Edward Said, who has died from leukemia at 67, was the Palestine-born academic superstar at Columbia University whose book Orientalism (1978) gave us the unlovely discipline of “post-colonial studies,” one of the most popular and hermetic forms of victim studies now regnant in the academy. His ferocious anti-Israeli position helped burnish his image among left-wing academics (which is to say, all but a tiny minority of that brotherhood) even as it led Yassir Arafat to pick him to negotiate with Secretary of State George Schultz in 1988. Said had been ill from the early 1990s, but illness did nothing to diminish his radicalism. In 2000, on a trip to the Middle East, he took time out to throw stones at an Israeli guardhouse, a widely reported gesture that went uncensured by the academic establishment.
Said was a . . . well, “fabulist” is a pleasant-sounding word for “liar. “ He made up an oppressed childhood for himself, replete with Israeli perfidy and refugee status. But the truth, as this obituary in The Daily Telegraph reports, “was rather different.”
The childhood house he claimed had been taken from his father by the Israelis, and occupied by Martin Buber, actually belonged to his uncle, who was Buber’s landlord until he evicted his Jewish tenant, rather than the other way round. When The Daily Telegraph published Weiner’s research, Said threatened legal action, but after being presented with a detailed response, quietly allowed the case to drop. He later claimed he had never given a false impression of his childhood years
In 1999, Keith Windschuttle wrote a devastating essay about the cult of Said for The New Criterion. Read it here.