Archive for October, 2003

A Tribute to Edward Said

October 8, 2003

By Samia Khoury
Wednesday, October 8, 2003

The only thing I could see myself writing about this month is a tribute to Edward Said. My memories of Edward go back to 1947 when we were both attending the wedding of his cousin to my cousin at St. Paul’s Church in Jerusalem.

The next time we met was in 1993 when he visited Birzeit University and was awarded an honorary doctorate in Humanities, the first honorary degree ever awarded by the university. It was Edward’s great contribution to humanity — as an intellectual, writer and critic — that inspired the university to start the tradition of honorary degrees. Since education and the Palestinian cause were among his greatest concerns, that honorary degree was especially meaningful to Edward because it was awarded by a Palestinian university inside Palestine.

It was at that time that so many of us Palestinians in the Occupied Territories got to meet Edward personally, after we had known him through his great books and articles. Music was another of Edward’s passions that added to his greatness as a human being. But his most striking characteristic, one that will remain alive, was his unwavering courage to speak out for truth and justice. He spoke so strongly against Israeli military occupation and its colonial policies and oppressive measures. He was also critical of the U.S. administration for its blind support of Israel, and for the double standards with which it dealt with Israel and the Palestinians. He was just as critical of the Palestinian Authority.

Another of his special visits was to the Sabeel International Conference in Bethlehem in 1998. The crowd that showed up that evening was beyond our expectation. People from all over Palestine, including the pre-1948 borders, came to see and hear him, and he was so happy to introduce his son Wadi to his audience that evening. Listening to his keynote address, we could not believe our ears when he spoke so fiercely against the Palestinian Authority and its performance. This kind of honesty and courage is rare amongst our people, irrespective of the different regimes ruling the region. The norm is to remain silent in order to be able to maintain one’s status and self-interest. Public interest has a long way to go to become a priority.

We have an Arabic proverb: “If words are of silver, then silence is of gold.” This never applied to Edward. Silence meant weakness and capitulation. He strongly criticized the Oslo Accords, not because he was against peace but because he could not keep silent while so many concessions were being made concerning Palestinians’ inalienable rights, including the right of return.

He always alluded to the fact that the negotiating team headed by Dr. Haidar Abdel Shafi in Washington was about to get a far better deal for the Palestinians than the Oslo Accords. Moreover, he could not tolerate the lack of professionalism and secrecy with which the Oslo Accords were handled, without clear maps and without the consultation of experts.

He was a very thorough and maticulous man. The letters of Lord Chesterfield to his son might have had some influence on him: “Approfondissez; go to the bottom of things. Anthing half done, or half known, is, in my mind, neither done nor known at all. Nay, worse, for it often misleads.”

He also strongly felt that the Authority should have engaged the Palestinian people and kept them informed rather than simply have them reap the consequences.

Only Edward Said, this great man with unquestionable integrity, had the stature to stand up against all those concessions, supposedly made for the sake of peace. Many Palestinians thought he was too harsh on the Palestinian Authority, but the way things turned out after Oslo, and the deterioration in the general situation, made those same people realize how right Edward was. And they all agreed that Edward always spoke out of love, and concern for his people; for their welfare, their dignity and from his firm conviction in the just cause of the Palestinians; a cause worthy of struggling for relentlessly, even if it meant aggravating others and creating enemies for himself.

His being an American citizen did not make him any less Palestinian. We are honored to be able to claim him as one of us, but we cannot have this privilege to ourselves because Edward belonged to all. Even his immediate family, Mariam Wadi and Najla have come to terms with this fact. His writings will continue to inspire and touch many people all over the world. How privileged his students must feel now that he is gone.

Indeed the world has lost a great champion of humanity, love, truth and justice. For Palestinians his memory will always stay alive and his legacy will illuminate our path for the future. May he rest in peace.