ADC Defends Edward Said in the Washington Times
The following article, by ADC Communications Direction Hussein Ibish, appeared in yesterday‘s edition of the Washington Times.
The Washington Times September 17, 1999. Pg. A19
The truth about Said; Credibility attack paints false portrait Hussein Ibish Edward Said, the most prominent Palestinian-American intellectual, has often written about the precariousness of Palestinian identity in a world which has no place for Palestinians: “Do we exist? What proof do we have?” he famously asks. An article just published in the intensely pro-Israel magazine Commentary – which questions Mr. Said’s own status as a Palestinian and claims that he “fabricated” his childhood – once again demonstrates the lengths to which some will go to call this existence into question.
The article, ” ‘My Beautiful Old House’ and Other Fabrications by Edward Said” claims that as a child Mr. Said did not live in Jerusalem but lived only in Cairo and has hidden this fact; that his family did not own a house in Jerusalem – and that he did not attend school there. The clear implication is that he, the leading spokesman for the Palestinian cause in the West, is therefore not really a Palestinian but a fraud. These claims have been repeated and embellished by several well-known American newspapers, including by Arnold Beichman in The Washington Times. But, as even a cursory glance at the record shows, it is his accusers, not Mr. Said, who are inventing fabrications.
The facts are these: Mr. Said has always clearly stated that, as a son of Palestinians living in Egypt, his childhood was spent traveling between “the Cairo-Jerusalem-Beirut axis, which is the one I grew up in,” as he puts it. He spent a good deal of time in Jerusalem and went to St. George’s School there. Indeed, one of his classmates at St. George’s, Haig Boyadjian, says that he explicitly told Commentary that Mr. Said had been a fellow student, and that he finds it “unbelievable” that this evidence was suppressed in the article.
The Said family did indeed own the “beautiful old house,” where both Edward and his sister Jean were born, and which was legal property of his father’s sister. This house and the family business were seized from Mr. Said’s family after 1948 through the notorious “absentee property law” by which Israel took all the property belonging to Palestinians who fled or were ethnically cleansed by Israel. Moreover, all of Mr. Said’s extended family, including aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, were expelled by Israel, and he and all his relatives were no longer allowed to live in their homes and homeland. All of this is easily verifiable by any honest investigator; the details are spelled out in Mr. Said’s forthcoming memoir, “Out of Place” (Knopf).
As for the core allegation, that Mr. Said has concealed the fact that he was a Palestinian living in Cairo for much of his childhood, one need only point to the countless articles, interviews and speeches over the past decades in which he has not only mentioned, but thoughtfully reflected on this condition. For example, in a 1989 interview which concludes the important book, “Edward Said: A Critical Reader” (Blackwell), Mr. Said says “To go back to the early years of my awareness of Cairo: I grew up there, spending a large part of my youth in the place, but strangely not as an Egyptian.” As a Palestinian living in Cairo, Mr. Said adds that “I always felt that I wasn’t of the place.” Hardly the words of a man concealing this chapter of his past, and only one example among many such remarks.
Needless to say, Mr. Said was never directly contacted by Commentary about the details of his own childhood.
To these allegations, Mr. Beichman, writing in The Washington Times, adds two more: that Mr. Said “reveres Saddam Hussein” and harbors “an unyielding loyalty to Marxism.” Anyone familiar with Mr. Said’s writings will remember the countless occasions where he condemns “the appalling figure of Saddam Hussein.” With reverence like that, who needs detractors?
As for Mr. Said’s “unyielding loyalty to Marxism,” this is truly
laughable. Mr. Said has often written of the insufficiency of Marxism, stating that “Marxism has always struck me as more limiting than enabling” and that “it’s hard for me to take it [Marxism] seriously, except as an academic pursuit of some sort or another.”
The question is not whether these preposterous allegations are true, since they clearly are not, but rather why anyone would make or repeat them. This brings us back to the point that Mr. Said and other prominent Palestinian intellectuals constantly make that there is an imperative for many supporters of Israel to will the Palestinians out of existence and deny their collective experience. Since only Israelis have a right to Palestine and Palestinians are usurpers and interlopers, so the thinking goes, then their collective and individual narratives must be frauds and their spokespeople liars.
The rights of the millions of Palestinian exiles and refugees has acquired an urgent relevance because this is supposed to be a major issue in the next phase of the peace process. In the wake of the Kosovo war, which was fought in the name of the right of refugees to return to their homeland, the immorality and inconsistency of denying Palestinians their well-established right to return has become harder than ever to defend. But if their history proves anything, it is that, no matter the odds against them, the Palestinians are not going to allow themselves to be bullied out of their human rights and national identity.
As usual, Mr. Said put it best when he observed that “I have never met a Palestinian who is tired enough of being a Palestinian to give up entirely.”
Hussein Ibish is communications director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Washington.
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