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Prince of Asturias Award for Concord 2002
Honourable Members of the Authorities,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would first like to express my deep feelings and most sincere gratitude for having the Prince of Asturias Award for Concord conferred not on a handful of men, but on an idea, on hundreds of young people in the Near East who have put their bravest efforts into making a music of harmony, of dialogue - a music which, in short, is a perfect expression of what Edward Said and myself are so proud of representing this evening. Sharing this award with him is a great honour for me, given the admiration I have had for him for many years.
Our project may not change the world, but it is a step forward, and these are the steps we are all obliged to take out of responsibility and within each of our possibilities. We have felt the heartbeats of many who have accompanied us over the years, and we feel enormous satisfaction that today the Prince of Asturias Foundation, the members of its patronage and the people of the Principality join our initiative and have contributed the spirit of this noble project, dedicated to humanity and humanism since 1980.
Edward Said and myself see our project as an ongoing dialogue. This award highlights a manifestation of concord in the guise of dialogue and harmony. In the West Eastern Divan the universal, metaphysical language of music links with the continuous dialogue that we have with young people, and that young people have with each other.
Averroes and Maimonides, in their philosophical complicity, proposed that there should be a balance between reason and metaphysics; they refused to be called masters and they listened and entered into dialogue with their disciples, just as we do with these young people, who think they are picking up some modest piece of knowledge or technique from us, but who are often providing us with great lessons.
Edward Said and myself maintain a continuous dialogue, imitating the characters in the platonic dialogue, the rhapsodist and the philosopher who debate about rational knowledge and inspiration. As in Plato's work dialogue is an end - to reflect and draw conclusions - and also a means - a way of understanding existence and friendship.
Spain is also a land of dialogue. The period of the Reconquest began in Asturias, which is a human adventure of coming together and of falling apart. After the deafening silence of this mythical and unknown - other period - a period of exchange occurred of which there are fine examples in literature, music and art.
The life of Edward Said and my own life represent the drama our peoples have lived through over the last century. Our friendship and our work also represent hope, because this is the land we have chosen to live in, like two nomads.
Thw West Eastern Divan has also travelled, and has found a home in Spain, in Andalucía, whose people and whose regional government we would also like to thank for their invaluable help.
Corcord is expressed in music as harmony. An orchestra requires musicians to listen to each other; none should attempt to play louder than the next, they must respect and know each other. It is a song in praise of respect, of the effort to understand one another, something that is crucial to resolve a conflict that has no military solution. The political solution may still be far off at the present time, which strengthens my belief that a person's essential obligation is to reflect, to act within his own means. I believe an independent movement uniting both people could be born in this way, and it would help by contributing to vanquishing the hate that stands between them nowadays.
Music cannot be defined in words, because if we tried to do so, we would limit its scope. Music provides a universal, timeless language. It is "sonorous air", as Ferruccio Busconi said, and its strength lies in the blending of a physical element - sound - and a human content, which has not changed in the course of history and its civilizations.
There is a reflection on Seneca made by the great Spanish philosopher María Zambrano, which we might recall today:
"The real measure of being cannot be found in dogma, but rather in a particular man who perceives the harmony of the world in his own inner harmony. It is a question of hearing - we are told - a musical virtue of the wise man. It is a permanent stance which perceives, and it is like an ongoing chord. In short, it is an art. Morality has been explained in Aesthetics, and like any aesthetics, there is something impossible to communicate in it."
It is true that there is something impossible to communicate, something beyond words, in music, and perhaps this is what makes young Israelis and Arabs unite to transform sound into a musical experience.
Honourable members of the Authorities,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We live in a world of permanent contrasts, between harmony and dissonance, between injustice and rational behaviour, between the denial of the right to expression and dialogue, between the darkness of violence and the splendour of humanism. We find arguments to remind us that the history of man provides permanent example of the negative side of these equations every day.
Many centuries ago, in the Kingdom of Asturias, the Holy Man of Liébana, made on of the most splendid contributions to Western culture. He evoked a celestial Jerusalem in his work within the framework of a vision of the Apocalypse. However, a different paradise was being forged not so far from here, with the contributions of Muslims, Christians and Jews.
The fact that two friends, two brothers, have managed to launch our small project, the fact that you are here today paying tribute to this effort, leads us to ponder the more positive side of human nature, and brings us hope that perhaps between us all, between you and us, we might provide the Palestinian and Jewish peoples with something without which man cannot live: hope in a better life, which should unquestionably manifest itself in a Jerusalem on earth where men can coexist, keeping their identities, creating a bridge between west and east.
I hope this award opens up room for hope and for the peace that lies at the heart of hope.
It is a tremendous honour to be awarded this extraordinary prize and to be able to share it with my dear friend and colleague Daniel Barenboim. I am grateful beyond words to the members of the Prince of Asturias Concord Prize for choosing us to receive this wonderful sign of recognition. And I would like to congratulate the other recipients, whose outstanding achievements in the arts and sciences have similarly been recognized here today.
The world today is full of battling identities and nationalisms. They have filled the news for several years now, many of them the result of what happened when the great classical empires began to dissolve after World War Two. All too often, inherited schemes of imperial partition such as took place in India and Palestine, aggravated communal tensions even more than before and seemed to have settled nothing. Muslim and Hindu nationalists still fight on, and Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews are still a long way from any kind of peace. The idea and the practice of coexistence and equality appears so distant as to seem foolishly utopian. Far from achieving and fulfilling themselves, identities in close conflict. Other, unrealised struggles for identity simmer away, nursing injuries and a sense of sustained injustice that often lead to outright belligerence.
