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Edward Said

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Edward Said
File:Edward Said.jpg
Born Edward Wadie Said
1 November 1935
Jerusalem, Mandatory Palestine
Died 25 September 2003 (aged 67)
New York City, New York
United States
Spouse(s) Mariam C. Said
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Postcolonialism, postmodernism
Notable ideas
Occidentalism, Orientalism, the Other

Edward Wadie Said (Arabic pronunciation: [wædiːʕ sæʕiːd] Arabic: إدوارد وديع سعيد‎‎, Idwārd Wadīʿ Saʿīd; 1 November 1935 – 25 September 2003) was a Palestinian literary theoretician, professor of English, history and comparative literature at Columbia University, and a public intellectual who was a founder of Post-colonialism.[3] Edward W. Said was a Palestinian Arab born in the Jerusalem city of Mandatory Palestine (1920–48), and was an American citizen by way of his father, Wadir Said, a U.S. Army-veteran of the First World War (1914–18);[4] as such, Said publicly advocated for the political and human rights of the Palestinian nation.[5]

As a cultural critic, Said is known for the book Orientalism (1978), a critical analysis of the culturally inaccurate representations that are the bases of Orientalism — the Western study of the Eastern world that presents how Westerners perceive and represent Orientals.[6][7][8][9] Said argued that because Orientalist scholarship was and remains inextricably tied to the imperialist societies that produced it, much of the work is inherently political and servile to power, and so is intellectually suspect. The thesis of Orientalism is the politics of discourse applied to the Middle East; the Orientalist discourse arises from a particular, political culture — defined by the presuppositions of the political culture — which, in turn, shape the political culture and the political culture of the subject area.[10]

The analytical model of Orientalism much influenced the humanities (e.g. literary theory and literary criticism)[11] and especially the field of Middle Eastern studies, where it transformed the academic discourse of the researchers — how they examine, describe, and define the cultures of the Middle East.[12] Nonetheless, some academic historians disagreed with the thesis of Orientalism, especially the Anglo–American Orientalist and historian Bernard Lewis.[13]Orientalism derived from Said’s knowledge of colonial literature, such as that of Joseph Conrad; the literary theories of R. P. Blackmur and Raymond Williams; the post-structuralist theories of Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida; and the critical works of Giambattista Vico, Antonio Gramsci, and Theodor Adorno.

The intellectual formation of Edward Said was an education in the Western canon (British and American) imparted in Egypt and in the U.S. About that cosmopolitan schooling and education, in the autobiography Out of Place (1999), Said said he applied his cultural heritages to narrowing the perceptual gaps of political and cultural understanding between The West and the Middle East; to improve Western understanding of the Israeli–Palestinian Conflict; and tells how a decade-long membership in the Palestinian National Council made him a controversial public intellectual.[14]

Drawing from the experiences of his family as Palestinian Christians in the Middle East at the time of the establishment of the State of Israel (1948), Said argued for the establishment of a Palestinian state to ensure equal political and human rights for the Palestinians in Israel, including the right of return, by way of U.S. political pressure upon Israel to recognize, grant, and respect said human rights. In that vein, Said also criticized the political and cultural policies of the Arab and Muslim régimes who acted against the national interests of their peoples.[15]

In 1999, with his friend Daniel Barenboim, Edward Said co-founded the West–Eastern Divan Orchestra, based in Seville, which comprises young Israeli, Palestinian, and Arab musicians. Moreover, besides being a Renaissance Man, Said was an accomplished pianist; and, with Barenboim, co-authored the book Parallels and Paradoxes: Explorations in Music and Society (2002), a compilation of their conversations about music.[16]

Edward Wadie Said died of leukæmia in late September 2003, yet remained intellectually active in the last months of his life, as indicated in the “Interview with Edward Said” (2001), in which David Barsmanian epitomised Edward Said as the public intellectual in opposition to the status quo whose remit is “to sift, to judge, to criticize, [and] to choose, so that choice and agency return to the individual [man and woman]”; and that Said’s ideal community does not exalt “commodified interests and profitable commercial goals”, but value “survivability and sustainability in a human and decent way”, yet acknowledged that “those are difficult goals to achieve. But I think they are achievable.”[17]


Early life
Edward Said was born under the flag of Mandatory Palestine (1920–48), a part of the British Empire.
Representations of the Intellectual: Edward Said and his sister, Rosemarie Said (1940)
Edward W. Said was born in Jerusalem city in 1935, when the State of Palestine was the British Mandate of Palestine.

Edward Wadie Said was born on 1 November 1935, to Hilda Said and her husband Wadir Said, a businessman, in the Jerusalem city of the British Mandate of Palestine (1920–48).[18] Wadir Said, a native Jerusalemite like his forefathers, was a Palestinian man who soldiered in the U.S. Army component of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF, 1917–19), commanded by General John J. Pershing, in the First World War (1914–18); that war-time military service granted Said père U.S. citizenship to him and to his family. His mother Hilda came from Nazareth.[19]

Post–War, in 1919, in Cairo, Wadir Said established a stationery business, in partnership with a cousin. Like her husband, Hilda Said was an Arab Christian, born in Nazareth, Palestine. Although the Said family practised the Jerusalemite variety of Greek Orthodox Christianity, Edward was agnostic; his sister Rosemarie Saïd Zahlan (1937–2006) also pursued an academic career.[20][21][22][23][24]

