Edward Said

Edward Wadie Said (إدوارد سعيد) (November 1, 1935September 24, 2003) was a well-known literary theorist, critic and outspoken Palestinian activist. According to Columbia News (Columbia University), he was "one of the most influential scholars in the world," and "was undoubtedly one of the greatest minds of the 20th century."



Said was born in Jerusalem (then in the British Mandate of Palestine) and raised in both Jerusalem and Cairo, Egypt. Until age 12, he lived between Cairo and West Jerusalem where he attended the Anglican St. Georges Academy in 1947.

His family became refugees in 1948 just prior to the capture of West Jerusalem by Israeli forces.

At age 14, Said entered Victoria College in Cairo, and then Mount Hermon School in the United States. He received his B.A. from Princeton University and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University.

He joined the faculty of Columbia University in 1963 and served as professor of English and Comparative Literature for several decades.

Said also taught at Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and Yale universities. He spoke English and French fluently, excellent colloquial and very good standard Arabic, and was literate in Spanish, German, Italian and Latin.

Said was bestowed numerous honorary doctorates from universities around the world and twice received Columbia's Trilling Award and the Wellek Prize of the American Comparative Literature Association.

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


Said is best known for describing and critiquing "Orientalism"; what he perceived as a constellation of false assumptions underlying Western attitudes toward the East.

In Orientalism (1978), Said decried the "subtle and persistent Eurocentric prejudice against Arabo-Islamic peoples and their culture". [1] (http://www.newcriterion.com/archive/17/jan99/said.htm) 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.

Critiquing Said, Christopher Hitchens, who writes for Vanity Fair, wrote that he denied any possibility "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". [2] (http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/2003/09/hitchens.htm)

The British historian Bernard Lewis was perhaps Said's bte noire. The two authors exchanged a famous polemic in the pages of the New York Review of Books following the publication of Orientalism. Lewis' article, "The question of orientalism" was followed in the next issue by "Orientalism: an exchange".


Missing image
A young Edward Said in traditional Palestinian dress standing beside his sister in 1946

As a Palestinian activist, Said defended what he believed to be the rights of Palestinians in Israel and what the international community calls the occupied territories (West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem).

Writing in 1980, Said anticipated an eventual policy of military aggression by the United States toward the Middle East, a prediction some observers find evident in the actions of the United States after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks:

"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." [3] (http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=19800426&s=19800426said)

For many years, Said was a member of the Palestinian National Council, but he broke with Yasser Arafat, saying that 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 the West Bank and Gaza Strip, arguing for the creation of one state in the entirety of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and pre-1967 Israel, in which Arabs and Jews would have equal rights (often known as the binational solution).

"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." [4] (http://www.counterpunch.org/said08052003.html)

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

In June 2002, Said, along with Haidar Abdel-Shafi, Ibrahim Dakak, and Mustafa Barghouti, helped establish the Palestinian National Initiative, or Al-Mubadara, an attempt to build a third force in Palestinian politics, a democratic, reformist alternative to both the established Palestinian Authority and to Islamist militant groups such as Hamas.

Said's books on the issue of Israel and Palestine include The Question of Palestine (1979), The Politics of Dispossession (1994) and The End Of The Peace Process (2000).

Said was also a prolific journalist and his writing regularly appeared in the Nation, The Guardian, the London Review of Books, Le Monde Diplomatique, Counterpunch, Al Ahram, 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.


  • After the Last Sky (1986)
  • Beginnings (1975)
  • Blaming the Victims (1988)
  • CIA et Jihad, 1950-2001: Contre l'URSS, une disastreuse alliance (2002), with John K. Cooley
  • Covering Islam (1981)
  • Criticism in Society
  • Culture and Imperialism (1993)
  • The End Of The Peace Process (2000)
  • Edward Said: A Critical Reader
  • Jewish Religion, Jewish History (Introduction)
  • Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography (1966)
  • Literature and Society (1980)
  • Musical Elaborations (1991)
  • Nationalism, Colonialism, and Literature
  • Orientalism (1978)
  • Orientalisme (1980)
  • Out of Place (1999) (a memoir)
  • Parallels and Paradoxes (with Daniel Barenboim)
  • The Pen and the Sword (1994)
  • The Politics of Dispossession (1994)
  • The Question of Palestine (1979)
  • Reflections on Exile (2000)
  • Representations of the Intellectual (1994)
  • The World, the Text and the Critic (1983)

External links


minnan: Edward Said ja:エドワード・サイード zh:爱德华·萨义德


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