FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Legacy of Edward Said

Yesterday, I learned that Professor Edward Said is no more. Said was not only a scholar but an activist who worked tirelessly for peace and justice. His devastating critique of Western scholarship about Islam, Middle East, and the “Orient,” exposed the ingrained basis of intellectuals in service of power interest, economic and political imperialism, and cultural domination. His work was inspired by his life long commitment to truth, justice, and peace. The writers of the Electronic Intifidahave written a moving obituary to this remarkable man.

I first learnt of Professor Edward Said when he came to give a guest lecture on “Culture and Imperialism” at Grinnell College, Iowa. Drawn by the erudition and impeccable logic of his arguments, I got hold of his books: Covering Islam, Orientalism, and The Question of Palestine. His detailed analysis of Western intellectual discourse and knowledge of texts shows how writers and intellectuals have wittingly and unwittingly served imperial interests. He supported his thesis by extensive study of both historic and current works on Islam, Arab civilizations, Palestine, Iran, Egypt, and India. His books were strong antidotes to the likes of Bernard Lewis and the distortions of CNN and Thomas Friedman. Later at Columbia University, I had the pleasure of attending Said’s public lectures on the Middle East and on literature and imperialism. In mid 1990s, there was a special conference held in his honor but organized mostly by graduate students.

Said’s knowledge, wit, and passion for truth will continue to inspire peace activists and genuine scholars. He represented what it means to be a great intellectual and a teacher, like Bertrand Russell or Jean Paul-Sartre. He stood for all Palestinians and peaceful coexistence of Jews, Christians, and Muslims, people of other religions, and those of no religious faith. He embodied the best values of Western and Arab civilizations. He used his knowledge for seeking justice. If he wanted he could have easily become a Minister or a high official. But he choose to work with the people, tell the truth, and expose the lies. He was a critic of the limitations of the Oslo process and the Palestinian authorities, including Yasir Arafat. He was dedicated to humanism and to a secularism vision of coexistence of Palestinians and Israeli Jews in historic Palestine.

The Associated Press’ (AP) report of the news of Professor Edward Said’s death, which appeared in the New York Times, does deserve a critical scrutiny because as media critic Ali Abunimah says, “it reflects, ironically, what Said fought against all his life.”

The AP report said: “When it came to the Arab-Israeli conflict, Said was consistently critical of Israel for what he regarded as mistreatment of the Palestinians.” It is interesting that the AP had to insert “for what he regarded as mistreatment” as if there is any question about the human rights abuse under Israeli occupation. Bishop Desmond Tutu has compared Israeli occupation of West Bank and Gaza to apartheid regime.

The AP report also stated: “In 2000, he prompted a controversy when he threw a rock toward an Israeli guardhouse on the Lebanese border.” Indeed, Edward Said did throw a rock at Israeli army which had illegally occupied Southern Lebanon for years, killed over 17,000 Lebanese and Palestinians, and provided logistic support to terrorist Phalangist militias that carried out the massacres of Sabra and Shatilla. Throwing a rock at such an army would only be considered controversial in the twisted culture of intellectuals and academics serving Western imperialism. Said’s decision to throw a stone at the Israeli army was a symbolic act of solidarity with the Lebanese and the Palestinian people who face the cruelty of Israeli army supported by arms and funds provided by the United States and other rich countries.

The AP report did not mention that Professor Said had received threats from various fanatical groups in the United States. Right-wing publications, such as the New Republic, and the Commentary, would regularly engaged in vilify Edward Said.

Said’s Legacy

On learning Pierre Bourdieu’s death, Said wrote:

“I wish I could have been with you in Paris today. Pierre’s death is too poignant to experience alone in America at such a distance, so keenly felt is it by me and many others for whom his work and example were both inspiring and warm, particularly at a time when humanity has a shortage of champions, while the orthodoxy of virtue and power seem so unchallenged and, alas, so ascendant. It is Pierre Bourdieu’s magnificently critical and oppositional spirit that we must hold on to and try, unceasingly, to perpetuate.”

The same could be and should be said about Professor Edward Said, and perhaps much more. Said’s death is our collective loss. Professor Said would be proud of the initiatives of the younger generation of Palestinian scholars and activists, and solidarity groups, such as ISM. His work and life sets an example to follow, in Palestine, in the United States, and elsewhere. His spirit will never die.

TANWEER AKRAM is an economist. His papers and reviews have appeared in Applied Economics, Journal of Emerging Markets, Bangladesh Development Studies, and Kyklos. He is a regular contributor to www.pressaction.com

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
August 17, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Daniel Wolff
The Aretha Dialogue
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump and the Rise of Patriotism 
Joseph Natoli
First Amendment Rights and the Court of Popular Opinion
Andrew Levine
Midterms 2018: What’s There to Hope For?
Robert Hunziker
Hothouse Earth
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Running Out of Fools
Ajamu Baraka
Opposing Bipartisan Warmongering is Defending Human Rights of the Poor and Working Class
Paul Street
Corporate Media: the Enemy of the People
David Macaray
Trump and the Sex Tape
CJ Hopkins
Where Have All the Nazis Gone?
Daniel Falcone
The Future of NATO: an Interview With Richard Falk
Cesar Chelala
The Historic Responsibility of the Catholic Church
Ron Jacobs
The Barbarism of US Immigration Policy
Kenneth Surin
In Shanghai
William Camacaro - Frederick B. Mills
The Military Option Against Venezuela in the “Year of the Americas”
Nancy Kurshan
The Whole World Was Watching: Chicago ’68, Revisited
Robert Fantina
Yemeni and Palestinian Children
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Orcas and Other-Than-Human Grief
Shoshana Fine – Thomas Lindemann
Migrants Deaths: European Democracies and the Right to Not Protect?
Paul Edwards
Totally Irrusianal
Thomas Knapp
Murphy’s Law: Big Tech Must Serve as Censorship Subcontractors
Mark Ashwill
More Demons Unleashed After Fulbright University Vietnam Official Drops Rhetorical Bombshells
Ralph Nader
Going Fundamental Eludes Congressional Progressives
Hans-Armin Ohlmann
My Longest Day: How World War II Ended for My Family
Matthew Funke
The Nordic Countries Aren’t Socialist
Daniel Warner
Tiger Woods, Donald Trump and Crime and Punishment
Dave Lindorff
Mainstream Media Hypocrisy on Display
Jeff Cohen
Democrats Gather in Chicago: Elite Party or Party of the People?
Victor Grossman
Stand Up With New Hope in Germany?
Christopher Brauchli
A Family Affair
Jill Richardson
Profiting From Poison
Patrick Bobilin
Moving the Margins
Alison Barros
Dear White American
Celia Bottger
If Ireland Can Reject Fossil Fuels, Your Town Can Too
Ian Scott Horst
Less Voting, More Revolution
Peter Certo
Trump Snubbed McCain, Then the Media Snubbed the Rest of Us
Dan Ritzman
Drilling ANWR: One of Our Last Links to the Wild World is in Danger
Brandon Do
The World and Palestine, Palestine and the World
Chris Wright
An Updated and Improved Marxism
Daryan Rezazad
Iran and the Doomsday Machine
Patrick Bond
Africa’s Pioneering Marxist Political Economist, Samir Amin (1931-2018)
Louis Proyect
Memoir From the Underground
Binoy Kampmark
Meaningless Titles and Liveable Cities: Melbourne Loses to Vienna
Andrew Stewart
Blackkklansman: Spike Lee Delivers a Masterpiece
Elizabeth Lennard
Alan Chadwick in the Budding Grove: Story Summary for a Documentary Film
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail