Dr. Edward Said: An Undying Voice of the Dispossessed
By: Qaïs S. Ahmadī / Arab America Contributing Writer
“Edward Said is one of America’s most distinguished literary scholars and critics. He is an exile in the very particular sense that the country in which he was born, spent his childhood, no longer exists.”Exiles (1986 BBC Documentary)
This quote is from the 1986 Exiles BBC series. A Palestinian-American force to be reckoned with when he was alive, his enemies still celebrate his absence. If you truly love Palestine, then you love Dr. Edward Said and his legacy.
Dr. Edward William Said was born in 1936 after the Balfour Declaration and before the Declaration of the State of Israel. His Christian Palestinian family settled in Egypt and Lebanon. Dr. Said attended Western schools in Cairo and then entered the Ivy League when his family came to the U.S. He became a comparative literature professor at Columbia University, New York, and served as an advisor in Washington D.C. on Palestinian Affairs. Throughout his career, the Princeton and Harvard-trained academic received countless death threats.
“Guilty as Charged”
At Columbia, Dr. Said’s life was always in danger simply for the fact that he was a proud Palestinian. In the Exiles series, he says, “I do feel, given the atmosphere surrounding Palestine and Palestinians in New York, in particular. I do feel whether anything is said [to me] overtly or not. . . I am guilty as charged.” This feeling is communicated in his Out of Place memoir. This feeling is what refugees live with from birth.
Edward Said: “Enemy of Israel”?
In misunderstanding Dr. Said, his opponents crowned him with the title of “enemy of Israel.” They called him a terrorist and an agent of terror. Some of his own students at Columbia were spies to make his life a living hell in America. The same way the British mandate forces made his family’s life a living hell on their own land. Dr. Said’s own family was seen as enemies to Israel and the U.S. Consequently, he was paralyzed by this alliance when applying for an American passport.
He explains in Exiles, the agent receiving his application refused to accept Palestine as his place of birth. Arguing with Dr. Said that no such country exists there (even in the 1980s). In the end, the official listed Jerusalem to show no such resistance will be tolerated by any Palestinian, scholar or not. With one simple pen stroke, the American agent denied Dr. Said’s right to exist as a native son of Palestine. As a result, the officer reduced his identity to the “enemy of Israel,” and anyone that is an enemy of Israel is an enemy of America – the first country to recognize Israel.
The Fight to Exist
Since then, any Palestinian is considered a de facto enemy of Israel. Consequently, Palestinians have no rights to identity; according to Palestine’s enemies, the country no longer exists. You are either a terrorist or terrorist sympathizer if you claim to be born in Palestine. This system of dispossessing people and rejecting their existence – modeled after Zionism – is underway in several Arab and Middle Eastern countries. Dr. Edward Said died resisting the loss of his Palestinian identity, and if you love Palestine, then you love his fight to exist: to be.
Qaïs S. Ahmadī is an exiled Afghan refugee activist raised in the East Bay Area, California with a decade of global experience in higher education. He is an active researcher having produced highly acclaimed peer-reviewed publications in his respective field. His expatriate experiences include the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the State of Qatar, Japan, and the People’s Republic of China.
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