Magazine article Newsweek International

A Scholar and Exile

Magazine article Newsweek International

A Scholar and Exile

Article excerpt

Edward Said's death last week could scarcely have come at a more poignant time. It's not that it wasn't expected: the 67-year-old Arab intellectual had battled leukemia for more than a decade. But it's a cruel cut that he died at such a dismal moment in the history of his two greatest passions--the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and the relationship between the Islamic world and Western powers. The Roadmap for Mideast peace seems as far from reality as the novels he taught as a Columbia University literature professor. And global stability has been threatened by religious fundamentalism and political extremists-- some, he would argue, residing in Washington.

Said had always been in exile from mainstream culture. Born in 1935 to a prosperous Christian family in Jerusalem, he spent most of his childhood in Egypt and Lebanon, followed by the United States, where he attended boarding school and Princeton University. In Cairo, the young Arab was steeped in Shakespeare and Beethoven. Later, living and teaching in the United States for four decades, he became an outspoken critic of America's media, government and foreign policy--an Ivy League professor speaking on behalf of Gaza's dispossessed. His criticism-- whether on literature, politics or music--insisted on culture as a gloriously complex, dynamic, muddled affair.

But his central themes were the politics of culture and the culture of politics. His most famous work, "Orientalism," argued that Western scholarship on the East was shaped by imperialism. …

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