Edward Said: "Freud, Zionism, and Vienna"

JOHN M COX coxj at SPAMemail.unc.edu
Mon Mar 19 10:29:59 MST 2001




Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
15 - 21 March 2001
Issue No. 525

Freud, Zionism, and Vienna
By Edward Said

This is a parable worth a few lines here, although it derives from a
rather peculiar personal experience of mine which has attracted unusual,
if undeserved, media and public attention. Ordinarily, I don't use myself
as an example, but because this one has been so misrepresented and also
because it might illuminate the context of the Palestinian-Zionist
struggle it took place in, I have permitted myself to use it. In late June
and early July 2000, I made a personal family visit to Lebanon, where I
also gave two public lectures. Like most Arabs, my family and I were very
interested to visit South Lebanon to see the recently evacuated "security
zone" militarily occupied by Israel for 22 years, from which troops of the
Jewish state were unceremoniously expelled by the Lebanese resistance. Our
visit took place on 3 July, during which day-long excursion we spent time
in the notorious Khiam prison, built by the Israelis in 1987, in which
8,000 people were tortured and detained in dreadful, bestial conditions.
Right after that we drove to the border post, also abandoned by Israeli
troops, now a deserted area except for Lebanese visitors who come there in
large numbers to throw stones of celebration across the still heavily
fortified border. No Israelis, neither military nor civilians, were in
sight.

During our 10-minute stop I was photographed there without my knowledge
pitching a tiny pebble in competition with some of the younger men
present, none of whom of course had any particular target in sight. The
area was empty for miles and miles. Two days later my picture appeared in
newspapers in Israel and all over the West. I was described as a
rock-throwing terrorist, a man of violence, and so on and on, in the
familiar chorus of defamation and falsehood known to anyone who has
incurred the hostility of Zionist propaganda.

Two ironies stand out. One was that although I have written at least eight
books on Palestine and have always advocated resistance to Zionist
occupation, I have never argued for anything but peaceful coexistence
between us and the Jews of Israel once Israel's military repression and
dispossession of Palestinians has stopped. My writings have circulated all
over the world in at least 35 languages, so my positions are scarcely
unknown, and my message is very clear. But, having found it useless to
refute the facts and arguments I have presented and, more important,
having been unable to prevent my work from reaching larger and larger
audiences, the Zionist movement has resorted to shabbier and shabbier
techniques to try to stop me. Two years ago they hired an obscure
Israeli-American lawyer to "research" the first ten years of my life and
"prove" that even though I was born in Jerusalem I was never really there;
this was supposed to show that I was a liar who had misrepresented my
right to return, even though -- and this is the stupidity and triviality
of the argument -- the invidious Israeli Law of Return allows any Jew
anywhere the "right" to come to Israel and live, whether or not they had
even set foot in Israel before.

Besides, so crude and inaccurate were this lawyer's methods of
investigation that many people whom he interviewed wrote in and
contradicted what he said; none of the journals, except one, that he
approached for publication accepted his article because of its
misrepresentations and distortions. Not only was this campaign an effort
to discredit me personally (the editor of the journal that published it
said openly that he had printed the silly rubbish produced by this hired
gun simply because he wanted to discredit me personally precisely because
I have a lot of readers) but quite amazingly it was meant to show that all
Palestinians are liars and cannot be believed in their assertions about a
right to return.

Fast upon the heels of this orchestrated effort there came the business of
the stone-throwing. And here is the second irony. Despite Israel's 22-year
devastation of south Lebanon, its destruction of entire villages, the
killing of hundreds of civilians, its use of mercenary soldiers to plunder
and punish, its deplorable use of the most inhuman methods of torture and
imprisonment in Khiam and elsewhere -- despite all that, Israeli
propaganda, aided and abetted by a corrupt Western media, chose to focus
on a harmless act of mine, blowing it up to monstrously absurd proportions
that suggested that I was a violent fanatic interested in killing Jews.
The context was left out, as were the circumstances, i.e. that I simply
threw a pebble, that no Israeli was anywhere present, that no physical
injury or harm was threatened to anyone. More bizarrely still, a whole,
again orchestrated campaign was mounted to try to get me dismissed from
the university where I have taught for 38 years. Articles in the press,
commentary, letters of abuse and death threats were all used to intimidate
or silence me, including those by colleagues of mine who suddenly
discovered their allegiance to the state of Israel. The comedy of it all,
the total lack of logic that tried to connect a trivial incident in South
Lebanon to my life and works, was to no avail, however. Colleagues rallied
to my side, as did many members of the public. Most important, the
university administration magnificently defended my right to my opinions
and actions, and noted that the campaign against me wasn't at all about my
having thrown a stone (an act rightly characterised as protected speech),
but about my political positions and activity that resisted Israel's
policy of occupation and repression.

The latest episode in all this Zionist pressure is in some ways the
saddest and most shameful. In late July 2000, I was contacted by the
director of the Freud Institute and Museum in Vienna to ask if I would
accept an invitation to deliver the annual Freud lecture there in May
2001. I said yes, and on 21 August received an official letter from the
Institute's director inviting me to do so in the name of the board. I
promptly accepted, having written about Freud and for many years been a
great admirer of his work and life. (Incidentally, it should be noted that
Freud was an early anti-Zionist but later modified his view when Nazi
persecutions of European Jews made a Jewish state seem like a possible
solution to widespread and lethal anti-Semitism. But I believe that his
position vis-à-vis Zionism was always an ambivalent one.)

