Republishing an Obituary of Edward Saïd: The evil is too oft interred with their bones…

One of my newer but valuable commentators has posted in the comment section an obituary on Edward Saïd which he wrote in Portuguese for Folha de S. Paulo (Brazil). I think it deserves its own post. He prefaced it with the following remarks:

    When in 2003 I wrote Said’s obituary for my newspaper, maybe the only negative text on him to be published in the country’s press, 187 of our most famous intellectuals, writers and artists sent the paper not an answer, but a protest where, besides calling me a warmonger and a racist, they basically asked my boss to fire me (he didn’t). Even in such a far away place as my country, Said became a saint and whatever he wrote is holy writ, above criticism.

It’s a devastating obituary, and, I think, quite accurate. Amazing the editor allowed it, and stood by the author. Not amazing that a bunch of besotted intellectuals got indignant. Interesting that it solicited accusations like “racist,” and “warmonger.” There’s nothing of either sort in the obituary… just a (well-deserved) lack of polite respect for the dead.

EDWARD SAID (1935-2003)

The leukemia that a couple of days ago killed Edward Said lasted long enough for the polemicist and political activist who had settled in the US to watch his projects and hopes crumble.

Said owes his fame to having become the most articulate apologist for the « Palestinian cause », something that wasn’t all that difficult when one considers that most of his rivals in this field, whenever they’re not too busy blowing up school buses and pizza parlours, satisfy themselves spreading anti-Semitic forgeries like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Even so, although his prose reminds one of a post-modern English version of a deconstructionist French translation of the Germanic ravings of some Heidegger epigone, his academic dance of the seven veils with successive layers of Marxist, anti-imperialist and post-colonial jargon never hid the fact that his goals were fundamentally the same.

A large part of his so-called moral authority came from Said presenting himself as a refugee from a Palestinian homeland. In spite of having been put in doubt by his adversaries, the truth or falsity of this claim isn’t too important. The internal borders of the Arab world are all artificial and, half a century ago, loyalties there were established in relation to clans, families, cities or villages and religious sects, not countries or nations, an European import that has had no time to grow deep roots in the Middle East. The Palestinian nationality as a distinct identity has not begun to be developed before the 60s.

Born in an upper middle class Christian family, a student at the best local schools and a member of the most exclusive clubs, Said became, since the 50s, an American and he benefited both from this condition and from the romanticized image of an exile to reach the top of the academic pecking order. Since the beginning of the anti-Vietnam movements in the following decade, any cause that could be related to the Third World became first popular and then compulsory among Western intellectuals. Attuned to such a context, Said, whose speciality were Literary Studies, published in 1978 the book that would make him famous, assuring his role of guru almost until his death: “Orientalism”.

His « classic » is a confused, misinformed and angry diatribe that consists in applying to a particular case an overused generic thesis according to which intellectuals are mostly the servants of the ruling class. What “Orientalism” tries to show through half-truths, non-sequiturs, weird examples, and exceptions turned into rules, is that the discipline or, rather, the disciplines generically called Orientalism that study the Eastern peoples and cultures are nothing but the theoretical arm of imperialism. In short, whoever studied difficult languages such as Chinese or Sanskrit, whoever translated or annotated old or forgotten Japanese or Persian works, whoever unearthed lost temples and palaces did it only for the profit of British or French capitalists.

If such a childish reductionism weren’t enough, the author limited his analysis to the less Oriental of all the non-European regions: the Arab-Muslim world. Surrounding the publication of his work with a whole series of polemics where, to any substantive objection, he only answered questioning the ideological credentials of his critics, he managed, helped by the spirit of the times, to turn his book in the cornerstone of an academic fashion that is still strong enough — that is, judging people and works according not to scholarly criteria but in the light of their political choices.

One year later, in 1979, he published his other « classic », « The Question of Palestine », a book the purpose of which was to narrate the tragedy of his people but which touches historical truth only tangentially, at best. Among the many lies with which this deformed view of the past is built, the most scandalous is the mysterious disappearance of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hadjj Amin al Huseini (1893-1974). The main leader of what Said calls Palestine and of its revolt, in 1936-39, against British rule, the ally of the Nazis who wanted Hitler to help him exterminate the Jews of Haifa and Tel Aviv, the personality that dominated, between the 20s and the 60s, the life of the local Arabs, taking them from catastrophe to catastrophe, makes only one very brief appearance in the whole volume. It is as if a history of the US or Italy, covering the same period, simply omitted the names of FDR or Mussollini.