At school

Autobiographically, Edward W. Said described a boy’s life lived “between worlds”, in Cairo (Egypt) and in Jerusalem (Palestine), until he was a young man of twelve years.[25] In 1947, Said attended the Anglican St. George’s School, Jerusalem, about which experience he said:

With an unexceptionally Arab family name like “Saïd”, connected to an improbably British first name (my mother much admired [Edward VIII] the Prince of Wales in 1935, the year of my birth), I was an uncomfortably anomalous student all through my early years: a Palestinian going to school in Egypt, with an English first name, an American passport, and no certain identity, at all. To make matters worse, Arabic, my native language, and English, my school language, were inextricably mixed: I have never known which was my first language, and have felt fully at home in neither, although I dream in both. Every time I speak an English sentence, I find myself echoing it in Arabic, and vice versa.

— “Between Worlds”, Reflections on Exile, and Other Essays (2002) pp. 556–57.[25]

In the late 1940s, the latter school days of Edward Said included the Egyptian branch of Victoria College (VC), where one classmate was Michel Shaloub (later the actor Omar Sharif) whom he remembered as a sadistic and physically abusive Head Boy; other classmates included King Hussein of Jordan, and Egyptian, Syrian, Jordanian, and Saudi Arabian boys whose academic careers progressed to their becoming ministers, prime ministers, and leading businessmen of and in their respective countries.[26] In that colonial time, the VC school educated a selection of Arab and Levantine lads to become the Anglicized ruling-class who, in due course of their careers, were to rule their respective countries, upon British decolonization and withdrawal to Motherland Britannia. In the event, Victoria College was the last school Edward Said attended before being sent to school in the U.S.:

The moment one became a student at [Victoria College], one was given the student handbook, a series of regulations governing every aspect of school life — the kind of uniform we were to wear, what equipment was needed for sports, the dates of school holidays, bus schedules, and so on. But the school’s first rule, emblazoned on the opening page of the handbook, read: “English is the language of the school; students caught speaking any other language will be punished.” Yet, there were no native speakers of English among the students. Whereas the masters were all British, we were a motley crew of Arabs of various kinds, Armenians, Greeks, Italians, Jews, and Turks, each of whom had a native language that the school had explicitly outlawed. Yet all, or nearly all, of us spoke Arabic — many spoke Arabic and French — and so we were able to take refuge in a common language, in defiance of what we perceived as an unjust colonial stricture.

— “Between Worlds”, Reflections on Exile, and Other Essays (2002) pp. 556–57.[27]

Despite acute intelligence and academic superiority, Edward Said proved a troublesome student and was expelled from Victoria College in 1951, then was sent from Egypt to the eastern U.S. and deposited to the Northfield Mount Hermon School, Massachusetts, a socially élite, college-prep boarding-school where he endured a psychologically difficult year of feeling out of place. Nonetheless, Said excelled academically, and achieved the rank of either first (valedectorian) or second (salutatarian) in a class of one hundred sixty students.[25]

In retrospect, having been sent away so far from the Middle East was a parental decision much influenced by “the prospects of deracinated people, like us, being so uncertain that it would be best to send me as far away as possible”.[25] The realities of a peripatetic life — of interwoven cultures, of feeling out of place, and of being far from home — affected the schoolboy Said to the degree that, in adult life, the themes of dissonance continually arose in the academic, political, and intellectual works wrote.[25] In the event, Edward Said matured into an intellectual — a polyglot young man, fluent in the English, French, and Arabic languages, who earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Princeton University (1957), then a Master of Arts degree (1960), and a Doctor of Philosophy degree (1964) in English Literature, from Harvard University.[28][29]


In 1963, Edward W. Said joined Columbia University, as a member of the faculties of the department of English and of the department of Comparative Literature, where he taught and worked until 2003. In 1974, he was Visiting Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard College; in the 1975–76 biennium he was a Fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Science, at Stanford University; in 1977, he was the Parr Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, and subsequently was the Old Dominion Foundation Professor in the Humanities; and, in 1979, he was Visiting Professor of Humanities at Johns Hopkins University.[30] As a peripatetic academic, Said also worked as a visiting professor at Yale University, and lectured at other universities.[31] In 1992, Said was promoted to “Professor”, the highest-rank academic job at Columbia University.[32] Editorially, Prof. Said served as president of the Modern Language Association; as editor of the Arab Studies Quarterly in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; on the executive board of International PEN; in the American Academy of Arts and Letters; in the Royal Society of Literature; in the Council of Foreign Relations;[30] and he was a member of the American Philosophical Society.[33] In 1993, Said presented the BBC’s annual Reith Lectures, a six-lecture series titled Representation of the Intellectual, wherein he examined the role of the public intellectual in contemporary society, which the BBC published in 2011.[34]

Literary production

The 19th-century novelist Joseph Conrad is the subject of Said's first book, Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography (1966).

The first book that Edward Said published, Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography (1966), was an expansion of the dissertation he presented to earn his doctor of philosophy degree; moreover, in Edward Saïd: Criticism and Society (2010), Abdirahman Hussein said that Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness (1899) was “foundational to Said’s entire career and project”.[35][36] Afterwards, Said redacted ideas gleaned from the works of the 17th-century philosopher Giambattista Vico, and other intellectuals, in the book Beginnings: Intention and Method (1974), about the theoretical bases of literary criticism.[37] Said’s further bibliographic production features The World, the Text, and the Critic (1983), Nationalism, Colonialism, and Literature: Yeats and Decolonization (1988), Culture and Imperialism (1993), Representations of the Intellectual: The 1993 Reith Lectures (1994), Humanism and Democratic Criticism (2004), and On Late Style (2006).

