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Professor Edward Said

Professor Edward Said

Edward Said Legacy

Edward Wadie Said was born in Jerusalem, Palestine, in 1935 to a wealthy Christian family. He left Palestine in 1947 with his family following the UN partition plan. After spending time in Cairo he travelled to the US to continue his education where he spent most of his life.

A Professor of comparative literature at Columbia University, Edward Said was one of the most widely known intellectuals in the world. He was that rare breed of academic critic who was also a vocal public intellectual, having done more than any other person to place the plight of Palestine before a world audience. He was a celebrated cultural critic whose work continues to be prominent in various academic disciplines. He is best known for his magisterial Orientalism, which exposed the cultural effects of the West's relationship with the colonial world. In 1999 the New York Times, in its summary of the century's achievements, declared Edward Said to be "one of the most important literary critics alive".

Clearly, Said crossed the apparent divide between academic scholarship and public recognition. This accolade reflects the impact he had and continues to have on the contemporary cultural terrain.

An early photograph of Said and his sister.

An early photograph of Said and his sister.

As an intellect Said was described by Malise Ruthven in The Guardian, UK, as "Versatile and subtle, he was better at elucidating distinctions than formulating systems. A Christian humanist with a healthy respect for Islam, he was a member of the academic elite; yet he inveighed against academic professionalism, venturing into territories well outside his area of speciality, insisting always that the true intellectual's role must be that of the amateur, because it is only the amateur who is moved neither by the rewards nor the requirements of a career, and who is therefore capable of a disinterested engagement with ideas and values."

Andrew N. Rubin wrote about Said the humanist, "What I came to learn about Edward, as his student, his research assistant, and friend, was that both his life and his work were part of a wilful human and humane endeavour. "Everyday seems like the first day of school,"he would say. Indeed, his unrelenting commitment to the world and to knowledge can be best understood in the terms of an embattled contradiction between his own particular human exertions—his repeated and physical defiance of his prognosis, his challenges to authority and the ideas which help to sustain it - and the processes by which universal principles such as freedom, justice, and truth were placed in the service of their antithesis."

Another student of Said, Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian Legislative council wrote, "He had a gentle identification with the oppressed and an intimidating rage against the oppressor, a warm embrace for the victim and a cold rejection of the culprit, a love for the post-apartheid South Africa and all that its struggle stood for, and a total loathing for discrimination, racism and the degradation of human life and rights."

Daniel Barenboim, world acclaimed Jewish composer and soul mate to the late Said wrote, "He was the very essence of human nature because he understood its contradictions. He was both a fighter and a compassionate defender. A man of logic and passion. An artist and a critic. A visionary of the future with an understanding of tradition. He fought for Palestinian rights while understanding Jewish suffering, and did not see this posture as a paradox. We founded the West-East Divan as a forum where young Israeli and Arab musicians understood that before Beethoven we all stand as equals."

On Culture and Imperialism Noam Chomsky wrote, "Edward Said helps us to understand who we are and what we must do if we aspire to be moral agents, not servants of power." Finally Tariq Ali wrote "His voice is irreplaceable, but his legacy will endure. He has many lives ahead of him."

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