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[Nettime-bold] Freud, Zionism and Vienna

Freud, Zionism and Vienna

By Edward Said

Al-Ahram Weekly On-line

15 - 21 March 2001

Issue No.525

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


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


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


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


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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