Fred said right: Gaddafi was an LSE liability

By Simon Barrow
March 7, 2011

When the late Professor Fred Halliday made the case that the London School of Economics should not accept a £1.5 million Qaddafi Foundation grant, his expert and political/moral opinion was met with an air of polite condescension from on high. The 'realists' of course knew best. Except that now they realise they didn't.

Our friends at openDemocracy have now re-published the full memorandum (originally 'LSE and Qaddafi Foundation: A Dissenting Note,' 4 October 2009) sent to the LSE Council, and it makes instructive reading. It is not a radical document (he knew his primary audience), but it is typically well-informed and leans coherently from pragmatism to principle:

Fred Halliday (1946-2010) was Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics and ICREA research professor at the Barcelona Institute for International Studies. His posthumous book Political Journeys. The openDemocracy Essays is due out from Saqi Books in April 2011 - due in no small part, I am sure, to the labours of Anthony Barnett (–-2010).

When Fred sadly died on 26 April last year, I had intended to add some words to the range of tributes - although I didn't know him personally, and the world was able to suffice very happily without my wisdom on his (infinitely greater) wisdom!

Among other things, Halliday warned successive British governments over the paucity of their understanding and analysis of Middle East affairs - and he urged that theoretical meta-debates about global policy should be shaped by concrete learning based on exposure. That comes through strongly in Danny Postel's interview with him, appropriately entitled 'Who is responsible?' ( I did not always agree with the Halliday position on interventionism and other issues, but he was unfailingly challenging, probing and vital.

Politicians, civil servants and the media (as well as governing councils of prestigious educational establishments) often tend to be rather dismissive towards academics, assuming that when they meet an argument that forces them to think outside the dominant prism, it must be some abstruse 'ivory tower' from which the thought comes, or it must be in hoc to an intellectual ideal ill-suited to the hard-nosed realities of a properly market-driven perspective.

The truth, however, is that we need many more people like Fred: steeped in his subject and in the complex interpretative skills it requires, deeply engaged with those at the cutting edge, thoughtfully critical of vested interests and governing orthodoxies, realistic about politics without losing hope, and passionately committed to international social justice.

May he rest in the agitation out of which just-peace, rather than passivity, emerges.


(c) Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia. From 1979-82 he was an editor and writer for a publishing company working on Middle East issues and commerce (during which time he first encountered Fred Halliday's work, including Iran: Dictatorship and Development and Arabia withut Sultans). He was editor of Arab Business Yearbook in 1980 and 1982.

Keywords:LSE | Libya | Gaddafi
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