Edward Said, leading Palestinian advocate, dead at 67

Edward Said, a leading Palestinian advocate in the United States and abroad and professor of literature at Columbia University in New York City, has died at age 67, the university said Thursday.

Said died after a decade-long illness with leukaemia, media reports said, but the university did not confirm the cause of death. Leukaemia was diagnosed in 1992, according to an online article from the university’s magazine.

Said’s death caused an outpouring of tributes around the world, including the Electronic Intifada online, which wrote Said had “maintained his relentless engagement with people, culture, and politics all over the world, even in the last weeks of his decade- long struggle against illness”.

Said was born in 1935 in then British-ruled Jerusalem, the son of a wealthy Palestinian Christian businessman. His family was exiled to Cairo after the founding of Israel, and Said was sent to a New England boarding school and Princeton University. He did graduate study at Harvard.

For 14 years he was a member of the Palestinian parliament-in- exile, but stepped down in 1991 over disagreement with Yasser Arafat, saying the Palestinian Liberation Organization lacked “credibility and moral authority”, the university magazine wrote.

But Said was equally disparaging of the Oslo peace accord, which he saw as an instrument of Palestinian surrender” that allowed Israel to continue to dominate the Arabs. And he called the United States a dishonest broker”.

In 1998, Said received the premier literary prize of the Arab world - the Sultan Owais Prize - to honour his life’s achievements, the only American to have received the award, the university magazine said.

Despite his illness, Said travelled the world delivering lectures, and in the 1990s returned for the first time to his birthplace in Jerusalem.

Although he was widely recognized abroad for his work, and was chosen to produce a film for the BBC about Israel on the occasion of its 50th anniversary, he was little known in the U.S.

But his supporters said he was often “the sole and most effective advocate” for bringing truth about the Palestinian cause to the United States at a time that “images and narratives of the Palestinian struggle were dominated by misrepresentations, caricatures and hateful stereotypes”, the Electronic Intifada said.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan honoured Said, saying he brought the Arab and Western worlds closer together. Annan said he didn’t always share Said’s point of view, but he admired his dedication to pursue his vision to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

His seminal work was “Orientalism”, published in 1978, which analyzed how the West perceives the Islamic world.

Said had “never abandoned a vision of peace between Israelis and Palestinians based on deep mutual recognition of the other’s histories and narratives”, the Electronic Intifada said.

Said once told the Columbia University magazine that he rejected the sound bite “mentality of American television and viewed most of the dominant U.S. publications as ideologically hostile” to his viewpoint.

“I’ve lost my taste for this type of forum,” he was quoted as saying.