Like his post-modern intellectual mentors, the philosophers Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault, Said was fascinated by how the people of the Western world perceive the peoples of and the things from a different culture, and by the effects of society, politics, and power upon literature; thus is Edward Said a founding intellectual of post-colonial criticism. Although the critique of Orientalism is his principal cultural contribution, it was the critical interpretations of the works of Joseph Conrad, Jane Austen, Rudyard Kipling, William Butler Yeats, et al., that were the influential scholarship that established his intellectual reputation as “Prof. Edward Said”.[38][39]


The cover of Orientalism is a detail from the 19th-century Orientalist painting The Snake Charmer, by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824–1904).
The idealized Orient of The Reception of the Ambassadors in Damascus (1511)

Edward Said’s notability as cultural critic was established with his critique (description and analyses) of Orientalism as the source of the inaccurate cultural representations that are the foundation of Western thought towards the Middle East, of how The West perceives and represents The East. The thesis of Orientalism (1978) proposes the existence of a “subtle and persistent Eurocentric prejudice against Arabo–Islamic peoples and their culture”, which derives from Western culture’s long tradition of false and romanticized images of Asia, in general, and the Middle East, in particular. Said argued that such perceptions and consequent cultural representations have served, and continue to serve, as implicit justifications for the colonial and imperialist ambitions of the European powers and of the U.S. Likewise, Said also criticized and denounced the political and the cultural malpractices of the régimes of the ruling Arab élites who have internalized the false, romanticized representations of Arabic culture that were created by Anglo–American Orientalists.[40]

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.

— Islam through Western Eyes (1980) The Nation magazine.[41]

In Orientalism, Said proposed, contended, and demonstrated that much Western study of Islamic civilization was political intellectualism meant for self-affirmation, rather than for objective intellectual enquiry and academic study, which functioned as a practical method of cultural discrimination, and as a means of imperialist domination; i.e. the Western Orientalist knows more about the Orient than do the Orientals.[40][42] As such, Orientalism has exerted much impact upon the fields of literary theory and cultural studies, human geography and history, and Oriental studies. Parting from the philosophic works of Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault, and the works of the early Western critics of Orientalism — such as Abdul Latif Tibawi (“English-speaking Orientalists: A Critique of Their Approach to Islam and Arab Nationalism”, 1964),[43] Anouar Abdel-Malek (L’orientalisme en crise | Orientalism in Crisis, 1963),[44] Maxime Rodinson (Bilan des études mohammadiennes | Assessment of Mohammedan Studies, 1963),[45] and Richard William Southern (Western Views of Islam in the Middle Ages, 1978) — Said argued that “Orientalism” (“The Orient” as studied from “The West”) and the derived perceptions of “The East” purveyed in them, are intellectually suspect, and cannot be accepted at their face value, as faithful, true, and accurate representations of Oriental peoples and things.[46] That the history of European colonial rule, and of the consequent political domination of the civilizations of the East, distorts the writing of even the most knowledgeable, well-meaning, and culturally sympathetic Western Orientalists; thus was the term “Orientalism” rendered into a pejorative word.[47]

I doubt if it is controversial, for example, to say that an Englishman in India, or Egypt, in the later nineteenth century, took an interest in those countries, which was never far from their status, in his mind, as British colonies. To say this may seem quite different from saying that all academic knowledge about India and Egypt is somehow tinged and impressed with, violated by, the gross political fact — and yet that is what I am saying in this study of Orientalism.

— Introduction, Orientalism, p. 11.[48]

That, since Antiquity, in the arts of the Western World (literature, painting, sculpture) “The Orient” has been represented with and by stereotypes; for example, in the Greek tragedy The Persians (472 BC), by Aeschylus, the protagonist fails and falls because he misperceived the true nature of The East.[49] Contemporarily, Europe has politically dominated Asia to the degree that even the most outwardly objective Western texts about “The Orient’’ are culturally biased to a degree unrecognized by Western scholars, who appropriated for themselves the intellectual tasks of studying, exploring, and interpreting the languages, histories, and cultures of the Orient; thereby implying that such (subaltern) peoples were incapable of speaking for themselves, and much less capable of composing their own cultural and historical narratives. Western (European) Orientalists have written Asia’s past — and thus have constructed the modern identities of Asia — from a perspective that establishes The West (Europe) as the cultural norm to emulate, which, from which Orientalist norm the “exotic and inscrutable” Orientals deviate.[50]

Orientalism (1978) concluded that Western writing about The Orient depicts the Oriental culture as an irrational, weak, and feminised “Other”, an existential condition greatly contrasted with the rational, strong, and masculine culture of the “West”, which is an artificial binary-relation derived from the European psychological need to create a “difference” of cultural inequality between The West and The East; the difference of inequality is attributed to immutable, cultural “essences” inherent to “Oriental” peoples and things.[51] In 1978, the intellectual, cultural, and commercial successes of the book Orientalism assumed historical resonance with the Yom Kippur war (6–25 October 1973) and the OPEC petroleum embargo (October 1973 – March 1974). Each event, then recent contemporary history, surprised The West; Europe and the U.S. did not expect pro-active, decisive, and definitive actions from non–Western peoples, whom the ideology of Orientalism had defined as weak societies and impotent countries; the geopolitical reality of Israeli military and Arab economic warfare, demonstrated the fictional nature of Orientalist representations, Western perceptions of the non–Western Other self.[52]

Criticism of Orientalism

From the Western perspective, the Middle East is the Mediterranean portion of the Orient.

