Revising Culture, Reinventing Peace The Influence of Edward W. Said by Naseer Aruri and Muhammad Shuraydi, eds. (New York: Olive Branch Press, 2001. 190 pages.)

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Juliane Hammer



In 1997, a group of scholars gathered at the University of Windsor to honor
Edward W. Said and his lifetime achievements as a scholar and activist with
a conference entitled “Culture, Politics, and Peace.” The present volume, a collection of the papers presented, show just how far reaching his influence
has been over the last three decades. While his profound influence on comparative
literature and Palestine studies are well known, this volume reveals
how his writings have prompted generations of scholars to question takenfor-
granted postulations, discourses, and paradigms in literature, area studies,
and politics. The papers also applaud his role as an advocate of the
Palestinian cause and the way he has tirelessly and critically observed and
documented the Palestinians’ fate.
The three parts following Richard Falk’s introduction, “Nationalism,”
“On Orientalism,” and “To Palestine,” address three dominant themes in
Said’s works. In “Empowering Inquiry: Our Debt to Edward W. Said,” Falk
celebrates Said’s work as a scholar of many interests and talents, and outlines
how his deeply humanist worldview, personal experience as an exile,
and critical mind have produced the impressive oeuvre of a leading intellectual
of our time. Falk is also the first to mention Said’s emphasis on secularism
and his constant critique and warning against bringing religion into
the realm of knowledge and politics. This has not prevented Said from
defending religious freedom and Muslims in particular, but might have led
him to underestimate the moral and intellectual appeal of religious traditions
and a religious approach to knowledge. In the case of Palestine and
Palestinian politics, his uncompromisingly secular and anti-sectarian views
at times make his visions for the future seem incompatible with the region’s
realities. Falk points out that Said’s rejection of religion relates to his rejection
of absolute truths, or the claim to it, and that he instead chose a “compassionate
and engaged rationalism” as his worldview.
The section on “Nationalities” starts with Lennard J. Davis’ fascinating
essay on “Nationality, Disability, and Deafness,” in which he convincingly
argues for the status of deaf people as a nation or community with nation-like
features. He explains his work with disability as influenced by Said’s work
and engagement in political activism. Davis recalls his personal encounters
with Said as a teacher and scholar, and relates his own engagement in advocacy
for the deaf to Said’s influence ...

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