Considered by many as the pre-eminent cultural critic of our time, Edward Said was interviewed in front of a 1500-strong audience by journalist Feargal Keane as part of the Brighton Festival in May. The evening was held in conjunction with English PEN, and was an opportunity to hear the professor’s thoughts on a variety of contemporary issues in his customarily warm and erudite style.
Not surprisingly, the main thrust of Keane’s questions centred on the continuing crisis in the Middle East. Said has lived in the United States for much of his life, though he was born in Palestine, and throughout his career has been one of the most vocal proponents of Palestinian statehood. He spoke of the current “provinciality” of Congress and thinktanks in the US, and furthermore his opinion that the moment is ripe for a “disunification” of the United States; he felt that there is a need to expose the “fraudulent” Anglo-Saxon male-dominated history so central to the current Administration’s policies.
When asked what he would suggest to the would-be peace-makers in the Middle East, Said stated that he would mobilise the international Palestinian disapora, organise mass civil disobedience and demonstrations in areas such as the Gaza Strip, and would also try to address the jews of Israel more directly.
Keane used this last point to bring up Said’s close friendship with Israeli conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim, which resulted in the unique West-Eastern Divan Workshop in Weimar, August 1999. Ending on a note close to PEN’s heart, Professor Said stated that their mutual friendship and admiration added weight to his conviction that cultural discussion and exchange could be a highly effective tool in creating “conversation” (not dialogue) between different, non-extremist voices in the political Arab world.
The interview ended with a lively question and answer session. Our thanks to the speakers who provided an evening of such high-calibre discussion, and also to Liam Fox at the Brighton Festival.
Report by Tanya Andrews
Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/events/reportsonrecentevents/edwardsaidwithfeargalkeane/