Daughter of Edward Said remembers her ‘best friend’ on his 86th birth anniversary

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Updated 01 November 2021

Daughter of Edward Said remembers her ‘best friend’ on his 86th birth anniversary

Daughter of Edward Said remembers her ‘best friend’ on his 86th birth anniversary
  • Growing up in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Najla Said faced a personal identity crisis as an Arab-American
  • Edward Said was an author, public thinker, pianist, founding figure of postcolonial studies and proponent of the Palestinian cause

DUBAI: The world will always remember Edward Said as a man of letters with a wide range of interests.

Born to Palestinian parents in British-ruled Jerusalem in the 1930s, he became an internationally recognized author, critic, professor, public thinker, gifted pianist, founding figure of postcolonial studies and lifelong proponent of the Palestinian cause.

However, in the eyes of his only daughter, the actress, playwright and author of “Looking for Palestine,” Najla Said, he was simply “Daddy.”

Her earliest memory of her father shows just how attached she was to him from a very young age.




Young girl Najla and her "best friend" dad. (Supplied)

“I remember being about two or three years old and I had a bloody nose. My mother told me to lie down and hold my nose, but I remember when my dad came home from work, I jumped up, shouting ‘Daddy!’ and ran toward him while blood was running down my nose,” she told Arab News in a video interview. “I was so excited that he was home. I loved him very, very much.”

Najla Said grew up in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where she faced a personal identity crisis as an Arab-American, feeling like an outsider at a posh all-girls school that she said lacked diversity.

“I was never around people like me and it was very confusing,” she said. “My friends were all blonde, they had tiny little bones, and they all seemed to know each other from their summer houses. I spent a lot of my childhood in Lebanon, going back and forth before I started school, and I came from this enormous, wonderful family that I loved but as soon as I went to school, I realized that somehow I was different.”

The older she got, the more prominent her father became in the public eye, which she found embarrassing at the time.




Najla Said, daughter of Palestinian-American author Edward Said. (Supplied)

“A lot of people have said to me, ‘How could you have grown up with this person and been ashamed of being Palestinian?’ But that’s the whole point, because I think people don’t realize that before the last 20 or so years, people in America from other countries would be very uncomfortable revealing their ethnic identity, because the whole idea was to be American and assimilate.”

Today, as an adult woman, she views her father differently.

Said’s magnum opus, “Orientalism,” presented his perspective of how the West had degradingly perceived the East, or “the Orient,” in everything from literary texts to popular representation.

Though it was published in 1978, it remains highly relevant and is required reading for college students in many countries.

Said’s speeches were so captivating that, as one close friend said, “when he spoke, the whole room was just spellbound, not daring to say a word.”

“After 9/11, in the last couple of years of his life, I was really proud to be his daughter. I was old enough to understand,” Najla Said told Arab News.




Portrait of the essayist, professor of literature and ex member of the Palestinian National Council Edward Said. (Getty Images)

As his fame grew, so too did the aggression of his critics, she recalls. His life was in danger, subject to death threats, and his office at Columbia University, where he taught for four decades, was once set ablaze.

Said describes her father as “ahead of his time.”

“I think he was saying things people weren’t ready to hear.”

She believes he paved the way for people to openly assert their multi-layered identity. “When I went to college in the early 1990s, when the political correctness movement was just beginning, everyone was saying, ‘I’m African-American, I’m Asian-American.’ He gets the credit for ‘Asian-American’ because he was the one who said, ‘oriental’ is not a good word.”

Najla and Edward are alike in several ways: Like him, she is passionate, temperamental and expressive in her writing. She cherishes some of the moments she shared with her father, including rubbing shoulders with literary giants.

Attending a UNESCO committee in Paris together in 1993, they met the Italian philosopher Umberto Eco and the Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez.




Edward Said, Palestinian writer in Modena, Italy, on 18th Sept. 2001. (Getty Images)

“My dad was parading me around on his arm and Gabriel Garcia Marquez came up to me and asked me, in French, which of his books I’d read, and I said, ‘None of them.’ Marquez said, ‘I can’t believe that girl said that to me,’ and he took me by the arm, saying: ‘I like her!’ My dad felt so proud of me.”

To Najla, her father was a gentleman, a man who loved to puff away on his pipe and listen to Wagner. He collected pens and ties, and his tweed suits were tailored in Savile Row, in London. He was conversational and loyal, but did not mince his words.

