As professors and current or former deans at Columbia University, we are colleagues of University Professor Edward Said, who was reported in several recent articles in the Washington Post, New York Times, New York Daily News and others, as having thrown rocks at Israeli soldiers guarding the border with Lebanon. The opening of the Washington Post article, "Letter from Israel; Ripples from a Stone Throw" begins as follows: "The silver-haired man in the smock, cap, and stylish sunglasses seems a little too old, a little too portly, a little too distinguished to be hurling stones in the direction of Israeli soldiers."
This opening sentence disturbs us, as it appears to imply that the act of hurling stones across an international border at unknown civilians and soldiers of a neighboring country would be acceptable or at least understandable, if undertaken by ordinary, younger, less portly or distinguished individuals. We disagree.
Edward Said is indeed a "celebrated intellectual," often referred to as "the leading Palestinian intellectual of this era," as he was in the June 22 Toronto Star. His title "University Professor" is a special honor bestowed on only nine out of a total of 2872 full-time professors at our University. He is the author of some 18 books, many of them presenting his views on the political situation in the Middle East.
Abhorrent and primitive as his gratuitous act of random violence would have been under any circumstances, it was all the more disturbing to us for having been committed by a colleague privileged to have been educated in the finest of private institutions worldwide and gifted with exceptional eloquence and expository talents.
What idea or vision for that tortured part of the world could possibly be embedded in a hurled stone aimed at innocent bystanders? An explanation that has been put forward is that no idea was meant at all, but that the act had been committed in a moment of professorial absent-mindedness. So, for example, we have, along with similar statements to the Washington Post and the Associated Press, Professor Said's written declaration to the New York Daily News: "For a moment, I joined in throwing rocks. The spirit of the place infected everyone with the same impulse, to make a symbolic gesture that the occupation had ended. I had no idea that media people were there or that I was the object of attention."
Unfortunately, this is not true. Upon inquiries to the French Press Agency, we have learned that the published photo of the professor throwing the rock was in fact delivered to this news agency by none other than Professor Said himself.
Our colleague thus continues a pattern of misrepresentation and deception, documented for example in an article earlier this year in Commentary.
We leave it to the public to decide what price Professor Said has paid in reputation for having first thrown this rock, then having a photo of himself throwing the rock delivered to the media, then having claimed innocent joy as his sole motive and a random spasm of enthusiasm as his sole act.
We do point out, though, that here at Columbia, the "Rules of University Conduct" would classify the same act committed on the Columbia campus as a "serious violation" and would sanction it with suspension or dismissal from University service.