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Edward W. Said Dies

Palestinian Scholar Edward W. Said Dies

Edward W. Said, a Columbia University professor and leading spokesman in the United States for the Palestinian cause, has died. He was 67.

Said had suffered from leukemia for years and died at a New York hospital late Wednesday, said Shelley Wanger, his editor at Knopf publishers.

Said was born in 1935 in Jerusalem, then part of British-ruled Palestine, but he spent most of his adult life in the United States.

He was a prominent member of the Palestinian parliament-in-exile for 14 years, until stepping down in 1991. He also wrote passionately about the Palestinian cause, as well as on a variety of other subjects, from English literature, his academic specialty, to music and culture.

I won't cheer Mr. Said's death because I don't like cheering anyone's death unless they are a truely vile person. But here are some quotes of his to keep things in perspective.

Dreams and delusions

In no uncertain terms Delay declared himself opposed to the Bush administration's support for the roadmap, especially the provision in it for a Palestinian state. "It would be a terrorist state," he said emphatically, using the word "terrorist" -- as has become habitual in official American discourse -- without regard for circumstance, definition or concrete characteristics.

If Delay's definition of "terrorist" means a person or entity who employs violence against civilians as a way to change the policies or nature of the target government, then he isn't as far off as Mr. Said says he is. Of course, Delay's collective verbal punishment isn't something I agree with either.

Problems of neoliberalism

Taxes were therefore quite high [in post-war Britain and the United States in the 1940s and 1950s] for the wealthy, although the middle and working classes also had to pay for the benefits that accrued to them (mainly education, health and social security). Many of these benefits were the result of an aggressive and well-organised labour union system, but there was also a prevailing idea that the large costs of health and education, for example, which the individual citizen could not afford to pay alone, should be subsidised by the corporate body of the welfare state. By the beginning of the '90s all this was not only under attack but had started to disappear.


There is hardly anyone left to challenge the idea that schools, for instance, should be run as profit-making enterprises, and that hospitals should offer service only to those who can pay prices set by pharmaceutical companies and hospital accountants. The disappearance of the welfare state means that no public agency exists to safeguard personal well-being for the weak, the disadvantaged, impoverished families, children, the handicapped, and the aged. New liberalism speaks about opportunities as "free" and "equal" whereas if for some reason you are not capable of staying ahead, you will sink.What has disappeared is the sense citizens need to have of entitlement -- the right, guaranteed by the state, to health, education, shelter, and democratic freedoms. If all those become the prey of the globalised market, the future is deeply insecure for the large majority of people, despite the reassuring (but profoundly misleading) rhetoric of care and kindness spun out by the media managers and public relations experts who rule over public discourse.

He was a devoted statist.

The treason of the intellectuals

Pariah states like Iraq, North Korea, Sudan, Cuba and Libya (pariahs because the US has labelled them so) bear the brunt of US unilateral anger; one of them, Iraq, is in the process of genocidal dissolution, thanks to US sanctions which go on well past any sensible purpose other than to satisfy the US's feelings of righteous anger. What is all this supposed to accomplish, and what does it say to the world about US power? This is a frightening message bearing no relationship to security, national interest, or well-defined strategic aims. It is all about power for its own sake.

And not because those nations are ruled by vicious authoritarian bastards? Not because they seek to export or import terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, mass hunger, and any number of injustices that would make Pol Pot proud? I don't agree with economic sanctions but I do agree those nations are at the bottom of any rational list of decent countries.

The other America

A small item in the press a few days ago reported that Prince Ibn Al-Walid of Saudi Arabia had donated 10 million dollars to the American University in Cairo to establish a department or centre of American Studies there. It should be recalled that the young billionaire had contributed an unsolicited 10 million dollars to New York City shortly after the 11 September bombings, with an accompanying letter that, aside from describing the handsome sum as a tribute to New York, also suggested that the United States might reconsider its policy towards the Middle East. Obviously he had total and unquestioning American support for Israel in mind, but his politely stated proposition seemed also to cover the general American policy of denigrating, or at least showing disrespect, for Islam.

In a fit of petulant rage, the then Mayor of New York (which also has the largest Jewish population of any city in the world), Rudolph Guiliani, returned the check to Al-Walid, rather unceremoniously and with an extreme and I would say racist contempt that was meant to be insulting as well as gloating. On behalf of a certain image of New York, he personally was upholding the city's demonstrated bravery and its principled resistance to outside interference. And of course pleasing, rather than trying to educate, a purportedly unified Jewish constituency.

Guiliani's churlish behaviour was of a piece with his refusal several years before (in 1995, well after the Oslo signings) to admit Yasser Arafat to the Philharmonic Hall for a concert to which everyone at the UN had been invited. Typical of the cheap theatrics of the below average American big city politician, what New York's mayor did in response to the young Saudi Arabian's gift was completely predictable. Even though the money was intended, and greatly needed, for humanitarian use in a city wounded by a terrible atrocity, the American political system and its main actors put Israel ahead of everything, whether or not Israel's amply endowed and highly mobilised lobbyists would have done the same thing.

It's usually about the Jews with Mr. Said.

A monument to hypocrisy

...Colin Powell's speech, despite its many weaknesses, its plagiarised and manufactured evidence, its confected audio-tapes and its doctored pictures, was correct in one thing. Saddam Hussein's regime has violated numerous human rights and UN resolutions. There can be no arguing with that and no excuses can be allowed. But what is so monumentally hypocritical about the official US position is that literally everything Powell has accused the Ba'athists of has been the stock in trade of every Israeli government since 1948, and at no time more flagrantly than since the occupation of 1967. Torture, illegal detention, assassination, assaults against civilians with missiles, helicopters and jet fighters, annexation of territory, transportation of civilians from one place to another for the purpose of imprisonment, mass killing (as in Qana, Jenin, Sabra and Shatilla to mention only the most obvious), denial of rights to free passage and unimpeded civilian movement, education, medical aid, use of civilians as human shields, humiliation, punishment of families, house demolitions on a mass scale, destruction of agricultural land, expropriation of water, illegal settlement, economic pauperisation, attacks on hospitals, medical workers and ambulances, killing of UN personnel, to name only the most outrageous abuses...

Mr. Said probably would have lumped the State of Israel in a lower category than Iraq and the countries he mentioned above if egged on enough.

There's more to look through if you wish. The criticism (for example, here, here, and here) of his primary work, Orientalism, is also worth reading.

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