Orientalism (1978) provoked much professional and personal criticism.[53] The critics of Orientalists, such as Albert Hourani, Robert Graham Irwin, Nikki Keddie, Bernard Lewis, and Kanan Makiya, addressed what the historian Nikki Keddie said were unfortunate professional consequences of Orientalism upon the public’s perception of the intellectual quality of their Orientalist scholarship.[54][55] [57]

The first-edition cover of Orientalism (1978).

In Approaches to the History of the Middle East (1994), the historian Nikki Keddie said that Said’s critical theory work about Orientalism had caused:

some unfortunate consequences . . . I think that there has been a tendency in the Middle East [studies] field to adopt the word “Orientalism” as a generalized swear-word, essentially referring to people who take the “wrong” position on the Arab–Israeli dispute, or to people who are judged “too conservative”. It has nothing to do with whether they are good or not good in their disciplines. So, “Orientalism”, for many people, is a word that substitutes for thought, and enables people to dismiss certain scholars and their works. I think that is too bad. It may not have been what Edward Saïd meant, at all, but the term has become a kind of slogan.

— Approaches to the History of the Middle East (1994), pp. 144–45.[58]

In “The Mightier Pen? Edward Saïd and the Double Standards of Inside-out Colonialism” (1993), the social anthropologist Ernest Gellner said that Said’s contentions that the West dominated the East for two millennia were unsupportable, because the Ottoman Empire (1299–1922) was a politico–military threat to Europe until the late 17th century.[59] In “Disraeli as an Orientalist: The Polemical Errors of Edward Said” (2005), Mark Proudman reported that Said incorrectly identified the British Empire as extending from Egypt to India, in the late 19th century, because the Ottoman Empire and the Persian Empire were simultaneously active in that geopolitical region.[60]

In Empire and Information: Intelligence Gathering and Social Communication in India, 1780–1870 (1996) Christopher Alan Bayly said that, at the height of European imperialism, European power in the Orient was not absolute, and much depended upon local collaborators, who often subverted the geopolitical strategies of the European powers with whom they collaborated against their own peoples.[61] In For Lust of Knowing: The Orientalists and Their Enemies (2006), Robert Graham Irwin said that Palestine and Egypt were poor historical examples of Orientalism, because they were under European control (imperial and hegemonic) only for short periods in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. That Said ignored better examples of Orientalism, the British Raj (1858–1947) in India and Russia’s Asian dominions, because Said sought to score political points against Western imperialism in the Middle East.[62]


Moreover, in the war of ideas erupted by the book, the Anglo–American Orientalist Bernard Lewis became the intellectual nemesis who was especially at odds with the thesis of Orientalism, wherein Said identified Lewis as:

A perfect exemplification [of an] Establishment Orientalist [whose work] purports to be objective, liberal scholarship, but is, in reality, very close to being propaganda against his subject material.[63]

For sheer heedless anti-intellectualism, unrestrained or unencumbered by the slightest trace of critical self-consciousness, no one, in my experience, has achieved the sublime confidence of Bernard Lewis, whose almost purely political exploits require more time to mention than they are worth. In a series of articles, and one particularly weak book — The Muslim Discovery of Europe (1982) — Lewis has been busy responding to my argument, insisting that the Western quest for knowledge about other societies is unique, that it is motivated by pure curiosity, and that, in contrast, Muslims neither were able nor interested in getting knowledge about Europe, as if knowledge about Europe were the only acceptable criterion for true knowledge.

Lewis’s arguments are presented as emanating exclusively from the scholar’s apolitical impartiality, whereas, at the same time, he has become an authority drawn on for anti–Islamic, anti–Arab, Zionist, and Cold War crusades, all of them underwritten by a zealotry, covered with a veneer of urbanity, that has very little in common with the “science” and learning Lewis purports to be upholding.
— Orientalism (1978), p. 315; “Orientalism Reconsidered” (1985), p. 96.[64]

Bernard Lewis replied to Said’s characterizations, of his (Lewis’s) works as political propaganda and of him (Lewis) as an anti-intellectual, with essays critical of Said, the university professor, and his works; Lewis later was joined by the academics Maxime Rodinson, Jacques Berque, Malcolm Kerr, Aijaz Ahmad, and William Montgomery Watt who said that Orientalism (1978) is a flawed account of Orientalism.[65] Critics argued that Said, and his academic followers, failed to critically distinguish among the varieties of Orientalism featured in the popular culture and mass-communications media of the West (e.g. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, 1984), and Oriental Studies of the languages and literatures, histories and cultures of the Eastern world.[66][67]

In Orientalism (1978), Said said that the term Orientalism defines the Eastern world (Asia) as culturally homogenous, as one place.

