In the news: Edward Said

February 7, 2003

Fellows at King's College, Cambridge, have closed ranks over reports that they have turned down distinguished Palestinian-born academic Edward Said for an honorary fellowship.

The college refused to be drawn on why the fellows had denied the title to the scholar of English and comparative literature at Columbia University in New York. Professor Said already counts Warwick, Exeter and Edinburgh among the 13 universities that have conferred honorary degrees upon him.

He was born in Jerusalem, 13 years before the modern state of Israel was declared, and educated in Palestine and Cairo before studying at Princeton and then Harvard in the US. He has taught English and comparative literature at Columbia for almost 40 years but is something of a polymath.

Professor Said was a member of the Palestinian national council from 1977 to 1991 and has been a spokesman for the Palestinian cause in the US for many years. But he has also been critical of Palestinian president Yasser Arafat and has spoken out against US foreign policy post-September 11, particularly against any attack on Iraq.

Professor Said is an accomplished musician, has published on music and has written a completely new English text for Beethoven's Fidelio. He has performed with Jewish pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In 1999, the two ran a workshop for young Arab and Israeli musicians in Weimar, Germany. Although Professor Said is severely ill with a form of leukaemia, he continues to travel and lecture in the Middle East and Europe.

King's College has a tradition of leftwing radicalism, and has the highest proportion of students from state schools of all the Cambridge colleges.

Professor Said has visited several times but was neither a student nor a fellow of the college, so the honorarium would have broken with tradition.

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