Vladimir Tamari talks about Edward Said and their meeting in Tokyo. An interview with Yuzo Itagaki
Following the passing
away of Edward Said in September 2003, Professor
Yuzo Itagaki of Tokyo University the well known
expert on the Palestine Question and a
friend, interviewed me on October 30 2003 about our friendship.
My answers were translated
into Japanese for publication in Tokyo:
Title: パレスチナ シャドウライン越し透視画法（パースペクティブ）――サイードについて語る／断章 Author(s): ウラジミル・タマリ 板垣雄三 訳 Magazine’s Name: 現代思想 Special Issue’s Title: サイード特集 Volume & Number: Vol. 31, No. 14 （臨時増刊号） November 2003 Pages: pp. 37－43 Publishers: 東京・青土社 (Seido-sha) Demand Code: 国会図書館 東京・新館書庫 Z9-368
Vladimir and his wife Kyoko, with Edward and his wife Mariam at Tamari’s home in Tokyo in 1996. Edward was in Japan at the invitation of Kenzaburo Oe, the Nobel-prizewinning writer, who Vladimir met in the early 1970’s. As an outspoken Palestinian, the Japan Afro-Asian Writer’s Association which Oe headed invited Vladimir to be an honorary member and sponsored his first exhibition in Japan. Later Vladim toured Japan with the renown poets Adonis and Mahmoud Darwish when they were invited to the country by the Association.
Itagaki: Please disclose the
progress of your friendship with Edward, if
you don’t mind.
Tamari: Edward Said (Allah
Yirhamo, as we say in Arabic of the recently dead,
May God Rest His Soul) was of a slightly older generation than mine,
and because Palestinians were scattered after the 1948 war, I did not
have the chance to meet him except during his visit to Japan. I went to
university at AUB with two of his sisters; his wife Mariam was also a
student there. His younger sister Joyce was a good friend in our
group. My sister Tania Tamari Nasir was a close friend of
Edward’s, particularly in musical matters in the West Bank.
During our meeting in Tokyo we talked about our many common
Itagaki: I know that he once
wished to see you first in Japan just on his
arrival at Narita airport. How was the meeting at Tokyo?
Tamari: My sister introduced
us. I found him warm, sincere and interesting -
and wonderful to talk to. We did not talk much about
politics but enough to understand that we had a slightly different
perspective on the tragedy of Palestine. He said that the required
Palestinian leadership needed to ‘soar’ … but I felt that we as a
people were so overpowered by events and that our enemies are so much
more powerful, that it was a miracle we can just ‘float’ and merely
survive. Even keeping our hopes alive for a better day required heroic
efforts. I did not say all that but felt it.
Itagaki:What are your estimation
and analysis on his career and
Tamari: I have great
admiration for his integrity, intelligence and
originality. The more of his works I read the greater my estimate
of his genius. He had a very clear vision of his role as an
intellectual ‘engaged’ – as Sartre put it- in the affairs of our
his daily life in New York, yet chose to direct all his energies to
express his experiences as a Palestinian and interpret them to the
West. His success can only be measured by the worldwide recognition he
gained. Forty years ago the West looked only with disgust or pity at
Palestinians, and totally misunderstood or ignored our cause. The
Palestinian revolution brought attention to our just demands, but it
was Edward Said who explained that cause best in a language the West
could understand. In turn his clarity of vision and courageous
political stance inspired many Arabs with renewed pride and confidence.
Itagaki:What are your views on his
literary works and accomplishments?
Tamari: I was impressed by
his wide scholarship the intelligence and lucidity
of his writing. I have read and enjoyed most of the novels of Conrad,
and learning that Edward was an expert on this author was an added
attraction. It is hard for me here in my isolation in Japan to
judge the impact of Edward Said on the intellectual thinking of our
time, but by all measures he has made a great impression in
intellectual and political circles. The world is appalled by the
aggressive neo-imperialism of Israel and the US, also by the violence
of the reaction from some groups in the Third World. People turned to
Edward Said’s writings for an explanation of what is happening and in
hopes of finding a solution to what appears to be a confrontation
between disparate worlds. He was a sort of bridge between East and West
that many trusted.
Itagaki:How did he appreciate your
Tamari: He saw my paintings
in Tokyo and one I presented to him. I feel very
proud of his appreciation of my artworks.
Itagaki:What is your opinion about
the relationship between politics and
music for him?
Tamari: I think he did a
wonderful thing in supporting the activities of his
friend the Israeli musician Daniel Barenboim to give concerts in the
West Bank and establish an Israeli-Palestinian youth group devoted to
friendship through music. My sister Tania was very active in these
efforts and published a long essay about that.
Itagaki: You are painting while
listening to Western classical music. For
you, what is relationship between painting and music?
Tamari: In the early 1960’s I
experimented with making a short film of ‘visual
music’ where colors move in time to a passage in Bach’s Brandenburg
concerto. I wanted my art to move like music. I did not realize
that this dream has a history hundreds of years old. Recently I
spent more than two years making about 25 paintings, made while
listening to about two dozen composers. Bach in January, Brahms in
November and so on. I also wrote an essay about this wonderful
experience, with a short history of visual music.
Itagaki: Could there be any
difference between you and Edward on the idea or
method of criticism?
Tamari: There could be no
comparison! He is very scholarly and systematic,
while my own comments tend to be emotional and sarcastic. He
stood at a podium and took a position of responsibility as an
intellectual leader. I escaped to Japan to be able to ‘hide’ and work
in peace on my art and research. Of course I never forgot Palestine.
