Propaganda and manipulation:
Between Palestine and South Africa
The mere insinuation that there can be any kind of similarity between the former apartheid regime in South Africa and the struggle between Israelis and Palestinians over the same territory, is absolutely abominable. And the comparison is rendered even more crude when a buffoon such as Arafat is compared with a leader of Nelson Mandela's stature. Perhaps the world media is becoming a bit less susceptible to these chronic liars.
Edward Said is far from my favorite intellectual; and he probably would not be the first choice of the majority of my readers. But, whether we like it or not, Said continues to be the most outstanding Palestinian voice in the Western world, despite the successive revelations regarding some less than truthful embroidering of his past. This Professor of Comparative Literature in Columbia University in New York is the Palestinian with the most extensive contacts in the World Press, being himself a well-read columnist. Apart from appearing as music critic and permanent collaborator in the East Coast magazine "The Nation", he publishes regularly in the British paper "the Guardian", in France's "Le Monde", in London's Arab "Al Hayat" and in Cairo's weekly "Al Ahram". And his articles reach an even wider audience, far beyond these titles. The South American press, in particular that of Mexico and Uruguay, are also numbered among the faithful. In one of Said's latest offerings in the Mexican press, affectionately titled "The Israeli debacle", Said draws an interesting comparison between Guy de Maupassant and Israeli voters: Maupassant sat under the Eiffel Tower drinking coffee and ignoring its ugliness; the Israelis voted for Sharon to ignore the ugliness of the conflict which they themselves created with the occupation of Palestinian territory, rather than stare it in the face: under the tower, so to speak.
One of Said's latest articles published in "Al-Ahram" mentioned a visit taken to see the Minister of Education in South Africa, Qadr Asmal, whom he had met when he lived in exile in Ireland. Said traveled to take part in a conference on the state of values in education worldwide. He recounts that Asmal persuaded the 83 year old Mandela to come out of retirement and give a positively spectacular speech on education in the African homeland. Mandela did not shrink from attacking controversial themes, including the abject state of misery and deprivation in which the overwhelming majority of his countrymen live. But what inspired Said the most was Mandela's reference to the anti-apartheid struggle as a battle which had "captured the world imagination", and its use as a "uniting factor for all of humanity." It was far more than a fight against racial inequality. . . .
A SLIGHTLY MORE COMPLICATED CONFLICT
Said asks: Why is it that the Palestinian struggle has not captured the world imagination in the same manner? Why is it that it does not enjoy the near unanimous support of virtually all rational political denominations across the spectrum, as Mandelas struggle did?
And in attempting to answer these queries, the Palestinian-American intellectual admits that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a more complex issue and the Jews too are a people burdened by a tragic history of persecution and genocide. He writes that, as the Jews were joined with the land of Palestine in their ancient religious faith, their desired return to that land appeared to be justified in the eyes of the West, in particular, of the British who promised them that return. And the west saw that return as justified reparations given to the Jews, for persecutions suffered. Not that any of this transforms Said into a defender of Zionism and its consequences. On the contrary, he lambasts the Western Christian posture that turned a blind eye to gross injustice committed against the Palestinian people, all the while singing Israel's praises. All this to atone for Western Anti-Semitism and its excesses.
All this is usual par for Said's course, the admonitions regarding Jewish power, USA support for the Jewish state, and the usual litany of propaganda. He does confess, however, that PLO motives were sadly overshadowed by acts of terror, hardly an eloquent elegy to the Palestinian cause. In Said's opinion, this is the underlying reason for the fact that the love affair between the Palestinians and the Western press never really got off the ground. The Palestinans, said claims, never really understood the weightiness of the intellectual discourse in the West; hence, they never learned how to present themselves as victims of the depraved actions of the Jewish State. It should be clarified, however, that Said shies away from the more blatant extremism associated with the PLO in its halcyon period: he does not believe that all the Jews should vacate the territories, Crusader style. Instead, they should remain as one of two peoples in a single state, with the solution of universal suffrage, one, man, one vote: emphasizing the common human link. Said rejects the idea of a military campaign against Israel on the part of the Arab world: he does not preach bloodshed. Rather, the somewhat unrealistic solution of including all Jews within a greater Palestine, where they would ostensibly be granted equal rights with the Palestinians.....this is what Said has in mind. In a nutshell, a bi-national State.
ARAFAT IS NOT NELSON MANDELA
Said fully accepts that Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews are locked in a Sraetrean circle of unceasing hatred and the demonizing of the "other." The only hope for breaking this deadly routine is, in his mind, the adoption of moral vision and not merely pragmatic necessity. In order to do this, Said urges his people to capture not only the world imagination but also that of their oppressor, the Israeli. To do so, he begs that the Palestinians' actions be guided by the highest moral values and sentiments. Principally, democratic attitudes.
And however trite the old canard of the bi-national state has been proven to be-and however dreary his resurrection of it, it is indubitable that his proposal to South Africanize the conflict is somewhat preferable to the blind stubbornness and excessive bloodshed that is propelling it along at the moment.
But it is indeed a challenge for the Palestinians to speak of morality in such a way that the world believes them. Arafat is far from Mandela. When one is a chronic liar, the world's trust evaporates rapidly. Precisely for this reason, Said's own credentials are here thrown into sharp relief. as is well known, Said once again captured world headlines when he was photographed last summer on the Lebanese border, throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers. Interestingly, Said himself took care to disseminate the photo. He seemed quite proud of it. At the moment, however, that precious little picture has become something of an embarrassment. In fact, Vienna's Freud society recently canceled a lecture that Said was scheduled to deliver, regarding Freud's fascination for the ancient cultures of Greece, Rome, and Palestine. That ugly symbol of violence, said with the stone in hand, did not fit in well with the agenda of the Freud society. Its President, Johann Sculein, offered the following statement to the press by way of explanation:
"The Freud society honors a great Jew who was persecuted by anti-Semites. Inviting an anti-Semite to Austria is hardly necessary-we possess enough Jew-haters of the home-grown variety."