On November 1, 1935, Edward Said, the eminent Palestinian-American public intellectual and the father of postcolonial studies, is born.
Said was born in Jerusalem, then part of the British Mandate of Palestine. He was born into a wealthy Christian Arab family, and grew up in Jerusalem and Cairo before moving to the United States to attend boarding school as a teen. He graduated from Princeton and Harvard, and became a full professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University in 1970. During his career, he published several influential scholarly books, and became a fierce advocate for Palestinian political rights.
In 1978, Said published Orientalism, the book that made him famous. In it, Said critiques the "subtle and persistent Eurocentric prejudice against Arabo-Islamic peoples" in Western intellectual culture. Said argues that Western discourse about the Middle East and Asia relies on deeply-rooted biases and stereotypes. Further, the biased depiction created by Western intellectuals makes the violent political domination of the East possible. For Said, claims to knowledge about the East are inextricable from claims to power by the West.
Said's arguments were controversial, but also hugely influential. In Orientalism, Said was among the first American intellectuals to engage with the ideas of Michel Foucault and other contemporary French thinkers. Orientalism also helped to launch the academic discipline of postcolonial studies, which explores the legacies of colonialism and imperialism around the world. Postcolonial studies continues to be a vibrant interdisciplinary field, encompassing history, literary studies, anthropology and political science, among other subjects.
Said also advocated strongly for the rights of Palestinians. He published numerous books on the subject, including The Palestinian Question in 1979. He was a member of the Palestine National Council from 1977 to 1991, and supported the two-state solution for Israel and Palestine for most of his career. However, near the end of his life, disappointed with the outcome of the 1993 Oslo Accords, Said suggested that the only path forward was a single, democratic, binational state.
Said died in New York in 2003.