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Edward W. Said, 67; Respected Professor and Scholar Advocated Palestinian Cause

September 26, 2003|Elaine Woo | Times Staff Writer

Edward W. Said, an influential Columbia University professor of literature whose public role as the West's most eloquent spokesman for the Palestinian cause brought him both condemnation and awe over the past three decades, died at a New York hospital Wednesday after a long battle with chronic leukemia. He was 67.

Said was a fascinating, complex figure who sometimes spoke of his two quite separate lives. He was a Princeton- and Harvard-trained literary scholar who could knowledgeably expound on the works of such great Western writers as Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling and Jane Austen. He also was an engaged academic, a thinker and an activist whose articulate and emotional advocacy of Palestinian sovereignty brought him wide media exposure and an unwelcome degree of notoriety.

In the Arab world, Said was revered as "Mr. Palestine in America," who brought a luminous intelligence to the challenge of humanizing the Western world's perceptions of the Palestinian struggle.

"He put us, the Palestinian cause, within the consciousness of people who would much rather have been dismissive," Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi told The Times on Thursday. "He brought Palestine to the world of intellect, and made it part of the public discourse, particularly in the West."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday September 30, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
Said obituary -- An obituary in Friday's California section of Columbia University professor Edward W. Said misspelled the name of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr as Reinhold Neibuhr.

He earned grudging respect from some critics, who found him an effective spokesman for a cause they disagreed with.

"He's been a brooding countenance, something like the Elie Wiesel of the Palestinians," Martin Peretz, editor in chief of the New Republic and staunch supporter of Israel, once said of Said.

To others, however, Said was the "professor of terror" -- the headline on an article in Commentary magazine several years ago -- because of his once-close ties with Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat and his fierce defense of Palestinian rights.

He gave his foes further cause for fury three years ago when a French news agency photographed him throwing a rock toward an Israeli position at Lebanon's recently liberated border with the Jewish state. The rock hit no one, and Said said his action had been wildly misconstrued.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a statement Thursday that although he disagreed with some of Said's views, he "admired the passion with which he pursued his vision of peace between Israelis and Palestinians" and said that the U.S. and the Middle East "will be the poorer without his distinctive voice."

The author of more than 20 books, Said (pronounced Sah-yeed) was best known for "Orientalism," an exploration and analysis of Western views of the Islamic world. Published in 1978, it has been translated into more than two dozen languages and is required reading in many fields.

Other major works by Said include the 1993 book "Culture and Imperialism," in which he traced the influence of 19th-century European imperialism in the novels of authors such as Austen and Charles Dickens, and "After the Last Sky; Palestinian Lives," published in 1986, which examined through Said's text and Swiss photographer Jean Mohr's images the transience of Palestinian existence.

Said was also an accomplished pianist and a musicologist who joined with Daniel Barenboim, an Israeli and a world-famous conductor, to hold annual workshops that drew together musicians from Israel and Arab states.

A Palestinian who was born in Jerusalem, raised in Cairo and schooled in the United States, Said lived as an exile, an outlook that infused his extensive writings.

"It's a very conflicted thing for me because I'm an American and I'm also an Arab," Said told The Times some years ago. "You can only imagine what this is like. But then I remember once again that a Palestinian is almost always out of place."

Born in 1935 in what was then Palestine, Said was the son of a well-to-do businessman who had attended college in Cleveland and served in the U.S. Army during World War I. Said was baptized as an Episcopalian and went to an Anglican school attended by the children of Jerusalem's elite.

When Palestine was partitioned into Jewish and Arab sections by the United Nations in 1947, "the situation was dangerous and inconvenient," Said told New York magazine in a 1989 interview, and his family sought what was intended to be temporary refuge in Cairo. After war broke out between the Palestinian Arabs and Jews the following spring, other Said family members fled -- to the U.S., Greece, Jordan, England and Switzerland. Political upheavals in Egypt when Gamal Abdel Nasser came to power eventually led Said's parents and siblings to uproot once again and move to Lebanon.

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