Almost two weeks go Harold Pinter died. Here at the blog we posted the video of his Nobel acceptance speech. That speech is deservedly recognized for its power of message and delivery. Pinter was then already a sick man, having recently been treated for the cancer that would take his life three years later. His visible illness underlined the gravity of his words. Pinter, the playwright, knew this of course and used it.
This speech presented by Democracy Now to mark Said’s death in 2003 is the equal of Harold Pinter’s epoch reducing words. Said was also ill when he gave this speech. It is a very different speech, they have very different styles, than Pinter’s, but at it’s heart lies the same desire, perhaps produced by a looming mortality, to tell the truth about our world in the face of the lies told to hold it in chains.
The same incredibly fast mind that he was known for now leaves him, at times, breathless. But that mind is so clearly at work. I don’t know if Said and Pinter ever met, I would think they must have. I’d like to think they did. In any case, today I’ll chose to see these two talks as a conversation.
In this 2003 speech given a few months before he died Said talks about a whole range of issues and ideas. Rachel Corrie had just been murdered in Gaza by a bulldozer-driving Israeli soldier as she attempted to prevent the demolition of yet another Palestinian home. That act, both the nobility of the solidarity and the vulgarity of the murder, set the tone as Said places the Palestinian struggle in the context of a larger struggle for human freedom as well as the arena of global politics.
This was also the time that Abu Mazzen was chosen to lead the Palestinian Authority after the death(sic) of Yassir Arafat. His comments on the venality of the current Palestinian “leader” as well as that of other Arab “leaders” have only been triply confirmed since. A settlement within the framework of imperialism, which even much of the resistance accepts, is alien to Said. Despite all of its missteps, retreats, zig-zags and futilities. Despite the pharisees that have always claimed to speak in its name. He is a proud man and proud of the struggle he participated in for so many years.
This is Said at his best; combative, a little hammy, powerfully lucid and with a full pallet of intellectual colors to paint with. A humanist, Said places Palestine firmly in the human family even if it be its most violated member. He fills the speech with sharp turns all coming back to the central dignity and justice of the Palestinian struggle, a vital component of a larger struggle for freedom.
When we are where we are today Edward Said can seem a distant figure. That only shows just how remarkable Said was. Who now to take his place? And with the death also of Darwish? Surely there are new voices that will rise, are rising to their place. The outpouring around the world of real rage with mass protests and demonstrations bode well for the struggle. That solidarity is confirmation of Said’s central message. A movement has awoken and with immense challenges before it. The moment is urgent for Gaza and we can not waste time reliving the failures of the past. What would Edward Said say? Well here is Edward Said. What does he say to us now?