Edward Said, a prominent intellectual known as both a scholar of modern literature and an expert on international and Middle Eastern politics, delivered that message Thursday at Kansas University. He spoke about "The Dilemmas of American Humanism" before a crowd of more than 700 as part of Kansas University's Humanities Lecture Series.
Said cautioned against creating furrows between ethnic groups, religions and cultures in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Arabs and Muslims in America have lived in a volatile atmosphere the past several weeks, the objects of hatred, insults and threats, Said said.
The root of the problem, Said said, is that there is "little positive knowledge of Arabs and Muslims as human beings in the public sphere to fall back on to balance negative images."
Film and television are packed with horrendous pictures of Muslims and Arabs as terrorists, Said said. And U.S. foreign policy has subjected thousands of civilians in Middle Eastern countries to death, he said.
"There is an enormous gap between what the average American citizen is aware of and the often unjust policies undertaken in our name," he said.
Of all the Muslims and Arabs Said knows, none is jealous of American prosperity, he noted.
"They wonder why so rich and admirable a place as America ... has behaved internationally with such callous obliviousness," he said.
The recent hesitancy to respond with immediate, violent retribution makes Said hopeful. "I'm very glad the rhetoric has become less apocalyptic and more humanistic. I hope a similar constituency is developing in the Arab world."
-- Staff writer Mindie Paget can be reached at 832-7187.