It has taken me some time to collect my thoughts over Dr. Edward Said’s death – and I am still in shock — but please accept this tribute as one humble offering to the many expressions of sadness and appreciation. I have written this tribute as a writer/activist and as someone whose direction in life was greatly inspired by Dr. Edward Said.
Of course, many of us knew he had been suffering from leukemia for many years now. When I received an e-mail several days ago that Dr. Said had been rushed to the hospital and that it didn’t look good, I brushed it off. He’ll make it, I thought. But then I got an e-mail first thing Thursday morning. Dr. Said, in fact, had not made it. I began to weep. “He can’t be gone!” I could not imagine the Palestinian struggle with the absence of such an incredible Palestinian visionary. “He can’t be gone!” I kept repeating to myself. But he was gone. And as I pulled myself together, I realized that he was never really going to “be gone.”
He inspired far too many people to ever “be gone.” His compassion and tireless dedication to his people was nothing short of amazing. He was a visionary and he was profound in the ideas he shared with others through his writings. And indeed, Dr. Said, a man of unquestionable eloquence can be cited for writing and saying the most memorable things. But nothing defined him more than his words during a conversation with author Salman Rushdie in 1986. Dr. Said said, “The vast majority of our people are now thoroughly sick of the misfortunes that have befallen us . . . On the other hand, I have never met a Palestinian who is tired enough of being a Palestinian to give up entirely.”
And Dr. Said proved this over and over again. Even when battling leukemia, he never stopped writing books or articles. He never stopped giving talks. He never stopped fighting for the average Palestinian Joe. He never stopped being defiant toward governments/institutions that were not looking out for the best interests of Palestinians.
Though he grew up in a privileged family, he used his education and privileges to educate others and increase awareness about his people. What a refreshing and honorable difference this was when so many “privileged” opted to forget the suffering of their own people while selfishly focusing on themselves. Even Dr. Said told people that he had been moved to defend the plight of refugees precisely because he did not suffer and therefore, he felt obligated to relieve the suffering of the Palestinians.
And when he wasn’t writing to increase awareness about the plight of his own people, he was organizing music workshops with Israeli composer/pianist Daniel Barenboim for Arab and Israeli students. There were also the symbolic acts like the time he threw a stone near the Lebanese border. The stone was a celebration of joy at the end of Israel’s occupation in southern Lebanon. It was also a symbol of defiance and solidarity with the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories, for the stone is identified as a tool of freedom and self-determination. No matter what Dr. Said did, his underlying love and commitment of Palestine was behind it.
His daughter, Najla, sent a statement a couple days ago after receiving a huge outpouring of grief by Palestinian activists after Dr. Said’s death: “In his last days my father wept openly for Palestine and his loss of articulacy and energy to write and write and write. He encouraged me, from his bed, to ‘continue the struggle, continue…get over your petty personal differences with your colleagues and write and perform and continue unceasingly. It’s in your hands.’ This was meant for our entire generation . . .”
Ultimately, few can argue that we are witnessing some of the darkest days in Palestinian history. The vision and brilliance of Dr. Said is sorely needed but as he lay dying, he passed the torch to our generation. While so many are at a loss as to how to honor Dr. Edward Said and show our gratitude, the greatest way to honor him is really quite simple: Continue the struggle with persistence, vigor, and utter devotion to Palestine just as he wanted. Just as we are obligated to. To do otherwise is to betray Dr. Said’s legacy and quite frankly, to betray the Palestinian fibers of our own being.
As Dr. Said said, Palestinians never tire enough of being Palestinians to give up entirely. It’s easy to forget this point, and I certainly forgot this important point over the summer when I stopped writing. I forgot this when I dropped out of a course meant to help me with an important project pertaining to Palestine. When I re-read this quotation, I feel ashamed at myself and yet simultaneously re-inspired to do what is right for Palestine.
Thank you for all that you have done, Dr. Said, and thank you for what you continue to do even though you are not physically with us.
May Dr. Edward Wadie Said, one of our great Palestinian heroes, rest in peace.