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Steven Salaita Eulogizing Edward Said When prominent literary and cultural critic Edward Said died of leukemia in September, 2003, it became more evident than ever how much his vast oeuvre of cultural criticism and political commentary polarized readers along predictable ideological lines. Certainly it is rare for an academic to be widely eulogized in non-academic publications in an age when most academics have at best limited fame. Yet when the rare American professor known widely outside of the Academy dies, his or her death usually is reported with the type of respect and nostalgia that is afforded any celebrity whose life has ended. Not so with Said. His death occasioned a barrage of polemical attacks by Zionists and neoconservatives, usually ignorant of Said's actual politics and resorting to distortion and slander. Although Said has been (or will be) analyzed in scholarly journals such as boundary 2, AUf, and Social Text, I will focus here on how his death was received in a variety of popular media. In that media, Said's death has reinvigorated the longstanding divisions among the pro-Palestinian left, the ambiguous mainstream, and the Zionist right. As a result, Said has repeatedly been lionized as an iconic luminary and has even more frequently been demonized as a terrorist. Responses to his death followed consistent patterns: American mainstream media offered generally sympathetic notices but qualified any praise with wariness about Said's vigorous criticism of Israel (the same writers usually forget Said's vigorous criticism of Arab leaders); liberal-left forums such as Tikkun differed little from mainstream media, except that some liberal-left authors appeared more disingenuous than, say, the New York Times; Arab, Arab American, and pro-Palestinian publications romanticized Said with dynamic nostalgia; and neoconservative publications aggressively slandered Said, and in so doing implied that all Arabs are guilty of his failures. The Israeli media followed the same patterns as their American peers, with the mainstream replacing consistency with ambiguity, the left praising Said's commitment to peace, and the right vilifying Said with little supporting evidence. The Irish and British press offered what are, in my opinion, the most fair and nuanced articles available in English. Mainstream publications—those that purportedly have no ideological agenda—illuminate (and at times inform) the monolithic reaction of Zionists and neoconservatives. The connection between the mainstream and the neoconservative right lies primarily in the blurring of reportage and judgment. While obituaries of controversial figures generally mention that those figures were controversial, most obituaries ofSaid passjudgment on his controversies and in turn evaluate him as having been a flawed, or at times immoral, intellectual. 248 the minnesota review For example, Richard Bernstein's detailed article in the New York Times avoids overt judgment but, through its quote selection, leads readers to believe that Said was incapable of non-polemical scholarship. The Washington Post offered a similar, though smaller, announcement under the heading "Palestinian Spokesman Edward Said Dies," a misleading statement that, given the prominence of anti-Arab racism in the United States, surely insinuated to most readers that Said was a vocal advocate of suicide bombing . TZie Columbia Spectator, the leading paper at Said's longtime institution, describes Said as a "profoundly important and imperfect man." This obvious description is revealed as less than benign one paragraph later when the authors criticize Said's "relentless" advocacy of "his chosen cause: the Palestinians," referring to it as "his great flaw," which compelled him to strike "the incorrect balance between his two passions [scholarship and activism ]." More nuanced articles appeared in the Israeli press, which has always had a more direct and, one might say, intimate relationship with Arab nationalism than American media. Rupert Murdoch's Jerusalem Post, a longtime forum of Israeli expansionism, ran an interesting opinion piece by Hillel Halkin, who managed to slander and admire Said in the same sentence: "In his books, he was manipulative and pretentious; in person, he seemed natural and intelligent." Of course, the grammar of Halkin's sentence precludes evenhandedness; "was manipulative and pretentious" is a definitive claim beyond the "seemed" appearance of Said's personal beauty. Halkin describes having brunch at an expensive Manhattan restaurant with Said not long after...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 247-251
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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