Academic journal article Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

Memory, Inequality, and Power: Palestine and the Universality of Human Rights *

Academic journal article Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

Memory, Inequality, and Power: Palestine and the Universality of Human Rights *

Article excerpt

Stressing the role of collective memory in the survival of Palestinian people in the diaspora, Said argues for acknowledging the rights of the Palestinians as a people, since human rights are universal. No earthly or divine dispensation could excuse oppressing a people by pleading past victimhood. Against the reductive notion of clash of civilizations, Said espouses knowing the Other and recognizing the historical rights of Palestinians in their own country. Knowledge becomes in this quest, a tool of understanding and recognition. Said advocates replacing antagonism with reconciliation following the model of post-apartheid South Africa. For him, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict cannot be resolved by military means, but by democratic admission of equality and by inclusiveness rather than exclusiveness. The Palestinian past cannot be erased and should not be dismissed if a genuine peace is sought.


This is a very fraught moment to be speaking about human rights and the Middle East, and the human rights of the Palestinian people in particular; but it does seem to be in some ways a symbolically useful time for the purposes of my lecture and what I have to say. I should also say immediately that I am not a political commentator; I am not a political scientist; I don't teach Middle Eastern studies or any of that, so I speak as one of us.

The United States of America has already sent a hugely intimidating military forces to various Arab and non-Arab countries in the regions surrounding Iraq. The frankly imperial idea which my President [George W. Bush] can barely articulate is that they are there to disarm Iraq forcibly and also to change its dreadful regime. The rest of the international community, not least most of the Arab countries of the region as well as the other permanent members of the Security Council, have been expressing varying degrees of disquiet and occasionally urgent disapproval as is the case with France. Certainly it is the case that no one outside of Iraq has suggested any concern about Saddam Hussein and his government.

It is the people of Iraq who stand to suffer the most and whose doubly and triply miserable fate is of the deepest interest to people all over the world. I am sorry to say that none of this has had the slightest effect on what is a granitic will on the part of a tiny number of members of George Bush's administration to go forward with plans for a war among whose stated imperial intentions is the unilateral wish to bring American style democracy to Iraq and the Arab world, redrawing maps, overturning governments and states and modes of life on a fantastically wide scale in the process. That all of this has very little in the final analysis to do with the enhancements of human rights and democracy, in a part of the world especially rife with their abuse, is patently obvious. Were Iraq to have been the world's largest exporter of oranges and apples, there would have been no concern over its purported possession of weapons of mass destruction or its extraordinarily cruel and tyrannical regime. This is a war planned for many reasons; among them I would say the most important are resources and strategic control. And when it occurs, the United States would have then asserted its strategic dominance over the center of the world's largest known energy reserves from the Gulf to the Caspian Sea. And it plans to reshape the area by pacifying threats to its dominance in Syria, Iran, and elsewhere in the Gulf.

To threaten and soon to prosecute war with such belligerence and such a wasteful deployment of human and military resources is an abuse of human tolerance and human values. That it might in the end turn out to be only a display, rather than an actual use of force, only deepens the anxiety about the kind of world we are moving toward. By the end of the decade China will be importing as much oil as the United States and by 2025, the United States will need to import a full 75% of its oil needs from the Gulf region principally. …

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