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Philosophers of  the Arabs

 Edward Said
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Edward Wadie Saïd ( 1935 –2003), a Palestinian American literary theorist, cultural critic, political activist, and an outspoken advocate of Palestinian rights. He was University Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, and is regarded as a founding figure in postcolonial theory.

His Life

Saïd was born in Jerusalem , Palestine. His father was a wealthy Protestant Palestinian businessman and an American citizen, while his mother was born in Naserya, Palestine also of Christian Palestinian descent. His sister was the historian and writer Rosemarie Said Zahlan. According to Saïd's autobiographical memoir, Out of Place, Saïd lived "between worlds" in both Cairo and Jerusalem until the age of 12. In 1947, he attended the Anglican St. George's Academy when he was in Jerusalem, but his extended family became refugees in 1948 due to the occupation of Palestine and the creation of the state of Israel.

In the year 1951 Said was sent by his parents to Mount Hermon School, a private college preparatory school in Massachusetts, where he recalls a "miserable" year feeling "out of place". Despite feeling out of place Said did well at the Massachusetts boarding school often 'achieving the rank of either first or second in a class of about a hundred and sixty'.

Said earned an A.B. (1957) from Princeton University and an M.A. (1960) and a Ph.D. (1964) from Harvard University, where he won the Bowdoin Prize. He joined the faculty of Columbia University in 1963 and served as Professor of English and Comparative Literature for several decades. In 1977 Said became the Parr Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia and subsequently became the Old Dominion Foundation Professor in the Humanities. In 1992 he attained the rank of University Professor, Columbia's most prestigious academic position. Professor Said also taught at Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and Yale universities. He was fluent in English, French, and Arabic. In 1999, after his earlier election to second vice president and following its succession policy, Said served as president of the Modern Language Association.

Said was bestowed with numerous honorary doctorates from universities around the world and twice received Columbia's Trilling Award and the Wellek Prize of the American Comparative Literature Association. His autobiographical memoir Out of Place won the 1999 New Yorker Prize for non-fiction. He was also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Royal Society of Literature, and the American Philosophical Society.

Said's writing regularly appeared in The Nation, The Guardian, the London Review of Books, Le Monde Diplomatique, Counterpunch, Al Ahram, and the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat. He gave interviews alongside his good friend, fellow political activist, and colleague Noam Chomsky regarding U.S. foreign policy for various independent radio programs.

His Thought

He referred to himself as a "Christian wrapped in a Muslim culture". Said experienced much confusion growing up and was quoted as saying that "with an unexceptionally Arab family name like Said connected to an improbably British first name (my mother much admired 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".


Said is best known for describing and critiquing "Orientalism", which he perceived as a constellation of false assumptions underlying Western attitudes toward the East. In Orientalism (1978), Said described the "subtle and persistent Eurocentric prejudice against Arabo-Islamic peoples and their culture." He argued that a long tradition of false and romanticized images of Asia and the Middle East in Western culture had served as an implicit justification for Europe and America's colonial and imperial ambitions. Just as fiercely, he denounced the practice of Arab elites who internalized the American and British orientalists' ideas of Arabic culture.

Orientalism has had a significant impact on the fields of literary theory, cultural studies and human geography, and to a lesser extent on those of history and oriental studies. Taking his cue from the work of Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault, and from earlier critics of western Orientalism such as A. L. Tibawi, Anouar Abdel-Malek, Maxime Rodinson, and Richard William Southern, Said argued that Western writings on the Orient, and the perceptions of the East purveyed in them, are suspect, and cannot be taken at face value. According to Said, the history of European colonial rule and political domination over the East distorts the writings of even the most knowledgeable, well-meaning and sympathetic Western ‘Orientalists’ (a term that he transformed into a pejorative.

Said concludes that Western writings about the Orient depict it as an irrational, weak, feminised "Other", contrasted with the rational, strong, masculine West, a contrast he suggests derives from the need to create "difference" between West and East that can be attributed to immutable "essences" in the Oriental make-up. In 1978, when the book was first published, with memories of the 6th of October war and the OPEC crisis still fresh, Said argued that these attitudes still permeated the Western media and academia. After stating the central thesis, Orientalism consists mainly of supporting examples from Western texts.

Criticism of US Foreign Policy

In a 1997 revised edition of his book Covering Islam, Said criticized what he viewed as the biased reporting of the Western press and, in particular, media “speculations about the latest conspiracy to blow up buildings, sabotage commercial airliners, and poison water supplies. Said opposed many US foreign policy endeavors in the Middle East.

Pro-Palestinian activism


As a pro-Palestinian activist, Said campaigned for a creation of an independent Palestinian state. From 1977 until 1991, Said was an independent member of the Palestinian National Council who tended to stay out of factional struggles. He supported the two-state solution and voted for it in Algiers in 1988. In 1991, he quit the PNC in protest over the process leading up to the signing of the Oslo Accords, feeling that the Oslo terms were unacceptable and had been rejected by the Madrid round negotiators. He felt that Oslo would not lead to a truly independent state and was inferior to a plan Arafat had rejected when Said himself presented it to Arafat on behalf of the US government in the late 1970s. In particular, he wrote that Arafat had sold short the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in pre-1967 Israel and ignored the growing presence of Israeli settlements. Said's relationship with the Palestinian Authority was once so bad that PA leaders banned the sale of his books in August 1995, but improved when he hailed Arafat for rejecting Barak's offers at the Camp David 2000 Summit. Ultimately, Said came to prefer and to support a state that would afford Palestinians a home with equal human rights in place of the 'Jewish' state of modern-day Israel.




           Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography (1966)

           Beginnings: Intention and Method (1975)

           Orientalism (1978)

           The Question of Palestine (1979)

           Orientalisme (1980)

           Literature and Society (editor) (1980)

           The Middle East: What Chances For Peace? (1980) [co-contributor with Joseph J. Sisco, Shlomo Avineri, Saburo Okita, Udo Steinbach, William Scranton, Abdel Hamid Abdel-Ghani and H.R.H. Prince Saud]

           Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World (1981)

           The World, the Text and the Critic (1983)

           After the Last Sky: Palestinian Lives (1986) [with photographs by Jean Mohr]

           Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question (1988) [contributor and co-editor with Christopher Hitchens]

           Yeats and Decolonization (1988)

           Musical Elaborations (1991)

           Culture and Imperialism (1993)

           The Politics of Dispossession (1994)

           Representations of the Intellectual: The Reith Lectures (1994)

           The Pen and the Sword: Conversations with Edward W. Said (1994),Conversations with David Barsamian

           Peace and Its Discontents: Essays on Palestine in the Middle East Peace Process (1996)

           Entre guerre at paix (1997)

           Acts of Aggression: Policing "Rogue States" (with Noam Chomsky and Ramsey Clark) (1999)

           Out of Place (1999) (a memoir)

           Henry James: Complete Stories, 1884-1891 (Editor) (1999)

           The End of the Peace Process: Oslo and After (2000)

           Reflections on Exile (2000)

           The Edward Said Reader (2000)

           Power, Politics and Culture: Interviews with Edward W. Said (2001)

           CIA et Jihad, 1950-2001: Contre l'URSS, une désastreuse alliance (2002), with John K. Cooley

           Culture and Resistance: Conversations with Edward W. Said (2003),Interviews by David Barsamian

           Freud and the Non-European (2003)

           From Oslo to Iraq and the Road Map (Collection of Essays) (2003)

           Parallels and Paradoxes: Explorations in Music and Society (with Daniel Barenboim) (2003)