Two Minutes with Dr. Yahya
Great Palestinian Personalities Series: Edward Said
دقيقتان مع الدكتور يحيى – إدوارد سعيد : شخصية فلسطينية أعجبتني
By: Hasan Yahya, Ph.D- Professor of Comparative Sociology
Reported in the Arab American Encyclopedia-AAE
In this series I will try to give an introduction to some great personalities in the Palestinian History. There are many famous personalities across time, but in later years personalities like Haidar Abdel Shafi and Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, Ibrahim Dakkak, professors Ziad Abu Amr, Mamdouh Al-Aker, Ahmad Harb, Ali Jarbawi, Fouad Moughrabi, legislative council members Rawiya Al-Shawa and Kamal Shirafi, writers Hassan Khadr and Mahmoud Darwish, Raja Shehadeh, Rima Tarazi, Ghassan Al-Khatib, Naseer Aruri, Elia Zureik and many others had a great role in the Palestinian intellectual history.
I will begin here with Edward Said, after six years of his depature of this world, He was a leading Palestinian-American intellectual. He was University Professor of English and Comparative Literature at ColumbiaUniversity before his death in 2003, was identified by Times reporter Peter Wallsten as “a leading intellectual in the Palestinian movement.” It would be more accurate to call him “a Palestinian and a leading American intellectual.” The author of more than a dozen books, his 1978 book “Orientalism” became the founding work of the new field of cultural studies, and is now assigned at hundreds of colleges and universities and has been translated into more than 30 languages. Said also published political essays in The Nation and elsewhere. He was a fierce critic of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, but also an outspoken secularist who opposed both the doctrine and the tactics of Hamas. In his later years he was also a critic Yasser Arafat’s leadership of the PLO.
Said argued that Western writings on the Orient, and the perceptions of the East purveyed in them, are suspect, and cannot be taken at face value. According to him, the history of European colonial rule and political domination over the East distorts the writings of even the most knowledgeable, well-meaning and sympathetic Western ‘Orientalists’ (a term that he transformed into a pejorative):
“I doubt if it is controversial, for example, to say that an Englishman in India or Egypt in the later nineteenth century took an interest in those countries which was never far from their status in his mind as British colonies. To say this may seem quite different from saying that all academic knowledge about India and Egypt is somehow tinged and impressed with, violated by, the gross political fact – and yet that is what I am saying in this study of Orientalism.” (Said, Orientalism 11)
Rashid Khalidi, in the early I990s was teaching at Chicago, He “emerged “as one of the most influential commentators from within Middle Eastern Studies.”After my graduation from MichiganStateUniversity, I was in Chicago, for the Palestinian Congress Election in the United States. I was one of the nominees for the congress election early in the 1990s, but I failed to have enough votes. In that time I have the opportunity to see and meet two great Palestinian scholars, Edward Said and Rashid Khalidi, From that time I was following their shining reputation in the media as intellectual Palestinians from Jerusalem, on the American soil. Time passed, while some of us survived, Edward Said was the most internationally recognized scholar for his reasonable analysis and critics. I wished too many times to write about Palestine in my own research. I was busy in my studies to culminate constructing my theory of Crescentology, Theory C. of Conflict Management for Cultural Normalization. I was and still not interested in Politics, my nomination to Palestinian Congress in America was a failing adventure after graduation in Chicago Quarter. Conflict resolution was my interest as an America Palestinian. Recently I directed my efforts to write and comment on the Middle East conflict, my interest however, is to show injustices committed by the west in helping the formation of Israel. In that time I was four years old, when we left to Kofr Qasim for a year, then to Mas-ha village at Nablus district few miles eastward. In moy Middle Age period, I ended up in the USA in 1982, where I graduated from Michigan State University with two honor (Ph.D) degrees in Philosophy (Sociology and Educational Administration). When I was graduate student in the 1980s, Edward Said was already famous personality. I admired his courage and emotional spirit colored with pure logic. I admired him as a Palestinian explains the injustices in a low tune. But Zionism had the long hand in American media which no one can undermined, but Said had the courage and the ability to write, to criticize, and to provide his undeniable rational for the Palestinian conflict. In 1989, my theory was ready for publication after several presentations in professional sociological conferences. I wrote a message to four people about it, Yassir Arafat, Isaac Rabin, Secretary of the state, and the UN secretary General of the time. In the message, I gave some implications may be used to solve the Israel- Palestinian conflict. I did not receive any response, but some of these implications were shown in some Israeli and Palestinian behavior. In that time, I urged the United States to give the PLO the chance as it was given to Jews for a long time. I insisted on involving diplomacy to include PLO as the sole representative of Palestinians. I was not aware of the secret negotiations took place that year and after.
