Edward Said is crazy smart and a cool thinker. Peace and Its Discontents is written in the 1990’s. Growing up in that time, I always heard that phrase “peace in the Middle East.” It was practically a joke, like the cliche thing that a beauty pageant contestant would say is what she wishes for. What I didn’t realize is that the phrase actually references an urge for Palestine to surrender itself to Israel.
Palestine is situated right between Egypt and Jordan. It was colonized by England from 1918 to 1948. Then, just as a lot of neighboring countries were gaining independence, Palestine was taken over by Israel, a new Jewish state which is backed by America (financially and otherwise). Now Israel is on the map and Palestine isn’t. One of Said’s suggestions in this book, as an exiled Palestinian now living in America, is to take a census. Show and admit how many Palestinian people there really are because right now you are completely denying that you came and settled on land that was already occupied.
Another suggestion is for Palestinians and other colonized people to study their oppressor more–like academically. He is clear about how distorted the view of the West is (either hatred or admiration, both of which are inadequate). Said argues in the chapter titled “Decolonizing the Mind” for more people from places in the Middle East to study the history of places like America, England, and Israel. There are plenty Arab scholars in those locations and yet many students come from the Middle East to the West to study the Middle East. And that’s part of the problem–they know you (and you know you) but you don’t know them.
Said writes Peace and Its Discontents with an Arab audience in mind. It’s basically news articles he’s writing and publishing as they happen, starting with a critique of the hollow agreement in 1993 that gave even more power to Israel. The guy running Palestine is problematic as hell and makes big mistakes–like signing that document that’s written in English without having a good enough translator. Meanwhile, even he needs to ask Israel for permission to travel around the country. He’s also dying to be cool with people like Bill Clinton, who throws around the word terrorism like nothing and leans right every time someone challenges him. And of course he hates Said for calling him out.
It’s crazy because you read this in 2022 and it could be written in 2022. Israel has only taken more Palestinian land and lives and homes since the 90’s. I think a big turning point in how people from my generation see Palestine was when they were writing to Ferguson protesters in 2014 on social media about how to defend yourself against military attacks. And that’s something Angela Davis highlights in her book Freedom is a Constant Struggle–the fact that this kind of militarized occupation not unique to one situation. It’s all connected.
Best line: I fail to see how we are supposed to equate the “right” of a largely European people to come to Palestine, pretend that it was empty of inhabitants, conquer it by force, and drive out 70 percent of its inhabitants, with the right of the native people of Palestine to resist those actions and try to remain on their land. It is a grotesque notion to suggest parity in such a situation and then also to ask the victims to forget about their past and plan to live together as inferior citizens with their conquerors. The proposition is especially galling since it comes from a movement that claims quite openly never to have forgotten its own history of persecution, and indeed allows itself every crime against the Palestinian people because it says it is living under the shadow of past persecutions. (Edward Said 132).
Click here to view all the books I have by Edward Said at my online bookstore Ten Dollar Books.