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Culture and Resistance: Conversations with Edward W. Said [Paperback]

David Barsamian , Edward W. Said
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Product details

  • Paperback: 225 pages
  • Publisher: South End Press (Jun 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0896086704
  • ISBN-13: 978-0896086708
  • Product Dimensions: 21.4 x 13.7 x 1.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,532,778 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Culture and Resistance In his latest book of interviews, Said discusses the centrality of popular resistance to his understanding of culture, history, and social change. He reveals his latest thoughts on the war on terrorism, the war in Afghanistan, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and lays out a compelling vision for a secular, democratic future in the Middle East--and globally. 4 photos. Full description

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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 8 Sep 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sane Politics in Israel/Palestine 6 Oct 2004
By Tracy McLellan - Published on Amazon.com
Edward Said died on September 25, 2003, after a long battle with leukemia, and along with him the foremost voice for justice for Palestinians in the United States. The six conversations herein took place between 1999 and 2003.

Despite the gravity of the subject material, this is an interesting and enjoyable read thanks to Said's towering intellect and Barsamian's perceptive and incisive questioning. The result is a perspective of events in Israel and Palestine filled with truth and passion, almost directly opposite that which is too often reported, or not reported, in the mainstream press.

Said expresses an enthusiastic interest in Middle Eastern poets and their poetry. He also was himself a pianist, and he talks about being involved in several important projects bringing together Arab and Israeli musicians for concerts transcending the political divide. He and Barsamian cover other cultural ground, but obviously, the focus of the book is politics, specifically the plight of the Palestinians.

A fundamental argument Said makes repeatedly is that the situation in Israel and the Occupied Territories cannot be understood without an understanding of the events of 1948, when Israel was declared a state. In the ensuing war with Arab countries, 800,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes and the same homeland that became Isreal, which they had occupied for millennia. More than 400 Arab villages were destroyed. Since then, Israel has denied any responsibility for these atrocities, using all kinds of propaganda. Today the Orwellianism has it that Palestinians were told to leave their homes by their leaders. Said expounds upon the completion of the conquest in the 1967 war.

Said states that since 1948, 78% of historic Palestine has become Israeli and that control of the remaining 22% is what the current fighting, the Second Intifada, is all about. Further, of this remaining 22%, Israel controls 60% of the West Bank, and 40% of Gaza. Illegal settlements continue apace, as does the pressure on the indigenous Palestinians.

It is pretty clear that the goal of Sharon's Likud government is the complete ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, increasingly referred to euphemistically as "transfer." Much of what remains of historic Palestine is divided up into small, non-contiguous pockets of autonomy, Bantustans, often locked down under curfews and checkpoints. Said maintains that these circumstances are the result of the peace process, and not war. Since publication of this book, a "security fence" is being erected, ostensibly to protect Israel from suicide bombers, but which in practice further isolates and dispossesses Palestinians.

Said's voice is consistent and adamant that a solution must be peaceful coexistence between the two peoples. He bemoans suicide bombings, bad enough for their violence and carnage, but also as being counterproductive to finding a solution. He says, however, that to understand these bombings it is important to see them in the context of the desperate circumstances of the Palestinian people. Israel, for example, portrays itself as a victim, when in fact it is an oppressor. Almost all the fighting between the two sides has occurred in Palestinian territory, so it is ridiculous to assert, as Israel does, that it is only defending itself. Moreover, Palestinians have little more than stones for weapons, along with some small arms, while the Israelis have tanks, helicopters, jets, and all kinds of modern weaponry, supplied to them by the US military.

Although practically an aside, Said makes some poignant observations of George Orwell; observations you, like me I'll bet, perhaps have never considered in our adorations of Orwell. He agrees that Orwell was a prescient witness to injustice, but managed himself to remain disentangled from it. He was probably correct, declares Said, in his bleak assessment of where we're headed, but limited: "I don't think he's in touch with hope, with liberation, with critical engagement, with association or affiliation between people. The idea of human progress is quite outside his vision."

Among many other political considerations examined outside the specifically Palestinian, is a look at the psychology of "terrorism" for example, that are compelling and of a delightful perspicacity:

"Terrorism has become a sort of screen created since the end of the Cold War by policymakers in Washington, as well as a whole group of people...who have their meal ticket in that pursuit. It is fabricated to keep the population afraid, insecure, and to justify what the United States wishes to do globally. Any threat to its interests, whether it's oil in the Middle East or its geostrategic interests elsewhere, is all labeled terrorism...which is exactly what the Israelis have been doing since the mid-1970s so far as Palestinian resistance to their policies are concerned. It's very interesting that the whole history of terrorism has a pedigree in the policies of imperialists...Terrorism is anything that stands in the face of what "we" want to do. Since the United States is the global superpower, has or pretends to have interests everywhere...terrorism becomes a handy instrument to perpetuate this hegemony...people's movements of resistance against deprivation, against unemployment, against the loss of natural resources, all of that is termed terrorism."

