|Page from: Etal Adnan, The Arab Apocalypse (Sausalito, CA: Post-Apollo Press, 1989)|
“We Rejoiced that Carson and Godey had been able to give so useful a lesson to these American Arabs who lie in wait to murder and plunder the innocent traveler,” wrote John C. Fremont, “the conqueror of California” of the indigenous people who got in his way. Fremont’s expeditions in the 1840s, commanding role in the Mexican-American war, and governorship over the territory of Arizona, made him a central figure in the building of the United States’s continental empire in the nineteenth century.
… the famous Cherokee Catherine Brown, “the lovely convert from heathenism” celebrated by the American Board becuase she repudiated her native Indian culture but also because she vindicated missionary labor in the face of white American racism, donated her earrings for the mission to Palestine. Far from reflecting failure or underscoring a history of American intolerance, the domestic errand to the wilderness was made to bless explicitly a much bolder errand to the world. (Ussama Makdisi, 2008)
“I write these lines as the horrific waste and potential violence of today's gulf crisis focus all efforts on war and confrontation. Is it too much to connect the stark political and military polarization with the cultural abyss that exists between Arabs and the West?” Edward Said wrote these words in the September 17th, 1990 issue of The Nation. Four months later, on January 17th, 1991, the United States and its ancillaries began a bombing campaign that would last more than a month and kill many thousands of Iraqis. Operation Desert Storm, as that much media theorized exercise in mass murder was dubbed, did not inaugurate American violence in the Middle East. Nor did it end it.
Said wrote the above words in his essay “Embargoed Literature.” There, Said criticized the dearth of English translations of Arabic texts. Arabic, a publisher told Said, “is a controversial language.” American translator and critic Robyn Creswell has recently noted an ironic reversal in Arabic’s American fortunes:
Arabic literature is no longer embargoed—9/11 effectively lifted those sanctions—but the language remains controversial. In the media and the popular sphere it is reduced to the lexicon of sectarianism (Sunni, Shia, Alawi), religiously inspired violence (jihad, shahid [martyr]), and female subjugation (niqab, hijab). Complex traditions like the sharia are cartoonishly misrepresented, and the region is generally made to serve, as it often has, as the mirror image of our idealized self.
Arabic indeed remains controversial, but Arabs themselves more so. Translations of Arabic literature flourish, while a people is embargoed. But Arabs and Palestinians are not the only—or the people most often—murdered by American Imperialism. And they certainly weren’t the first.
As ethnographers, we must take the interruption of settler capitalism enacted by #NoDAPL seriously. Oceti Sakowin are not engaged in some transitory, passing moment. Neither are the people I work with at Unist’ot’en camp, where Wet’suwet’en peoples have been living on the land and stymieing pipeline construction for over seven years. Nothing was or is fleeting about Oka, Wounded Knee, Alcatraz, Gustafson Lake, Elsipogtog, the Peace River Valley, Oak Flat, Klabona, Lelu Island, Mauna Kea, or Muskrat Falls. While these movements may appear to be interruptions of the normal progression of relations between settler states and Indigenous peoples, they are in fact continuations of hundreds of years of Indigenous resilience and resistance. What other structures of industrial expansion, of academic capital, and of knowledge production need interruption in order to remake our relations beyond extraction? I will leave this question to you. In the meantime, see you on the front lines. (Anne Spice, 2016)
After Said’s essay was published, David Seals wrote to The Nation from Rapid City, S.D.:
As a “Native Indian” inside the illegal borders of the United States, I would like to thank you for your fair and excellent coverage of the similar racism practiced in this country toward those other brown and red people of Mesopotamia. Christopher Hitchens's “Minority Report” and Edward W. Said’s “Embargoed Literature” could easily have transposed Sioux Indians for Arabs.
I am an “Indian” writer in America, and I have had the same trouble getting my novels published as has Hanan al-Shaykh. After many eyars, and a bad Hollywood movie, my novel the Powwow Highway was very reluctantly brought out by the same Penguin Said praises for Publishing Gamal al-Ghitani and Adonis. That same Penguin then ignored the book and refused to publish another they had contracted for, saying, in the words of New American Library executive editor Michaela Hamilton, “it needs to be more accessible to white Americans.”
I realize this issue includes the usual marketplace censorship of commercially questionable literature, but it also involves the sheer hostility of Americans toward the slayers of Custer and pioneers. We are a constant reminder that the American heart is buried forever at Wounded Knee. Just thought I’d point out the similarity between the Cheyennes and the Palestinians.
Said responded to the letter: “David Seal’s experience with Penguin is, I agree, very discouraging. It should be said that even though Penguin did publish Ghitani and Adonis, it didn’t do anything to promote or advertise the books, so they just disappeared. Seals also has a point about white Americans not being able to deal with 'Native Indians': It’s a common characteristic of all settler/colonial societies.”
In 1989, Robert Warrior, then a student at the Union Theological Seminary in New York, wrote:
Is there a god, a spirit, who will hear us and stand with us in the Amazon, Osage County, and Wounded Knee? Is there a god, a spirit, able to move among the pain and anger of Nablus, Gaza, and Soweto? Perhaps. But we, the wretched of the earth, may be well advised this time not to listen to outsiders with their promises of liberation and deliverance. We will perhaps do better to look elsewhere for our vision of justice, peace, and political sanity—a vision through which we escape not only our oppressors, but our oppression as well. Maybe, for once, we will just have to listen to ourselves, leaving the gods of this continent’s real strangers to do battle among themselves.