In a night filled with moving poetry, eclectic music and poignant remembrances, an audience of some 600 gathered to remember the life of Edward Said, a renowned and controversial intellectual, last Saturday at Schoenberg Hall.
Hosted by the United Arab Society, the event was also organized by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and supported by many groups throughout the state.
Nader Hindelih, a second-year undeclared student and external vice president of the United Arab Society, expressed gratitude for the the near-capacity crowd.
"I was personally very happy to see the support from UCLA and the surrounding community," he said, adding that the memorial service may have been the largest memorial gathering for Said in California.
With two pictures of Said and a famous quotation on the stage, the nearly three-hour service highlighted the various aspects of Said's life.
Loyola Marymount professor Najwa al-Qattan described Said as an "effective" spokesperson of the Palestinian effort toward statehood and freedom from Israeli occupation.
"(Said was) a voice that cried for justice, and was so dangerous because he was so effective," al-Qattan said, alluding to the large body of works and influence Said had throughout his lifetime.
After stirring musical pieces by individual performers and the UCLA Near East Ensemble, Columbia University professor Joseph Massad, a former colleague of Said, spoke about his intellectual life.
Characterizing Said's life as one of an "intellectual migrant," Massad crystallized Said's commitment to secular criticism, linking Said's criticism of the Palestinian Authority after the acceptance of the Oslo Accords as an example of Said's courageousness to sacrifice solidarity in the name of stating the truth.
Michael Cooperson, a UCLA professor of Arabic language and literature, spoke about Said's intellectual independence. He also addressed the potential of legislative efforts to remove works like Said's from universities through passage of the Education Act, which would create an advisory committee to oversee the curricula in international studies departments and provide recommendations to Congress regarding federal funding.
Though Cooperson understood why people would oppose ideas such as Said's controversial works, he criticized the possible impact to students who might pursue further study in such contentious fields.
"To victimize the students doesn't make any sense," Cooperson said.
After a poetry piece by Shawki El-Zatmah, a graduate history student at UCLA, Said's nephew and keynote speaker Saree Makdisi, a professor of English literature at UCLA, urged the audience toward greater communication with the world, particularly Western societies.
"We need to articulate our own vision, our past and our future. Said stood for justice and peace ... for Israelis, Palestinians and all," Makdisi said.
After Makdisi's speech, Ban Al-Wadi, president of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, spoke about Said's activism and urged members of the audience to confront potrayals of Arabs as "terrorists and others" and, like Said, to "give a voice to the voiceless."
After a moment of silence led by the United Arab Society of UCLA, a piano recital ended the evening, a reminder of Said's love of music and his contributions to musical criticism.