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Edward Said

Edward Wadie Said (إدوارد سعيد) (November 1, 1935September 24, 2003) was a well-known literary theorist and critic. He was also an outspoken Palestinian activist.

Said was born in Jerusalem into the Christian faith, but spent his childhood in Cairo, Egypt except for several long stays in Palestine. Said received his B.A. from Princeton University and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University. He was professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University for many years. He also taught at Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and Yale universities. He spoke English, Arabic and French fluently.

Table of contents
1 Orientalism
2 Activism
3 Books
4 External Links


Said is best known for describing and rejecting what he saw as a constellation of false assumptions underlying Western attitudes toward the East, which he termed Orientalism.

In his book Orientalism (1978), Said decried the "subtle and persistent Eurocentric prejudice against Arabo-Islamic peoples and their culture". [1] He argued that a long tradition of false and romanticized images of Asia and the Middle East in Western culture had served as an implicit justification for Europe's and America's colonial and imperial ambitions. Writing in 1980, Said astutely anticipated the post-9/11 Weltanschauung:

"So far as the United States seems to be concerned, it is only a slight overstatement to say that Moslems and Arabs are essentially seen as either oil suppliers or potential terrorists. Very little of the detail, the human density, the passion of Arab-Moslem life has entered the awareness of even those people whose profession it is to report the Arab world. What we have instead is a series of crude, essentialized caricatures of the Islamic world presented in such a way as to make that world vulnerable to military aggression." [1]

Critiquing Said, Christopher Hitchens wrote that he denied any possibility that "that direct Western engagement in the region is legitimate" and that Said's analysis cast "every instance of European curiosity about the East [as] part of a grand design to exploit and remake what Westerners saw as a passive, rich, but ultimately contemptible 'Oriental' sphere". [1]


As a Palestinian activist, Said defended the rights of Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories. For many years, Said was a member of the Palestinian National Council, but he broke with Yasser Arafat because he believed that the Oslo Accords signed in 1993 sold short the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in pre-1967 Israel. He also opposed the Oslo formula of creating a Palestinian entity out of Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, arguing instead for the creation of one state, in which Arabs and Jews would have equal rights.

"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." [1]
His relationship with the Palestinian Authority was so bad that PA leaders once called for the banning of his books.

In July 2000, he created a minor controversy in an stone-throwing incident on the LebanonIsraeli border (see Edward Said/in Lebanon).

Said's books on the Israeli occupation of Palestine include The Question of Palestine (1979) and The Politics of Dispossession (1994).

Said was also a prolific journalist and his writing regularly appeared in the Nation, the London Guardian, Le Monde Diplomatique, Counterpunch, and the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat.

A skilled pianist, Said also contributed music criticism to The Nation for many years. In 1999, he jointly founded the West-East Divan Orchestra with the Argentine-Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim, a close friend. It is an initiative to bring together every summer a group of talented young classical musicians from Israel and Arab countries. For their work, Said and Barenboim were among the recipients of the 2002 Prince of Asturias Awards for "improving understanding between nations."

Edward Said died at the age of 67 in New York after a long battle with leukemia.


External Links