Mourners packed the Palestine Center in Washington, DC on Saturday, Nov. 1 to remember Edward Said on what would have been his 68th birthday. Fellow academics from various fields, institutions and locales came to pay tribute to Said's scholarly, political and artistic contributions. Moderator Samih Farsoun of the Palestine Center and American University, recalled how, as a guest in Said's home, he would be awakened by Said with a cup of coffee and an out-thrust paper, a work in progress to be read. Said's message was clear, Farsoun maintained: that one must not be intimidated from speaking out for justice for Palestine. More than a colleague, Farsoun said, Said was charming, courteous and elegant, with a great sense of humor.
Naseer Aruri, professor emeritus at the University of Massachussetts at Dartmouth, recalled participating in a meeting with Said just after the 1967 war that led to the formation of the Association of Arab American University Graduates (AAUG). Said was so dedicated, Aruri said, that he attended a planning meeting the day before his wedding. While Said's admirers had compared him intellectually with Mozart, Aruri noted, another friend had pointed out that, in addition to Mozart's abilities, Said also had Beethoven's moral outrage.
Aruri reminded the audience that Said had authored Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's gun-and-olive-branch speech at the U.N., as well as the declaration of Palestinian independence delivered in Algiers-although his books later were banned in Palestine as Said resisted the constraints of the Oslo peace agreement. The attacks and threats against Said were a tribute to his character, Aruri concluded, and "the most elegant tribute to Edward is to shun despair and work as diligently as he did."
Irene Gendzier of Boston University opened by quoting Le Monde Diplomatique's description of Said as "the one the Palestinians are most proud of." Citing his watershed theory as presented in Orientalism, Gendzier remarked on Said's use of Palestine as an example in teaching the decolonization of the mind, and his rebuttal of the notion that Middle Bast politics were so complex that only specialists could understand them-thereby excluding those who might naturally empathize. This tactic of marginalization and taboo, she noted, was still in effect. Specifically referencing the neocon "Clean Break" plan, which showed Palestine as Israel, Jordan as Palestine, and Iraq as the Hashemite kingdom, Gendzier pointed out that U.S. policy toward Iraq was a tactic in pursuit of the larger strategic plan for Palestine-necessary, she said, because "Zionism and the Palestinian narrative are completely irreconcilable. …