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To the Memory of Edward W. Said
-A Tribute from Japan

 

100 SHAHEED- 100 LIVES
Over the loss of Edward W. Said, the Executive Committee for The "100 Shaheed, 100 Lives" Memorial Exhibit in Japan would like to express our grief and deep sympathy with his family, his people and everybody who shares the joy and encouragement we have drawn from his words.

The memorial exhibit, organized by the Khalill Sakakini Cultural Center in Ramallah traveled five Japanese cities -- Tokyo, Kyoto, Okinawa, Matsumoto and Osaka -- during from 1 August to 19 October 2003. The exhibition, held outside the Arab world for the first time, was extremely successful, attracting extensive press coverage and favorable responses from viewers, part of which are cited in our web site. It was not easy, however, for the committee to convince people in advance the artistic value of the exhibit, which was, unless actually shown, vulnerable to preconceived ideas about the Palestine-Israel conflicts and tended to be mistaken as a political event rather than an art show. Nor was it entirely trouble free, but was during the course subject to a usual dose of systematic Zionist harassment. Nonetheless, the strong sympathies and surprisingly deep understandings expressed by the viewers simply and ultimately proved the power of truth expressed in an art form, the strict minimalism of which only emphasizes the universality of the Palestinian experiences.

Among several symposiums and lectures accompanied with the exhibition, the one titled "Memorial, Memory and Testimony" featured a memorable talk by Adila Laidi, the director of the Sakakini Cultural Center and the originator of the exhibit, about the historical development of the Palestinian identity and their strenuous efforts to keep truck, preserve and present their history as a people. In the course, she mentioned about Edward Said and his famous memoir, which she said has encouraged Arab writers' writing their own memoirs. Her remark was beautifully followed up by the next speaker Suh Kyungsik, a Japan-based Korean writer, who happened to have had a long conversation with Raji Sourani, Gaza's foremost human rights lawyer, about the latter's close friendship with Edward Said just a few days earlier in Okinawa, the southernmost islands hosting most US forces stationed in Japan.
The conversation took place in the Sakima Museum, which is dedicated for voiceless war victims and in fact one of the hosts of our "100 Shaheed, 100 Lives" exhibition. Suh, who despite his ethnic background was born and raised in Japan and went through statelessness as a result of the dislocation of his family during Japan's occupation of the Korean peninsula, explained how much he owed Said, especially the idea of "chosen identity," to become able to locate himself in the world and understand his otherwise irreconcilable position. For him, 1948 marks the beginning of great post-WWII dislocations in both the Middle East and the Far East, where the North-South divide of Korea became apparent in that year. What happened to the Koreans, as well as Palestinians, Okinawans and so many others, were the experiences shared worldwide in the latter half of the twentieth century and it was Said who helped Suh to see universality in these experiences.

The sad news came in toward the end of our exhibition, on 25 September. Only after his death, I realized how many of our executive committee members did at some point of their career have some relation with Edward Said, such as professor Yuzo Itagaki, who virtually introduced the Palestinian professor to Japanese audience with the Japanese translation of "Orientalism" (published in 1986). It was in retrospect as if his latent influence gave impetus to our project and like invisible glue held us together.

I myself translated his political comments regularly appeared on the Al-Ahram Weekly, which attracted so many people worldwide especially after 9-11. These articles, posted on my web site, gained him a lot of new Japanese readers who previously were unfamiliar with the whole Middle East question. Many of them emailed their sincere condolences to my Said site, presumably because they knew no other place to post their grievances and seek consolation from others. His death has thus been felt as a great loss by many in this country too, and I hope this would be a small help to lift up your heart.

November 10, 2003, Tokyo
The Executive Committee for "100 Shaheed, 100 Lives" Japan



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