Who is Edward Said and why is his picture on a mural at Cesar Chavez Center? To answer this question, one must look back at the history of San Francisco State University (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 SFSU students do not know who the leader is. In a campus survey of 60 students, 100% of students 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 a 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, 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 be the destruction of Israel, the only Jewish State.
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, being that the Holocaust is supposedly used as an excuse for their “occupation” of the land. He wrote in the Politics of Dispossession, “How long can the history of anti-semitism and the Holocaust be used as 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 called the Oslo I Accord. The proposed Oslo I Accord supplied a Palestinian self-government, withdrawal of the Israeli army (IDF) from parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the Palestinian National Authority. At the same time, 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. What allowed Said to quit his membership was his belief that Yasser Arafat, the founder of the PLO, had been unfaithful to Said’s belief to the right of return of the Palestinian refugees to return to their property left in what is now the land of Israel as a threat in the occupied territories with what was Israeli land.
In 2007, the Palestinian community proposed and petitioned for a mural to celebrate Arab and Palestinian culture and to commemorate Dr. Edward Said, as he had passed away in 2003.
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 it would follow that there should be some representation of the other side, being that Said’s teachings and beliefs are detrimental to the peace process. 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 of the SFSU site. Evidentiary of this, after surveying students here, the ignorance of information regarding the Middle East as well as ignorance of Said and his beliefs leads one to question: why is this mural here?
So once again I ask the question, who is Edward Said and why is his picture on a mural at SFSU?
Contributed by CAMERA Fellow Kayla Wold. This piece has been republished in The Algemeiner under the title Why is San Francisco State University Celebrating Edward Said?
Kayla Wold is a senior at San Francisco State University, dual majoring in Communication Studies and Psychology.