Massachusetts-Edward W. Said
October 4, 1997

Hampshire College, Amherst, Massachusetts, October 4, 1997

Over the years, Eqbal and I have developed a kind of routine, which I want to
share with you before getting into the more serious business of describing him
and paying tribute to him. That is, we go through a whole series of Orientalist
formulas of what the abject wog, or native, might say to a white man. We take
turns being the native and the white man. So I will say to him, Oh, maulana,
you are a great one. And he will say, No, I am just a particle of dust under
your feet. And I will say…well, we go on like this for a long time. The good
thing about today is that he can't answer back. He just has to sit and listen
to praise heaped upon him.

Despite the many hours of praise and celebration deservedly heaped on our dear
friend and comrade Eqbal Ahmad, there's still a great deal more to be said
about him. I flatter myself that I can at least try to say more. One of the
most remarkable things about him is that even though he has crossed more
borders and traversed more boundaries than most people, Eqbal is reassuringly
himself in each new place, new situation, new context. This is not at all a
matter of ethnic or religious identity, nor does it have much to do with the
habitual stability we associate with solid citizens. It's rather that Eqbal's
special blend of intellectual brilliance and courage, supernally accurate
analysis, and consistently humane and warm presence make of him, to paraphrase
from Kipling's Kim, a friend of the whole world.

[…]

When I dedicated my book Culture and Imperialism to him, it was, I realize,
because in his activity, life and thinking Eqbal embodied not just the politics
of empire, but that whole fabric of experience expressed in human life itself,
rather than in economic rules and reductive formulas. What Eqbal understands
about the experience of empire, therefore, is the domination of empire in all
its forms, but also the creativity, originality and vision created in
resistance to it.

[…]

What slowly emerges in [Eqbal's] writings is the opposition between
conventional and unconventional thought and of course the even deeper
opposition between justice and injustice. In his preference for what the
unconventional and the just can bring peoples in the way of liberation,
invigorated culture, and well-being, Eqbal is firm and uncompromising. His
distrust for standing armies, frozen bureaucracies, persistent oligarchies
allows no exceptions. Yet at the same time, as he shows in his great essay on
Debray, it is not enough to be unconventional if that means having no regard
for tradition, for the goods that women and men enjoy, for the great
stabilities of human life that so different a political thinker from Eqbal, as
Edmund Burke also celebrated. Eqbal is shrewd and illusionless enough to
realize that overturning societies for the sake of revolution only, without
sufficient attention to the fact that human beings also love and create and
celebrate and commemorate, is a callous, merely destructive practice that may
be radical but is profoundly wrong.

[…]

I mustn't forget to say that, having spent the past few weeks reading and
thinking about Eqbal's contribution as activist, intellectual, scholar, teacher
and friend, how vast his range has been in his work. Like very few others, he
has traversed oceans and boundaries with skill and an enviable sense of
familiarity, never intimidated by expertise or professionalized jargon. He has
honed his language into a marvelously lean instrument in which abstractions
come to life and the concrete human experience of people all over the earth are
rendered with liveliness and precision. Let me read you, finally, one extract
from his introduction, entitled "Portent of a New Century," from Beyond the
Storm: Gulf Crisis Reader, edited by Phyllis Bennis. Note the remarkably fine
deployment of generalization, the consistent sense of irony, the regulated
anger of his prose, and note also the way his sentences neither maunder nor
cringe from harsh truths and how each one contains aperçus that will be the
subject of whole books by pompous authorities like Huntington or Brzezinski.

The twentieth has been a century most remarkable for its simultaneous capacity
to promise hope and deliver disappointments, and as the end approaches it seems
to me that the century's ending in the same way in which it began: renewed
hopes of a just and peaceable world order are being overwhelmed by politicians
and warriors whose political minds remain rooted in the past. For three hundred
years before the twentieth century dawned, the world had been transforming, a
transformation brought about by modern science, technology and imperialism. It
was through this age of capitalist and European expansion that a world system
came to be dominated by the West and the international market came to be
controlled entirely for the West's benefit. This sounds rather benign, as
though the free market was really free and worked merely to the advantage of
the fittest. Far from it. Western domination was achieved by force so
widespread, institutionalized and legitimized by religion and morality, that to
date the epistemology of this universal violence still shapes relations between
the Western and non-Western worlds.

As you read this, you feel that a voice of conviction and hope is addressing
you, speaking with you rather than lecturing at or hectoring you. This, too, is
the essential Eqbal, a companion, fellow student, relentlessly investigative
and inquiring, never dogmatic, except on matters of principle and moral
justice. For years I and I'm sure many of you have regretted that he did not
write a big book, until I realized that Eqbal has in fact written a very great
deal, scattered in his typically thoughtless way, all over the globe in
articles, interviews—Eqbal can never resist being interviewed, which is why
wherever he goes he's surrounded by young people and pretty young things with
tape recorders and notepads, anxious to have a one-on-one with him—long
scholarly pieces, journalistic interventions. I know he will go on doing that.
Trying to get Eqbal to act like a professional is like trying to plow the sea.
It's hopeless. But I was encouraged and of course flattered a couple of days
ago here in Amherst when he asked me for advice. "What do you think I should do
with my time? How should I divide it, and what should I focus on in my
writing?" he asked. Clearly because of this remarkable tribute to him, here at
Hampshire, so generously organized by his friends and colleagues, he seemed to
be thinking about this new milestone.

But I was certainly incapable of giving him at that moment the sort of useful
advice he seemed to be requesting from me. But I thought about it a bit more,
and I suggest, Eqbal, that you go on doing what only you have been able to do
so well, but please, for all our sakes, and for those of the young, try to
remember that in addition to being an oral person, a sort of peregrine Muslim
sage, and all of us your chelas [disciples], try to remember that you shouldn't
leave your words scattered to the winds or even recorded on tape, but they
should be collected and published in several volumes for everyone to read. I'd
say that you should do that for us: edit, collect, publish, and then those who
didn't have the privilege of knowing you will know what a truly remarkable,
gifted man you are. And then, write more and speak more. And if I may turn your
name into a verb, Eqbal more. [applause]

Because, in the words of Wordsworth, writing about Milton, "the world has need
of thee." We need the big works on Algeria and North Africa, on Vietnam, on
Pakistan and India, on the U.S. antiwar resistance opposition and the civil
rights struggles, on the Middle East, and at least, a full-dress theory of
revolutionary struggle for the twenty-first century. It's difficult for us to
be patient, but we will if you promise to get on with it. Do you? [applause]

   

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