A CRUSH of 500 listeners waited apprehensively as, ill and moving slowly, Fred Halliday came up to speak about Iran. The occasion, in February 2009, was the 30th anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini’s takeover. The place was the London School of Economics, where for 24 years Mr Halliday was professor of international politics, concentrating on the Middle East.
Yet for close on 90 minutes he held his audience spellbound. He told them that social conflict, not religious fervour, had provoked the Iranian revolution; that conflict persisted, and the regime was not likely to crack. He spoke with learning, humour and passion. At the end, his audience rose to applaud as for a piano virtuoso.
As an interpreter of the Middle East, Mr Halliday’s talents overflowed. He spoke Arabic and Persian, as well as French, German, Spanish and Russian. He knew the history and cultures of the countries he wrote about. More than anything, he knew people. His London students, once back home in Cairo, Baghdad or Tehran, rose to high positions in government and business. His contacts were a foreign correspondent’s envy, as well as a boon to the LSE’s fund-raisers.
His learning came not only from books but from bars and cafés. He travelled, listened and argued. He had a thesaurus of political jokes, collected over years, at the expense of Baathists, Islamists, nationalists, imperialists, Palestinians, Israelis, everyone. He could be superbly rude to peddlers of cliché and to plausible-sounding simplifiers. With a tilt of the head and an ironic smile he could give a friendly tease or a devastating “Come off it.” Students adored him.
Middle Eastern studies suffered, in his view, from three faults. One was “mappism”. Behind handy diplomatic counters marked on maps “Iran”, “Iraq” or “Saudi Arabia” he saw poorly understood societies that were complex and shifting. He had no patience, secondly, with efforts, particularly in the United States, to illuminate the region from the armchair with mathematical models and theorising (“all this meta-stuff”). He thought, thirdly, that the cold war had led everyone, Middle Easterners included, to exaggerate the influence of outsiders. The region’s problems, he insisted, lay in the region more than in Moscow, Washington or the colonial past. Such views are now commonplace. They were not when Mr Halliday began.
In a world of doctrines and positions, he was impossible to box. A stickler for meanings, he liked to be called not internationalist, but cosmopolitan. His mother was an Irish Catholic, his father an English Methodist-Quaker. He grew up in Ireland close to the border with the north. He was schooled in that least national of faiths, Catholicism, and tempted by the priesthood for a while. But at Oxford University he was drawn to a different universal message, that of Karl Marx. Instead of taking a fellowship, he joined the New Left Review.
Explaining bin Laden
He stayed until 1983. He marched against the Vietnam war, summered at a student work camp in Cuba and trekked with Dhofari guerrillas, who were fighting the British-trained soldiers of the Sultan of Oman. At another time, a brainy left-winger interested in foreign affairs might well have entered the Labour Party and become foreign secretary or secretary of defence. Mr Halliday chose a stonier path.
In the early 1980s he began a winding journey away from the radical left. It was not a prodigal’s return to neoconservatism, from one simplicity to another. He looked for a less dogmatic politics that combined liberal values, respect for human rights and social equity. He hoped the space for such a social-democratic outlook existed in regions he knew best, beyond Europe and the United States. He was too shrewd to believe that it must exist. He was nevertheless withering with anyone who claimed that the persistence of autocratic and theocratic attitudes meant that it could not exist. As with God and Marx before, he thought of political values as universal.
He also favoured outside intervention to rid people of oppressors. A Soviet-backed regime was preferable to the Taliban in Afghanistan, and he blamed the United States for creating a seedbed for Islamist terror there. “Bin Laden”, he said, “is the illegitimate child of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.” He was for removing Saddam Hussein, though he thought the occupiers recklessly ill prepared. To the enemies this earned him on the left, he retorted: “The future of humanity does not lie in the back streets of Fallujah.”
Mr Halliday published more than 20 books. Ranging wide, he was not always right or consistent. He probably underplayed the force of faith in politics. Yet he had a nose for looming trouble, as his choice of travel spots in the 1970s attests: Cyprus, Yemen, Iran, Afghanistan. He grasped the social instabilities of the Middle East, and sensed that they would burst out in new ways once the cold war ended. Diplomats and politicians, including Tony Blair, were glad of his advice.
Looking for a tidy thread in Mr Halliday’s views may be mistaken. His achievement was to be a personal bridge. He introduced Westerners to Middle Easterners who were neither hostile nor exotic, but hoped for the same things and treasured the same values as they did.
注:all this meta-stuff出自Halliday的一次访谈，节选如下：
Danny Postel: So you see the two books as companion volumes, in a sense?
Fred Halliday: Yes, the two go together. The new book [Who Are We?] fulfills the first one. I felt that that was the agenda from the beginning: it was a concern about multiculturalism in the U.S. But he doesn't do the work. In The Clash of Civilizations there are a few pages about the Middle East, which are just third-rate Orientalism in the bad sense. He's taken a few bits out of context from Bernard Lewis at his worst, and turned this into the axiom of the book. In his new book, he's talking about Latinos in America. There are something like 455 magazines and newspapers in Spanish produced in the U.S. He doesn't read one of them. He doesn't read Spanish. He relies on a few stereotypes. He simply hasn't done the work. It's a form of American narcissism. The people are out there. You've got to go and study them. You've got to do the work.
A colleague of mine put it very well the other day. He's a young British guy who studies China. He said, "What's all this stuff about clash of civilizations? It's very simple. You go to the library. You read the books. You read the history. You learn the language. You go and live in those countries. And on the basis of that, you understand them." That's what we should be doing, and getting away from all this meta-stuff. It doesn't get us anywhere.