A personal tribute to Dr. Edward Said
How do you bid farewell to a phenomenon? Befuddled by the reaction of the “adults” to the news of Edward Said’s death and the sorrow that ensued; my Five-year-old son Faris asked,” Mamma why are you crying”? “Because I feel sad,” I responded. “Why are you sad?” He asked in an innocent, inquisitive manner. Welled up with tears in my eyes; I attempt to compose myself as I conjure up a response, “because an extraordinary man who loves Palestine died.” “Oh no, it’s Edward Said again,” he rebuts. He then draws an awkward looking figure and proclaims: “This is Edward Said.” I suppose he too mourns your death and the missed opportunities of knowing you in a way that only a five-year-old can.
My encounter with you dates back to my college years, long before jaded cynicism slowly creeps up with each passing year, and yet another dream of liberation unrealized and uninvitingly nestles in our collective psyche. I called your office representing the Arab Club to ask that you speak at our university for a function that was set weeks ahead. I spoke with your Secretary who politely noted that you had already committed to numerous speaking engagements, well into the following academic year. It wasn’t but a day later that I received a call from you. You introduced yourself and immediately went on apologetically how you could not possibly accept our invitation due to prior commitments.
I was awestruck and could hardly muster some babble of a “thank you for calling.” You were accessible, and that in part is why you are loved and admired so; not only scholars and the like have listened to you intently and have learned the lessons you have taught throughout the decades and continue to teach through the massive body of your work.
Edward Said and Palestine are inexorably connected so that; it is difficult to imagine one without the other. You have passionately advocated for the plight of Palestinians and with unfaltering conviction have reasoned that the Palestinian cause cannot be sustained by nationalistic fervor alone but rather by a painstaking commitment to activism predicated upon its merit as an inherently just cause.
You have taught us to deconstruct the so-called “truths” espoused and disseminated by our enemies and have shown us how in our eagerness to enter the “masters’ house” we inadvertently invite our oppressors to inscribe our collective narrative. You have dared us to consider other possibilities, and in so doing you have challenged us in a way that makes us question the status quo within systems as well as within our selves. You have taken the “road less traveled” and guided us through the path of political consciousness. With valor and unrelenting tenacity sustained by a steadfast moral conviction; you have fought the “proverbial” battle in search of truth and in so doing; you have given voice to the voiceless. You have exposed the wrongdoings of authority and those who have anointed themselves our “leadership” when it is taboo to “air out our laundry in public” and unheard of to do so in times of crises.
You have challenged us to confront our prejudices and find common ground with the “other side” as we acknowledge our mutual suffering without negating or minimizing the historical injustices visited upon us. When demoralized and burdened by the weight of obstacles that confront us along the treacherous road to liberation, you have urged us not to succumb to hopelessness and apathy even in the face of insurmountable odds. You have invited us into your private space and in your generosity have shown us that one’s strength is in one’s ability to be still in one’s vulnerability. And most of all, you have reassured us that in our collective Out of Placeness, we are indeed In Place. You have taught us so much more; you will not be among the living when your vision of one state where Israelis and Palestinians can coexist will materialize. You have outlived neither Sharon nor Arafat, but your legacy shall outlive them all. Thank you, Professor Said. You shall be missed.