EXILED BY FOES, SILENCED BY FRIENDS
TIMES HIGHER EDUCATION
January 17 1997
Trapped for the moment in the West, what can Edward Said do for the only place he ever felt he ‘belonged’, his native Palestine? Jennifer Wallace met him in London
Intellectuals ought to be attuned to the interests of the weak and the disadvantaged,” Edward Said, one of the western world’s most outspoken intellectuals, declared to me, as we sat sipping Perrier water from cut-crystal glasses, served on a silver tray. Said had just jetted in from Paris the night before and was staying in what must be one of London’s smartest hotels, in Knightsbridge. One of the hotel staff showed us into a large private sitting-room, which she described as a “salon,” where we chatted about the suffering of the Palestinian people while enjoying a spectacular view of Hyde Park. It all seemed slightly bizarre.
But then Edward Said is a creature of contradictions. In a recent flurry of acrimonious correspondence in the London Review of Books, he was accused, among other things, of criticising the Middle East peace process while remaining safely “within the precincts of Morningside Heights” in New York and of preferring the harsh realities of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israeli government to the deceptive compromises of former prime minister Shimon Peres and the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. One jibe was that Said had “muzzled his independent intelligence” in previous years for the Palestinian national struggle. But the blatant untruth of that last attack is indicative of the difficulties with which all his critics are faced. They cannot pin him down, cannot place him, cannot deal with the variety and polarity of his interests.