Edward Said befriended the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish and disagreed with Yasser Arafat. On air, he challenged television journalists such as Charlie Rose and Tim Sebastian over the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He did not like pop music, nor the Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum, who he said sounded like she was wailing.

His passion for classical music led him to work with his friend, the veteran Israeli-Argentinian conductor Daniel Barenboim, to establish in 1999 the West–Eastern Divan Orchestra, made up mostly of Arab and Israeli musicians. “He even said, at the end of his life, that the greatest thing he ever did was that orchestra,” said Najla.




Palestinian writer and scholar Edward Said (R) talks to journalists at a press conference with Israeli conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim (L) in Oviedo 25 Oct. 2002, after it was announced that they will be awarded the Prince of Asturias Award for Concord 2002, for their joint efforts to promote peace in the Middle East. (File/AFP)

She said her father encouraged her pursuit of the arts and was supportive when she struggled with anorexia, heartbreaks and self-doubt. “I was in college and I had shown him a draft of my senior thesis and said, ‘I’m so dumb’.” In a handwritten note, he responded: “There are a lot of things you are, Naj. Dumb isn’t one of them.”

Najla Said remembers her dad as sweet and loving and a man who always made time for his family. “The only place I ever felt safe was with my mother (Mariam), father and brother (Wadie). It was like us against the world. The idea of ‘home’ is: My family is home,” she said.

To this day, she finds her father’s fame surreal. “I’m still surprised by how many people know who he is,” she said. “I went back to one of my college reunions at Princeton, which is a very white, preppy school, and the kid, a typical American boy, who checked me in said, “What’s your last name?’ and I replied, ‘Said,’ and he goes, ‘Oh, like Edward!’”

He changed how the world approached representation. In 2015, a fashion exhibit entitled ‘China: Through the Looking Glass’ was put on at the Metropolitan Museum, and on the wall at the beginning they flashed up his name. “The people at the museum were like, ‘We have to be careful of how we present,’” she recalled. “I never thought I’d see my dad on the wall of a fashion exhibition.”

The fact that her father remains alive in the hearts of so many has been a source of comfort for Said. “I feel like I’m not alone. If I’m in an unfamiliar place and someone knows who he is, I feel, ‘OK, I’m safe here,’ because someone knows who I am and they’re OK with that.”




Professor and writer Edward Said poses Feb. 8, 2003 in his office at Columbia University in New York City. (Getty Images)

Najla was only 17 when Said was diagnosed with leukemia in the early 1990s, a battle he fought until his death in 2003, six months after the US invasion of Iraq.

“He used to joke that he ‘took off’ as soon as we invaded Iraq,” she said. “He was like, ‘Ah! I’m done. No one’s listening to me. I’ve got to go.’”

As the disease began to take its toll on Said’s health, he lost weight and his voice became hoarse, his daughter recalled, but “he still had this fire in him.”

Nearly 20 years after his death, Edward Said continues to be an inspiration for marginalized peoples the world over. “What he was saying was basic and universal, and ultimately about humanity,” she said.

Said would have turned 86 on Nov. 1. He loved birthdays and an ideal gift for him was clothing.

On a day that is heavy with emotions for the family, Najla Said has a wish. “At the end of the day, losing a parent is hard,” she said. “I miss him so much, it’s hard to even explain. I was definitely a daddy’s girl and he was my best friend. So, I would say: ‘Please come back. This is nonsense.’”

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Twitter: @aRTprojectdxb


Lebanese president, PM and parliament speaker express satisfaction with Saudi-French agreement

Lebanese president, PM and parliament speaker express satisfaction with Saudi-French agreement
Updated 06 December 2021

Lebanese president, PM and parliament speaker express satisfaction with Saudi-French agreement

Lebanese president, PM and parliament speaker express satisfaction with Saudi-French agreement
  • MP Ali Darwish, from Mikati’s parliamentary bloc, hopes 'positive signs to emerge in coming days’

BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati has affirmed his government’s commitment to honoring its undertakings for reform.

Mikati said that his joint phone call on Saturday with Saudi and French leaders was “an important step toward restoring historic brotherly relations with Riyadh.”

A joint Saudi-French statement, following the joint phone call between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and French President Macron with Mikati, linked “economic aid to Lebanon with the implementation of the required reforms.”

The statement reiterated demands that Lebanon should “implement comprehensive reforms, monitor borders, abide by the Taif Agreement, limit arms to the legitimate state institutions and not be a launching pad for any terrorist acts that destabilize the region (nor) a source of drug trafficking.”

