Palestinian Scholar Edward Said Dies

by Ula Ilnytzky – The Associated Press
September 25, 2003

NEW YORK - Columbia University literary scholar Edward W. Said, the nation's foremost Arab intellectual and advocate for the Palestinian cause, has died after a bout with leukemia. He was 67.

Said was a leading member of the Palestinian parliament-in-exile for 14 years, stepping down in 1991. The university said Said died Thursday, but his publisher said he died late Wednesday.

He wrote passionately about the Palestinian cause and a variety of other subjects, including English literature - his academic specialty - as well as music and culture.

Said (pronounced sye-EED) was born in 1935 in Jerusalem, then part of British-ruled Palestine, but spent most of his adult life in the United States.

On the Arab-Israeli conflict, he was consistently critical of Israel's policies toward the Palestinians.

Two years ago, he said that Israel's "efforts toward exclusivity and xenophobia toward the Arabs" had actually strengthened Palestinian determination.

"Palestine and Palestinians remain, despite Israel's concerted efforts from the beginning either to get rid of them or to circumscribe them so much as to make them ineffective," Said wrote in the English-language Al-Ahram Weekly, published in Cairo.

After the signing of the Oslo peace accords in 1993 between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, Said criticized Yasser Arafat for making what he regarded as a bad deal for the Palestinians. He said Arafat and the Palestinian Authority had become "willing collaborators with the (Israeli) military occupation, a sort of Vichy government for Palestinians."

In 2000, during a visit to the Middle East, Said stirred a controversy on campus by throwing a rock toward an Israeli guardhouse on the Lebanese border. Columbia did not censure him, saying that the stone was directed at no one, no law was broken and his actions were protected by principles of academic freedom.

Ghazi Aridi, Lebanon's minister of culture, called Said's death a great loss for Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular. Said was "an educated man and an intellectual capable of presenting Arab and Palestinian positions in a rational, scientific and flexible manner," Aridi said.

Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi, who first met Said in the 1960s, said he "was a man of intellect and courage who remained unwavering in his commitment to the Palestinian cause for justice and freedom and never ever allowed himself to be intimidated or silenced."

"We need intellectuals like Edward Said, especially at this stage we are going through," said Turki al-Hamad, a prominent Saudi intellectual and writer. "We Arabs are not rich in such kind of intellectual thinking. He leaves a huge gap in our intellectual life."

After studying in Cairo in his youth, Said moved to the United States, where he received a bachelor's degree from Princeton University in 1957 and a master's and Ph.D. from Harvard, in 1960 and 1964.

Most of his academic career was spent as a professor at Columbia in New York, but he also was a visiting professor at such leading institutions as Yale, Harvard and Johns Hopkins.

Columbia President Lee Bollinger called Said "a man of enormous intellectual distinction. He was devoted to, and intimately engaged with works of art, especially the novel and the poem. He was a humanist who believed that such study is essential to a good and meaningful life."

His books include "The Question of Palestine" in 1979 and "After the Last Sky" in 1986. His first book was a dissertation on Joseph Conrad, the early 20th century novelist on Western imperialism.

In 2002, Said, together with pianist Daniel Barenboim, was named the winner of Spain's Prince of Asturias Concord Prize for his effort toward bringing peace to the Middle East. Said and Barenboim had run summer workshops for young musicians from Israel and Arab countries.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete.

© 2003 The Associated Press


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