A Zionist Tribute to Fred Halliday (II): A Critique of Susie Linfield’s Review in The Nation

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Linfield is not really talking about Halliday or about his legacy; she is more interested in settling scores with critics of Israel and Zionism, in academe and outside of it. Linfield tells us that Halliday, in fact, admired Lewis, but he, curiously, never expressed such admiration publicly. Linfield accepts Halliday’s mischaracterization of Edward Said’s stance on Orientalism, as an accurate expression of Said’s writings on the subject. But Said did, in fact, argue that Middle Eastern realities take precedence over what people say and write about the people of the Middle East, which was the opposite of Halliday’s take on Said. Linfield, then, reiterates Halliday’s stance that Said’s criticisms of Orientalism “deformed and diverted” the discipline of Middle East studies. So, years and decades of prejudices, misconceptions, service to colonial powers, ignorance, and wild generalizations did not deform Middle East studies, but Said’s criticisms did.

Linfield is so determined to settle scores with Said that she falsely argues that Said used the term “Orientalist” as a “term of opprobrium,” when he did no such thing. Indeed, Said paid tribute to the achievements of many Orientalists, and in the last section of his book he praised the works of a number of contemporary Orientalists. But Linfield seems unfamiliar with all of this. She reproduces a silly argument that Halliday made, characterizing criticisms of Orientalism as a form of fundamentalism. This notion itself carries, ironically, more than a tinge of prejudice. It is unlikely that Halliday, or Linfield, would liberally throw around such accusations had the critic of Orientalism been a Dutch author. During his years as an advocate for imperialist wars to liberate the natives from fellow native dictators – or at least from some of them – Halliday argued that the notion of western hostility to Muslims and Arabs was a mere myth. Halliday even believed that there was symmetry in what Middle Easterners wrote about the West and what Westerners wrote about the East. But Halliday could not argue that Eastern armies occupy and bomb Western capitals with the same ease and facility as Western armies. And it is doubtful that Halliday would have supported Eastern wars of liberation directed at Westerners.

Linfield, following Halliday, rejects critiques of Orientalism because, to them, this represents an attack on the project of modernity and enlightenment itself. On this, Linfield and Halliday should consult the works of the pioneers of the Frankfurt School (especially Horkheimer and Adorno), following WWII. But while Halliday’s transformation resulted in his advocacy of colonial-style wars of “liberation,” with all the horrors that those wars entailed, Linfield goes beyond Halliday’s prescriptions and finds solace in racist generalizations about Arabs. She argues that, nowhere in the world do democratic elections produce religious parties. Linfield sees only religious parties in the Arab world and refuses to see how the allies and clients of the West – the Gulf regimes, which seemed to bother Halliday less and less after his ideological transformation – support and finance those religious parties. In other words, democratic elections in the Arab world – as rare as they are – are corrupted by the financial, military, and political intervention of Western governments and their clients in the region.

Linfield, who becomes more and more comfortable in sharing and expressing her prejudices against Arabs, as her review progresses, finds all aspects of Arab life and politics to be unique and cites the Sunni-Shia split as an example. Here, again, she refuses to see how the US, through its war in Iraq (which is supported by Halliday and Linfield), deliberately instigated the Sunni-Shia war, and how Saudi Arabia (the darling of Western powers) was the chief sponsor of this discord. But what is Linfield driving at when she insists on the uniqueness of the backwardness and regressiveness of the Arabs? Could it possibly be that the Arabs are too backward and ignorant to be trusted with their own liberation? Is Linfield arguing here, albeit indirectly, for more invasions of Arab lands and for more Abu Ghraibs to teach the natives a lesson?

Linfield’s bigotry, however, does not confine itself to the fundamentalists of the Arab world: she states that, even “presumed democrats” are guilty of anti-democratic thinking and intolerance. She does not furnish the statement with any evidence, but then again, why should she provide evidence when white people can generalize with impunity about the ‘natives’, in The Nation – a magazine that vets articles with a fine–toothed comb if their authors deign to make any pro-Arab or anti-Israeli points (and then insists that the authors provide multiple references that The Nation editors have to approve)? Linfield does not see anywhere in the world an example of the assertion of self-determination “leading to attacks on women’s equality” – except in Muslim lands. For Linfield is a Zionist, in heart and mind. Her entire piece is, basically, a camouflaged response to critics of Israel and Zionism. This is why she does not notice the attacks on women’s rights in Israel, and does not know that there are just as vibrant advocates of women’s rights in the Arab world.

