What consolation is there for the passing of a great
man? He does not leave behind a great void rather a
heaviness of spirit, a weight almost unbearable that
mercilessly seems to crush the heart and render each
breath an ordeal.
But Edward Said was not just a great scholar, a
brilliant mind, a creative artist, an ardent
nationalist, an advocate of justice, a free spirit, an
unrelenting force for integrity, an uncompromising
fighter on behalf of human dignity, and all the other
sets of superlative depictions that he so aptly
Edward was amazingly human, vulnerable in his
larger-than-life status to all the personal pain and
doubts that beset ordinary mortals, and never too
self-preoccupied to let you gain entry to his life
He had a spring in his step and an almost-electrical
spark in his gestures as he lectured us on literary
criticism on an early visit to AUB, with Edward not
much older than his student audience, Beirut, late
He had a tremor in his voice and excitement in his
tone as he articulated the Palestinian Declaration of
Independence, imbuing it with Palestinian authenticity
and universal applicability, Algiers 1988.
He had sorrow in his heart at the passing of his
friends ?Iqbal Ahmad, Ibrahim Abu Lughod? and he
grieved openly at their loss.
He had tears in his eyes when he told us that he had
just been diagnosed with Leukemia, London 1991.
He had a ring to his laughter and a sparkle to his
smile when he celebrated friendships that he never
failed, nor they him ?Abdel Muhsen Qattan, Shafeeq
el-Hout, Hasib Sabbagh, Said Khoury, Rashid Khalidi,
Daniel Barenboim, and many, many more.
He had a sharpness to his anger and moral indignation
at the "indignity" of Oslo and the immorality of
corruption in leadership.
He had a thunderous impatience with the obtuseness and
deliberate ignorance of most Western media who
insisted on reducing reality to an inane sound byte or
a tepid dose of processed language.
He had a gentle identification with the oppressed and
an intimidating rage against the oppressor, a warm
embrace for the victim and a cold rejection of the
culprit, a love for the post-apartheid South Africa
and all that its struggle stood for, and a total
loathing for discrimination, racism and the
degradation of human life and rights.
He had the sharpest of ironic wits with which to
deflate the most pompous of fools who were foolhardy
enough to think that they could deceive or sustain
their vacuous sense of self-importance.
He had the warmest sense of pride and love when
talking about Wadi' and Najla, the children who always
filled his life, and Mariam, the gentle wife whose
love was never in question.
He had a raging thirst for the recognition and
validation of a human narrative to vindicate the
almost unbearable suffering of the Palestinian people
and to render them part of an inclusive human
He had the integrity and compassion to extend
recognition to the horrific suffering of the Jewish
people and the unspeakable pain of the holocaust, and
simultaneously to demand of Israel recognition of its
own culpability for the plight of the Palestinian
He had the courage to seek solutions and alternatives,
constantly on the lookout for a younger leadership, a
mentor for those with promise.
He had the good humor not to take himself too
seriously, accepting the burden of his fame and public
adulation with humility, and granting his name to
numerous Boards of institutions including MIFTAH and
He had the restlessness of spirit that was singular to
those whose "here and now" were too vast and swift to
be accommodated by mundane space and time.
He had the energy of a man aware of his mortality,
squeezing life out of every second, refusing to allow
the dreaded disease to frame his space and time or to
form his "context."
Edward had a global/human context, a Palestinian
context, a personal context. To me, he was mentor,
brother, close friend. He was notes on my
dissertation, phone calls on the Palestinian
condition, hurried meetings in conferences or other
public events around the world, and those rare relaxed
visits in New York or Ramallah.
He was the Edward taking time off to have a
home-cooked meal, sitting with the family around the
table on the veranda overlooking the western hills of
Ramallah, nibbling at food and conversation in a
relaxed almost sleepy manner, shedding the intensity
of his greatness for the luxury of being "at home"
Edward may have been "out of place" as his personal
narrative encapsulated this unique form of Palestinian
displacement, but he has always been "in place" for
those of us who dared to take his genius and
friendship for granted.
In addition to the unbearable burden of his death, we
have to bear the knowledge that we had never been
prepared to accept it.
For a man who has been described as "the conscience of
Palestine," his ultimate absence requires the greater
affirmation of all that he had represented, both in
the consciousness of a nation and in the hearts of
those who loved him.