A Palestinian journey Edward Said takes stock

Ulhas Joglekar ulhasj at SPAMbom4.vsnl.net.in
Sun Oct 31 20:38:49 MST 1999

> 1 November 1999 : A Palestinian journey: Edward Said takes stock
> A Palestinian journey: Edward Said takes stock
> By John Lancaster
> NEW YORK: Just when you think the Middle East peace process is finally
> on track--when Benjamin Netanyahu is a fading memory and Arab and Israeli
> leaders are basking in mutual effusions of goodwill--along comes Edward W.
> Said to spoil the party.
> "I think if anything the situation has gotten worse," thunders the West's
> most prominent avatar of Palestinian suffering, displaying his usual
> penchant for turning the conventional wisdom on its head, then slapping it
> senseless. "I haven't any doubt at all that they're going to sign some
> agreement and there will be a lot of fanfare in the usual way, but it just
> won't work. I mean, you know, it can't given the bad regime--Arafat's
> is so terrible--and the lopsided nature of the state or statelet they're
> going to recognize, the constant imposition of indignities and
> on the Palestinians.
> It has rarely been a problem. For more than three decades, while holding
> down a day job as a professor of comparative literature at Columbia
> University, Said has been speaking, writing and generally raising a ruckus
> about the plight of Palestinians displaced by the creation of Israel in
> 1948. It is a crusade that has earned him many enemies, particularly among
> pro-Israel conservatives who have long regarded the 63-year-old
> academic--with his striking good looks and aristocratic bearing--as a
> smooth-talking apologist for Arab terrorism.
> The noise level around Said has intensified with the publication of an
> article in Commentary that accuses him of misrepresenting himself, over 30
> years, as a Palestinian refugee when he spent most of his childhood in
> as the son of a wealthy Palestinian American businessman.
> Said's supporters have described the Commentary attack as "a malicious
> of time" aimed at discrediting not only its target but also "the entire
> Palestinian `narrative' of diaspora and dispossession," as Christopher
> Hitchens wrote recently in the Nation.
> The truth, of course, is more complicated than either side lets on. And
> whatever role Said may have played in burnishing his halo of martyrdom--an
> offense that in any event seems less a felony than a misdemeanor--he can
> hardly be accused of hiding the essential facts of his upbringing, having
> just written a memoir that airs them in excruciating detail.
> Out of Place was published within a few weeks of the Commentary article.
> Largely written while its author was undergoing treatment for leukemia,
> in remission, Said's latest book is an intensely personal--some would say
> clinically self-absorbed--account of his privileged but deeply unhappy
> childhood. Said was born in Jerusalem in 1935 and paid frequent and
> visits there as a child, but his book makes clear he spent the bulk of his
> youth in Cairo, where his father--a Palestinian Christian--owned a
> prospering office-supply business.
> "I really felt I was going to die, and I wanted to recover the world of my
> childhood, in Jerusalem and Cairo, warts and all," he says. "I didn't,
> frankly, think I'd be alive to read it or see it published."
> A product of British colonial schools in Cairo and, briefly, Jerusalem,
> was packed off to boarding school in Massachusetts as a teenager. He went
> to Princeton and Harvard and in 1963 landed a teaching position at
> where he has since racked up a daunting record as a literary scholar.
> His numerous published works include Orientalism (1978), which kicked up a
> firestorm in academic circles with its bold attack on Western stereotypes
> Islam. As if that weren't enough, he is also an accomplished classical
> pianist whose closest friends include Daniel Barenboim, musical director
> the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
> Said is less known for his scholarly achievements than for his outspoken
> advocacy--in books, magazine articles and numerous televised
> Palestinian nationalism. Besides his role as a spokesman, he also has
> as an adviser to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and once held a seat on
> Arafat's parliament in exile, the Palestinian National Council.
> All of this came at a price. Enemies dubbed him "the professor of terror,"
> and his father fretted that someone would try to kill him--an apprehension
> shared by the New York City police, which assigned him protection.
> But Said has broken with the Palestinian leadership over the 1993 Oslo
> accords, which he regards as a road map for apartheid. He has utter
> for Washington policymakers--"cliche-driven, interest-bound
> opportunists"--and these days devotes most of his political energies to
> influencing the Arab world, where he is widely published and read.
> He has traveled half a dozen times to Israel, where, he says, he has
> acquired a considerable following among liberal young people drawn by his
> vision of a single secular state that welcomes both Arabs and Jews.
> His illness has slowed him down, but you wouldn't know it from his
> He rises at dawn in the Riverside Drive apartment he shares with his wife,
> Mariam. He swims for half an hour at the Columbia University pool, then
> returns home for four or five hours to write, which he does in longhand.
> Afternoons are reserved for teaching and research.
> He is working on several projects. One is a book on opera. Another,
> on Ludwig von Beethoven, is an examination of "late style" in the lives of
> musicians, writers and poets.
> Asked whether his own brush with mortality influenced his choice of
> Said pauses. "Yes," he says reflectively but with no trace of sadness.
> feels oneself at the end. One of my earliest books is a book called
> `Beginnings.' Now, I'm interested in endings."
> (LATWP Svc)
> For reprint rights: Times Syndication Service
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> Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. 1999.

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