But it cannot be said that Linfield accepts all the writings and conclusions of Halliday in his later phase. No, she does take issue with what she refers to as his fight against “lazy generalizations about Islam.” Linfield basically calls for more lazy generalizations about Islam, and to her credit, she offers an abundance of them in her long piece in The Nation. To strengthen her call for more lazy generalizations about Islam and Muslims – she assumes that all Arabs are indeed Muslims – she cites, yet again, Mr. Muhammad (no last name), who visited Halliday once in his office to share with him the extent to which the Muslim mind is demented.

But Linfield’s Zionist agenda is clearly manifest when she takes on what she calls “the left’s romance with Jihad.” In this, Linfield is hardly more eloquent than Ann Coulter; she is, rather, her equal in stigmatizing the left. Linfield seems to be arguing that the Western left is more enamored with Jihad than with Israeli terrorism! For her, the entire Palestinian struggle for independence and liberation is reduced to the “idealization of violence.” For Linfield and her Zionist comrades-in-arms, Israeli violence and terrorism is, in contrast, both ideal and justified.

Linfield concludes her long review with a condemnation, borrowed from Halliday, of revolution itself; perhaps she meant non-Western revolutions. For Linfield, and for the the late Halliday, imperialist wars of liberation are far better agents of change than revolutions staged by the natives.

The Zionist resurrection of Halliday – and only in the phase in which he was least original in his writings and thinking about the Middle East, as he sounded very much like Charles Krauthammer and Elliott Abrams in his essays after September 11 – is related to the fashionable attacks in Western liberal and conservative Zionist media outlets. It is certain that The Nation would have, adamantly and rightly, refused to publish an essay that contains such wild generalizations about the Jewish people (in the reckless way that Linfield’s article portrays Arabs and Muslims). The record of The Nation has only gotten worse over the years, and it seems that The Nation is at war with itself: it is at war with the leftist tendencies of its past, and with those who, in the past, courageously wrote against Israel and Zionism. And the choice of Linfield, a non-Middle East expert, to review the works of Fred Halliday, a bona fide Middle East expert, speaks volumes about the Zionist standards of The Nation. The fact-checkers of The Nation were presumably too biased in favor of Linfield to uncover her falsification of the interview that Halliday conducted with Ghassan Kanafani in 1971. Linfield was not satisfied with the promotion of the late Halliday; she seems intent on distorting his early writings as well. Perhaps she should be reminded of the following words, which Halliday wrote after his interview with Kanafani:

"The assertion that the Palestinian problem is the result of a clash between two equally legitimate nationalisms, Israeli and Palestinian, avoids the central structural element that the Israeli nation has constituted itself by oppressing the Palestinians. Hence the two nationalisms cannot be placed on a par. Any just rectification of this oppression will involve the ending of Zionism, and of the Zionist state, the form of colonialism concretized in Israel. Given such a rectification, the Israeli nation will be entitled to the rights of any national group, including secession and an independent state." (Arabia Without Sultans (2002 edition, p.30, footnote 3)).


Good comment. I'd like to add something to 2) - Afghanistan is not an imperialist state, unlike Germany. Anyway, Hitler was a good pupil of UK imperialism. So, the difference between Hitler crimes and UK imperialism crimes were mostly geographical ones - he did in Europe what other imperialists have done without. Of course, UK had its Ireland too.

This has to be the most offensively dumb remark in Linfield's tribute: "For Halliday there was no schadenfreude in this, no gloating, no talk of chickens coming home to roost or of blowback (a concept that fundamentally misunderstands— and moralizes—historic causation: was Sobibor the blowback from the Versailles Treaty?)."

1) If anything can be called 'blowback' for Versailles it would be the re-occupation of the Rhineland.

2) Afghanistan is not a power that can fight a war with the US or the Soviet Union; it can only be passively invaded. So the invaders bear a much greater responsibility for engineering the most reactionary movements in that region than the Allies in Germany post-WWI. The National-Socialist movement was more an outcome of German imperialism which led Germany to take part in WWI. This is just another mediocre intellect superimposing the Nazis on anything the US/Israel wants to bomb.

3) The term wasn't even a leftist trope to begin with. As Chalmers Johnson mentioned in a 2001 Nation article, ""Blowback" is a CIA term first used in March 1954 in a recently declassified report on the 1953 operation to overthrow the government of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran. It is a metaphor for the unintended consequences of the US government's international activities that have been kept secret from the American people."


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