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Edward Said, Obama's Founding Father


Throughout his formative years and even later, Barack Obama sought out mentors who could teach him chapter and verse of the anti-colonial ideology. This is the "dream from his father" that Obama refers to in his own autobiography. Since the father wasn't around--having abandoned Obama at birth--Obama sought our surrogate fathers, and together they form a group I call "Obama's founding fathers." This group includes the former Communist Frank Marshall Davis and the incendiary preacher Jeremiah Wright.

One of Obama's founding fathers who remains relatively unknown is the Palestinian radical Edward Said. Prior to his death in 2003, Said was the leading anti-colonial thinker in the United States. Obama studied with Said at Columbia University and the two maintained a relationship over the next two decades. Obama attended a Palestinian fundraiser in Chicago in 1998 in which Said was the featured speaker, and Obama also befriended Said's protege Rashid Khalidi, who currently occupies the Edward Said chair of Arab Studies at Columbia.

Said wasn't a mere academic; for a time, he served as a member of the Palestine National Council. In this capacity he worked closely with Yasser Arafat. Said has been photographed throwing rocks at Israel to symbolize his support for armed resistance against the Jewish state; one Jewish magazine dubbed him a "Professor of Terror."

While Said was hired by Columbia to teach literature, his main interests were always political. We see this in the titles of his books: Culture and Imperialism, The Question of Palestine, and The Politics of Dispossession. He was a vehement critic of the United State and an even-more-vehement critic of Israel. America, Said argued, is a genocidal power with a "history of reducing whole peoples, countries, and even continents to ruin by nothing short of holocaust."

Israel, Said conceded, had been a victim of the Holocaust.  Yet Said stressed the irony that "the classic victims of years of anti-Semitic persecution and the Holocaust have in their new nation become the victimizers of another people."

For Said, Zionism was an expression of European imperialism. "In 1948, Israel was created...as an integral aspect of the great age of expanding colonialism. European Jews...sought to create a Western colony in the East." And according to Said, European imperialism bred racism against the conquered people, dividing Jews and Palestinians “into a superior 'us' and an inferior 'them.'"

The Palestinians, according to Said, are the victims of "a continuing process of dispossession, displacement and colonial de facto apartheid."  Theirs is the last anti-colonial struggle, part of what Said terms "the universal struggle against colonialism and imperialism."  Since 1967, according to Said, the West Bank and Gaza are "occupied territories, military under the control of Israeli soldiers, settlers and colonial officials."

And now Israel has a new sponsor: in recent decades it is America, not Europe, that has most actively sustained this latest form of colonialism.  "The United States," Said alleges, "virtually underwrites the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and in effect pays for the bullets that kill Palestinians."

So naturally the Palestinians have every right to resist, and such resistance cannot be dismissed as terrorism. Rather, Said insists that the Palestinian resistance is "one of the great anti-colonial insurrections of the modern period." The use of force against Israel is entirely legitimate "to repossess a land and a history that have been wrested from us."

Obama never mentions Said in his writings or speeches, yet it's clear from his actions that Obama supports the Palestinian position over Israel's position on the West Bank and Gaza. Yet Said would not have been content with a Palestinian state that left intact the state of Israel.  Rather, the anti-colonial goal has always been one of getting rid of Israel itself and turning the "occupied" land back to the Muslims.

How could Obama achieve this?  If Said were advising Obama, he might recommend that Obama pressure Israel to grant a right of return with full voting rights to Palestinian refugees. If that happens, then in relatively short order the Muslims would outnumber the Jews. At that point, Israel as we have known it since 1948 as a Jewish state would cease to exist.

Of course American Jews might oppose Obama on this, but if Obama is re-elected, then he won't have to worry about such opposition. Israel, in that case, is gravely endangered. One wonders if Jews who vote for Obama in 2012 could actually be helping to bring down the state of Israel.  Edward Said won't be around to see it, but he would have enjoyed seeing his anti-Israel dream carried out by his protege in the White House.

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