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Edward Said

One of academia’s most influential radical theorists, the late Edward Said (he died in 2003) was best known for his extremely influential 1978 book Orientalism, which holds that it is impossible for Westerners to write valid accounts of Middle Eastern affairs because their ideas are tainted by cultural biases -- and by a sense of cultural and intellectual superiority. In The Weekly Standard, Stanley Kurtz wrote: “The founding text of postcolonial studies, Orientalism effectively de-legitimated all previous scholarship on the Middle East by branding it as racist. Said drew no distinction between the most ignorant and bigoted remarks of nineteenth-century colonialists and the most accomplished pronouncements of contemporary Western scholars: All Western knowledge of the East was intrinsically tainted with imperialism.”

Said was once a member of the Palestinian National Council. He severed his ties with the Council in 1991 -- in protest to the Oslo accords, and to what he deemed Yasser Arafat’s unduly moderate stance. In July 2000, Said was photographed throwing rocks over the Lebanese border into Israel, trying to hit Israelis on the other side. In March 2002 Said wrote, “Palestinian hospitals, schools, refugee camps and civilian residences have been at the receiving end of a merciless, criminal assault by Israeli troops … and still the poorly armed resistance fighters take on this preposterously more powerful force undaunted and unyielding.” He described the Arab-Israeli conflict as a case of “one state turning all its great power against a stateless, repeatedly refugeed, and dispossessed people, bereft of arms and real leadership.” “Israel,” he said, “is now waging a war against civilians … This is a racist war, and in its strategy and tactics, a colonial one as well. People are being killed and made to suffer disproportionately because they are not Jews. What an irony!”

Condemning the U.S. for what he called the “Israelization” of its foreign policy, Said characterized the post-9/11 American war on terror as unwarranted aggression “against something unilaterally labeled as terrorism by Bush and his advisors.” In Said’s view, the major problem facing the world was not how to respond to events like those that had occurred on 9/11, but rather “how to deal with the unparalleled and unprecedented power of the United States,” which he said had “decided to unleash an unjust war against the entire Muslim world.” Said depicted the Bush administration as an “American Taliban” intent on branding as guilty anyone it suspected of engaging in anti-American behavior.

“Most people in the Arab world,” Said wrote in November 2001, “are convinced -- because it is patently true -- that America has simply allowed Israel to kill Palestinians at will with U.S. weapons and unconditional political support in the UN and elsewhere.” “I would go so far as saying,” he added, “that today almost the least likely argument to be listened to in the United States in the public domain is one that suggests that there are historical reasons why America, as a major world actor, has drawn such animosity to itself by virtue of what it has done; this is considered simply to be an attempt to justify the existence and actions of bin Laden, who has become a vast, over-determined symbol of everything America hates and fears.”

In May 1998 Barack Obama and his wife (Michelle Obama) attended a May 1998 community fundraiser at which Professor Said was the keynote speaker. Click here to view a photograph of Said sitting with Senator Obama and his wife at this event, which was sponsored by the Arab American Action Network (AAAN) -- an organization that refers to Israel’s creation in 1948 as Al Nakba (“The Catastrophe”). In 2001 and 2002, the Woods Fund of Chicago, whose board of directors included Barack Obama, made grants totaling $75,000 to AAAN.

To view a full profile and numerous additional resources about Edward Said, click here.

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