Edward Said, a leading advocate for the Palestinian cause in the United States and a highly respected literary critic, has died.
The Columbia University professor was best known to the public for his role as an advocate for the Palestinians. He wrote and spoke passionately about the plight of the Palestinian people, and helped bring the fight for Palestinian statehood to the public eye.
But Edward Said was a controversial figure. He criticized Israeli treatment of the Palestinians, U.S. policy towards Israel and the peace process in the Middle East. In recent years, he was also critical of the Palestinian Authority and the leadership of Yasser Arafat.
A spokesman for the American-Arab Anti-discrimination Committee, Hussein Ibish, says the loss of Edward Said is a blow for Arabs and Arab-Americans. Mr. Ibish, who is a personal friend of the Said family, says his death is also a loss to the human family because Edward Said was a humanist who fought for universal values.
“I think that everyone listening should know that, whether they have ever met Edward Said or not, they have lost a friend because Edward Said was a great humanist and a champion of co-existence and tolerance and mutual respect among peoples and among societies,” he said. “I think that is something that is very rare and it is something that is more needed than ever.”
Edward Said was born in British-ruled Jerusalem in 1935. He came from a prominent Christian family, which moved to Cairo when Israel was created in 1948. He was an American citizen and was educated at top U.S. universities.
He wrote more than a dozen books on topics ranging from politics to literature, music and Freud. His 1978 work Orientalism focused on the way the West historically "came to terms" with the so-called "Muslim Orient.” The book helped launch a new academic field of post-colonial studies.
Mr. Ibish says that in his writing and lectures, Edward Said worked vigorously to foster understanding between Arab and American societies.
“Said, although he was completely fluent in both Western and Arab cultures, often said he never felt fully at home in either of them,” he said. “And so, from this de-centered perspective, he tried, I think, as much as he could, to provide a bridge between increasingly alienated Arab and American societies to explain the one to the other.”
Mr. Said died Thursday in a New York hospital after ten years of battling leukemia.
He was 67 years old and leaves behind a wife, a son and a daughter.