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Noted Author Talks About Arab Issues

By Naveen Sunkavally
staff reporter

Edward W. Said, a prolific author on Arab politics, nationalism, and politics, spoke to a packed crowd Saturday in 10-250 about "Strategies of Hope" in the Middle East.

Said, an English professor at Columbia University, was the plenary speaker in a day-long workshop sponsored jointly by the MIT Arab Students Organization, the Lebanese Club, and the MITLiterature and Political Science Departments.

Said sectioned his speech into three parts: a summary of his generation of Arabs and their involvement in the West, a comparison between his generation and the younger generation of today, and challenges for the present and the future.

Generational differences noted

Speaking of his generation, Said stated that "most efforts were individual" and that "whenever there were three Arabs, there were four Arab organizations." Said pointed to the Egyptians' leaving of Camp David as an example of the then-lack of solidarity among Arabs.

Said also felt that his generation was shut out of the media, and that this factor led to most Arabs constantly being on the defensive.

In contrast, Said stated that the younger generation of Arab-Americans had the advantages of being more bicultural, and that the "West was no longer a secret." There is less defensiveness, and people are more willing to talk about issues such as women's and minority rights, he said.

Said also felt that the younger generation was more competent in more diverse fields of study, in contrast to his generation during which Arabs usually came to the United States solely to study Middle-Eastern studies or science. Said expressed hope that this younger generation would use their greater range of competence to improve the situation in the Arab states, where "there is no real science."

Said spoke also of two main challenges for the Arab-American. "One of them is Palestine," he said. Palestine is "a defining place for Muslims, Jews, and Christians," an intersection of religions and cultures and history and traditions of "unparalleled significance." Said stated that the many issues to be dealt with included settlement, the Holocaust, injustice, and anti-Semitism.

The second challenge, he said, is that of "Arab identity and culture." Said stated that despite their "rich traditions, literature, and language," Arabs still find themselves on the defensive "because for several years there has been a systematic discouragement of Arabism" in the United States.

Lecturer outlines future needs

Said then went on to express his hopes and ideas for the future. What is necessary first, he said, is a "usable concept of citizenship and participation. Political struggles are contests of will." The people of the younger generation need to come together, without factionalism, on the principles of "persistence, vigilance, and vision," and work against apathy and indifference, Said stated.

Said continued to say that "we [the Arab States] are the only part of the world to not have undergone a social transformation," and not to have achieved women's and minority rights and freedom of press. "We need to realize that our allies are not in the White House or not some anti-Semitic corporation, but those who have the same ideals we do," such as women and African-Americans.

He said that the U.S. solution of "partition and separation" is insufficient and leads only to the strong getting the best part and the weak getting the burden, as in the case of the states that formerly comprised Yugoslavia. "I think that what we are able to offer is not a solution of exclusion but of inclusion and coexistence.The idea that you can separate people is disastrous for the Arab World because it involves the oppression and suppression of other groups."

After Said's speech, a thirty minute question-and-answer period followed, in which Said argued against the notion that humans rights is solely a Western concept and reiterated the need for a collective effort to help solve the problems of the Middle East.