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Edward Said’s Daughter Remembers ‘Best Friend’ On 86th Birthday

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 went on to become an author, critic, teacher, public thinker, talented pianist, founding figure of postcolonial studies, and longtime advocate for the Palestinian cause.

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

Her first memory of her father shows how much she was attached to him from a young age.

The young girl Najla and her “best friend” father. (Provided)

“I remember I was about two or three years old and my nose was bleeding. My mom told me to lie down and cover my nose, but I remember when my dad came home from work I jumped up screaming “Daddy!” “And I ran towards him as blood ran down my nose,” she told Arab News in a video interview. “I was so excited he was home. I loved him very, very much.

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

“I’ve never been with people like me and it was very confusing,” she said. “My friends were all blond, they had tiny bones and they all seemed to know each other from their summer homes. I spent a large part of my childhood in Lebanon, going back and forth before starting school, and I came from this huge and wonderful family that I loved but as soon as I went to school , I realized that in a way I was different.

The older she got, the more visible her father became to the public, which she found embarrassing at the time.

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

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

Said’s magnum opus “Orientalism” presented his take on how the West had degradedly viewed the Orient, or “the Orient,” in everything from literary texts to performance. popular.

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

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

“After September 11, for the last two years of her life, I was really proud to be her daughter. I was old enough to understand, ”Najla Said told Arab News.

As her fame grew, so did the aggressiveness of her critics, she recalls. His life was in danger, threatened with death, and his office at Columbia University, where he taught for four decades, was set on fire.

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

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

She believes he paved the way for people to openly assert their identities on many levels. “When I went to college in the early ’90s, when the political correctness movement was just beginning, everyone was saying,’ I’m African-American, I’m Asian-American. ‘ He gets the credit of “Asian-American” because he was the one who said “oriental” is not a good word. “

Najla and Edward are alike in many ways: like him, she is passionate, temperamental and expressive in her writing. She cherishes some of the moments she shared with her father, including hanging out with literary giants.

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

“My father was scrolling me on his arm and Gabriel Garcia Marquez approached me and asked me, in French, which of his books I had read, and I said: ‘None of them’ . Marquez said, “I can’t believe that girl told me that”, and he took me by the arm, saying, “I like her! My father was so proud of me.

To Najla, her father was a gentleman, a man who liked to draw puffs from his pipe and listen to Wagner. He collects pens and ties, and his tweed suits are made in Savile Row, London. He was conversational and loyal, but didn’t mince his words.

Edward Said befriended Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish and disagreed with Yasser Arafat. On the air, he questioned television journalists such as Charlie Rose and Tim Sebastian on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He didn’t like pop music, nor Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum, who he said sounded like she was crying.

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

She said her father encouraged her to pursue the arts and supported her as she struggled with anorexia, grief and self-doubt. “I was in college and showed him a draft of my graduation thesis and said, ‘I’m so stupid’.” In a handwritten note, he replied, “There are many things that you are, Naj. Dumb is not one of them.

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

To this day, she finds her father’s fame surreal. “I am always amazed at how many people know who he is,” she said. “I went back to one of my college meetings in Princeton, which is a very white and BCBG school, and the kid, a typical American boy, who recorded me said to me, ‘What’s your last name? ? and I said, “I said” and he said, “Oh, like Edward!”

He changed the way the world approached performance. In 2015, a fashion exhibition titled “China: Through the Looking Glass” was shown at the Metropolitan Museum, and on the wall at the beginning her name was displayed. “The people at the museum were like, ‘We have to be careful about the way we present,’ she recalls. “I never thought I would see my dad on the wall of a fashion show.”

The fact that his 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 they are, I’m like, “OK, I’m safe here,” because someone knows who I am and is okay with that. “

Najla was just 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 finished. No one is listening to me. I have to go.'”

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

Almost 20 years after his death, Edward Said continues to be an inspiration to marginalized people around the world. “What he was saying was fundamental and universal, and ultimately about humanity,” she said.

Said would have turned 86 on November 1. He loved birthdays and a perfect gift for him was clothes.

On an emotional day for the family, Najla Said has a wish. “In the end, losing a parent is difficult,” she said. “I miss him so much, it’s even hard to explain. I was definitely a daddy’s girl and he was my best friend. So I would say, “Please come back. It does not make sense.'”


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