From Oslo to Iraq and the Road Map: Essays
Edward W. Said
All but one of the essays compiled for Edward Said’s final book first appeared in the Cairo weekly Al-Ahram and the London-based Al-Hayat newspapers. Their posthumous publication in English is an opportunity for Said’s Western readers to see what the Jerusalem-born literary critic and Palestinian activist, who died of leukemia last September, had to say to his fellow Arabs.
These 46 short pieces were written between December 2000 through July 2003, a period of extraordinary turmoil in the Middle East that saw the collapse of the Oslo peace accords, the subsequent eruption of the second Palestinian intifada, the Sept. 11 attacks, and the subsequent U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Hundreds of Palestinians—civilians as well as militants—died at the hands of the Israeli Defense Forces during the 32 months covered here, and Said’s anguish and humiliation is palpable on every page. Heeding Dylan Thomas, he inflames his final moments with an eloquent, often gorgeous rage, and as pure literature these essays are a dazzling achievement.
As political rhetoric, however, they are disappointing. Like many partisans on either side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Said wrongly believed that only the other camp’s story was being heard. After Sept. 11 heightened American sympathy with Israeli victims of terrorism, “Palestinian dispossession and oppression” was, he writes, “simply erased from memory.”
The average American, he continues later, “hasn’t the slightest inkling that there is a narrative of Palestinian suffering and dispossession at least as old as Israeli itself.” So successful is the “evil propaganda” machine of Israel “that it would seem that Palestinians really have few, if any, positive connotations. They are almost completely dehumanized.”
Hyperbole isn’t the worst of Said’s rhetorical sins. In his zeal to give his people a story of their own, he succumbs to the vulgar temptation of name-calling and weaves a conspiracy theory unworthy of Michael Moore. According to Said’s narrative, the “moronic” and “dim-witted” Bush and his “psychopathic henchman Rumsfeld,” in league with Jewish neocons (“the Wolfowitzes and Perles”) and “bloodthirsty” pro-Israel columnists, have successfully manufactured the “Israelization” of U.S. foreign policy—and demonization of Arabs and Muslims everywhere.
To his credit, Said does not single out the Jews and their American puppets for criticism, and his blistering attacks on the corrupt Palestinian Authority and demagogic Arab regimes thrill with their candor. But though he’s generous with censure, Said is stingy with solutions. A longtime critic of the two-state solution, Said favored a binational state under the banner of “coexistence,” not a proposal likely to be met with much support from Israeli Jews, who would be a minority in such a state, and to whom he claims to be reaching out a hand in peace.