For two long decades, until the day when the Al Qaeda atrocities, demoralizing his apologetic view of the Islamic world, occasioned his final eclipse by his nemesis, Bernard Lewis, Said kept a powerful and evil hold over many intellectuals. And, though below such euphemisms as the “creation of a secular bi-national state where Jews and Arabs would live democratically together” what really lurked was his mad dream of abolishing Israel, something that would result in the extermination of its “non native” population, the real victims of his ideas were first and foremost his own countrymen whom he helped to guide towards new disasters.

Nelson, feel free to send us other writings of yours.

26 Responses to Republishing an Obituary of Edward Saïd: The evil is too oft interred with their bones…

  1. Fat Man says:

    Nelson is great. He had a blog a couple of years ago, but I kind of lost track of it.

  2. Michelle Schatzman says:

    Kudos to Nelson!

  3. Cynic says:


    He writes nicely in French as well I believe.

    He had some great posts on Europundits at the time and interestingly showed some of his non-political writing as well.

  4. Stu says:


  5. Eliyahu says:

    In this vein, let’s recall that walt-mearsheimer do not mention Haj Amin el-Husseini at all in their anti-Israel tract, The Israel Lobby. This is an commonalty between w-m and ed said. No doubt there are others. Perhaps a common source of inspiration for their writings.

    Another omission from said’s works, according to Prof James Russell, the historian of the Armenians, is any mention of Armenians and in particular of the Armenian genocide, which would have vitiated his whole argument about the innocence of Muslims through history.

    At the same time, we ought to note that Said’s father, William Said, original first name Wadiya, I’m told, was an American citizen. He came to the US before WW I and served in the US army in the war. Does that make eddy’s father a collabotator with US imperialism? After the war, William came back to the Middle East and set up a successful stationery and school supplies business in Egypt, although he was not an Egyptian. Since Britain ruled Egypt at the time and William was not an Egyptian, does that make eddy’s father a collaborator with British imperialism?

  6. Eliyahu says:

    RL, you’re quoting shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Shouldn’t that be “the good is too oft interred with their bones”?

  7. Richard Landes says:

    I’m paraphrasing Shakespeare. Even Mark Anthony was, I believe, being sarcastic. In Saïd’s case, in any way, the evil was interred with his bones.

  8. sshender says:

    Lest we forget that although this man is no longer alive, his legacy lives on and poisons the minds of impressionbale youths on college campuses.

    I think that Rashid Khalidi is the new Edward Said, if not as influential as the latter.

  9. aramkr says:

    What is Nelson’s name and where can I read more?

  10. robert says:

    you can find Justus Reid Weiner’s research on said here: Beautiful Old House and other fabrications by Edward Said por Justus Reid Weiner.htm

  11. robert says:

    the link is problematic, there is a readable version here:

  12. Eliyahu says:

    Anti-Zionism is the anti-imperialism of fools

    Mark Anthony was being sarcastic for sure when he said: For they are all, all, honorable men.

    This obviously applies to UN and EU and State Dept officials. But the current gang of self-styled “Leftists” and do-gooders-through-terrorism and Obama groupies and the English parsons whom Lenin ridiculed are probably incapable of appreciating intelligent sarcasm. Everything has to be simple for them, black & white. No nuances. No complexity. Crude slogans. Four legs good, two legs bad. They can’t see through transparently false promises. They are also often the products of higher education.

    Anti-Zionism is the anti-imperialism of fools

  13. E.G. says:


    Everything has to be simple for them, black & white. No nuances. No complexity. Crude slogans.

    Except when justifying and rationalising aberrations. At that moment “we should not judge in a simple, binary mode”, “the real world has many shades of grey”, “the argument (that’s being criticised) is too simplistic”, “the situation is intrinsically complex… composed of many interwoven layers”… Recall the reaction to axis of evil, for instance.

  14. Eliyahu says:

    the intellectual or doctrinal leadership of these goons is quite capable, quite adept, at doing what you say. Consider Chomsky. However, the rank and file, even with their BAs and MAs and sometimes PhDs are often not capable of rationalizing on their own and need the help of a journalist or academic star [maitre a penser?] in order to know what to do next.

  15. Eliyahu says:

    btw, speaking of how they are generally incapable of seeing through transparently false promises, note how the dummies are all of a sudden getting upset over obominable sending 17,000 more troops to afghanistan. They believed or wanted to believe that obominable really wanted to take the troops out of Iraq as soon as he got into office and that he was opposed to sending US troops abroad in principle. That was despite samantha power letting the cat out of the bag on her european tour about how he would first consult with his trustworthy [untrustworthy] advisors and decide after taking office whether the troops should be withdrawn on the grounds of US national interest as they perceived it. He himself quietly announced the intention to send more troops to afghanistan last summer. So now that he is in office and won’t be taking the combat troops [that is, not all troops] out of Iraq until August 2010, some troops staying after that as I understand, and is also fulfilling his quietly stated promise to send more GIs to afghanistan [is that the place that Al Capp called Outer Darkness?], the simpletons are upset. Because they only heard what they wanted to. You promised us. Don’t you remember that you promised us?

