The Ida of a Palestine in the lives and works of Abu-Lughod and Said.

AuthorTalhami, Ghada Hashem

"There comes a time when silence becomes dishonesty" Frantz Fanon, Toward the African Revolution (1969)

WORDS, LANGUAGE AND VOICE were highly cherished by these two Palestinian intellectuals. Both appreciated and understood the significance of giving expression to their life history and that of the Palestinian people. Both recognized the power of the word and its capacity to distort history as in the case of colonial literature, or to liberate people, as in the case of the literature of the resistance. Said, the cultural critic and literary analyst, said as much in his magnificent tome Culture and Imperialism (1993), and his enormously influential Orientalism (1978). His point was that the word was capable of enslaving and distorting history, as well as, justifying imperialism, but it can also be liberating. The essence of liberating the individual, according to him, began with liberating the mind, hence the diligence with which he went about destroying the Gods of colonial hegemony and intellectual dominance over much of the world's subjugated population.

The battle of freedom had as much to do with ideas, with words, with the politics of language, as it did with the brandishing of arms. To Abu-Lughod, words were not intended to convey literary meaning only, or distort the nuances of colonial relationships, but rather to be the means by which a people's history was camouflaged and hidden from view. His struggle was focused on exposing the historical roots of Arab Palestinian linkages to Arab nationalism and of the ties which historically bound Palestinian resistance movements to those of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Algeria. His was the task of the historian and political analyst with a mission. His life was dedicated to the task of mobilizing Arab and Palestinian intellectual resources in the battle for the retrieval and recovery of the political rights of Palestine's disenfranchised people. Indeed, Abu-Lughod will always be remembered for his physical and intellectual energies which he expended on the task of intellectual mobilization in the U.S. and in Palestine.

Abu-Lughod and Said were very successful academicians and public intellectuals. They achieved most of their academic goals in liberating the academic environment in the United States. Yet they maintained deep attachments to Palestine. In that, they epitomized the experience of most intellectuals of the Palestinian diaspora, who, as a result of their internalizing the pain of alienation and their people's historic victimization, generated waves of passionate anger against the destruction of their people's history and the annihilation of their cultural and historical heritage. Greater reflection on the story of Palestine inevitably generated greater determination publicly to tell that story. Palestine became the focal point, the central theme, the unforgettable saga which motivated Said to roam the world's literary texts in order to illustrate its tragic dimensions. The same motivation pushed Abu-Lughod to guard the meaning of Palestine's dispossession and to preserve its legacy for future generations of Arabs, Palestinians, and humanists the world over. He wished to make certain that the world never forgot the lessons of Palestine.

It would not be difficult to explain why these two academicians persisted in their struggles to keep the idea of Palestine alive. Mention is often made of their traumatization by the experience of the 1948 Arab-Jewish War, which produced the nakba. But the 1948 war did not spare any Palestinian the agony of dispossession, exile, and family dismemberment. Neither did the war preserve any semblance of political autonomy for anyone. All Palestinians came to know the diminishing of family resources, the disruption of educational careers, and the humiliating experience of life as minorities in alien lands and territories, even in the midst of Arab countries. Then the tragedy deepened as the 1967 Arab-Israeli June War established Israel's military standing as the new superpower in the Middle East and facilitated the expansion of its frontiers. What distinguished the impact of these travails on the two intellectuals from the manner in which pain was internalized by the rest of the Palestinians was living the American experience. Living in the United States and witnessing the adulation heaped on the new Sparta of the Middle East, while the Arab states became the object of hatred and contempt left an indelible mark on the Palestinian Americans. The hope sprang anew when they began to see the glow of a truly popular Palestinian liberation movement break through the darkness. But soon hope gave way to despair as the Palestinian national movement failed to achieve its stated goals. All of this alternation of hope and despair left a powerful impression on the minds and souls of Palestinian-Americans, largely because it was here, in this country that the idea of a war of liberation was the least acceptable form of resistance. Indeed, the record of the PLO in other Arab countries was portrayed here as a grotesque and illegitimate effort with which to sustain a national identity. Then came the humiliation of the Oslo peace accords and the erosion of internationally recognized Palestinian rights. The Palestinian-Americans were stunned to witness the abject surrender of Palestinian claims and rights in the name of an American-defined concept of pragmatism. But as the idealism of the revolutionary struggle dissipated in the American halls of power, a second intifada restored hope again. Palestinians became masters of their own destiny, even if for a fleeting moment. The rise and fall of the Palestinian national movement was truly a painful experience since it engendered a sense of loss as to the right solutions, not to mention workable solutions.

Being situated in the United States, in the heart of the pro-Zionist world, and living through the daily tirades, gross misrepresentations, and skewed perspectives of the American media were perhaps worse than the actual military defeat. This is why it would be futile to point to any specific phase of recent Palestinian history which influenced the Palestinian-American intelligentsia more than any other. All recent Palestinian history generated a deep sense of national despair. Only those with the intellectual stamina of the two subjects of this paper managed to wring a sense of triumph from perpetual defeat. Despite these enormous national upheavals, Abu-Lughod and Said achieved standing in terms of their American academic careers. Said became an award-winning and internationally recognized literary critic, but also a profound thinker when it came to explaining why Palestine mattered. He may have been considered an original thinker for his critical dissection of the Orientalist phenomenon and its derivations, but for the Arab reader he will always be remembered for his work on the media's coverage of Islam and for making an eloquent case for the redemption of Palestine. Then there was his Peace and Its Discontents (1993), which he said he wrote for an Arab audience with whom he dialogued freely about dashed national hopes and the inherent idiocy of...

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