Remembering Edward Said and his services for the Palestinian cause
Edward Wadie Saïd MRSL (1 November 1935 – 25 September 2003) was a Palestinian American literary theorist, cultural critic, political activist, and an outspoken advocate for Palestinian rights. He was University Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, and was a founding figure in postcolonial theory.
Said was born in Jerusalem (then in the British Mandate of Palestine) on November 1, 1935. His father was an American citizen with Protestant Palestinian origins who had moved to Cairo in the decade before Edward Said’s birth. His father was a businessman and served under General Pershing in World War I, while his mother was born in Nazareth, also of Protestant Christian Palestinian descent. His sister was the historian and writer Rosemarie Said Zahlan.
Said referred to himself as a “Christian wrapped in a Muslim culture”. He experienced a crisis of identity growing up and was quoted as saying that:
“With an unexceptionally Arab family name like Said connected to an improbably British first name (my mother much admired the Prince of Wales in 1935, the year of my birth), I was an uncomfortably anomalous student all through my early years: a Palestinian going to school in Egypt, with an English first name, an American passport and no certain identity at all.”
As a pro-Palestinian activist, Said campaigned for a creation of an independent Palestinian state. From 1977 until 1991, he was an independent member of the Palestinian National Council who tended to stay out of factional struggles. He supported the two-state solution and voted for the establishment of the State of Palestine in Algiers in 1988. In 1991, he quit the PNC in protest over the process leading up to the signing of the Oslo Accords, feeling that the terms of the accord were unacceptable and had been rejected by the Madrid round negotiators. He felt that Oslo would not lead to a truly independent state and was inferior to a plan Arafat had rejected when Said himself presented it to Arafat on behalf of the US government in the late 1970s. In particular, he wrote that Arafat had sold short the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in pre-1967 Israel and ignored the growing presence of Israeli settlements. Said’s relationship with the Palestinian Authority was once so bad that PA leaders banned the sale of his books in August 1995, but improved when he hailed Arafat for rejecting Barak’s offers at the Camp David 2000 Summit. Ultimately, Said came to prefer and to support a state that would afford Palestinians a home with equal human rights in place of the ‘Jewish’ state of modern-day Israel.
Edward Said throwing a stone across the Lebanon-Israel border.
On July 3, 2000, Said was photographed lobbing a rock across the Lebanon-Israel border. Although he denied aiming the rock at Israeli soldiers, an eyewitness account in the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir asserted that he had positioned himself less than 30 feet (9.1 m) from Israeli soldiers manning a two-story watchtower before throwing the rock over the border fence, though it instead hit barbed-wire. Said later said, “One stone tossed into an empty space scarcely warrants a second thought”, labeling the stone-throwing as “a symbolic gesture of joy”. The stone throw was witnessed by Israel-based television journalist Dennis Zinn, who suggested “the Lebanese line up and wait to throw their rocks until soldiers and civilians are exposed.”
While the photo provoked criticism from some Columbia faculty and students and from the Anti-Defamation League, the provost issued a statement defending Said’s act on the grounds of freedom of expression, a position echoed by his supporters on campus.. Said also wrote many books and articles in which he denied any violence. An al-Mubadara memorial poster of Edward Said on the Israeli West Bank barrier.
In June 2002, Said, along with Haidar Abdel-Shafi, Ibrahim Dakak, and Mustafa Barghouti, helped establish the Palestinian National Initiative, or Al-Mubadara, an attempt to build a third force in Palestinian politics, a democratic, reformist alternative to both the established Fatah and Islamist militant groups, such as Hamas.
In Al-Ahram Weekly, in April 2002, Said observes:
Above all we must, as Mandela never tired of saying about his struggle, be aware that Palestine is one of the great moral causes of our time. Therefore, we need to treat it as such. It’s not a matter of trade, or bartering negotiations, or making a career. It is a just cause which should allow Palestinians to capture the high moral ground and keep it.
In August 2003, in an article published online in Counterpunch, Said summarizes his position on the contemporary rights of Palestinians vis-à-vis the historical experience of the Jewish people: “ I have spent a great deal of my life during the past 35 years advocating the rights of the Palestinian people to national self-determination, but I have always tried to do that with full attention paid to the reality of the Jewish people and what they suffered by way of persecution and genocide. The paramount thing is that the struggle for equality in Palestine/Israel should be directed toward a humane goal, that is, co-existence, and not further suppression and denial. ”
While Said was seen – and indeed, often appropriated by various Islamic groups – as a global intellectual defender of Islam, he himself denied this claim several times, most notably in republications of Orientalism. Said’s primary objectives were humanistic and not Islamic; his vision for Palestine and Israel’s peaceful co-existence necessarily took Islam into consideration, but emphasized the needs of Palestinians and Israelis as two ethnic groups whose basic needs, such as food, water, shelter and protection, were to be valued above all else.
Said notes that “in all my works I remained fundamentally critical of a gloating and uncritical nationalism…. My view of Palestine … remains the same today: I expressed all sorts of reservations about the insouciant nativism and militant militarism of the nationalist consensus; I suggested instead a critical look at the Arab environment, Palestinian history, and the Israeli realities, with the explicit conclusion that only a negotiated settlement between the two communities of suffering, Arab and Jewish, would provide respite from the unending war.” He notes that every Arabic publisher who was interested in his book on Palestine “wanted me to change or delete those sections that were openly critical of one or another Arab regime (including the PLO), a request that I have always refused to comply with.”
He was one of few Palestinian activists who at the same time acknowledged Israel and Israel’s founding intellectual theory, Zionism. Said was one of the first proponents of a two-state solution, and in an important academic article entitled “Zionism from the Standpoint of its Victims,” Said argued that both the Zionist claim to a land – and, more importantly, the Zionist claim that the Jewish people needed a land – and Palestinian rights of self-determination held legitimacy and authenticity.
Said’s books on the issue of Israel and Palestine include The Question of Palestine (1979), The Politics of Dispossession (1994) and The End of the Peace Process (2000).
…. A poem for Edward Said
By exiles (By Agha Shahid Ali)
In Jerusalem a dead phone’s dialed by exiles You learn your strange fate: you were exiled by exiles
You open the heart to list unborn galaxies Don’t shut that folder when Earth is filed by exiles.
Before night passes over the wheat of Egypt, let stones be leavened, the bread torn wild by exiles
Crucified Mansoor was alone with the Alone: God’s loneliness-just his-compiled by exiles
By the Hudson lies Kashmir, brought from Palestine- It shawls the piano, Bach beguiled by exiles.
Tell me who’s tonight the Physician of Sick Pearls? Only you as you sit, Desert child, by exiles
Match Majnoon (he kneels to pray on a wine-stained rug) or prayer will be nothing, distempered mild by exiles
“Even things that are true can be proved” Even they? Swear not by Art but, dear Oscar Wilde, by exiles
Don’t weep, we’ll drown out the Calls to Prayer, O Saqi- I’ll raise my glass before wine is defiled by exiles
Was -after the last sky- this the fashion of fire: autumn’s mist pressed to ashes styled by exiles?
If my enemy’s alone and his arms are empty, give him my heart silk-wrapped like a child by exiles
Will you, beloved stranger, ever witness Shahid two destinies at last reconciled by exiles?
(Agha Shahid Ali, Call me Ishmael tonight: a book of ghazals (2003))
Orientalism -Edward Said Edward Said discusses the themes of his classic work “Orientalism”, its implications and its place in the modern world.
It seems that Edward Said’s assessments which he shared with Chalie Rose in 1994 were not off the mark even then.