A Zionist Tribute to Fred Halliday (I): A Critique of Susie Linfield’s Review in The Nation
The Nation magazine has long ceased to be a leftist magazine. It has served for years now as a mere propaganda sheet for the Democratic Party. On foreign policy, it has pretty much adhered to the Zionism of Amos Oz: the Zionism that accepts and approves of Israeli massacres of women and children, but then feigns concern when the number of victims reaches too high a figure, for their taste. The magazine has surrendered its coverage of Palestine, either to no one at all, or to people who parrot Zionist principles. The recent review article by Susie Linfield is an example of Zionist anti-Palestinian advocacy, only more shameful and audacious than usual.
Linfield’s review is a dishonest tribute to Fred Halliday. I have avoided writing extensive criticisms of Fred Halliday despite being in disagreement with his writings for years. I had, indeed, been influenced at some point, early in my college years, by Halliday. His book, Arabia Without Sultans, was a model of scholarship for a young radical activist. I was happy to realize that scholarship could be used to promote revolution and radical movements. The book might not have been, thematically, held together, but it told a story that needed to be told. It exposed the real nature of the allies, and the clients, of Western governments.
Halliday traveled to the Arabian Peninsula and reported on the, then, promising Omani revolution (the Omani revolution was only crushed with a combination of Jordanian, Iranian, British and other foreign forces). Halliday represented the best of Orientalist training: he was fluent in Farsi and Arabic (he was able to do interviews in Arabic on al-Jazeera – which is rare among Western scholars of the Middle East, especially American scholars of the region), and studied the history, culture, and politics of the region. His writings never wavered from the revolutionary sentiments of the time, and I appreciated that.
But Halliday changed by the late 1980s. He – like many leftists who abandoned leftism after the collapse of the USSR – became an unabashed advocate of US wars in the region. Halliday supported George Bush’s invasion of the Arabian Peninsula, as well as the later invasion of George W. Bush of Iraq. But Linfield has a different story to tell. She cares less about the real record of Halliday, and cares more about scoring points against the Palestinian people and their struggle.
Instead of analyzing the radical transformation of the politics of Halliday, Linfield insists that no such transformation ever took place. She basically insists against all available evidence that Halliday was a “radical” with a human face. I don’t know what she means by that: are the opponents of the American wars in the Middle East – which were championed by Halliday – radicals with monstrous, or, perhaps, subhuman faces? What is a human face? Indeed, Linfield’s paean to Halliday is intended to redress the fact that his death was ignored by leftist publications. But Halliday did not die a leftist, though his death should certainly not have been ignored. It should have been treated, rather, as a case study of former leftists, who made the journey from leftism to imperial advocacy in one lifetime.
But Halliday (like all former leftists) received wide acclaim in his lifetime, and after his death. Mainstream media and mainstream academia celebrate former leftists when they abandon their causes. Christopher Hitchens became a sought-after celebrity, only after he served as a cheerleader for Bush’s wars in the Middle East. Similarly, Halliday was ignored by the mainstream academia until he advocated for Bush’s wars. His articles, collected by Yale University Press in book form, which Linfield reviews, had been previously published on the Website OpenDemocracy during the Bush years, when Halliday served as a cheerleader. Yale University Press did not bother to publish neither his earlier political articles nor his academic writings on the Middle East that predate his transformation. This is an example of how the West and the East reward those who make the transition from the left to the right.
Linfield begins her review with an abrupt attack on Joseph Massad. Why? Because Massad dared to criticize the writings of Halliday, and the latter’s stance on the Bush wars. She is outraged that Massad referenced the political transformation of Halliday (as if Halliday would have denied it), and that Massad called Halliday a “pro-imperialist apologist.”
But Halliday was unabashedly an apologist for Bush’s wars. Maybe Linfield would have been less unsettled had Massad called him a “pro-imperialist-wars apologist.” She would not have been able to refute that one.
