Ibrahim and Edward.

AuthorHagopian, Elaine C.


IBRAHIM AND EDWARD, BOTH PALESTINIANS, both brilliant minds, both mentors for a generation of Arab-Americans, and both larger than life, yet still within the dimension of human failings. Ibrahim was the strategist; Edward was the public voice. Ibrahim was the charismatic leader motivating hundreds of us to seek justice; Edward articulated our grievances and guaranteed our dignity. Ibrahim was the builder of institutions and the producer and director of a library challenging the false products of Zionist construction. Edward was a library exposing in full naked form the vast colonial and Zionist institutional foundation generating bogus conceptualizations of Arabs and Muslims and of the core Palestinian/Israeli conflict. These two men complemented each other's work. They were an awesome team whose output was so politically powerful that they were "honored" by a barrage of threats and attempts to defame their characters and their work.

Reading the memoirs (1) of both men, one is struck by the totally contrasting trajectory of their lives. Born in Jaffa in 1929, Ibrahim's young years were spent in the midst of the intensified Zionist drive to transform Palestine into a Jewish State. His biography intersects with the political events happening in Palestine at that time and conveys the collective Palestinian psyche resulting from the Nakba and earlier. Consequently, Ibrahim's memoir is one of chronicling his life and values in the backdrop of family and Palestine. His is a story of the development of his political self--the resistance fighter in Palestine, the leader, doer, thinker and strategist he became over the years. It is also the story of a Palestinian refugee who was singularly adept and courageous in pursuing higher education in the United States without resources or known human support. Nonetheless, he found odd jobs, help from a friend in Chicago, and later from his wife, Janet.

Edward's memoir dwells on his inner self and the process he underwent of thinking about how to think. He had the luxury of being born to wealth and privilege, which allowed him the physical and secure comfort to dwell on self. Edward detailed his own set of insecurities and human frailties. He seemed almost obsessed in detailing his experience with his parents and teachers, which were at times painful, at times enraging. Early on, however, he understood and experienced British colonial racism. Awareness of Palestine is a thread that runs throughout Edward's early and higher education days even as it was rarely discussed in the family. All through his graduate years, he continued to be dependent on family resources which, according to his memoir, made him uncomfortable.

It was at Princeton University that Edward, an undergraduate, met Ibrahim, a Ph.D. candidate. This fortuitous meeting was later to ripen into a personal and political friendship around the cause of Palestine, a friendship that has left a rich combined legacy of struggle for justice for generations to appreciate, adapt and apply.


How I understand Ibrahim and Edward today is not necessarily the way I understood them in my earlier acquaintance with both men. I do not believe anyone can convey the fullness of either man More importantly, each individual experiences others differently. What I relate in this essay are my own perceptions based on the limited roles I played vis-a-vis each. No doubt, others with different experiences may not resonate with my own. It is a truism to state that we experience pieces of people, and we relate to these pieces in unique ways not replicable by others.

Ibrahim. In 1962, after receiving my Ph.D. in Sociology and Anthropology, I went to teach at Smith College in Northampton, MA. Walking through the Library trying to get oriented to Smith and feeling rather forlorn in that class oriented environment, I came across a man at a bubbler consuming water in plenty. He looked up and pointing at me, he said in his rather staccato style, "you, you, you, you're the Syrian girl, aren't you?" "Yes," I said. He replied, "come, come, come, there are three of us here." I asked, "three what?" "Three Arabs," he said. That was my introduction to Ibrahim Abu-Lughod.

The years at Smith were not particularly eventful from my point of view. Nonetheless, two events stand out. First, the head of my department, a Zionist, wanted to engage Ibrahim in one of those constructed discussion groups based on a State Department formulation--there was an actual name for it, but memory fails me as to what it was called. Ibrahim laid down one condition for his participation: the Zionist participants must admit that their people committed a grave injustice to his people in Palestine. The chairman hemmed and hawed, and fell back on the holocaust. Ibrahim simply walked away.