The topic I proposed for my lecture was "Freud and the Non-European" in
which I intended to argue that although Freud's work was for and about
Europe, his interest in ancient civilisations like those of Egypt,
Palestine, Greek and Africa was an indication of the universalism of his
vision and the humane scope of his work. Moreover, I believed that his
thought deserved to be appreciated for its anti-provincialism, quite
unlike that of his contemporaries who denigrated other non-European
cultures as lesser or inferior.

Then without warning on 8 February of this year, I was informed by the
Institute's chairman, a Viennese sociologist by the name of Schülein, that
the board had decided to cancel my lecture, because (he said) of the
political situation in the Middle East "and the consequences of it." No
other explanation was given. It was a most unprofessional and lamentable
gesture very much in contradiction with the spirit and the letter of
Freud's work. In over 30 years of lecturing all over the world this had
never happened to me, and I immediately responded by asking Schalein in a
one-sentence letter to explain to me how a lecture on Freud in Vienna had
anything to do with "the political condition in the Middle East." I have
of course received no answer.

To make matters worse, the New York Times published a story on 10 March
about the episode, along with a grotesquely enlarged version of the famous
photograph in South Lebanon last July, an event that had taken place well
before the Freud people had invited me in late August. When Schalein was
interviewed by the Times, he had the gall to bring up the photo and say
what he never had the courage to say to me, that it (as well as my
criticism of Israel's occupation) was the reason for the cancellation,
given, he added, that it might offend Viennese Jewish sensitivities in the
context of Jörg Haider's presence, the Holocaust, and the history of
Austrian anti-Semitism. That a respectable academic should say such
rubbish beggars the imagination, but that he should do so even as Israel
is besieging and killing Palestinians mercilessly on a daily basis -- that
is indecent.

What in their appalling pusillanimity the Freudian gang did not say
publicly was that the real reason for the unseemly cancellation of my
lecture was that it was the price they paid to their donors in Israel and
the US. An exhibition of Freud's papers mounted by the Institute has
already been in Vienna and New York; now the hope is that it will be put
on in Israel. The potential funders seem to have demanded that they would
pay for the exhibition in Tel Aviv if my lecture were cancelled. The
spineless Vienna board caved in, and my lecture was cancelled accordingly,
not because I advocate violence and hatred, but because I do not!

I said at the time that Freud was hounded out of Vienna by the Nazis and
the majority of the Austrian people. Today those same paragons of courage
and intellectual principle ban a Palestinian from lecturing. So low has
this particularly unpleasant brand of Zionism sunk that it cannot justify
itself by open debate and genuine dialogue. It uses the shadowy mafia
tactics of threat and extortion to exact silence and compliance. So
desperately does it seek acceptance that it reveals itself in Israel and
through its supporters elsewhere, alas, to be in favour of effacing the
Palestinian voice entirely, whether by choking Palestinian villages like
Bir Zeit, or by shutting down discussion and criticism wherever it can
find collaborators and cowards to carry out its reprehensible demands. No
wonder that in such a climate Ariel Sharon is Israel's leader.

But in the end these thuggish tactics backfire, since not everyone is
afraid, and not every voice can be silenced. After 50 years of Zionist
censorship and misrepresentation, the Palestinians continue their
struggle. And everywhere, despite poor media coverage, despite the
venality of institutions like the Freud Society, despite the cowardice of
intellectuals who put their consciences to sleep, people speak up for
justice and peace. Immediately after Vienna cancelled my invitation, the
London Freud Museum invited me to deliver the lecture I was to have given
in Vienna. (After being driven from Vienna in 1938, Freud spent the last
year of his life in London.) Two Austrian institutions, the Institute for
the Human Sciences and the Austrian Society for Literature invited me to
lecture in Vienna at a date of my choosing. A group of distinguished
psychoanalysts and psychoanalytic critics (including Mustafa Safouan)
wrote a letter to the Freud Institute protesting the cancellation. Many
others have been shocked at such naked bullying and have said so in
public. Meanwhile, Palestinian resistance continues everywhere.

I still believe it is our role as a people seeking peace with justice to
provide an alternative vision to Zionism's, a vision based on equality and
inclusion, rather than on apartheid and exclusion. Each episode such as
the one I have described here augments my conviction that neither Israelis
nor Palestinians have any alternative to sharing a land that both claim. I
also believe that the Al-Aqsa Intifada must be directed towards that end,
even though political and cultural resistance to Israel's reprehensible
occupation policies of siege, humiliation, starvation and collective
punishment must be vigourously resisted. The Israeli military causes
immense damage to Palestinians day after day: more innocent people are
killed, their land destroyed or confiscated, their houses bombed and
demolished, their movements circumscribed or stopped entirely. Thousands
of civilians cannot find work, go to school, or receive medical treatment
as a result of these Israeli actions. Such arrogance and suicidal rage
against the Palestinians will bring no results except more suffering and
more hatred, which is why in the end Sharon has always failed and resorted
to useless murder and pillage. For our own sakes, we must rise above
Zionism's bankruptcy and continue to articulate our own message of peace
with justice. If the way seems difficult, it cannot be abandoned. When any
of us is stopped, ten others can take his or her place. That is the
genuine hallmark of our struggle, and neither censorship nor base
complicity with it can prevent its success.

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