"Arab" Become a Dirty Word?
Smearing Said and Hanan Ashrawi
By ROBERT FISK
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
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 PLO.
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 bombings.
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 But Sydney University has already withdrawn the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
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
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
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.
Copyright: The Independent: