TEDxRamallah Munir Fasheh منير فاشه Occupation of knowledge الاحتلال المعرفي
You’ve heard many stories and I’m sure you are all tired and hungry but bear with me for 15 minutes to talk about something a little different. We’ve heard a lot about the internet and technology and the wonders of the current era. We should also remind ourselves of the superstitions of the current era. And there are many. One of these superstitions is that we cannot learn without school. That one cannot learn without a curriculum and exams and grades. This is not true. I want to talk about what is made invisible nowadays. I’ll start with a story When I started writing my doctorate dissertation in 1984 I put two lists as sources of my knowledge. One was books and magazines and the other was sources from life. Among the sources from life I put my mother who was totally illiterate and the Palestinian hen. Of course the Harvard bunch, who think highly of their knowledge to have their reputation linked to a chicken from Palestine as a source of knowledge a scandal! I tried to convince them that from 1971 to 1984 most of the knowledge I gained was the result of learning from life. My mother was pivotal in this. Anyone who’s heard me before knows I talk and write about my mother as a source of knowledge as an important world. So was the Palestinian hen! So let me talk about them they are sources in my life not yours I decide what the sources of my knowledge are. They refused of course and I refused. I didn’t write for a year. After a year we reached a compromise to drop the chicken and keep my mother. And that’s how it worked. My mother was in. What does my mother do? My mother is a seamstress. I taught math and studied math and wrote about math and trained teachers to teach math and all of this. I wrote math exams and all of this nonsense these superstitions. And my mother had approached math in a completely different way as a seamstress. A customer would walk in in the morning with a rectangular piece of material and my mother who couldn’t read or write she used different colored chalk to mark the length and width. By noon this piece would become 30 pieces by evening the 30 pieces would become one outfit fitting this woman. I taught geometry and studied geometry and all these things. and all what I learned and taught were in straight lines corners, triangles and squares. None of these things exists in life. No woman is made of rectangles from circles or any geometric shape. Each woman has her own geometry My mother worked for more than 45 years making women’s clothing. and each piece was different from the other. She’d sit on her machine and fix pieces and fit them to customers. This was knowledge that shook me. I was teaching in two universities: Birzeit University and Bethlehem University when I realized that my mother understood math in a way I never could. Even if i did 20 more years of university studies I wouldn’t have understood or been able to do what she knew and did. More than that, she combined the two things: she had knowledge and she had work Art. She was knowledgeable in a way different from us and had sources different from ours, from life and other sources. Sources that a university like Harvard could not accept. But like i said, I ended up convincing them of a middle ground. Don’t worry though, I brought back the chicken I re-introduced it in an article published in the Harvard Educational Review in February 1990. If you have access you can find it. I brought back the chicken and my mother. This story points to things that are made invisible. important matters. We look at people without diplomas and we think they are ignorant because the only knowledge we recognize requires diplomas. If someone does not hold a degree, he’s ignorant. This is not true. We ignore all the knowledge that springs from life that is nonexistent in books. One of the committee members asked me sarcastically ‘what did your mother write?’ ‘My mother made 15000 dresses’ ‘I will give you 15 years to make one dress.‘ The story of the Palestinian hen to finish the story I became aware of my mother’s knowledge in math in 1975. In 1978 I was teaching in Birzeit University. We heard of a new farm on the road between Birzeit and Ramallah using modern Israeli methods of production. They said it was modern not local. I went to see it. They said the eggs were excellent. As soon as we walked in I saw the chicken in rows in cages and eating continuously. They stuffed them with food so they lay eggs which are sold in turn. The first thing that came to mind was that they’ve stolen this idea from schools from education. We should sue them! We should get compensation for the idea that was taken from us because in the same way we put the children in rows, in cages and we stuff them with ideas. But they don’t lay eggs! Chicken turned out better! I thought about this a lot and wrote about it a lot. I realized I am like the Israeli chicken if there are no institutions, prepared material, exams and curricula nobody would hire me. If I went to the market and said ‘I know how to solve quadratic equations, who would like to learn it?’ If there are no exams tomorrow they wouldn’t be interested. I would be without income. Whereas my mother would say ‘I can sew’ tens of customers would be at her door the next day. Because her knowledge is useful mine isn’t. My knowledge is connected to the world of institutions it’s connected to a fabricated world. My first connection to institutions was in kindergarten. My father took me a few times until he felt I was alright then left me to come and go with my aunt. From the third day I started skipping school. I was about 5 years old. I did this because we had a garden at home. I was born in Jerusalem in 1941. We had a garden and chicken. I would follow chicken to get an egg poke a hole in it and suck out the inside. This habit stayed with me until I was 25. I ate 3 to 5 raw eggs every morning. Now people talk about how eggs give you cholesterol. That you should only have 2 or 3 a week. I was having 5 raw eggs a day. The difference is today’s eggs are not eggs. They only look like eggs. They are full of chemicals and hormones and I don’t know what. At the time chicken would live in the garden and eat grass and other natural things that were available there. So my first connection to institutions made me reject them so, I started skipping school after three days. My father came home one day and beat me the only time he ever did! and carried me back to school. He said this is the last time this will happen. So I started going. The problem was that my father himself when he was at school in Jerusalem a very good school One day when he was in fourth grade a teacher told him ‘stand up you donkey.’ My father stood up and replied ‘At your service you bull’ The teacher said ‘what did you say?’ My father replied ‘Well if I’m a donkey my teacher must be a bull.’ The teacher picked up a stick and made his way towards my father standing near the doorway. My father made a quick exit and never came back. What I want to say is that there is something called knowledge of ahaali (people-in-community) versus knowledge of institutions. We are disregarding knowledge of people-in-community. If someone doesn’t have a degree we call them ignorant we disregard their knowledge. I’ll tell you honestly, the most ignorant people are those who have Phd’s. Because we think we know but all we know is that we’ve been placed on a narrow road blinkered so we can’t look around and we keep going until they stop us and say ‘Well done, you have completed your education.’ What I want to say is that my mother’s knowledge is knowledge of people-in-community while mine is knowledge of institutions. This led me to thinking that the worst kind of occupation is that of knowledge. We never speak of it though A part of the occupation of knowledge is the replacement of one type of knowledge instead of another. I was a ‘soldier’ in the conquest of knowledge replacing my mother’s knowledge with mine. I was recognised as a man who knew math while my mother’s knowledge was ignored. in terms of what meets demand. This knowledge that is now lost and died with my mother is knowledge I cannot recreate nor could any other person. In 2006 when the Pope spoke in Germany he spoke about Islam I sent him a letter. Part of the letter said ‘No doubt you know the Christianity of institutions you are the head of the biggest Christian institution in the world. But I invite you to our home in Ramallah, a modest one. My mother has passed away but come meet my family and feel the Christianity of people-in-community’ In my opinion, Christianity of people-in-community is dying. This can be said about close to anything. Islam of people-in-community is becoming institutionalized. The first institution was the destruction of Christianity in Europe. Europe destroyed Christianity. In 1992 I wrote a small booklet where I compared my mother’s Christianity and that of Europe. I found no resemblance between the two. In my opinion Islam is now suffering the same fate. It’s becoming institutionalized to the point where its soul is being lost. When I wrote the Pope I told him I wanted to speak to him of the Christianity and Islam of people-in-community. The letter was published in several places of wich Ru’a Magazine of Ramallah. I wrote it based on my knowledge of Islam through neighborly relations, not dialogue I told the Pope you involved us in debates Europe’s debates we now debate and hate one another and cannot understand each other. Knowing the other comes through neighboring the other. Sectarian housing that exists in our country has been a disaster for all. Replacing Ahaali (people-in–community) with citizens in my opinion, has been a disaster to society. A citizen’s relation is to a state and institutions. Ahaali’s basic relations are to one another, to place to history to culture to civilization to a collective memory. A living example is Ahaali (people-in-community) of Beit Sahour they still exist they know each other and each other’s stories. Ramallah has lost its collective memory. It has lost its Ahaali It has lost its Ahaali On of the reasons there is no Ahaali in Ramallah in my opinion is education. One of the superstitions is that there is something called progress in a single sense that there is a single path for progress a universal path for progress and that we all must walk this path. Cairo destroyed this myth. Cairo, in my opinion is a beginning to regain a world we are losing. Cairo, I hope, is overcoming the occupation of knowledge not just its political and economic occupation. Ahaali is the biggest wealth we have. I hope that all that has been happening and everything you have seen and all that is happening in your life you see it through a lens asking whether the Ahaali have been replaced by citizens with a defined national number protected by a national government connected to a national bank that steals from its Ahaali. Also, a national army that protects the government protecting all these institutions. Let us throw off this situation and get out of the bottle. I believe the genie is out of the bottle in Tahrir square in Cairo I hope that this movement I call it a movement not a revolution A revolution means overthrowing a government and taking its place. But the people of Cairo were not trying to overthrow their government. They were trying to move forward. As we say in Arabic, ‘movement is a blessing’ I hope that the movements we are witnessing in the Arab world today are a blessing for us and for the rest of the world. Thank you.