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Edward Said: 1935 - 2003
by Professor Edward Alexander
30 September 2003

If enormous influence in the academic world is a reliable indicator of intellectual distinction, then Edward Said merited his reputation as one of America's intellectual eminences.


If enormous influence in the academic world is a reliable indicator of intellectual distinction, then Edward Said merited his reputation as one of America's intellectual eminences. He taught a whole generation of English professors to search for racism in writers (like Jane Austen) who did not think as the professors do. He induced a generation of Middle East scholars not only to believe that "since the time of Homer...every European, in what he could say about the Orient, was a racist, an imperialist" but to ridicule "speculations about the latest conspiracy to blow up buildings, sabotage commercial airliners and poison water supplies" as "highly exaggerated [racial] stereotyping" (this in a statement of 1997).

His acolytes also found meat and drink in Said's pristinely ignorant pronouncements about Jews. They are not, he claimed, really a people at all because Moses was an Egyptian (he wasn't) and because Jewish identity in the Diaspora is entirely a function of external persecution. The Holocaust (which destroyed most of the potential citizens of a Jewish state) was in Said's estimation a great boon to Jews because it served to "protect" Palestinian Jews "with the world's compassion." Prior to 1948, he asserted, "the historical duration of a Jewish state [in "Palestine"] was a sixty-year period two millennia ago."

Said's pronouncements about his fellow Arabs were also widely influential. While bewailing the racist stereotyping of Arabs by Western "Orientalists" Said insisted that "there are no divisions in the Palestinian population of four million. We all support the PLO." Said wrote this while he was still a member of the Palestine National Council and one of the closest advisors of Arafat, whom he praised for "his microscopic grasp ... of politics...in the Gramscian or Foucauldian sense." But at the same time that Said insisted that "every Palestinian...is up in arms" against Israel, that they all belonged to a monolithic body, acting and thinking in perfect unison, he felt it necessary to urge the murder of Arab "collaborators" with Israel. Indeed, he insisted that "the UN Charter and every other known document or protocol" sanctions such murders. Said eventually withdrew his support from the PLO head not because Arafat had become one of the major war criminals of modern times but because the Oslo Accords showed him becoming "soft" on Israel.

Said's intense hostility to America also powerfully influenced that sizable contingent of our academics whose motto is "the 'other' country, right or wrong." He called Operation Iraqi Freedom the crusade of an "avenging Judeo-Christian god of war," fitting into the pattern of America "reducing whole peoples, countries and even continents to ruin by nothing short of holocaust." And, as usual, he blamed the Jews for what he hated: "The Perles and Wolfowitzes of this country" have led America into a war "planned by a docile professionalized staff in ...Washington and Tel Aviv" and publicly defended by "Ari Fleischer (who I believe is an Israeli citizen)." (A 'New York Post' journalist who attempted to find the source of Said's phony claim about Fleischer located it in the website of the White Aryan Resistance Movement.)

Far from making him an untouchable, Said's past membership in an international terrorist organization, his Disneyland versions of history, his thinly-veiled antisemitism and blatant anti-Americanism made him a star in the academic, literary, and intellectual worlds.

Said's last years were tainted by scandal. In the September 1999 issue of 'Commentary,' Justus Reid Weiner revealed that Said had "adjusted" the facts of his life to create a personal myth, often told and poignantly embellished, to fit the myth of Arab dispossession.

In July of 2000 Said, during a visit to Lebanon, was spotted hurling rocks over the border at Israelis, a perfect existential realization of his intellectual violence against Jews. Much of his life, after all, was devoted to spilling ink to justify Arafat's spilling of blood.

Edward Alexander is a professor of English at the University of Washington and the author of several books, including The Jewish Wars: Reflections of One of the Belligerents, Classical Liberalism and the Jewish Tradition, and With Friends Like These: The Jewish Critics of Israel.

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