In The Asiatic Society of Bengal and the Discovery of India’s Past (1988), O.P. Kejariwal said that Said created a monolithic Occidentalism to oppose the monolithic Orientalism of Western discourse, by failing to distinguish among the paradigms of Romanticism and the secular, intellectual traditions of the Age of Enlightenment. That he ignored the wide range and fundamental differences of opinion among Orientalists about the nature of Oriental peoples and things; that Said failed to acknowledge that Orientalists, such as the philologist William Jones, who sought to establish cultural kinship rather than cultural difference between The East and The West; and that such scholars often made discoveries that later provided the foundations of anti-colonial nationalism.[68]

In the article “Edward Said’s Shadowy Legacy” (2008), Robert Irwin said that the theoretical flaw oi Orientalism (1978) was not distinguishing among Orientalist writers, men of different cultural perspectives of the Orient — the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (who never travelled to the East); the French novelist Gustave Flaubert (who toured Egypt); the French geographer Joseph-Ernest Renan (whose work is racist in perspective); and the British Orientalist, translator, and lexicographer Edward William Lane, who was a fluent speaker of the Arabic tongue.[69]

In Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism (2007), Ibn Warraq said that the varied origins and cultural attitudes of European Orientalists over-rode factual and historical considerations, which Said ignored in order to construct a stereotype of Europeans befitting his thesis about the nature of Orientalism.[70] In For Lust of Knowing: The Orientalists and Their Enemies (2006), Robert Irwin said that Said ignored the domination of 19th-century Oriental studies by German and Hungarian Orientalists, scholars from countries without imperial colonies in the Orient.[71]


In the article “Who is Afraid of Edward Said?” (1999), Biswamoy Pati said that in establishing ethnicity and cultural background as tests of authority and objectivity in studying the Orient, Edward Said drew attention to his own ethnic and cultural identities as a Palestinian man and as a colonial Subaltern from the Mandate of Palestine, the British Middle East.[72] In the article “Orients and Occidents: Colonial Discourse Theory and the Historiography of the British Empire”, D. A. Washbrook said that Said’s Anglophone education (British and American) disqualified him from writing about the Orient, because he had lived most of his adult life in the U.S. and because he (Said) was a university professor who argued that: “any and all representations . . . are embedded, first, in the language, and then in the culture, institutions, and political ambience of the representer . . . [and are] interwoven with a great many other things besides ‘The Truth’, which is, itself, a representation”.[73] That excessive cultural relativism had trapped the academic Said, and his post-colonial theorist followers, in a “web of solipsism”, which limits him and them to speak only of cultural “representations”, whilst simultaneously allowing Said and cohort to deny the existence of any objective truth about the Orient.[74]


In 1985, Prof. Edward W. Said suffered personal consequences for being a politically-militant, public intellectual, especially when the Jewish Defense League (JDL) traduced Said’s public statements about the state and nature of Arab–Israeli relations, and officially said that Said was a Nazi, because of his anti–Zionism statements, which the JDL misrepresented as anti-Semitism; an arsonist set afire his office at Columbia University; and Said's family were continually subjected to attempted intimidations and “innumerable death threats”.[75]

Influence of Orientalism

File:William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - The Motherland (1883).jpg
The Motherland and her dependant colonial offspring are the subjects of Post-colonial culture studies, of which the book Orientalism (1978) is a foundation text. (William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1883)

In the course of his career, Edward Said was hyperbolically praised as an “intellectual superstar”, because his range of enquiry comprehended literary theory and comparative literature, history and political commentary, cultural criticism and music criticism.[12][76] Since the book’s publication in the late 20th century, Orientalism (1978) became a foundation document of the field of Post-colonial cultural studies, because the theoretic model of analysis is factual, true, and accurate for the historical periods studied, especially about the cultural representations of “Orientals” and “The Orient” common to the mass communications media of the West.[77]

Critics said that the brief survey of German Orientalist scholarship limited the book, but, in the article “Orientalism Reconsidered” (1985), Said reported that no-one opponent provided a substantive rationale demonstrating that the brief survey of German Orientalism limits the scholarly value and practical application of the thesis of Orientalism — the politics of discourse applied to the Eastern world in its opposing relation to the Western world.[78] Seventeen years later, in the Afterword to the 1995 edition of Orientalism, Said refuted the criticisms of Bernard Lewis against the first edition (1978) of the book.[64][79]

In the event, Said’s academic friends and foes acknowledged the transformative influence of Orientalism upon scholarship in the humanities; critics said the thesis is an intellectually limiting influence upon scholars, whilst supporters said the thesis is an intellectually liberating influence upon scholars.[80][81] As such, the cultural studies comprised by Post-colonialism mean to explain the post-colonial world, its peoples, and their discontents;[3][82] hence, the continued investigational validity and analytical efficacy of the critical propositions presented in Orientalism (1978), especially in the field of Middle Eastern studies.[12]

The analytical scholarship of Orientalism is especially applicable in the fields of literary criticism and cultural studies,[12] notably upon scholars studying the post-colonial history of India, such as Gyan Prakash (“Writing Post-Orientalist Histories of the Third World: Perspectives from Indian Historiography”, 1990),[83] Nicholas Dirks (Castes of Mind, 2001),[84] and Ronald Inden (Imagining India, 1990);[85] upon scholars studying Cambodia, such as Simon Springer (“Culture of Violence or Violent Orientalism? Neoliberalisation and Imagining the ‘Savage Other’ in Post-transitional Cambodia”, 2009);[86] and upon literary theorists such as Homi K. Bhabha (Nation and Narration, 1990),[87] Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics, 1987),[88] and Hamid Dabashi (Iran: A People Interrupted, 2007).

