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Edward Said's Parting Shots By: Edward Alexander, Nicolai Popov and Marc Lange
Grad.Washington.Edu | Tuesday, May 20, 2003


The following critique was written for the University of Washington community by faculty members Edward Alexander (Professor of English), Nikolai Popov (Senior Lecturer in English), and Marc Lange (Professor of Philosophy), in anticipation of a lecture on their campus by Professor Edward Said. As professor of English at Columbia University, Said has been a bitter critic of the State of Israel and has had a major influence on the anti-Israel movement at American universities. 

If enormous influence in the academic world is a reliable indicator of intellectual distinction, then Edward Said is a fine choice as University of Washington Walker-Ames Lecturer. He has 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 has 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). 

By Said the herd of independent thinkers in political science departments have been taught that "Israel's occupation increased in severity and outright cruelty, more than rivalling all other military occupations in modern history." His acolytes also have found meat and drink in Said's pristinely ignorant and intellectually violent pronouncements about Jews. They are not, he claims, 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 has asserted, "the historical duration of a Jewish state [in "Palestine"] was a sixty-year period two millennia ago." (In fact, as any normally attentive Sunday-school student knows, Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel lasted a thousand years.)

Said's pronouncements about his fellow Arabs have also been widely influential. While bewailing the racist stereotyping of Arabs by Western "Orientalists" Said has 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, the leading spokesman for the PLO in the American news media, and one of the closest advisors of Yasser Arafat, whom he praised for "his microscopic grasp ... of politics, not as grand strategy, in the pompous Kissingerian sense, but as daily, even hourly movement of people and attitudes, 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 with one will, 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, willing to sell the world that famous used Buick called "recognition of Israel's right to exist." At the moment Said is incensed by reports that a new Iraqi government may make peace with Israel.

Said's intense hostility to America has also powerfully influenced that sizable contingent of our academics whose motto is "the other country, right or wrong." He has described Operation Iraqi Freedom as 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 blames the Jews for what he  dislikes: "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.)

Should Said's past membership in an international terrorist organization or his bountiful production of Disneyland versions of history or his thinly-veiled antisemitism and blatant anti-Americanism have disqualified him for selection by the John Danz/Walker-Ames committee? Perhaps not: if UW were to eliminate all candidates who promoted ideas so stupid that only intellectuals could believe them, the stock of possible appointees would be seriously depleted.

But Said's career has in recent years lurched from scandal to 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…to fit the myth of Arab dispossession.
For decades he had presented himself as an exile, an Arab who grew up in Jerusalem but who, at age twelve, when Israel was established, was (along with his family) driven out of the Talbiyeh neighborhood of Jerusalem. In fact, as Weiner massively documented and irrefutably demonstrated, Said's tragic tale was largely a fabrication. He grew up in a wealthy section of Cairo, son of a Palestinian Arab who emigrated to the U.S. in 1911, became an American citizen, then moved to Egypt. Said was educated in Egypt, not Jerusalem. His family occasionally visited cousins in Jerusalem, and Said was born during one such visit in 1935.

In July of 2000 Said was in the news again. During a visit to Lebanon in July, he was spotted hurling rocks over the border at Israelis. Expressing dismay at the Agence France Presse photograph of his pitching exploits (a peculiar way of realizing his intellectual vocation) Said exclaimed: "I had no idea that media people were there..." Not the action, but its detection, caused him to regret what he had done.

Columbia University, Said's employer, saw nothing wrong with Said's fabrications or his stone-throwing. This is the same Columbia which in 1959 immediately "accepted the resignation" of a young English Department instructor named Charles Van Doren for being involved in a rigged NBC quiz show called "Twenty-One." Columbia's then Dean John Palfrey said that "The issue is the moral one of honesty and integrity," and that "If these principles are to continue to have meaning at Columbia," Van Doren could not remain there. Palfrey's principles have long since been forgotten at Columbia, and apparently at the University of Washington as well.

Edward Said gave the prestigious Walker-Ames lecture at the U of Washington on May 8, 2003, to a "sold out" audience.  - FrontPage Magazine.


Drs. Alexander, Popov and Lange are professors of English, English and Philosophy, respectively.


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