Edward Said in mural by Susan Greene
Brief excerpt of lecture by Edward Said (31 kb mp3)
from the Freedom Archives audio archives
Photo: Scott Braley

Edward Said

Edward Said (1935–2003), a celebrated intellectual, and a leading advocate for Palestinian self-determination, was a teenager when Israeli forces captured West Jerusalem in 1948. His family fled with other Palestinian refugees to Cairo. He eventually attended Princeton and Harvard Universities and settled in the U.S., where he became a professor of comparative literature at Columbia University. He was one of the leading literary critics of the last quarter of the 20th century and was widely regarded as the outstanding representative of the post-structuralist left in America. Above all, he was the most articulate and visible advocate of the Palestinian cause in the United States.

Said was one of the most trenchant critics of the Oslo peace process and the Palestinian leadership of Yasser Arafat. The hostility Said encountered from pro-Israeli circles in New York was predictable, given his vigorous attacks on Israeli violations of the human rights of Palestinians and his outspoken condemnations of US policies in the Middle East. From the other side of the conflict, however, he encountered opposition from Palestinians who accused him of sacrificing Palestinian rights by making unwarranted concessions to Zionism.

Said recognized that Israel's exemption from the normal criteria by which nations are measured owed everything to the Holocaust. But while recognizing its unique significance, he did not see why its legacy of trauma and horror should be exploited to deprive the Palestinians, a people who were "absolutely dissociable from what has been an entirely European complicity", of their rights.

To the end, he remained a thorn in the side of the Palestinian authority. The best-known and most distinguished Palestinian exile became the subject of censorship by the representatives of his own people, one of the standard-bearers of the liberal conscience in the increasingly illiberal climate of intolerance and corruption surrounding President Arafat and his regime. Said’s activism exiled him from Israel and Palestine for most of his life and provoked criticism in this country. His enduring legacy is the courage to say the most difficult things to the most difficult people in the most difficult circumstances.

Edward Said

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