In Eastern Europe, Milica Bakić–Hayden developed the concept of Nesting Orientalisms (1992), derived from the ideas of the historian Larry Wolff (Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment, 1994) and Said’s ideas in Orientalism (1978).[89] The Bulgarian historian Maria Todorova (Imagining the Balkans, 1997) presented the ethnologic concept of Nesting Balkanisms (Ethnologia Balkanica, 1997), which is derived from Milica Bakić–Hayden’s concept of Nesting Orientalisms.[90]


Palestinian activism
The flag of the contemporary State of Palestine.

In 1967, consequent to the Six Day War (5–10 June 1967) the university professor Edward Said became a public intellectual when he acted politically to counter the stereotyped misrepresentations (factual, historical, cultural) with which the U.S. news media explained the Arab–Israeli wars; reportage divorced from the historical realities of the Middle East, in general, and Palestine and Israel, in particular. To address, explain, and correct such Orientalism, Said published “The Arab Portrayed” (1968), a descriptive essay about images of “the Arab” that are meant to evade specific discussion of the historical and cultural realities of the peoples (Jews, Christians, Muslims) who are the Middle East, featured in journalism (print, photograph, television) and some types of scholarship (specialist journals) .[91]

In the essay “Zionism from the Standpoint of its Victims” (1979), Said argued in favour of the political legitimacy and philosophic authenticity of the Zionist claims and right to a Jewish homeland; and for the inherent right of national self-determination of the Palestinian people.[92] Said’s books about Israel and Palestine include The Question of Palestine (1979), The Politics of Dispossession (1994), and The End of the Peace Process (2000).

Palestinian National Council

From 1977 until 1991, Edward Said was an independent member of the Palestinian National Council (PNC).[93] In 1988, he was a proponent of the two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict (1948), and voted for the establishment of the State of Palestine at a meeting of the Palestinian National Council meeting in Algiers. In 1993, Said quit his membership to the Palestinian National Council, to protest the internal politics that lead to the signing of the Oslo Accords (Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements, 1993), because he thought the accord terms unacceptable, and because they had been rejected by the Madrid Conference of 1991.

File:Zones A and B in the occupied palestinian territories.svg
Post-colonial Palestine: the administrative domains (red) of the Palestinian Authority.

That the Oslo Accords would not produce an independent Palestine, and that they were politically inferior to a plan that Yasir Arafat had rejected — which plan Said had presented to Arafat in behalf of the U.S. Government, in the late 1970s.[94] Especially troublesome to Said was his belief that Yasir Arafat had betrayed the right of return of the Palestinian refugees to their houses and properties in the Green Line territories of pre–1967 Israel; and that Arafat ignored the growing political threat of the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories that had been established since the conquest of Palestine in 1967. Moreover, by 1995, in response to Said’s political criticisms, the Palestinian Authority (PA) banned the sale of Said’s books; however, the PA lifted the book-ban when Said publicly praised Yasir Arafat for rejecting Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s offers at the Middle East Peace Summit at Camp David (2000) in the U.S.[95][96]

In the mid-1990s, Said wrote the Foreword to the history book Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years (1994), by Israel Shahak, which presents the cultural proposition that Israel’s mistreatment of the Palestinians is rooted in a Judaic requirement (of permission) for Jews to commit crimes, including murder, against Gentiles (non-Jews). In his Foreword, Said said that Jewish History, Jewish Religion is “nothing less than a concise history of classic and modern Judaism, insofar as these are relevant to the understanding of modern Israel”; and praised the historian Shahak for describing contemporary Israel as a nation subsumed in a “Judeo–Nazi” cultural ambience that allowed the dehumanization of the Palestinian Other:[97]

In all my works, I remained fundamentally critical of a gloating and uncritical nationalisn. . . . My view of Palestine . . . remains the same today: I expressed all sorts of reservations about the insouciant nativism, and militant militarism of the nationalist consensus; I suggested, instead, a critical look at the Arab environment, Palestinian history, and the Israeli realities, with the explicit conclusion that only a negotiated settlement, between the two communities of suffering, Arab and Jewish, would provide respite from the unending war.

— “Orientalism: an Afterword” (Raritan, Winter 1995)[98]

In 1998, Prof. Said made In Search of Palestine (1998), a BBC documentary film about Palestine past and Palestine present, wherein the man, Edward Wadie Said, returned to the country from which he had emigrated to the U.S. in 1947. In the company of his son, Wadie, Said revisited his places of boyhood, and confronted the Israeli injustices (social and cultural) meted out to ordinary Palestinians in the contemporary West Bank. Despite the social and cultural prestige usual to BBC cinema products in the U.S., the documentary In Search of Palestine was never broadcast by any American television company.[99][100]

In Palestine

On 3 July 2000, whilst touring the Middle East with his son, Wadie, the Columbia University professor Edward Said was photographed throwing a stone across the Blue Line Lebanese–Israel border, which image elicited much political criticism about his action demonstrating an inherent, personal sympathy with terrorism; and, in Commentary magazine, the journalist Edward Alexander labelled Said as The Professor of Terror, for aggression against Israel.[101] Said explained the stone-throwing as a two-fold action, personal and political; a man-to-man contest-of-skill, between a father and his son, and an Arab Man’s gesture of joy at the end of the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon (1985–2000):

For throwing a stone at an Israeli guardhouse across the Blue Line Lebanese–Israeli border, Edward Said became “The Professor of Terror” in 2000.[101]

It was a pebble; there was nobody there. The guardhouse was at least half a mile away.

