Wednesday, February 12, 2014

MidEast Scholar Extraordinaire

 Former 60's radical Dr. Barry Rubin, PhD, of blessed memory, was a Mideast expert who was cautious with predictions.  When he made them, he was usually correct. What a huge hole he leaves in the intellectual discourse that is the MidEast. I quoted his work 12 times in 2013 on my blog. Who will fill this chasm? Who will fill this chasm?


Barry Rubin: An appreciation -Jonathan Spyer

Barry Rubin was one of the leading Middle East scholars and analysts of his generation.

He was a patriot of two countries – Israel and the United States – a dissenter, and a moral and intellectual beacon for thousands of people in many lands.


Barry brought to his work a tremendous, searing energy, which made him famously prolific. This energy stayed with him throughout the illness [cancer] which has now prematurely ended his life.

[He] was also among the first to predict the rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood and the acute dangers inherent therein.

Barry was similarly among the first to detect the anti-Western and anti-democratic tendencies of the Erdogan government and the AKP in Turkey. I remember him issuing a passionate, uncompromising warning in this regard on many platforms, as other scholars sought to outline what they imagined to be more “nuanced” or “measured” positions. Of course, Barry’s assessment of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the nature of his ambitions is now mainstream.

In his book The Truth about Syria, Barry wrote the only serious, book-length treatment of the Assad dictatorship in Syria that sought to issue a clear moral indictment of this brutal and murderous regime. This work is in my estimation the equivalent in the Syrian context of Iraqi dissident Kenan Makiya’s famous Republic of Fear, which revealed to the world the true nature of Saddam Hussein’s regime in the 1980s.

Again, at a time when the prevailing wisdom was that Syria was a rather pleasant place, when Syrian President Bashar Assad and his wife were received by the Queen of England, when The New York Times was running long segments on Damascus and Aleppo as charming and adventurous tourist destinations, it was Barry Rubin who pulled off the mask and revealed the Assad regime for what it was.

Once again, he incurred the condescension of much of the academic community on Syria for his passionate and strident tone. And once again, events have proved him right. This book, and the moral courage of the man who wrote it, deserve far wider recognition.


Finally, Barry was among the first analysts of US politics to recognize that the Barack Obama presidency would represent a sharp break in American policymaking, rather than a continuum. He noted this when Obama was still a candidate for the Democratic nomination in 2008, and he sought to raise the alarm for what he saw as a danger both to America’s global standing and to its relationship with Israel. Again, his analysis was ahead of its time.

Barry’s writing deserves to be placed high in the canon of contemporary Middle East analysis. But there was another, more private aspect to his work, which involved his consulting with senior figures in the Israeli policymaking world, and advising and mentoring younger scholars, researchers and activists.


Regarding the former, Barry had been acting in the year prior to his death as an unofficial adviser to a senior minister in Israel’s government, a member of the inner security cabinet.

This relationship had great promise, but was sadly cut short by Barry’s illness. In a similar vein, in recent years he had developed a close connection to one of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s closest advisers.

Barry was both discreet and modest about these connections, but he was also aware of their importance.


In his youth, he had been a radical, in the ferment of the US campuses of the late 1960s and early 1970s. In the second part of his life, Israel and the Jewish People were his abiding passion. Throughout, he was fascinated by the history of the land of his birth, the USA, and by its traditions of liberty and possibility.

As Walt Whitman described America itself, so Barry too “contained multitudes.”

Because of all this, there will be thousands of people, in Israel, in the broader Middle East, in the US and in Europe who will be feeling themselves diminished by his passing.
[Jerusalem Post]

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2 comments:

John Vagabond said...

Agreed. Barry was always persuasive, controversial and passionate. Let's hope others will carry his torch.

Bruce said...

May it be G*d's will.