Said's voice is consistent and constant in finding actions such as suicide bombings inexcusable and in seeking a peaceful, just resolution to the Palestinian question. Indeed, his writings are often banned in the Arab world because of this position. His voice is also that of an admirable and unique intelligence. He affirms Israel's right to self-determination, but grieves that Palestinians also do not enjoy this right, especially in light of the historical realities. He thinks the two peoples are too inextricably linked in too small an area for their separation to be realistically viable, and therefore favors a binational state. He spells out the circumstances where, however, a two-state solution might be a means to this end. This hope of a binational state, necessarily long-term, must be a peace between two equals, Said says, with equal rights, protections, and responsibilities, and not a peace imposed on the weaker party by the stronger.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Said's eloquent post-9/11 summing up of the world 11 May 2004
By Zeeshan Hasan - Published on Amazon.com
"The Origins of Terrorism" is by far the most important chapter in this book. In it, Said points out that in spite of the oft-repeated American ideal of democracy, US policy has generally favoured whichever Middle Eastern despot has tended to uphold the interests of US oil companies. He then observes that Muslim fundamentalist terror has a basically Marxist root, in that it originates "in the sense of betrayal that many ordinary Muslims feel... living in poverty and desperation and ignorance. It's not difficult to start rallying people in the name of Islam." (page 107).
This is analysis at a level of rationality unthinkable for the likes of Samuel Huntington and Bernard Lewis, with their simplistic reduction of all the problems in the Middle East to the religion of Islam, the root of all evil.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Edward Said at the rendezvous of victory 28 Nov 2007
By Hythlodaeus - Published on Amazon.com
The volume under review is one of two published collections of interviews by David Barsamian. This one, the second, features interviews conducted between February 1999 and February 2003. It takes the form of question and answer sessions, so its content and tenor owes something to Barsamian whose own interests and priorities point Said in certain directions. This means an emphasis on current affairs, personalities and controversy.

Said, I suggest, should be understood not as an advocate for the Palestinian cause per se, a mere partisan, but as an advocate for Enlightenment values. His criticism of Israeli policy is couched in terms of human rights and proportionality; his criticism of the US and the UK polities, in terms of the failure of democracy and public discourse; his criticism of Arab leadership and educated classes, in terms of corruption and failure to understand their own predicament. Said's stance is humanistic, rather than religious, universal rather than ethno-centric. Opponents choose to characterise his position differently: far from being a renaissance man fighting for truth and justice, he is a propagandist and apologist for terrorism. Even if one concedes that occasionally he is less than generous to his opponents positions, his account of events and their meaning is generally entirely credible. Nowhere in this volume does Said expound a comprehensive philosophy or belief system as such, but everywhere his outlook is evident: not as an ideology but as a cultural stance, a structure of feelings.

As well as seeking to re-educate the public and plead his case in the court of public opinion, he also makes a special point of taking to task 'the intellectual classes' whose duties should include reminding everyone that we are talking about people. We are not talking about abstractions. He attacks American Pragmatism, French Deconstruction and Arab intellectuals. His side swipe at Baudrillard is particularly interesting, for it is at this point that his intellectual footing is revealed most clearly. His work on texts is not intended as a philosophy of meaning, but as a means of serving the cause of human liberation. The accusation laid against his fellows is that they have turned away from the great narratives of enlightenment and emancipation. He has surely earned his entitlement to make these criticisms. As a Palestinian-American he engaged in a life-long dialogue with the West of the most profound sort. His knowledge of Western thought and in particular literature is of the highest order and is well displayed in his frequent references to Western writers of fiction, poetry and political analysis. By listening to the best of the West he has learned well the highest aspirations of Western humanism and is a master of playing these ideals back against those who have abandoned them so readily for a sterile pragmatism or self-indulgent 'petty squabbling over definitions. Whilst, for example, US figures routinely denigrate the United Nations, he says the framework of the UN is absolutely essential.

Said's power comes not so much from his ideas alone, as from the coupling of his undoubted intellect with humanity. There are references throughout the book to poets, musicians, feelings; not so much to philosophies, theories or creeds. His attack on the failings of the intellectual class is made poignant by reference to Aimé Césaire's poem The Rendezvous of Victory; their failing being one not so much of the mind but of the heart. Whilst portraying the very picture of calm reflection and rational analysis Said none the less conveys the depth of his feelings. On the one hand, the anger felt by Palestinians at the Al-Aqsa incident, and on the other hand, the warmth he expresses towards men like Daniel Barenboim. This is not a question of nationality, ethnicity or an Oriental mentality: it is a question of human feelings he recognises and shares in.

In addressing Western audiences Said is an educator, a polemicist and an erudite representative of his people and, I propose, a champion of Enlightenment values. He also addresses the Palestinians themselves and their fellow Arabs. His Israeli critics always start by demanding he denounce terrorism: he does. Israeli terrorism and Palestinian terrorism (And, of course, 9/11 and the holocaust). Does he denounce violence itself? He says he is not a pacifist but is willing to advocate pacifism because "armies are useless". He says 'there is "no military option", but this prudential (wouldn't be wise) rather a matter of principle. Said is a advocate of greater intercourse between Palestinians and the rest of the world, particularly the Arab world; of civil society. He chides Arab intellectuals and academic institutions for isolating Palestine and ignoring Israel as part of a supposed policy of refusing normalisation, which is simply a denial of reality. Based on his own frequent visits to the Occupied Territories Said rejected the 1993 Oslo accords and the so-called peace process but is an ardent advocate of coexistence between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs in one bi-national state. This despite the wrath he incurred from fellow members of the Palestine National Council. Here is a man who dares to dream. A man who dares to denounce illusions of progress and state the uncompromising truth: Jews and Palestinians have to find a modus vivendi. Neither is leaving and they are too geographically interwoven to make a two state solution viable. Personally, I find his arguments convincing both as to the aimed for outcome and the means of getting there. These means are not in origin political or military; they are personal and civil. Before political arrangements stand a chance of working each side must, like Said and his Israeli friend Daniel Barenboim, work on establishing a human connection without which 'the Other' is always going to be "dehumanised, demonised, invisible". With his values grounded in those of the Enlightenment and his heart finding inspiration in Aimé Césaire, I'll take his vision of the way to a better future over the partisanship and power plays of some of his opponents any day. (c) hythlodaeus 2007.
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