Friday, 4 November 2011


An entity called Palestine (A country? A nation? A state? A geography? A territory?) joins UNESCO, and the USA, a nation of great power, objects and withdraws US$ 60 million of funding from the UN agency.

Is it the E word, Palestinian Education, that is so threatening? Or is it the S word, Palestinian Science? Or could it be the C word, Palestinian Culture, that sends alarm bells thrilling through Washington (38 degrees North, 77 degrees West)? 

This move is pre-mature, Washington states. It should wait until a comprehensive agreement between Palestine and Israel, a state recognised by the UN and with whom it has a complicated relationship, is achieved. 

It appears as if the geo-political entity Palestine has had enough waiting and is nudging doors open at the UN. The USA is threatened and responds accordingly.

Al Pacino, the marvellous American actor, plays a training officer in a CIA film drama, The Recruit, inducting new recruits to that USA government covert agency. In a speech outlining threat and response, he asks and answers the question   'why are we here?' :

... I say we are all here in this room because we believe. We believe in good and evil, and we choose good. We believe in right and wrong, and we choose right. Our cause is just. Our enemies...everywhere. They're all around us....

Choices of good/evil and right/wrong, assertions of just cause, naming of enemies and placing them everywhere, even within, are all political matters and thus butt against the C word, Culture.

According to Edward Said, a Palestinian academic who spent a long career in America, Culture

means all those practices, like the arts of description, communication and representation, that have relative autonomy from the economic, social and political realms and that often exist in aesthetic forms, one of whose principle aims is pleasure.'

Could it be this P word, Pleasure, that is so threatening? As in the pleasure of building peace in the minds of men and women, as UNESCO would have it?

Said adds that Culture is:

..... each society's reservoir of the best that has been known or thought......

Perhaps this is the threatening aspect of the C word? That attention might need to be given to the stories peoples and nations know and think as they contest land and history. Thus, again according to Said, Culture

is a sort of theatre where various political and ideological causes engage one another.

Violence erupts on the ground and on the seas of Palestine. Military engagements between the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and Hamas and other armed groups continue. Armed engagements are likely between the IDF and a flotilla of vessels, including Canadian and Irish ships, off the coast of Palestine in coming days. Israel cuts funding to UNESCO and test launches a ballistic missile.

Edward Said found himself feeling:

... even with regard to the Palestinian movement, and certainly in the context in America in which I find myself – I still feel finally, somehow misplaced...... 

Is that what is so threatening about Culture? That it is not easily fixed?

The Recruit; film; Roger Donaldson; Touchstone Pictures; 2003
Culture and Imperialism; book; Edward Said; Vintage; 1994
Edward Said: a critical reader; book; Michael Sprinker; Blackwell; 1992

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