— A Stone’s Throw is a Freudian Slip (NYT, 10 March 2001)[102]

Despite having denied that he aimed the stone at an Israeli guardhouse, the Beirut newspaper As-Safir (The Ambassador) reported that a Lebanese local resident reported that Prof. Said was at less than ten metres (ca. 30 ft.) distance from the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers manning the two-storey guardhouse, when Said aimed and threw the stone over the border fence; the stone’s projectile path was thwarted when it struck the barbed wire atop the border fence.[103] Nonetheless, in the U.S., despite a political fracas by right-wing students at Columbia University and the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith International (Sons of the Covenant), the university provost published a five-page letter defending Prof. Said’s action as an academic’s freedom of expression:

To my knowledge, the stone was directed at no-one; no law was broken; no indictment was made; no criminal or civil action has been taken against Professor Saïd.

— Columbia Debates a Professor’s ‘Gesture’ (NYT, 19 October 2000)[104]

Nevertheless, Said endured political repercussions, such as the cancellation of an invitation to give a lecture to the Freud Society, in Austria, in February 2001.[105] The President of the Freud Society justified withdrawing the invitation by explaining to Said that “the political situation in the Middle East, and its consequences” had rendered an accusation of anti-Semitism a very serious matter, and that any such accusation “has become more dangerous” in the politics of Austria; thus, the Freud Society cancelled their invitation to Said in order to “to avoid an internal clash” of opinions, about him, that might ideologically divide the Freud Society.[102] In Culture and Resistance: Conversations with Edward Saïd (2003), Said likened his political situation to the situation that Noam Chomsky has perdured as a public intellectual:

It’s very similar to his. He’s a well-known, great linguist. He’s been celebrated and honored for that, but he’s also vilified as an anti–Semite and as a Hitler worshiper. . . . For anyone to deny the horrendous experience of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust is unacceptable. We don’t want anybody’s history of suffering to go unrecorded and unacknowledged. On the other hand, there’s a great difference, between acknowledging Jewish oppression and using that as a cover for the oppression of another people.

— Culture and Resistance: Conversations with Edward Saïd (2003) pp. 85, 178.[106]
Under surveillance

In 2003, Haidar Abdel-Shafi, Ibrahim Dakak, Mustafa Barghouti, and Said established Al-Mubadara (The Palestinian National Initiative), headed by Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, a third-party, reformist and democratic organization meant to be an alternative to the usual two-party politics of Palestine. As a political party, the ideology of Al-Mubadara is specifically an alternative to the extremist politics of the social-democratic Fatah and the Islamist Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement). In the event, Said’s international political activities, such as founding a third way political party in Palestine, were noticed by the U.S. government, in 2006, the anthropologist David Price obtained 147 pages of the 283-page political dossier that the FBI had compiled on Columbia University Prof. Edward W. Said, begun in 1971, four years into his career as a public intellectual active in U.S. politics.[107]


The harmonious Middle East: the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra conducted by Daniel Barenboim.

Besides having been a public intellectual, Edward Said was an accomplished pianist, worked as the music critic for The Nation magazine, and wrote four books about music: Musical Elaborations (1991); Parallels and Paradoxes: Explorations in Music and Society (2002), with Daniel Barenboim as co-author; On Late Style: Music and Literature Against the Grain (2006); and Music at the Limits (2007) in which final tome he spoke of finding musical reflections of his literary and historical ideas in bold compositions and strong performances.[108][109]

Elsewhere in the musical world, the composer Mohammed Fairouz acknowledged the deep influence of Edward Said upon his works; compositionally, Fairouz’s First Symphony thematically alludes to the essay “Homage to a Belly-Dancer” (1990), about Tahia Carioca, the Egyptian terpsichorean, actress, and political militant; and a piano sonata titled Reflections on Exile(1984), which thematically refers to the emotions inherent to being an exile.[110][111][112]

In 1999, Edward W. Said and Daniel Barenboim co-founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which is composed of young Israeli, Palestinian, and Arab musicians. They also established The Barenboim–Said Foundation in Seville, to develop education-through-music projects. Besides managing the West–Eastern Divan Orchestra, the Barenboim–Said Foundation assists with the administration of the Academy of Orchestral Studies, the Musical Education in Palestine Project, and the Early Childhood Musical Education Project, in Seville.[113]


Besides honors, memberships, and postings to prestigious organizations world-wide, Edward Said was awarded some twenty honorary university degrees in the course of his professional life as an academic, critic, and Man of Letters.[114] Among the honors bestowed to him was the Bowdoin Prize by Harvard University. He twice received the Lionel Trilling Book Award; the first occasion was the inaugural bestowing of said literary award in 1976, for Beginnings: Intention and Method (1974). He also received the Wellek Prize of the American Comparative Literature Association, and was awarded the inaugural Spinoza Lens Prize.[115] In 2001, Said was awarded the Lannan Literary Award for Lifetime Achievement. In 2002, he received the Prince of Asturias Award for Concord, and was the first U.S. citizen to receive the Sultan Owais Prize.[116] The autobiography Out of Place (1999) was bestowed three awards, the 1999 New Yorker Book Award for Non-Fiction; the 2000 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Non-Fiction; and the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award in Literature.[117]

Death and legacy

In Memoriam Edward Wadie Saïd: a Palestinian National Initiative poster at the Israeli West Bank wall.

