Edward Said

Edward Said was an important figure in the academic field of Middle or Near Eastern Studies and an intense advocate for Palestinians in the Western world. He is considered a founding theorist of post-colonial theory through several of his works, most notably his 1978 breakthrough treatise, Orientalism. His theories have been embraced not only by many academics and Palestinian activists, but also by historians of countries which have experienced extended periods of colonialism, such as India and Cambodia. He was known to have advocated that scholars from former colonies reclaim the histories of their native countries in a period which is open to free thought and so-called political correctness.

Said was a native Palestinian Christian who was born during the formative period of the State of Israel and the dispersal of Palestinians, known as the Nakba. When he was 12, at the onset of the war with Israel, his family fled Jerusalem for Cairo, then later the United States where his father held citizenship. He attended schools far from home but was successful in his studies, achieving a doctorate in English literature by 1964 and having joined the faculty of Columbia University by 1963. Among his works associated with post-colonial theory are Blaming the Victims (1988), Culture and Imperialism (1993), The Question of Palestine (1980), Orientalism (1978) and Covering Islam (1981).

He became strongly associated with the Palestinian Arab cause and advocated for both improved rights for Palestinians living in Israel and the creation of a Palestinian state. He is quoted as having said, "How many liberals have time for Bosnia and Somalia and South Africa and Nicaragua and human and civil rights everywhere on earth, but not for Palestine and the Palestinians?" He felt that Palestinians had been stigmatized, and he himself experienced similar reactions including staunch criticism, sometimes viral, from corners of the Jewish community. His Columbia University office was once set ablaze for his political activism. In 1993, he vocally opposed the Oslo Accords as selling the Palestinians short and compared the agreement to the Conference of Versailles after World War I. After that, he became an intense critic of Yasser Arafat. He resigned from the Palestinian National Council, on which he had sat since 1979, in protest of the negotiations and the directions they were taking.

In 1996, he launched a scathing attack against Benjamin Netanyahu, Yasser Arafat and the Oslo Accords as players in an Israeli mimicking of 19th-century European colonial strategies in Africa, comparing Arafat to a supplicant African chieftain from that time period. He also dismissed the benevolence of the Palestinian Authority as corrupt and dictatorial, mocking the idea that the Oslo Accords' goals represented what the Palestinians were seeking. He spoke of the newly opened tunnel excavations adjacent to the Western Wall of the Temple plaza as a display of Israeli hubris meant to tread on Palestinian pride. Markedly, he denounced the idea of a two-state solution and instead suggested that the Israelis and Palestinians were too intertwined to separate, implying a one-state solution for the conflict, in which the two peoples would have to find a "peaceful way to coexist as equal citizens in the same land."

But most importantly, the work Orientalism in 1978 defines the late Said's career. The book criticized Near and Middle Eastern Studies as having been shaped by imperial ambitions, such as studying the subject communities searching for weaknesses, and its objectivity as tainted by racism. In ethnic elements of his critique, his arguments echo those of many Jewish scholars who study the origins of modern anti-Semitism. However, he has been criticized heavily for his theories' intricacies and idiosyncrasies. A prominent critic was Bernard Lewis, considered a titan of Middle Eastern Studies and the head of that department at Princeton University.

In the book, Said spells out his thesis that going as far back as antiquity, but more importantly since at least the European Enlightenment, Western scholars have stereotyped the East to the point that it is as cast as a weak and pathetic neighbor to the stronger and more able West. He directly asserts that Arab and Islamic peoples are subjugated to the "Eurocentric" viewpoints of Western scholars. The book itself has become standard reading for many professors of Middle Eastern Studies and has had a profound impact on the study of other cultures, alerting students to maintain their objectivity when conducting studies. It has not discouraged Jews and other non-Muslims from studying the Middle East, but has had an impact on how students view past scholarship of the region and its inhabitants.

Edward Said: Selected full-text books and articles

Edward Said: A Legacy of Emancipation and Representation By Adel Iskandar; Hakem Rustom University of California Press, 2010
Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader By Nigel Wood; David Lodge Pearson, 2000 (2nd edition)
Librarian's tip: Chap. 17 "Crisis [in Orientalism]" an excerpt from "Culture and Imperialism" by Edward Said
Intifada: The Palestinian Uprising against Israeli Occupation By Zachary Lockman; Joel Beinin South End Press, 1989
Librarian's tip: Chap. 1 "Intifada and Independence" by Edward W. Said
Edward Said and the Religious Effects of Culture By William D. Hart Cambridge University Press, 2000
Cultural Readings of Imperialism: Edward Said and the Gravity of History By Keith Ansell-Pearson; Benita Parry; Judith Squires Lawrence & Wishart, 1996
Edward Said: Agent Provocateur By Eid, Haidar; Ghazal, Khaled Nebula, Vol. 5, No. 3, September 2008
Edward Said and Recent Orientalist Critiques By Hamdi, Tahrir Khalil Arab Studies Quarterly, Vol. 35, No. 2, Spring 2013
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Identity, Text, Positioning: On Edward Said's "Voyage In" as Politics of Resistance By Ding, Zhaoguo Studies in Literature and Language, Vol. 6, No. 1, January 1, 2013
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Postcolonial Theory: Contexts, Practices, Politics By Bart Moore-Gilbert Verso, 1997
Librarian's tip: Chap. 2 "Edward Said: Orientalism and Beyond"
Edward Said's "Orientalism" Revisited By Windschuttle, Keith New Criterion, Vol. 17, No. 5, January 1999
The Triangle of Representation By Christopher Prendergast Columbia University Press, 2000
Librarian's tip: Chap. 6 "Representing Other Cultures: Edward Said"
Passion and Paradox: Intellectuals Confront the National Question By Joan Cocks Princeton University Press, 2002
Librarian's tip: Chap. 6 "Cosmopolitanism in a New Key: V. S. Naipaul and Edward Said
Punishment by Detail By Said, Edward W Monthly Review, Vol. 54, No. 5, October 2002
Edward W. Said (1935-2003) By Rubin, Andrew N Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ), Vol. 26, No. 4, Fall 2004
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