Hanan Ashrawi Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

A Palestinian Voice: Conversation with Hanan Ashrawi, writer and political leader; 4/12/00 by Harry Kreisler
Photo by Jane Scherr

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Lessons Learned

What lessons might students draw from your distinguished career, where language and contemplation and love of family come with the hectic pace of international negotiations, ramming your heads against the wall of intransigent power, and so on? Should they stay out of the game?

No. It's hard to give people one lesson.

Give us several.

As a teacher myself, as an academic, I've always felt it's a learning and teaching situation; but one thing I think that comes through is the confidence that comes from self-respect. To demand respect of others you have to respect yourself and you have to be confident Ashrawi with husband Emile and daughters Amal and Zeina to stand up also to injustice and not to accept it, not to be intimidated. I've always told my students, and I enjoy that, that they can question, that they can provoke. Even when I was a minister I always told them, "Provoke reality, don't acquiesce to it. Challenge it. Speak up." The courage to speak out, not to be complacent, not to accept the givens, not to accept also, as my father said, the limits. "To be daring," he said, "be daring in the pursuit of right, of what is right, justice." And a sense of daring, of questioning, of not being deflected, comes also from a recognition that your humanity is what you have in common with others.

There is a common language that emerges, regardless of whether it's Arabic, English, French, German, Japanese. There is a common human language that recognizes no boundaries. At the same time, the human will and the human spirit are the determining factors in everything you do. There will always be small-minded, narrow-minded, power-driven, power-hungry people who will try to set limits, who will try to give you constraints. And the human spirit to refuse such constraints. The willingness to take risks and to vindicate your humanity, it seems to me this is essential.

And this is through words and action.

Of course. I mean words alone -- I love words, but words are an embodiment also of how you think, how you feel, what you believe in and they have to be expressed, first of all. Because you may have the most brilliant idea and if it's not articulated, it's not there. And words, without becoming an operative way of life, without finding expression, not just in action, even in just the way life flows, the way you perceive yourself and others and the way you deal with others, and the way you take up challenges -- it's a fusion. No person is compartmentalized and no person is separate. We are all a combination of so many different aspects, and we mustn't sell short one of our roles or one of our identities in order to have others emerge. I believe this integrated approach to a human being, a united human being, is also the integrated approach to reality.

Dr. Ashrawi, thank you very much for joining us today. I would like to end with a quote from the distinguished Palestinian writer, Edward Said, who said of you, "She is the creator and speaker of the new language of the Palestinians."

Thank you; that's a supreme compliment and statement of confidence.

Thank you very much for joining us. And thank you very much for joining us for this Conversation with History.

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