In this site I am proud to introduce Edward Said in some of his intellectual writings. I found this article on the Nation Written by Tony Judt, under the title: Letters from readers, on July 1, 2004 which may help me out to give you an idea of our great Palestinian thinker and his book, Orientalism. Even though I disagree with some of his ideas methodologically, I do highly respect and share his ideas on the injustices committed against Palestian rights and self-determination. To see more of Edward Said visit this site: http://www.thenation.com/directory/bios/edward_w_said
Khalidi may be found on this site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rashid_Khalidi
Edward Said, By Tony Judt
When Edward Said died in September 2003, after a decade-long battle against leukemia, he was probably the best-known intellectual in the world. Orientalism, his controversial account of the appropriation of the East in modern European thought and literature, has spawned an academic subdiscipline in its own right: A quarter of a century after its first publication, it continues to generate irritation, veneration and imitation. Even if its author had done nothing else, confining himself to teaching at ColumbiaUniversity in New York–where he was employed from 1963 until his death–he would still have been one of the most influential scholars of the late twentieth century.
But he did not confine himself. From 1967, and with mounting urgency and passion as the years passed, Edward Said was also an eloquent, ubiquitous commentator on the crisis in the Middle East and an advocate for the cause of the Palestinians. This moral and political engagement was not really a displacement of Said’s intellectual attention–his critique of the West’s failure to understand Palestinian humiliation closely echoes, after all, his reading of nineteenth-century scholarship and fiction in Orientalism and subsequent books (notably Culture and Imperialism, published in 1993). But it transformed the professor of comparative literature at Columbia into a very public intellectual, adored or execrated with equal intensity by many millions of readers.
This was an ironic fate for a man who fitted almost none of the molds to which his admirers and enemies so confidently assigned him. Edward Said lived all his life at a tangent to the various causes with which he was associated. The involuntary “spokesman” for the overwhelmingly Muslim Arabs of Palestine was an Episcopalian Christian, born in 1935 to a Baptist from Nazareth. The uncompromising critic of imperial condescension was educated in some of the last of the colonial schools that had trained the indigenous elite of the European empires; for many years he was more at ease in English and French than in Arabic and an outstanding exemplar of a Western education with which he could never fully identify.
Edward Said was the idolized hero of a generation of cultural relativists in universities from Berkeley to Bombay, for whom “Orientalism” underwrote everything from career-building exercises in “postcolonial” obscurantism (“writing the other”) to denunciations of “Western Culture” in the academic curriculum. But Said himself had no time for such nonsense. Radical anti-foundationalism, the notion that everything is just a linguistic effect, struck him as shallow and “facile”: human rights, as he observed on more than one occasion, are not “cultural or grammatical things, and when they are violated…they are as real as anything we can encounter.”
As for the popular account of his thought that has Edward Said reading Western writers as mere byproducts of colonial privilege, he was quite explicit: “I do not believe that authors are mechanistically determined by ideology, class or economic history.” Indeed, when it came to the business of reading and writing, Said was an unabashedly traditional humanist, “despite the scornful dismissal of the term by sophisticated post-modern critics.” If there was anything that depressed him about younger literary scholars it was their overfamiliarity with “theory” at the expense of the art of close textual reading. Moreover, he enjoyed intellectual disagreement, seeing the toleration of dissent and even discord within the scholarly community as the necessary condition for the latter’s survival–my own expressed doubts about the core thesis of Orientalism were no impediment to our friendship. This was a stance that many of his admirers from afar, for whom academic freedom is at best a contingent value, were at a loss to comprehend.
This same deeply felt humanistic impulse put Said at odds with another occasional tic of engaged intellectuals, the enthusiastic endorsement of violence–usually at a safe distance and always at someone else’s expense. The “Professor of Terror,” as his enemies were wont to characterize Said, was in fact a consistent critic of political violence in all its forms. Unlike Jean-Paul Sartre, a comparably influential intellectual for the previous generation, Said had some firsthand experience of physical force–his university office was vandalized and sacked, and both he and his family received death threats. But whereas Sartre did not hesitate to advocate political murder as both efficacious and cleansing, Said never identified with terrorism, however much he sympathized with the motives and sentiments that drove it. The weak, he wrote, should use means that render their oppressors uncomfortable–something that indiscriminate murder of civilians can never achieve.
The reason for this was not that Edward Said was placid or a pacifist, much less someone lacking in strong commitments. Notwithstanding his professional success, his passion for music (he was an accomplished pianist and a close friend and sometime collaborator of Daniel Barenboim) and his gift for friendship, he was in certain ways a deeply angry man–as the essays in this book frequently suggest. But despite his identification with the Palestinian cause and his inexhaustible efforts to promote and explain it, Said quite lacked the sort of uninterrogated affiliation with a country or an idea that allows the activist or the ideologue to subsume any means to a single end.
Instead he was, as I suggested, always at a slight tangent to his affinities. In this age of displaced persons he was not even a typical exile, since most men and women forced to leave their country in our time have a place to which they can look back (or forward): a remembered–more often misremembered–homeland that anchors the transported individual or community in time if not in space. Palestinians don’t even have this. There never was a formally constituted Palestine. Palestinian identity thus lacks that conventional anterior reference.