 100 plus million. And I think the real problem is to find a way to, I mean I I say quite specifically in the book, for example, that I don't think the Jews are like, for example, the Jews in Israel are like the French in Algeria. I mean the French in Algeria went out to Algeria to colonize it and then when the time came they just went back to France. I mean although they may have been 130 years, we're dealing with a people who've had a very tragic history of suffering, and who, in most instances, are in Israel. A great injustice was done to the Palestinians, but they came to Israel to do something for their own people after the tremendous, you know, devastations of World War II to the Jews. So we're dealing with a different with a different problem of people coming to Palestine. And what you have to find then is a solution which will not repeat or perpetuate the cycle of endless expulsions. I mean and the irony of it is that the people, the Jews who keep saying 'the Arabs want to drive us into the sea' have driven us into the sea. I mean the Palestinians. And my feeling is that if, I me-,my my my genuine feeling is that the best solution is a state in which people live irrespective of what their confession or the religion is. In other words, they live in a state in which everybody has equal rights. Now Jews, apparently in Israel and elsewhere, feel that Israel should be a country principally of Jews. And they don't want it to be, I mean they want it to be, you know, with special Jewish laws and or laws for the Jews and so on and so forth run in a particular way. I have no problem with that. So there's a second solution would be partition. In other words, there are Arabs in Palestine, there I would say the 600 plus thousand inside Israel and there are a million four on the West Bank and Gaza. Therefore, you split the land, I mean that was the original plan. Now in the nature of things, it seems to me, that states that are very close to each other, I mean we're talking about a very tiny bit of land. I'm against the idea of dispersing people. I don't think you can tell people 'well, look, there's no room for you here, you've got to go somewhere else.' I mean I think that's inhuman. So I think what you've got to do is to find a polity whereby you split the land and then in the course of time, through natural communication and intercourse, which happens anyway because they are in the same area, they will become as one. And you retain your identity, I mean as you retain your identity, for example, in America, nobody's going to take that away from you, within the melting Pot, or within a society in which you can exercise your rights as a human being. I mean I think that is a solution to, now, the real problem, I think, is not so much what's happening in Israel what's happening amongst the Arabs, but I think the United States plays a very important role here. I mean there's been a singular lack of vision and courage simply because it's easy to just go on as usual, business as usual. Whatever Israel does it gets more money because it's popular, you could be elected on that. You know, a Congressman or a President can be elected just giving money to Israel. But it's the what the money is going for. Where's it all going? Nobody nobody seems to care. And I think as Americans we we have a tremendous responsibility to try to because we are very close to a flashpoint, a nuclear flashpoint. The Israelis have a nuclear weapon. The Soviets are around in the area, they have allies and so on. We have allies and clients in the in the in the area, and the Middle East as we know from the news is extremely volatile. And unless there's a concerted effort to think in terms such as I've been referring to whereby people could live together as communities retaining their sense of identity, I think we're heading towards tremendous destruction.
Edward Said Exactly.
Edward Said Humanity. In other words, a respect for the other person and the other community and not saying 'well they can all go back.' I mean I have lots of Arab friends who say 'let them go back where they came from,' but that's not true, I mean that can't be done. And similarly, they shouldn't say that 'you were never there' they said, 'you don't exist,' you see-
Studs Terkel You know, we are also talking about banality of thinking, it's the banality that you're attacking the other book upon, but also the banality of thinking. When Hannah Arendt, whom you quote in the book, and she she saw something interesting there that people would be displaced she saw that-
Edward Said Absolutely.
Edward Said Yes
Edward Said Right.
Edward Said Exactly.
Edward Said And it requires courage it requires courage. I mean you've it right because it's so easy to just go on and doing what you've always done. You know, that's the banality part. It's routine, you know, you're always pressing the same button. It's like riding in an elevator
Studs Terkel Yeah. Any other thoughts occur this is I knew this gonna be a special kind of encounter here. Edward Said any any postscript anything comes to your mind. A personal memory perhaps or anything comes to your mind before we say goodbye for now.
Edward Said Well, memory oh dear. I I wonder whether I, yeah, the memory is it's not really a memory, it's a reflection as to whether I was thinking earlier. That all the places I grew up in and lived in first Palestine and then Lebanon are pl-and for a time Egypt are places that in a funny sort of way are inaccessible to me, you know, through war and tremendous changes. And I just I just hope that, for example, in the generation of my children that that kind of wiping out of the past won't go on. I mean it's terribly important to be able to preserve the past in some form to be able to recapture it.
Studs Terkel I know what you're hitting. This the last thing because now it comes back to us living here right now in the late part of the twentieth century. One of the things I know I know in our society United States. There is no sense of past. There is no sense of yesterday young kids today don't know of Vietnam. And so a president can say it was a noble adventure, you know, and get away with this obscenity and still not be laughed off the stage-
Edward Said Right.
Edward Said Yes.
Edward Said We're talking about history and we're talking about the pr-not not history because we all know history is out there and it exists, but the preservation of history and the sense of it. So that what you do in the present and the future is guided by by the past and by the mistakes and the sufferings of the past which are which bear upon, whether you know it or not, everything that you do, I mean it's terribly important. My my son who's 12 years old has partly because he's mystified by the fact that he was born in America and his father is a Palestinian and he's been to the Middle East and he knows he hears all this about Palestine. He's decided he wants to be a professor of history which is interesting. My daughter who's 10 years old says she just wants to be a fireman, which I think is funny. [laughing]
Studs Terkel Margaret Fuller said we'll be sea captains and Edward Said is living here now in the United States of course some time teaching at Columbia University. And not unlike his colleague Noam Chomsky with whom there's pretty much of an empathy and an agreement on the subject of that thing that place called Middle East. Believe very much in the right use of language. And it's the right use of language. There has to be a kind of thinking that goes