She then mocks Massad for referring to Hafez al-Assad’s regime as having served, at several points in its history, as “an agent of US imperialism.” She sarcastically states that this would be news to Bashar and his allies. But it is Linfield who should be the recipient of ridicule, as she is clearly the one who is ignorant of the long history of alliances between Hafez al-Assad and the US government on matters of wars (Syrian intervention in Lebanon, the first and second US invasions of Iraq), ‘peace’ (Arab-Israeli negotiation), and issues relating to security cooperation pertaining to Islamists, which were detailed in The New Yorker by Seymour Hersh. But Linfield is no Middle East expert, and it shows.
As for Halliday’s political shift, from the left to advocacy for Bush’s wars and invasions, she refers to them as “intellectual flexibility.” It is hardly surprising that political opportunism and convenient radical transformations are dubbed favorably by their practitioners. Linfield tells us, almost romantically, that Halliday did not change at all – as if his past dogmatic Marxist articles and analyses are not part of the published record, and can’t be accessed in any semi-decent library around the world – and that he merely developed “a deeper, more humane and far sturdier kind of radicalism.” But how was that humane radicalism or radical humanism displayed in Halliday’s advocacy for Bush’s wars and invasions? She said that Halliday did not reject socialism but, merely, reconnected it to its origins in enlightenment and freedom. But real radical socialism went against the very false promises of the enlightenment, even in the works of the Frankfurt School.
But the Zionist agenda of Linfield is revealed in, almost, every paragraph of the review. For her, the whole matter is about Israel and its propaganda interests. She celebrates Halliday for, allegedly, proposing “a two-state solution” to Ghassan Kanafani, while she identifies the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) as “infamous for its hijackings.” One wonders if Linfield, or the Zionists at The Nation, would dare identify Israel as “infamous for its massacres, occupation, and aggressions.”
But let us go back to the notion that Halliday proposed a two-state solution to Kanafani. Linfield is referencing an interview that was published in the New Left Review (May-June 1971). Curiously, Halliday asks Kanafani a question about his opinion with regards to the position of the Israeli political group, Matzpen, on Israeli nationhood (not statehood), but nowhere in the interview does he propose a two-state solution to Kanafani.
Halliday was not a proponent of the two-state solution at the time, and would not believe in it until The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) adopted it after 1973-74. Halliday considered himself a member, or supporter, of the Palestinian resistance movement; he took sides in the conflict between the different Palestinian organizations, siding (later) with the DFLP.
Linfield clearly made up her claim, which contradicts the written record: pure and simple. And conveniently, Linfield leaves out what Halliday actually said to Kanafani in the interview with regards to PFLP operations: “This is not to deny that the hijackings had the positive effect, of giving you a world audience on television, to whom you could explain the purpose of the Palestinian resistance. This point is not in question.” Linfield must have omitted this section from the interview as proof of her “intellectual flexibility.”
Linfield mentions that Halliday lectured in some of the Middle East’s most repressive countries, and she admits that one of them was “Saddam’s Iraq.” Indeed, Halliday visited Iraq three times during Saddam’s rule, when entrance to Iraq was tightly restricted, and when some British leftists in the 1970s and 1980s treated Saddam’s regime as a progressive model for the Arab world. But Linfield chooses not to dwell on this point; she prefers to justify Halliday’s actions by admitting that he was not a boycotter (she is presumably using this point as a jab at the advocates of BDS in the West).
She then lauds Halliday for hectoring the Palestinians in a 1981 article in MERIP (of course, the white man knows best), and adds that “solidarity without realism is a form of betrayal.” Realism for her is reconciliation with the Israeli occupation and its record of massacres and war crimes. But to her credit, Linfield finds faults in some positions held by Halliday. She, for example, criticizes him for some “wishful thinking,” like his faith at one point in the universal commonality of the commitment to “democracy and human rights.” But Linfield has evidence to refute Halliday’s faith: she states that a man named “Muhammad” once visited Halliday, from Iran, and told him that “they” don’t believe in those universal values. Case closed. Muhammad – after all – has spoken. And for Halliday, or for Linfield, Muhammad (not to be confused with the prophet of Islam) speaks for all Muslims and for all Arabs.
To be continued…