Sunday, 10 April 2011

Fred Halliday, Political Journeys

Since his death, Fred Halliday (1946 - 2010) has figured in the newspapers as the retired Professor of International Relations who warned his old university, the London School of Economics, against entanglement with the Gadaffi regime.

I spotted his posthumous book, Political Journeys (Saqi 2011)on my last visit to the London Review of Books shop, bought it and read it - cover to cover as I normally do.

It's impressive. It's confident, decisive, principled and - though it derives from essays written at frequent intervals for online publication in openDemocracy - marshalls an extraordinary range and depth of reference. To single out just one from nearly fifty essays, there is a brisk but erudite demolition of (my) misconceptions about Sharia law, done and dusted in just four pages (pp 213 - 17).

The focus of the book is the Middle East where all through the historical and political analyses, the red thread of principle is oppositon to viciousness, whether by their side or your own.

But Halliday is also enlightening when he writes about other areas: there is a good essay on Georgia (pp 243 - 48) and a running theme of the weaknesses of small states or would-be states: not just Palestine but Northern Ireland, the Basque country and Tibet.

Halliday despairs of the stupidity and nastiness of the Bush regime, in power when most of these essays were written, but Tony Blair's journey is so far beneath his contempt as to be barely mentioned - his name occurs just three times in 277 pages.

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