Mikati also said: “I thank President Macron and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for their keenness in maintaining the friendship toward Lebanon.”

Mikati called both President Michel Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and briefed them on the phone call.

Mikati’s media office said that Aoun and Berri “expressed their satisfaction and stressed their adherence to the best relations with Saudi Arabia and all brotherly Arab countries, especially the Gulf Cooperation Council countries.”

Mikati called “all parties in Lebanon to appreciate the sensitivity of the situation and circumstances and not to take any action or interfere in any matter that offends the Arab brothers and harms the Lebanese.”

He added: “It is time to commit again to the policy of disassociation and not to involve ourselves and our country in what has nothing to do with us.”

The Saudi position toward Lebanon left the Lebanese anxiously relieved about the extent of the seriousness of the ruling authority in implementing what was agreed on in Jeddah between French President Emmanuel Macron and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Although Macron succeeded in opening the door to a solution to Lebanon’s diplomatic and economic crisis with Saudi Arabia, and thus the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, after the resignation of Information Minister George Kordahi from the government following his statements about the Kingdom, there is a fear that Hezbollah will continue to embroil Lebanon in regional politics.

However, MP Ali Darwish, who is from Prime Minister Mikati’s parliamentary bloc, expects “positive signs to emerge in the coming days.”

Darwish said that appointing a parliamentary committee to try presidents, ministers and MPs in return for allowing Cabinet sessions to take place was “one of the proposals.”

Darwish told Arab News that “the Saudi-French move has undoubtedly breached the wall of stalemate in Lebanon’s relationship with the Gulf, which Lebanon is keen to be extremely good in the midst of the conflict in the region.”

On the implementation of the French-Saudi statement, Darwish said: “The reforms are contained in the ministerial statement of Prime Minister Mikati’s government, and they are his government’s agenda, and he is striving to achieve them.”

Darwish added: “The most important thing now is to restore the connection that was cut off, to return the ambassadors to Saudi Arabia and some Gulf countries, and to return the Arab ambassadors to Lebanon.”

Darwish said that the Mikati government would “never interfere in the judicial matter, as there is a separation of powers.”

However, he indicated that activating the Parliamentary Council for the Trial of Presidents and Ministers was possible but it required steps to be taken by parliament.

Darwish added: “However, the trade-off between this matter and any other matter, especially the dismissal of the governor of the Banque du Liban, is not on the table.”

Darwish said that Mikati’s concern “is securing the livelihood of the Lebanese people in light of the current severe economic crisis.”

He said work was “now focused on rounding the corners and bringing the views closer.”


Hoping virus won’t wreck Christmas, Bethlehem lights up giant tree

Hoping virus won’t wreck Christmas, Bethlehem lights up giant tree
Updated 06 December 2021

Hoping virus won’t wreck Christmas, Bethlehem lights up giant tree

Hoping virus won’t wreck Christmas, Bethlehem lights up giant tree
  • It is very joyful, a very nice evening. The air is full of hope, full of joy, full of expectation

BETHLEHEM: Residents lit up a giant Christmas tree outside Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, hoping that a new coronavirus variant does not ruin another holiday season in the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

The Palestinian city in the Israeli-occupied West Bank was all but closed last Christmas, losing its peak tourist season to the pandemic.

This December has seen Israel shut out foreign travelers for 14 days to try to prevent the omicron variant taking hold, and the hope is that the ban will end as scheduled, in time for Christmas travel. In its last pre-pandemic winter, in 2019/20, Bethlehem hosted 3.5 million visitors.

The giant tree, topped with a bright red star, was lit up with hundreds of colored lights as red, white and green fireworks illuminated the night sky.

Mayor Anton Salman said the travel ban had prevented several foreign delegations attending.

Nonetheless, the audience in Manger Square in front of the church was far bigger than last year, when coronavirus restrictions kept even local spectators away.

"It is very joyful, a very nice evening. The air is full of hope, full of joy, full of expectation," said Maria, a tourist from Finland who did not provide her full name.


