The Political Transformation of Edward Said

Edward Said was a progressive liberal. He was not the radical that he is portrayed to be in Zionist media. But then again, anyone who stands up to Zionism is a radical by Zionist standards. My encounters with Edward Said (and I was not a friend of his and I only saw him a few times and we spoke on the phone a number of times and later exchanged emails – the last one I received from him said that he was “busy writing and dying”) attest to his political transformation over time. I first saw Edward Said at the Institute of Policy Studies in Washington, DC in 1984 ( it might have been 1985). He was introduced by the legendary journalist, I.F. Stone. I was already angry at him.

Back in 1978, around the time of the peak of my political activism, I heard his name for the first time from the mouth of Anwar Sadat. People forget that Sadat had nominated him for the position of Palestinian prime minister-in-exile. The recommendation by Sadat was enough for me to form an unfavorable opinion of him.

So I went to hear him in 1984, and was very ready to express years of frustrations and political resentment. For me he represented a Palestinian endorsement of the detested two-state (non)solution. I was clearly looking for a fight with him. He gave a general talk about Palestinian affairs. I sat and listened (angrily, not for what he said but for the fact that Sadat had promoted him years before) and waited for the Q and A session. As soon as he was finished, I provided an angry critique of his presentation. He tried to interrupt me but I would not budge: I was less comfortable in English but I did not want to stop. He then responded patiently and explained his position. I do remember him accusing me of misconstruing what he said (I remember going outside and asking my friend what the word “misconstrue” means). I did not want to admit that I was criticizing not the talk he has just given, but past political positions of Said. I realized that Said had undergone a political transformation since 1978. And that was my first encounter.

Edward Said then became increasingly politically radicalized. He became the most vocal champion of Palestinian rights: and the man who was accused of steering the PLO in a right-wing accommodationist direction became one of the most courageous critics of PLO stances under Arafat. He was already quite displeased with Arafat back in 1990 when he was fed up with his position on the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait (Edward, as he relayed to me later, counseled caution and criticism of Saddam while Bassam Abu Sharif was calling him to New York and assuring him that Saddam had secret weapons capable of defeating US and Israeli plans. Edward gave up on trying to reason with Abu Sharif).

I also noticed that his connection with the Arab world increased and his interest in things Arab increased. He was glued to al-Jazeera and his Arabic only improved over time. He would make an effort to speak in Arabic.

The Oslo accords were the watershed in the complete political transformation of Said. He was clear and adamant in his critique of Oslo. He was right in all his predictions about the consequences of Oslo and he severed his ties with Arafat.

I remember I was in my office in California when he called me the day the Oslo accords were being signed. He was – like me – furious and restless. He hated the presence of some Arab-Americans (James Zogby – the readily willing token Arab American) in the signing ceremony. He told me that people in the Clinton administration tried to secure his attendance but that he adamantly refused. He knew what was coming and he knew that Arafat had made an unforgivable mistake.

I saw him later that year in New York when I debated with Judith Miller (Said was quite excited about the debate and he called me a day earlier thinking that the debate was on that day). We talked after the debate and he told me: I am increasingly leaning to your “liberation-of-Palestine” side. He also was a champion of Hezbollah’s resistance model against Israeli occupation. I remember that we argued about Hezbollah: he was much less critical of it than I was, especially given that Hezbollah had not entered yet the Nasrallah era, when folks like Subhi Tufayli ran the party (he was succeeded by Abbas Moussawi before he was succeeded by Nasrallah). I was still embittered by the bloody campaigns by Amal and Hezbollah against Lebanese communists – I still have not forgiven nor forgotten those crimes. Conveniently, Amal now blames Hezbollah and Hezbollah blames Amal for those crimes.

The academic legacy of Said is as important. Said was instrumental in forcing Western academic studies of the Middle East to engage in unprecedented self-examination. But the political legacy of Said can’t be underestimated either. A new generation of Arab-Americans, and even of Arabs in the Middle East, are rediscovering Edward Said. His pictures have been widely visible on Facebook this week.