The second event related to an institutional grant I was given to go to Morocco for a short research trip. My chairman was pushing me to add a trip to Israel to my itinerary and that indeed he would find extra money for me to be able to go to Israel and meet with particular people. I was feeling a lot of pressure, and was too inexperienced to know what to do. I consulted with Ibrahim. What was interesting about Ibrahim was that he did not say outright "don't go, it's a trap." Rather, I had to coax a response out of him that could give me some guidance. Finally, he pointed out the problems of my taking that particular trip at that particular time, for which I remain forever grateful.

Over the years at Smith, I learned much from Ibrahim and his brilliant wife, Janet. I was not sure how to absorb it all, but a foundation was being laid for our future efforts together. What impressed me most was Ibrahim's fantastic conceptual ability.

In 1967, Ibrahim accepted a position at Northwestern University (Evanston), while I joined the faculty of sociology at Simmons College (Boston). The horrific jolt to the Arab-American resulting from the June 1967 war guaranteed not only the continued friendship and communication with Ibrahim, but also the broadening and development of tight communal bonds which configured into organizational activities. The war had remobilized pro-Israeli forces in the United States, which Israel systematically fostered. Anti-Arab racism poured out of the TV screens and radio speakers. It was a time of great upheaval, anxiety, and daily stress for the Arab-American community. Arab-Americans understood that they had neglected their responsibility to challenge the falsity of Zionist narrative. As a result, the public had only negative images of Arabs and a reverse causal sequence regarding the origins and continuation of the Arab/Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Arab scholars attending the 1967 meeting of the International Congress of Orientalists at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor decided it was imperative to establish an Arab-American organization to challenge Zionist constructions of the conflict in the Middle East. Subsequently, the founding meeting was held in Chicago, and the Association of Arab-American University Graduates (AAUG) was established. Among the founders were Fauzi Najjar, Abdeen Jabara, Husni Haddad, Rashid Bashshur, Adnan Aswad, Cherif Bassiouni and many others. Ibrahim became the major organizer of the AAUG. His charismatic leadership and ability to communicate with many at a time when computers were not common, enabled the Association to grow and play a significant role in challenging the Zionist narrative. Ibrahim put all of his talents into play. First, he gave us all a sense of a noble mission to achieve justice, a mission whose weapon of choice was first-rate scholarship. We all believed that scholarship would enlighten, and enlightenment would bring justice. His force of will asserted itself in his oft-repeated "don't worry, we will win." I am not sure he always believed it, but he certainly motivated people to do their best by asserting an optimistic outcome.

We entered into the production of scholarly studies, information papers, and outreach programs. Our products began to enter the public forum, and the reactions from the pro-Israel were confused initially as they continued to reiterate their discredited narrative out of habit. However, they soon organized themselves into an effort to defame, demonize, delegitimize and ultimately neutralize our efforts to break their monopoly on defining the origin of the conflict.

Edward. It was in this early period that Edward Said entered into the growing circle of Arab-Americans. His early years were marked by awareness and discomfort with the injustices committed against Palestine and Palestinians. The 1967 war moved him to employ his extraordinary talents to give voice to the downtrodden Arab person. He was then 32 years of age. His renowned facility for critical exposure of patronizing Orientalist treatises designed to legitimize colonial/imperialist encampment in the Arab/Muslim world is legion. It was evident in the first piece most all of us in those days read by Edward, "The Arab Portrayed." The essay was originally published in a special December 1968 issue of The Arab World, edited by Ibrahim. Ibrahim had invited Edward to write a piece for the publication. Later, Ibrahim convinced Northwestern University Press to republish the articles in that special issue, along with several additions. Ibrahim was beginning his main educational effort to challenge the accuracy of Zionist literature. The resultant book was The Arab-Israeli Confrontation of June 1967: An Arab Perspective (1970) that he also edited.

What emerged from the reunion of these two friends was a determination to step up to the challenges presented by the 1967 war. This became manifested in major works of scholarship they produced, which documented the transformation of Palestine specifically, and exposed and demolished politically contaminated Orientalism, the then dominant paradigm...

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