Why is San Francisco State University Celebrating Edward Said?
Who is Edward Said and why is his picture on a mural at Cesar Chavez Center at San Francisco State University (SFSU)?
To answer this question, one must look back at the history of SFSU – its culture and its philosophy. SFSU is known for its progressiveness and diversity. Thriving on this forward-thinking ideology, SFSU once again led the path in modernity by becoming the first school in the United States to include a mural of a Palestinian leader. Although prominently displayed on campus, most students do not know who the leader is. In a campus survey of 60 students, 100% of them were at a loss when asked to identify the man in the mural or his personal beliefs and/or what he stood for.
Edward Said was an English and Comparative Literature professor at Columbia University, writer and cultural critic, who endeavored to “enlighten” people regarding the Middle East. In his book, “Orientalism,” meaning Western attitudes toward the Middle East, Said tried to change what he perceived as misrepresentations of that region.
He did this through literature, articles, lectures, and books. His lectures showed his passion for change and his arguments and criticism. For example he stated, “don’t get me started on American interests in the Middle East. See, there’s this little thing called oil interests and Israel as a strategic territory. I’m fed up with Arabs being seen as religious fanatics and terrorists in the making. It’s all blind arrogance.”
Not everyone agrees with Said’s perspective on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Said had very strong opinions that lead into extremist beliefs such as supporting a one-state solution and the right of return for all Palestinians, which would mean the destruction of Israel.
Said says, “their (Jews) claim always entails Palestinian dispossession.” Ironically, by advocating for a Palestinian State on top of the established Jewish State, Said was advocating for dispossession of Jews.
Said believed the Palestinians deserved the land more than the Jews, and said that the Holocaust is used as an excuse for their “occupation” of the land. He wrote, “How long can the history of anti-semitism and the Holocaust be used a fence to exempt Israel from arguments and sanctions against it for its behavior towards the Palestinians, arguments and sanctions.”
Said’s extremist opinions were clearly seen in his reaction to the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993. For the first time the Palestine Liberation Organization and the government of Israel called a Declaration of Principles on Interim Self Government Arrangements. Said, an independent member of the Palestinian National Council, resigned his position to protest the politics that lead to the signing of the Oslo Accords. He did this because Arafat had been unfaithful to Said’s belief of an absolute right of return.
In 2007, the Palestinian community at SFSU proposed and petitioned for a mural to celebrate Arab and Palestinian culture and to commemorate Dr. Edward Said. The inclusion of this mural on SFSU’s campus suggests, even minimally, an approval or alliance with the views of Said.
If SFSU is attempting to “foster a collegial and cooperative intellectual environment that includes recognition and appreciation of differing viewpoints and promote academic freedom within the University community,” as stated in its mission statement, then there should be some representation of the other side. That representation does not exist, which further indicates a bias on the part of the University.
Said’s views do not comport with the supposed message of peace and reconciliation championed by SFSU.
So once again I ask the question, who is Edward Said and why is his picture on a mural at SFSU?
This piece was originally published in the CAMERA Blog in Focus. Kayla Wold is a senior at San Francisco State University, dual majoring in Communication Studies and Psychology. She is a 2013-2014 Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) Fellow.