On 25 September 2003, after enduring a twelve-year sickness with chronic lymphocytic leukæmia, Edward W. Said died, at 67 years of age, in New York City.[118] He was survived by his wife, Mariam C. Said, his son, Wadie Said, and his daughter, Najla Said.[119][120][121] The eulogists included Alexander Cockburn ("A Mighty and Passionate Heart");[122] Seamus Deane ("A Late Style of Humanism");[123] Christopher Hitchens ("A Valediction for Edward Said");[124] Tony Judt ("The Rootless Cosmopolitan");[125] Michael Wood ("On Edward Said");[126] and Tariq Ali ("Remembering Edward Said, 1935–2003").[127] In November 2004, in Palestine, Birzeit University renamed their music school the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music.[128]

The tributes to Edward Said include books and schools; such as Waiting for the Barbarians: A Tribute to Edward W. Said (2008) features essays by Akeel Bilgrami, Rashid Khalidi, and Elias Khoury;[129][130] Edward Said: The Charisma of Criticism (2010), by Harold Aram Veeser, a critical biography; and Edward Said: A Legacy of Emancipation and Representations (2010), essays by Joseph Massad, Ilan Pappé, Ella Shohat, Ghada Karmi, Noam Chomsky, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, and Daniel Barenboim; and the Barenboim–Said Academy (Berlin) was established in 2012.

See also



  1. William D. Hart (2000). "Preliminary remarks". Edward Said and the Religious Effects of Culture. Cambridge University Press. p. 15. ISBN 9780521778107.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Ned Curthoys, Debjani Ganguly, ed. (2007). Edward Said: The Legacy of a Public Intellectual. Academic Monographs. p. 27. ISBN 9780522853575.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 Robert Young, White Mythologies: Writing History and the West, New York & London: Routledge, 1990.
  4. “Between Worlds”, Reflections on Exile, and Other Essays (2002) p. 556.
  5. Robert Fisk, "Why Bombing Ashkelon is the Most Tragic Irony", The Independent, 12 December 2008. Retrieved 4 January 2010.
  6. Ferial Jabouri Ghazoul, ed. (2007). Edward Saïd and Critical Decolonization. American University in Cairo Press. pp. 290–. ISBN 978-977-416-087-5. Retrieved 19 November 2011. Edward W. Saïd (1935–2003) was one of the most influential intellectuals in the twentieth century.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Zamir, Shamoon (2005), "Saïd, Edward W.", in Jones, Lindsay (ed.), Encyclopedia of Religion, Second Edition, 12, Macmillan Reference USA, Thomas Gale, pp. 8031–32, Edward W. Saïd (1935–2003) is best known as the author of the influential and widely-read Orientalism (1978) . . . His forceful defense of secular humanism and of the public role of the intellectual, as much as his trenchant critiques of Orientalism, and his unwavering advocacy of the Palestinian cause, made Saïd one of the most internationally influential cultural commentators writing out of the United States in the last quarter of the twentieth century.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Joachim Gentz (2009). "Orientalism/Occidentalism". Keywords re-oriented. interKULTUR, European-Chinese intercultural studies, Volume IV. Universitätsverlag Göttingen. pp. 41–. ISBN 978-3-940344-86-1. Retrieved 18 November 2011. Edward Saïd’s influential Orientalism (1979) effectively created a discursive field in cultural studies, stimulating fresh critical analysis of Western academic work on ‘The Orient’. Although the book, itself, has been criticized from many angles, it is still considered to be the seminal work to the field.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Richard T. Gray, Ruth V. Gross, Rolf J. Goebel, Clayton Koelb, eds. (2005). A Franz Kafka encyclopedia. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 212–. ISBN 978-0-313-30375-3. Retrieved 18 November 2011. In its current usage, Orient is a key term of cultural critique that derives from Edward W. Saïd’s influential book Orientalism.CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Butterworth, Charles (March 1980). "Orientalism: Review". The American Political Science Review. 74 (1): 174–6. JSTOR 1955676. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  19. Ihab Shalback, 'Edward Said and the Palestinian Experience,' in Joseph Pugliese (ed.)Transmediterranean: Diasporas, Histories, Geopolitical Spaces, Peter Lang, 2010 pp.71-83, p.82.
  20. Adel Iskander, Hakem Rustom (2010). Edward Saïd: A Legacy of Emancipation and Representation. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-24546-4. [Edward Wadie] Saïd was of Christian background, a confirmed agnostic, perhaps even an atheist, yet he had a rage for justice and a moral sensibility lacking in most [religious] believers. Saïd retained his ethical compass without God, and persevered in an exile, once forced and now chosen, affected by neither malice nor fear. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. John Cornwell (2010). Newman’s Unquiet Grave: The Reluctant Saint. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 128. ISBN 9781441150844. A hundred and fifty years on, Edward Saïd, an agnostic of Palestinian origins, who strove to correct false Western impressions of ‘Orientalism’, would declare Newman’s university discourses both true and ‘incomparably eloquent’. . . . |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  130. Jorgen Jensehausen, "Review: 'Waiting for the Barbarians'" Journal of Peace Research Vol. 46 No. 3 May 2009. Accessed 5 January 2010.


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Further reading

External links