For some time I tried to make more public contributions to the telling
the story of Palestine, but I am now convinced my being an artist is
enough by itself.
Itagaki: How did you look at him
as a Palestinian intellectual in exile from
your standpoint alike?
Tamari: Until I read the
writings of Edward Said there were very few
Palestinian voices that could express what I was going through as a
fellow exile. I feel grateful that he made the effort to explain our
condition of living in one country while our heart is partly in another.
Itagaki: What do you think is the
most important message he left the
Tamari: For people in the
West he showed that people in the Third World,
particularly Palestinians, Arabs and other Moslems, have their own
narrative that deserves to be heard with their own voice, not merely as
a subject for Western study and curiosity. For people in the Third
World he showed that not everyone in the West is an aggressive
imperialist oppressor, but that many people there understand our issues
and wish things to change. He put current events in their correct
historical context: that of the continuing onslaught of imperialism by
the powerful upon the powerless
Itagaki: What do you think was the
future vision of the humankind to be
relieved for Edward's deliberation in facing such a renewed catastrophe
as befalling to the Palestinians now?
Tamari: I think he was a
fighter who saw injustice and tried his best to show
how to overcome it here and now. He was enough of a realist, however,
not to make long-range plans or predictions. He preferred a
bi-national State shared by Israelis and Palestinians to the two-State
solution most people speak about nowadays. The danger of a single
bi-national state, in my opinion, is that the Israelis could interpret
an annexation of the West Bank of Palestine as a unification of Israeli
and Palestinian hopes for a homeland, while the Palestinians lose even
more rights. Edward was as frustrated as everyone about the new
catastrophes visited upon our people.
Itagaki: What could be
Christianity for him in your view?
Tamari: Although he was born
of a Christian family, he hinted in several of his
writings that he was practically an atheist. I respect his opinion of
course, but I felt this is unfortunate because Jesus Christ, who was
born and was crucified in Palestine, is a perfect symbol of the
sufferings of the innocent present-day Palestinians. The Palestinian
poet Mahmud Darwish and the painter Ismail Shammout, both Moslems,
expressed in their works the relationship between Christ’s Cross and
the sufferings of the Palestinians today.
Itagaki: What do you think
Jerusalem meant for him?
Tamari: Of course he knew of
Jerusalem’s importance for every Palestinian, but
I do not know what he felt for the city on a personal level.
Itagaki:There were so many
statements of mourning for the passing of Edward
Said all over the world. What were the most impressive passages among
them in your observation?
Tamari: It was not any
particular passage that I remember, but the fact that
all the major newspapers and newsmagazines East and West, even
Microsoft’s online news publication, announced or commented on his
death. I did not realize that he had become such a prominent
Itagaki: In Japan, Edward Said has
been commemorated as an intellectual of
integrity and conscience. However, it is a pity that those who
sympathetically memorialize him neglect a gaze at the actualities in
Palestine. Please tell frankly about your impression on the Japanese
attitude in commemorating Edward after his death.
Tamari: The Japanese live in
an island far away from events in the Middle East;
their efforts to survive after the Second World War took all their
energy. With the success of contemporary Japan people now have the
leisure to look around and study world affairs more closely. The
fact that Edward Said is a Palestinian is important in itself. Thirty
years ago Golda Meir the Israeli premier insisted that ‘there are no
Palestinians’. With the fame of Edward Said in Japan people will
inevitably pay attention to our cause in some way or other. I feel
proud and thankful that you and many other Japanese friends and others
I do not know, are devoting all their efforts to developing the bridge
between Japan, this great nation, and the Palestinians, at a time of
Itagaki: Could you suggest how
feasible the understanding of the Palestine
Question is through the commemoration of Edward, his life and death
under cultural strife against imperialism?
Tamari: The religious
coloring of Zionism complicates the Palestinian problem,
but in essence Israel is the last remaining vestige of European
imperialism that began with the Age of Discovery hundreds of years ago.
Unfortunately the US government now feels free to start a new phase of
world imperialism. The case of Palestine is central to both phases of
this history. What happens in Palestine will happen to the whole world
so it is important that justice and peace is made to prevail there.
Itagaki: Please give some briefing
of your own personal history and
background for the readers' information
Tamari: I was born in
Jerusalem in 1942 in a Palestinian Arab family and lived
in Ramallah till my early twenties. I studied physics and then art at
the American University of Beirut. I met my wife Kyoko during one year
of study in the US and we got married in Beirut just after the 1967
war. We came to Japan in 1970 and have lived here ever since. I tried
to pioneer a cultural bridge between Palestine and Japan, concentrating
on exhibitions of Palestinian refugee children’s paintings. However
extremist activities in the seventies made the word Palestine and
terrorism, and political pressure hindered our activities to inform the
Japanese about Palestine. I am proud of the support and friendship of
Professor Yuzo Itagaki from that time until now. Like Edward Said, he
is a truly inspiring example of the active intellectual. Itagaki Sensei
and his colleagues and students have succeeded in developing bridges
not only between Japan and Palestine and the Arab world, but other
regions as well. In Japan, supported by my dear wife Kyoko, I tried to
contribute to this cultural exchange, but have concentrated more on my
painting and inventing a 3 Dimensional Drawing Instrument, and more
recently on my research in physics. Our two daughters Mariam and Mona
were born here, and now it is their time to contribute to building this
bridge of understanding, peace and friendship between Japan and
Palestine and the great world beyond.