To say that their diatribes and analyses are Old Testament-like in manner is to insult the Old Testament. Said launched ad hominem attacks on major intellectual figures with whose views about the Middle East he disagreed. Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington, author of the influential Clash of Civilizations ,  Said wrote, "knows nothing about civilization, he knows nothing about history. He reserved special venom for Arab academics in the United States who did not agree with him. He is a man of vanity who has no compassion, no demonstrable awareness of human suffering.
With no stable principles or values. The irony of Said's judgment and dismissal  of such intellectuals is that he conducted no independent research whatever on the Middle East or Islamic history, politics, and society. In a interview, he admitted that "for the forty years that I have been teaching I have never taught anything other than the Western canon, and certainly nothing about the Middle East.
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Still, he positioned himself on the Arab-Israeli question as an authority who "revealed for a Western audience things that had so far either been hidden or not discussed at all. For decades, he characterized scholarly and public criticism over his stance on Zionism and Israel as "the worst sort of Stalinist bullying" and, even as his books became bestsellers and were assigned in classrooms across the country, he argued that the "severest opprobrium" made his views "no longer acceptable" in the United States.
He recalled that the more the "establishment [tries] to bring me back to the fold [the more] … I become enraged, and I become even more inflammatory, and I reveal even more of their horrible secrets. Such claims were unsubstantiated. While Said said he installed a panic button in his apartment in the s, he also said, "[W]e never had to use it. It was only used once, as it turned out, by a house guest, who thought it was, you know, a light switch.
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In helping him weave his myth, admirers wrote he risked "scorn and death threats from extremists to speak out for the people he calls 'the victims of the victims'";  how he "has enemies … the stakes in being Edward Said are high";  how "he is not afraid to challenge any authority… he has paid a high price for this position. Said substituted status as a Palestinian activist and polemicist for scholarship to achieve unprecedented celebrity for an English professor. He became enmeshed in Palestinian activism after the Six-Day war.
In , he wrote his first piece for Le Monde Diplomatique  and, two years later, he made his debut in The New York Times ;  both articles were on the Arab-Israeli conflict. The young English professor who had labored in obscurity prior to embracing the Palestinian cause had come a long way. While his early studies of Jane Austen and Joseph Conrad made contributions to his scholarly field, it was his publication of Orientalism , a flawed and highly-selective examination of the way the West perceived Islam,  which cemented his celebrity. Hamid Dabashi, his friend and colleague at Columbia University, noted in a long tribute published after Said's death, "I had no clue as to Edward Said's work in literary criticism prior to Orientalism , and for years after my graduation, I remained entirely oblivious to it … I discovered Edward Said first from Orientalism , then his writings on Palestine, from there to his liberating reflections on the Iranian Revolution.
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His subsequent work eschewed the rigors of scholarship and instead favored political activism. Palestine itself becomes an almost overwhelming repetitive theme in Said's work.
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Indeed, the major corpus of his writing deals with Palestine, and much of it is topical and direct political commentary, very much in line with his stance on the role of the public intellectual. Hence we have to see Palestine as firmly connected to the rest of Said's cultural theory. His contrarianism and rejectionism ironically augmented his authenticity among policymakers. In , U. Central Command invited Said, one of the most outspoken critics of the U.
In the same year, despite his virulent opposition to the nascent Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Clinton administration invited him to the White House signing ceremony of the Oslo accords, an invitation he also declined. Plaudits and rewards increased alongside his rejectionism.
The following year, the U. While very few professors get such opportunities, Said chose to use it as evidence of his persecution, noting that after being shown on the BBC it "more or less disappeared. Several awards and honors in Europe followed. Said's substitution of politics for scholarship in the name of "speaking truth to power" has spawned scores of students, professors, and journalists who seek to emulate his path to fame.
Justifying any polemic under the rubric of speaking truth to power now brings reward in most Western universities. Over a dozen books have been published in the last year either by or about the controversial intellectual and his prolific scholarship. Said, who became University Professor soon after the publication of Culture and Imperialism , has challenged literary theorists to recognize implicit political ramifications within texts and the institutional powers that shape a writer's and reader's assumptions.
Said's concepts of "worldliness" and "contrapuntal criticism" have been central to postcolonial theory as well as influential for theories of race and ethnicity. Indeed, some would argue that Orientalism was the first postcolonial text.
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Despite recent health concerns, Said has continued to speak out and write. And he continues to pen prefaces, forewords and introductions to works that range from a collection of Muslim intellectual Eqbal Ahmad to the American mystery. Said has defined the role of the critic as one who is in a perpetual process to probe deeper into human experience, unable to allow "the progress of history" to leave someone or something out.
Others have been greatly influenced by his efforts. The collection, which covers a wide range of Said's aesthetics and its intermingling with politics, begins with an interview with Said and explores how his career has redefined the role of the public intellectual. There is no indifference, no objectivity, no neutrality because there is simply no room for them in a space that is as crowded and overdetermined as this one. That a native informant would use his high modernist training to trace the history of Orientalist discourses was, by definition, a polemical attack upon the collegiality often demanded by the guild.
It is possible to view the Saidian critical corpus as providing a powerful corrective, a form of intellectual resistance, against popular representations, and in turn, misrepresentations of Islam and Muslims in Western culture, particularly the United States. That such hostile and negative stereotypes e. As Said writes in Covering Islam :. It is only a slight overstatement to say that Muslims and Arabs are essentially covered, discussed, and apprehended either as oil suppliers or as potential terrorists. Very little of the detail, the human density, the passion of Arab-Muslim life, has entered the awareness of even those people whose profession it is to report the Islamic world.
What we have instead is a limited series of crude, essentialized caricatures of the Islamic world presented in such a way as, among other things, to make the world vulnerable to military aggression. Said live up to his early billing as a secular border intellectual? New York: Vintage, , p. Michael Sprinker, Ed.