    Too bad that Al Capp isn’t around to satirize the goons. Does Pogo still possess more political wisdom than the average newspaper editorial?? What did Barnum say about a sucker born every minute?

    Anti-Zionism is the anti-imperialism of fools

  16. E.G. says:


    Yes, that’s the role of maitres a penser. And it’s not about providing rationalisations to one’s own behaviour. It’s about justifying behaviours we instinctively consider as aberrations (e.g., beheading). Simply stating they’re bad is not good. There’s always a motive that explains (actually justifies and whitewashes) the act, one only has to find it. Or invent it. Otherwise, we can’t understand such phenomena. And our instinctive repulsion risks leading us to some rigid attitude! That’s not good at all.

    In fact, there’s nothing good in our society. Every apparently good thing (success, achievement) must have a dark side. Except that the good “good things/people” are so good that the dark side becomes irrelevant. Well, unless it’s one’s skin.

  17. oao says:

    They are also often the products of higher education.

    correction: higher schooling = indoctrination, NOT education.

    they are not taught how to think for themselves, but rather WHAT to think. hence the slogans and lack of judgment.

  18. JD says:

    “Nelson, feel free to send us other writings of yours.”

    Amen to that.

  19. JD says:

    Also, “leukemia?” I thought he was gunned down by an Israeli agent, as depicted at the beginning of the film Munich. The agent yelled “This is for saying the word “narrative” too much! Bang!”

    Just kidding…about the agent yelling part. The film started with a Said spoken narrative, then soon showed a poet with adoring bien pesant-looking women, overusing the word “narrative,” then later killed. It was like the screen writer, what’s his name, was trying to rewrite history, to be that his cherished inspiration died at the height of his life by an Israeli, rather than later and in humiliation after being shown to be an utter fraud.

  20. JD says:

    “I think that Rashid Khalidi is the new Edward Said, if not as influential as the latter.”

    Doesn’t have the pizazz. Also too wild, like saying the “Israeli Army chased all the Palestinians out.” Said, more stylish, says his own family fled “When the Hagannah trucks warned us to leave.” Which is more likely, to the very informed, to sound true, except they forget the detail trucks were on the other side of the dispute, which Said was counting on.

  21. oao says:

    “When the Hagannah trucks warned us to leave.”

    if i am not mistaken he was not there and therefore the family could not have fled.

  22. E.G. says:

    Why demolish a beautiful story with facts?
    Besides, if he wasn’t there, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t identify with those who were. The spirit is willing…

  23. oao says:

    yup, even if he wasn’t there, but so many others were, so he was telling a bigger truth.

  24. Eliyahu says:

    Justin Reid Weiner’s article in Commentary is the authority here. As I recall the article and the letters in response [espcially by Marlin Levin; Commentary, January 2000], Said’s family went back to their home in Cairo in December 1947, while the neighborhood was still controlled by the British through Arab policemen in the UK service [as I recall].

    What should get more attention in Weiner’s article is his account of how Said smeared Martin Buber. Said claimed that Buber took over his family’s house [actually owned by his uncle and later his widowed aunt] after the Israeli War of Independence. According to Buber’s family, they had a long-term lease with the uncle and/or aunt. Then the aunt decided she wanted the apartment leased to Buber for herself and family. So she decided to break the lease and got the British mandatory court to back her up against that Jew Buber. Remember that for the British mandatory govt by the 1940s, the Jews were in the position of Dred Scott. As you know, the US Supreme Court decided in Scott’s case that black slaves did not have full human rights. Jews are in that postion today.

    The final insult was when that stalwart narrative spinner, eddy said, turned the story around and accused Buber of moving into [usurping] the house after the War of Independence, when it was his own aunt who had forced Buber and his family out of the house years before that war. Most likely Said wanted to smear Buber precisely because he was known as a pacifist and an advocate of dialogue with the Arabs and a binational state. That is, Said wanted to “prove” that even a Jewish pacifist is really a “Zionist usurper and ethnic cleanser.”

  25. Eliyahu says:

    when I refer to Justin Weiner’s article, I also meant the reference notes which I got off the Internet but were not printed in the print version.

  26. […] I am feeling Frail placed an interesting blog post on Republishing an Obituary of Edward Saïd: The evil is too oft…Here’s a brief overview…blowing up school buses and pizza parlours, satisfy themselves spreading anti-Semitic forgeries like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. […]

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