Edward Said stood up against Zionism although he knew how much he would have been rewarded had he chosen the easy route that many Arab-Americans have chosen since. Edward Said became the symbol of Palestinian nationalism and the model of courageous advocacy against Zionism. His name is now globally immortalized and will be more visibly immortalized in Palestine, after its liberation.

Comments

What I feel actually is that his attitude towards being the model of courageous advocacy against Zionism is what that brought about such a lot difference. I am glad that he actually went forward along with his theory. Thanks a lot for the share.

Abu Khalil needs to check his almighty ego once and for all. I have read his bs before and was able to let it slide as a product of his insipid and asinine stances on the most inconsequential crap, as well as a direct result of a clearly less than competent brain structure. That said, this article takes the cake, even for Abu Khalil. Is this article about Said, or about you? Who are you, even? Especially in the shadow of the leviathan Said?al Akhbar should be ashamed on his behalf, because clearly Abu Khalil has lost all credibility, let alone humility. Said and his legacy, on the other hand, speaks for itself.

Dr As'ad AbuKhalil's note was as interesting as before. But I do not agree with him that he was a liberal, at least by the European definition.

And AbuKhalil tried to pictured him in the framework of Palestinian (and at most Arab) question. But the influence and importance of him is not bound to this.

You may not know that Said's works helped many Iranian Left Intellectuals find themselves after the demise of the soviet; his contribution has been a guideline for many academic researches and his works are widely taught in Iranian universities, despite the neoliberal hegemony.

A grandiose title which fails to deliver...lacks substance.

Heady and ego ridden piece of drivel. Thought it might actually give me something insightful about the man 'Edward Said'. Why do most things you right have to be about you eventually, I mean check this out..... You radicalized Edward Said!!?? Bravo man, bravo. This is what I get from this piece, because you criticized Eddie in a school hall.... he became a Palestinian rights advocate. Dude, you should be called the 'egotistical arab'. Take a walk.

Indeed, very well written.

Where did As'ad once say that he made Edward Said "radical"? Maybe you should re-read the article when you're a little less emotional

It's implied.

At minute 26 of this BBC documentary, you can feel Edward Said's heart break.

http://youtu.be/ksTgAL-e9yo

I first became aware of Said in about 1992. I was a fervent backer of the Oslo process then. Said seemed like an unreasonable radical. Boy was I wrong. His words are today so prescient. I am just an American antiwar activist without any special connections to the ME. But from my limited antiwar political perspective it has become clear that Israel has become a major source of war for the US and the whole Oslo process has been manipulated to pull the US into even more war.

The ferocity of Zionist attacks against Said has never seized even after his death. That shows how Said exposed their tactics of their cultural war that precedes invasions.

And can you be sure it will be liberated?
We are hearing about this liberation for 64 years.

Face it, Mr. AbuKhalil - It's not going to happen in this decade.

pathetic how you plug yourself in every article you write. this article is about you more than it is about the great Edward Said.

As'ad:
In 2005, Salon.com did a vicious hit-piece on Said using the vehicle of sourcing it to a severe critic of Orientalism

And of course, they disproved his central point with the very dignified article, which depicted Said flying on a FLYING CARPET wearing a FEZ.

The title was "How Edward Said took the Intellectuals for a Ride." Kamiya is a big booster of J Street and the idea that "American Jews must lead the way" on discussions of the I/P conflict.

http://www.salon.com/2006/12/06/orientalism/

***Edward Said then became increasingly politically radicalized.***
Would it be imprudent for me to conclude that Said's increased "radicalization" may have caused his demise?
Perhaps his western handlers who oversaw his educational development perceived that Said was no longer the submissive brown skinned native they had groomed. In other words he bit the hand that fed him.
If that is the case, then Edward Said 's political radicalised transformation should serve as a warning to the western neo- colonial puppeteers that things are changing for the worse in Orientalist circles.
If an under educated lay person like myself can see the obvious facts of this case imagine how the intellectuals from outside the west view these criminal circumstances.
Malcolm Kerr and Edward Said, both, victims of heinous criminality. Let's call it like it is, murder most foul.

edward said, the greatest of intellectuals, fighters.

This was a great read. Got me a little choke up with emotion, but more importantly added some human depth to my picture of a great thinker and a true Arab progressive hero.

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