Abu Dhabi crown prince, Blinken discuss regional issues

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed held a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (File/Wikipedia)
Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed held a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (File/Wikipedia)
Updated 05 December 2021

Abu Dhabi crown prince, Blinken discuss regional issues

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed held a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (File/Wikipedia)
  • Blinken thanked the UAE for hosting and facilitating the safe transit of US citizens, embassy personnel, and foreign nationals from Afghanistan
  • UAE foreign minister held separate talks with his counterparts from Oman, India and Sri Lanka

LONDON: Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed spoke with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday to discuss “important regional matters,” the US State Department said.
Sheikh Mohammed and Blinken “reaffirmed their countries’ strong partnership and discussed ways to broaden and deepen their wide-ranging cooperation,” spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
“Blinken also thanked the crown prince for the UAE’s generous support in hosting and facilitating the safe transit of US citizens, embassy personnel, and foreign nationals from Afghanistan to third countries, and commended the UAE for providing humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan,” Price added.
Meanwhile, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed held separate talks with his counterparts from Oman, India and Sri Lanka on the sidelines of the two-day 5th Indian Ocean Conference, which kicked off on Saturday in Abu Dhabi.
During the meetings, Sheikh Abdullah discussed strategic relations and ways to enhance prospects for joint cooperation in all fields, as well as the latest regional and international developments.
Sheikh Abdullah welcomed Oman’s Foreign Minister Sayyid Badr Al-Busaidi, and stressed the depth of the relations between the UAE and the sultanate.
India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar praised the strong friendship between the UAE and his country, and their strategic partnership which is witnessing continuous growth and development.
Sheikh Abdullah also welcomed Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Gamini Lakshman Pierce to Abu Dhabi and the two sides discussed bilateral relations and ways to support them in various fields, including tourism.


Jordan’s FM, US climate envoy discuss environmental protection

Jordan’s FM, US climate envoy discuss environmental protection
Updated 05 December 2021

Jordan’s FM, US climate envoy discuss environmental protection

Jordan’s FM, US climate envoy discuss environmental protection
  • Safadi and Kerry stressed the importance of the strategic partnership between Jordan and the US

LONDON: Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi held talks with US special envoy for climate, John Kerry, on Sunday to discuss environmental protection and confronting climate change.
“Safadi and Kerry stressed the importance of the strategic partnership between the kingdom and the US, and reviewed ways to enhance cooperation between the two countries,” Jordanian state news agency Petra reported.
Safadi praised the aid provided by the US to the Kingdom and its support for economic development, stressing the importance of its leading role in efforts to resolving regional crises and achieve peace and stability.
Kerry said that Jordan was a strong and essential ally of the US, and that his country appreciated the key role and efforts led by King Abdullah II to overcome regional challenges and achieve security, stability and peace.
Kerry reiterated Washington’s support for Jordan, including in the areas of environmental protection, facing the challenges of climate change, and developing clean energy and water sources.
“This engagement with government counterparts aims to accelerate global climate action following the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November,” the US State Department said in a statement.
It added that Kerry would discuss how the region could collaborate to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.


Aboul Gheit: Iran seeks to control Straits of Hormuz and Bab Al-Mandab

Aboul Gheit: Iran seeks to control Straits of Hormuz and Bab Al-Mandab
Updated 05 December 2021

Aboul Gheit: Iran seeks to control Straits of Hormuz and Bab Al-Mandab

Aboul Gheit: Iran seeks to control Straits of Hormuz and Bab Al-Mandab
  • Aboul Gheit said that Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would trigger an arms race in the region

CAIRO: The Secretary-General of the League of Arab States Ahmed Aboul Gheit has said that Iran aims to extend its control over the Straits of Hormuz and Bab Al-Mandab, either directly or through militias it funds.

During his participation in the seventh Rome-Mediterranean Dialogue, held in the Italian capital with the participation of senior officials, experts and economists from countries bordering the shores of the Mediterranean, he pointed to attacks carried out by Iran in the summer of 2019, as well as to the continuing threat posed by the Houthis to navigation in the Red Sea.

The secretary-general added that the stability of navigation in these strategic straits, especially in the transportation of petroleum products, represented a fundamental backbone of the global economy, and that maintaining freedom of navigation without threat was a global priority and not only for the Arab countries bordering it.

He said that Iran’s behavior in the region, and its apparent tendency to dominate and interfere with Arab countries, was behind the difficulty in establishing a security system in the Gulf based on cooperation and the common welfare of the people.

He said that several initiatives had been put forward on this, but the main problem remained a lack of confidence due to Iranian policies that represented a threat to its neighbors.

Aboul Gheit said that Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would trigger an arms race in the region. He hoped negotiations would succeed in dissuading Iran from achieving this goal to avoid a deterioration in the current security situation.

He said it was difficult to address the Iranian nuclear program without acknowledging that there was already a nuclear power in the region in Israel, especially in light of its insistence on destroying the two-state solution and wasting opportunities for its implementation.