Thursday, January 28, 2021

“He was our lifeline”: Devotion for Edward Said shown at East Jerusalem film screening

By Ruth Regan - February 19, 2018
Section: [Main News] [Culture]
Tags: [culture] [Education]

“For all of us he remains the cultural icon of Palestinian exile and the enduring voice of freedom and justice,” said Mahmoud Muna, manager of the English branch of the Educational Bookshop. Muna has the pleasure of introducing the Jerusalem documentary film screening on the influential Palestinian-American writer and academic, Edward Said. 

Just under an hour in length 'Selves and Others: A Portrait of Edward Said’ is an intimate documentary made in 2002, now being screened for the first time in Palestine.  

The film consists entirely of Said speaking on a range of topics.
“I really liked the fact it was all him [Said] speaking, so it’s him representing himself,” reflected Muna, speaking to Palestine Monitor.
“He’s talking about everything from music to politics to reflections on his own life. Said is not just one thing, he’s got like 600 titles, so that’s reflected on the film.”
Screening in El-Hakawati, The Palestinian National Theatre, on February 14, the audience far exceeded the theatre’s 380 person capacity, with people sat on the stairs to watch the film.
Consoles and foreign diplomats were among those in attendance.
Both the venue and the date held significance for Muna when hosting the event.
The theatre changed their program at short notice to accommodate the screening. “For such a film, for such a character, there was only one place where it could be screened,” Muna said.
“There’s no more love can be expressed anywhere than in screening Edward Said’s memories and his reflections on life in Jerusalem on Valentine’s Day,” he added.
The screening was opened with a clarinet recital from 12-year-old Ibrahim Al Shaikh, a student at the Barenboim-Said Foundation music school.
“I’m excited but a little bit nervous. I’ve been playing clarinet for seven years,” Al Shaikh told Palestine Monitor ahead of the event.
“He knew that if you teach them music they would learn how to focus and if you learn how to focus then you can concentrate on school," Mariam Said on the motivation for the Barenboim-Said Foundation.

The added excitement for the evening came from the presence of Mariam Said, Edward Said’s surviving wife, who participated in a Q&A session after the screening.
She spoke touchingly and openly on her marriage with Said.
“His perspective was always a different perspective and he always showed me many ways of looking at things, always looking at the big picture. My life with him was a constant learning experience.”
“His illness was very hard on him and all of us… But he had a fighting spirit.”
Said died in 2003 aged 67 after a drawn out twelve year illness with leukaemia.
Members of the audience, Palestinians and non-Palestinians alike, took the opportunity to share with Mariam the many ways in which Said inspired their lives.
“I grew up learning everything I needed to know from Edward Said,” said Shereen, a member of the Palestinian diaspora. “The impact he had on me and many people I know from all over the world was enormous. He was our lifeline.”
“Edward had a huge impact on us as well inside the Green Line,” reflected Jameel Hadir, who travelled to the States just to meet Said; “a life-changing experience.”
“Edward’s work had huge resonance in the U.K. also,” said Mandy from the Kenyon Institute. “Orientalism was an incredibly important book for us as students in the early 90s. [It was] was very influential for the Palestinian diaspora but also for western critical intellectual thinking, so we thank the Palestinians for giving us Edward Said.”
One young Palestinian asked Mariam “What advice do you have for us for us to keep the fight?,” highlighting Said’s work being at the core of the Palestinian issue.
“We make sure that Edward Said’s books are always available. We love his work and are very proud of him being a Palestinian,” said Muna.
“I feel like we have not done enough to pay back or appreciate what Said contributed to us, as humans, as intellectuals, or as Palestinians of course. He introduced nuance and shifted a new way of looking at things.”
Not least, Muna said, we should remember how much Said put his head above the parapet at his time of writing.
“[He was] pro-Palestine in the 70s and 80s when it was not popular to be pro-Palestine, not like now,” explained Muna. He went on to say it was out of character “for such a high-profile academic in an institution like Colombia”.
Said missed out on invitations to academic conferences as a result of his work.
Within the film, Said reflected upon his position countering dominant western narratives.
Speaking about America’s support of Israel and its victories, Said said, “I felt as an Arab not only embarrassed but I wished I could disappear.”
He depicted America’s narrative of the time as: “Israel and the Jews were democratic and plucky and pioneering and white people, who are like us [Americans], whereas the Arabs were fanatical and violent.”
Said struggled to present the alternative narrative of Palestine.
He described giving up on television interviews after his last one following the 9/11 attacks.
“Television is based upon the sound bite,” Said said.
“You’re immediately guilty and you have less than a minute to try to prove that you are not guilty and that in fact something else is happening”.
“It’s simply not worth my effort to waste time debating a foolish person on television asking me stupid questions that the media has invented.”
Mariam Said reflected on how their son faced repercussions for his father’s position as an outspoken critic of Israel, after the publication of Orientalism (1978) followed by The Question of Palestine (1979).
“Our son bore the brunt of it… He was at a very young age, seven years old, and at school he was discriminated against, some of the kids ganged up against him. Some parents of children at school believed him [Edward Said] to be a terrorist,” Mariam Said explained.
“[Our son] was always afraid that somebody was going to kill his father.”
Other reflections given by Said in the film included the role of the diaspora on both sides being something that sets the Israeli-Palestinian conflict apart from other struggles, such as South Africa.
He also contemplated the role of the intellectual who he said should be “engaged” and “part of a social movement”, which “itself needs criticism”.
“When he was in south Lebanon he threw the stones at Israeli soldiers. He again embodied the role of resistance and of the intellect, to be engaged and also [physically] resisting,” said Muna.
'Selves and Others: A Portrait of Edward Said’ has been on a mini tour of the West Bank. Its opening night in Ramallah on 12 February was attended by 250 people. It has also been screened in Nablus, Bethlehem and Birzeit University.
The Edward Said Foundation are happy for festivals or groups around the world to submit requests to them for rights to screen the film.
Both Mariam Said and Mahmoud Muna hope the film will inspire a new generation.
“We’re not going to have another Said but I hope we have another intellectual, [more] leaders and influential people who could do it the way he did it,” said Muna.
“The last resistance we have is humans” Mariam ended with a quote of her husband on the night.

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