In every case, though, both sides of the battle over identity consider that they have justice on their side. But where is the justice? Is it to fight on and on even if one´s power has grown well beyond that of one´s opponent? Or is it to oppose unjust practices and keep calling attention to abuses of human and political rights? Or is it to take a superior position and pretend that identity is of no concern to you?
The underlying problem with all this is that it is impossible to be neutral or to look at such tensions from on high. No matter how detached we try to be, these are life and death matters for every human being in one way or another. Each of us belongs to a community with its own national narrative, its own traditions, language, history, foundational ideas, heroic figures. These provide the substance from which all identities are formed, although not all identities fell themselves to be embattled and under constant pressure. Moreover, it is true that no identity is fixed forever, since the dynamics of history and culture assure constant evolution, change and reflection. Worse of all is when either individuals or groups pretend that they are the true representatives of an identity, only they the correct interpreters of the faith, only they the real bearers of a people´s history, only the true realization of a given identity whether it be Islamic, Judaic, Arab, American, or European From such insensate convictions come not only fanaticism and fundamentalism, but also a total absence of understanding of and compassion for the Other.
One of the specially attractive attributes of Spanish identity to me is that as a nation it has successfully negotiated the pluralism -and even the warring contradictions- in the history of its own complex identity. Spain´s Islamic, Judaic and Christian histories together provide a model for the co-existence of traditions and beliefs. What might have been unending civil war has resulted instead in the recognition of a pluricultural past, a source of hope and inspiration, rather than of factionalism and dissension.
What was once suppressed or denied in Spain´s long history has received its due, thanks to the recreative efforts of heroic figures such as Americo Castro and Juan Goytisolo.
As a Palestinian born in Jerusalem my national history and society of my forbears was shattered in 1948 when Israel was established. Since that time -the better part of my own lifetime- I have participated in the struggle not just to bring justice and restitution to my people, but also to keep the hope for self-determination alive. Our modern history as a people has been full of unacknowledged suffering and continued dispossession. As an American living a life of privilege and study at Columbia University, where I have been incredibly fortunate in my career as a teacher, I came to the realization very early on that I had the choice either of forgetting my past as well as the many members of my family who were rendered homeless refugees in 1948, or of dedicating myself to lessening the traumas of suffering an dispossession by writing, speaking, testifying to the tragedy of Palestine. I am proud to say that I chose the latter course, and with it the cause of a non-militaristic and non-imperial American policy. I have always believed in the primacy not of armed struggle but of rational argument, openness, and honesty, all deployed in the interests not of exclusion but of inclusion. How to reconcile the reality of an oppressed people, much abused and ignored as having no political and human rights, with the reality of another people, whose history of persecution an genocide unjustly, in my opinion, overrode the presence of an indigenous people in the march toward self-determination? That was the issue. It involved the cooperation of many people, many colleagues and like-minded friends, Arabs and Jews, and non-Arabs and non-Jews, whose passion for justice brought them together with the people of Palestine, suffering under Israeli military occupation for 35 years. That suffering as well as the dispossession of the entire Palestinian nation in exile cried out for acknowledgement an justice.
It has been a hard fight, and we are far from nearing its end. Daily sacrifices are made by courageous Palestinian men and women who go on with their lives despite curfews, house demolitions, killings, mass detentions, and land expropriation. But we are always in need of moral support, we need to grip the world´s imagination, we need to show those who believe Palestine/Israel is the land of only one people that iti is a land for two peoples who can neither exterminate nor expel each other, but must somehow approach each other as equals with equal rights to live in peace and security, together. It is therefore crucial for me to recognize the energy and dedication of those Israeli and non-Israeli Jews who have crossed the line of convention, conformity and assertive identity and acknowledged their moral involvement in a cause that in so many ways is also their cause. I should like to pay tribute to Daniel Barenboim whose great musician ship has been offered as a gesture of the highest form of human solidarity to Palestinians and othe Arabs.
Strange though it may seem, it is culture generally, and music in particular that provide an alternative model to identify conflict. I can only speak here as a Palestinian, but it has often struck me how impoverishing and constraining our life of struggle has been, simply because as a people deprived of citizenship we have tended to focus all our energies on the immediate goal of achieving independence by the most direct means possible. This is understandable of course. But there is what I might call the long-range politics of culture, that provides a literally wider space for reflection and ultimately for concord rather than endless tension and dissonance. Literature and music open up such a space because they are essentially arts not of antagonism principally but of collaboration, receptivity, re-creation, and collective interpretation. No one writes or plays and instrument just to be read or listened to by oneself: there is always a reader and a listener, ad over time, the number increases. My friend Barenboim and I have chosen this course for humanistic rather than political reasons, on the assumption that ignorance and repeated self-assertion are not strategies for sustainable survival. Discipline and dedication have provided us with the motor to bring our communities together in concert, without illusion and without abandoning our principles. What is so heartening is how many young people have responded, and how, even in this most difficult time, young Palestinians have chosen to study music, learn an instrument, practise their art.
Who knows how far we will go, and whose minds we might change? The beauty of the question is that it cannot easily be answered or easily dismissed. Your acknowledgment of our efforts, however, takes us a great step forward.
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