Said combines staunch passion for his causes with an unyielding insistence on humanist and principled criticism. He quit the Palestinian National Council in the early 1990s because he opposed the Oslo Accords. \(Arafat, he felt, had sold Palestinian rights for a mess of pottage, and the deal was destined to come ed for a “binational state”one state in what is now Israel, to be shared by Arabs and Jews. He wants to build bridges between the two groups, because he believes it is vital for them to imagine living together peacefully. To do so, of course, they would have to Texas Observer: You recently wrote that all the people you know, including yourself; believe that September 11 “inaugurated a new stage in world history, something unique and unprecedented.” What did you mean? Edward Said: What I meant, exactly, was that peopleincluding myself think it’s a new era in world history, and therefore it becomes one. In other words, it was a kind of self-fulfilling prophesy, and everybody feels that some enormous change has been made. It’s too early to tell whether in fact that’s happened, but certainly everyone acts and feels and thinks as if we’re in a new phase. I’m not sure we know all the lineaments of that phase, or whether in fact it is a completely new phase. But it certainly felt like one. A lot of it has to do with the sense of shock and violation that Americans feel that for the first time in modern history there was a violation of our space. TO: What about Pearl Harbor? ES: But this is a symbolic attack. The analogy I always give is the novel The Secret Agent, by Joseph Conrad. The hero is a member of a band of anarchists and terrorists, and there’s a plot, orchestrated by foreign powers, maybe start thinking of each other as real people rather than demons. To speed that process, Said \(himself joined with his friend, the ArgentineIsraeli, Jewish musician Daniel Barenboim, to organize music seminars in Germany with young musicians from Arab countries and from Israel. During the program, the students visited the Buchenwald concentration camp, then discussed the trip, with Said moderating. Said likes to tell the Arabs that when they think about Jews, they must take the Holocaust seriously. But, he adds, “If you just see it as part of the Germany and Russia. The mastermind thinks it’s necessary to do an outrage on England: to bomb the Greenwich Observatory, which has no value at all except that it’s an attack on pure science, in the city of London. It has symbolic value.They use an idiot boy to do it; he gets killed. Of course, the observatory isn’t hurt. It’s very much of that sortthis 9/11 thing: the World Trade Center as a symbol of capitalism. It is quite clear from all the subsequent declarations that he made that Osama bin Laden thought it was, too, and that he was attacking America. Not the United States, but Americathe idea of America. That he was drawing a line between the world of Islam and the world of non-Muslims; and drawing people into a battle on a Blakeian scale. Think of the word “terror.” It has no particular definition or foundation. It’s an unanchored phrase that is used for what we consider to be evil, and unmotivated, and unappeasable. It partakes of the quality of Moby Dick. The rhetoric of Bush and the United States has a metaphysical and apocalyptic quality that really transcends the political. So the fact that the strategic interests of the United States are being pursued in Afghanistan quite beyond or in another realm from the destruction of Jewish experience, it’s wrong, because it’s part of the human experience.” Said has been battling leukemia for a decade; he underwent chemotherapy this autumn. He is preparing to leave New York and teach at Cambridge . next fall, in part, he has said, because he is so dispirited by events in the United States following September 11. Still, he has weighed in since that date in various wooly journals, roundly condemning the “magical thinking” and “lying religious claptrap” that propelled the terrorismand also the American response to it. I began the interview asking him more about that response. the Taliban and Al Qaeda and terrorism and the rest of itthat’s never discussed. Because we prefer to stay in the realm of terror and evil. TO: So you’re saying that people’s thoughts about September 11 as being unprecedented and opening up a new erathat these thoughts in themselves have power? ES: I think so. This isn’t to say that the events of September 11 were not real. Of course they were real: But they are magnified and put into play by the media and the discourse of the state, and hundreds of thousands of orators and commentators, everyone trying to outdo the other with shock and outrage and revulsion and anger and condemnation. The result is that there is very little analysis. In fact, analysis, until recently, has been taken to be a sign of anti-Americanism. TO: You’ve lamented that the current, generalized inability in the United States to look at America’s role in world history is exactly what bin Laden wanted. If we were able to analyze why other countries feel such animosity towards the United States, what, primarily, would we need to consider? ES: To a lot of people in the Third 2/15/02 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23
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