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Now that Said is dead, lets go after Ashrawi
by Khaldoun Samman
05 November 2003 15:27 UTC
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November 4, 2003

When Did "Arab" Become a Dirty Word?

Smearing Said and Hanan Ashrawi


Is "Palestinian" now just a dirty word? Or is "Arab"
the dirty word? Let's start with the late Edward Said,
the brilliant and passionate Palestinian-American
academic who wrote--among many other
books--Orientalism, the ground-breaking work which
first explored our imperial Western fantasies about
the Middle East. After he died of leukaemia last
month, Zev Chafets sneered at him in the New York
Daily News
in the following words: "As an Episcopalian, he's
ineligible for the customary 72 virgins, but I
wouldn't be surprised if he's honoured with a
couple of female doctoral graduates."

According to Chafets, who (says the Post) spent 33
years "in politics, government and journalism" in
Jerusalem, Orientalism "rests on a simple
thesis: Westerners are inherently unable to fairly
judge, or even grasp, the Arab world." Said "didn't
blow up the Marines in Lebanon in 1983 ... he
certainly didn't fly a plane into the World Trade
Centre. What he did was to jam America's intellectual

When I read this vicious obituary, I recalled hearing
Chafets' name before. So I turned to my files and up
he popped in 1982, as former director of the
Israeli government press office in Jerusalem. He had
just published a book falsely claiming that Western
journalists in Beirut--myself among them--had
been "terrorised" by bands of Palestinians. He even
claimed my old friend Sean Toolan, who was murdered by
a jealous husband with whose wife he was having an
affair, was killed by Palestinians because they
disapproved of a US television programme about the

So I got the point. You can kick a scholar when he's
dead if he's a Palestinian, and kick a journalist when
he's dead if you want to claim he was murdered by
Palestinians. But now the same sick fantasies are
taking hold in Australia, where a determined effort is
being made by Israel's supposed friends there to
prevent the Palestinian scholar Hanan Ashrawi--of
all people--from receiving the 2003 Sydney Peace Prize
this week. A Jewish writer in Sydney has bravely
defended her--not least because the local Israeli
lobby appears to have deliberately misquoted an
interview she gave me two years ago, distorting her
words to imply that she is in favour of suicide

Ashrawi is not in favour of these wicked attacks. She
has fearlessly spoken out against them. But Sydney
University has already withdrawn the use of its Great
Hall for the presentation of the peace prize and the
Lord Mayor of Sydney, Lucy Turnbull, has dissociated
the City of Sydney, sponsor of the prize, from the
presentation. And just to show you what lies behind
this--apart from the fact that Turnbull's husband
Malcolm is trying to get a nomination for a
parliamentary seat--take a look through the following
exchange between Kathryn Greiner, former chairwoman of
the Sydney peace foundation, and Professor Stuart
Rees, the foundation's director:

KG: "I have to speak logically. It is either Hanan
Ashrawi or the Peace Foundation. That's our choice,
Stuart. My distinct impression is that if you persist
in having her here, they'll (sic) destroy you. Rob
Thomas of City Group is in trouble for supporting us.
And you know Danny Gilbert [an Australian lawyer] has
already been warned off."

SR: "You must be joking. We've been over this a
hundred times. We consulted widely. We agreed the
jury's decision, made over a year ago, was not only
unanimous but that we would support it, together."

KG: "But you're not listening to the logic. The
Commonwealth Bank .... is highly critical. We could
not approach them for financial help for the
Schools Peace Prize. We'll get no support from them.
The business world will close ranks. They are saying
we are one-sided, that we've only supported

There is more of the same, but Professor Rees is
standing firm--for now. So is Australian journalist
Antony Loewenstein in Zmag magazine. Ashrawi, he
says, "has endured campaigns of hate based on slander
and lies for most of her life, from those who are
intent on silencing the Palestinian narrative
..." But how much longer must this go on? Ashrawi, I
notice, is now being called an "aging (sic) bespoke
terror apologist" by Mark Steyn in, of all places, The
Irish Times.

And it's getting worse. Said's work is now being
denounced in testimony to the US Congress by Dr
Stanley Kurz, who claims that the presence of
"post-colonial theory" in academic circles has
produced professors who refuse to support or instruct
students interested in joining the State
Department or American intelligence agencies. So now
Congress is proposing to set up an "oversight
board"--with appointed members from Homeland Security,
the Department of Defence and the US National Security
Agency--that will link university department funding
on Middle East studies to "students training for
careers in national security, defence and intelligence
agencies ..."

As Professor Michael Bednar of the History Department
at the University of Texas at Austin says, "the
possibility that someone in Homeland Security
will instruct college professors ... on the proper,
patriotic, 'American-friendly' textbooks that may be
used in class scares and outrages me."

So it's to be goodbye to the life-work of Edward Said?
And goodbye to peace prizes for Hanan Ashrawi? Goodbye
to Palestinians, in fact? Then the radar really will
be jammed.

Robert Fisk is a reporter for The Independent and
author of Pity the Nation. He is also a contributor to
CounterPunch's hot new book, The Politics of

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