Former TNI fellow Fred Halliday dies at the age of 64

29 April 2010

The fellows and the staff of the Transnational Institute are saddened to hear that Fred Halliday has died. He was one of the most prominent experts on the Middle East and its place in international politics.

The fellows and the staff of the Transnational Institute are saddened to hear that Fred Halliday has died. He was one of the most prominent experts on the Middle East and its place in international politics. Fred was a TNI fellow for 12 years, between 1973 and 1985.

Current and former TNI fellows and staff pay personal tribute to a great scholar and a friend.

Susan George, TNI fellow, President of the Board of TNI:
This is sad news indeed. I hadn't seen Fred for a long time---not since he moved to Barcelona. As a raw recruit at TNI in 1973-74, I was completely in awe of Fred's grasp of---what? Actually everything. I couldn't imagine how it might be possible to contribute, as Fred routinely did, to an impromptu discussion with a totally structured, ready-for-print mini-essay, always from an original point of view and always firmly backed by evidence. He wasn't yet thirty at the time. Fred was also fun to be with and not in the least self-satisfied although he had a lot to be satisfied about. All his friends from every period of his life will miss him and his clarity of vision, unclouded by ideology, even, or especially when it was fashionable to follow one.

It's people like Fred who make you fervently hope that heaven exists.

Fiona Dove, TNI executive director:
I admired Fred greatly. The positions he took were always based on an innate sense of integrity. I found him a man of great and gentle charm, I was in awe of his incredible mastery of complex languages, and his acute intelligence. A great loss.

Howard Wachtel, TNI fellow:
Dazzling is the only way I can describe Fred Halliday’s many performances around the TNI seminar table. I chose these words “dazzling” and “performance” not to diminish the intellectual weight of Fred’s presentations, but to liken them to listening to a concert virtuoso as you await the next remarkable phrase worthy of a bravo. His words were formed into perfect sentences and sentences into paragraphs all without benefit of a score in front of him. We all learned more than we can imagine from Fred Halliday.

Achin Vanaik, TNI fellow:
I am deeply saddened on hearing about Fred's passing away. I both admired him for his great intelligence and perceptiveness of analysis and I was genuinely fond of him. I only wish we had more chances of meeting him at TNI both as an old comrade and as a person who would enliven and inform and force one to think in new ways. In my long, though infrequent, association with him I knew I could always count on him for thoughtful comments and help with anything I wrote. I also cannot forget that it was he who introduced (TNI fellow) Praful Bidwai and myself to TNI. Suddenly people I knew and admired from Gerry Cohen to Peter Gowan to Chris Harman and now Fred have passed away at much too early age.

I am currently on the Peaceboat somewhere in the Indian Ocean between Singapore and Safaga in Egypt. I am here to give a number of lectures on various topics, one of which is to be on the Middle East. In preparation for this I took with me from India only one book and it was of course the last book by Fred on the Middle East.

I shall miss him.

John Cavannagh, TNI fellow:
For me, Fred was one of my great teachers in life. Here is what I wrote to Fred about a month ago:

Dear Fred,
…I'm really devastated to hear about your cancer and that it is so rough for you right now.
I think about all that I have learned from you, and that so many others have learned from you, and I really want to say thank you. I still remember some of the talks that you gave at TNI in the 1980s. They helped me think about East-West, and North-South, and arcs of crisis, and U.S. imperialism, and the world. Your books did the same. We desperately need more people who think in clear ways globally and you helped spark and stimulate and order the thinking of a whole lot of us.
This opened up a world more me, and has made my work a million times more sharp and useful than it would have been.
So, I want to you to feel really good about all the people like me who you inspired and taught. It is a huge accomplishment in this strange and confusing and difficult world. So, thank you.
On a lighter note, things just got a bit more fun in Washington. I know that the health care bill that was just passed is quite imperfect, and it is largely built on a private sector model, but its passage shows people that you can organize a ton and you can beat back the Right and the giant corporations, and that there are ways forward. We are now pressing hard on tearing down the Wall Street casino, and on shifting military jobs to green jobs, and trying to close more of the 1,000 U.S. military installations around the world. We are working with Cubans and Americans to try to convert the Guantanamo prison into a public health facility for the hemisphere. Fun stuff like that.
The struggle definitely continues, and it does so on the shoulders of smart people like you…

Marcos Arruda, TNI fellow:
Good old Fred Halliday, a special human being, a special friend! You decided to leave us so soon!
You departed with the same age as Marx... Both of you, too soon for the missions you were fulfilling in your earthly lives.
Your piercing intelligence combined with your commitment to justice and to the goal of humanizing the world, and with your passion for the concrete human being - each one of us social individuals - made you a unique fellow and one of my dearest friends. You were one of the people that helped paint with lively colours my years of exile. To you all I am grateful.
Those of us who hope you will be back on this earth some day are sure that you will be a source of even more intense light and wisdom to all those whom you will influence.
And our bet was accomplished: both of us finished our doctoral degrees in time to improve our contribution to the transformation of humankind and the planet. Although I still have so much more to learn and to improve in the time on Earth that is left for me to live...
Happy eternity, dear friend.

Hilary Wainwright, TNI fellow
Fred was someone who I looked forward to knowing better in the future.

Like everyone I remember his impressive combination of clarity and strength of feeling. I was also struck by the rare accessibility of his way of communicating. He seemed to have a passion to understand and to explain. He was an exemplary teacher. I remember vividly one example of this when he explained the politics of the Yemen at a meeting of the Socialist Society in London in the early 1980s, setting a detailed analysis in the context of a brilliant overview of the politics of the Middle East.
This desire to explain and to communicate and his natural accessibility was linked, I think, to a personal quality that I sensed in the few personal encounters I had with him. Whether at breakfast at the rather downbeat Shmidt Hotel before walking round the corner to a TNI Fellows meeting, or when he introduced my architect student nephew to an eminent architect friend of his, he seemed a very kind person, instinctively egalitarian. I feel sad that I'll never get to know him and I feel a surge of empathy with those friends of mine who have lost a true companero.

Walden Bello, TNI fellow:
This is sad news indeed.  Giovanni Arrighi, Peter Gowan, and now Fred--all in less than a year. But Fred's contributions will live on.

Teodor Shanin, former TNI fellow and founder of the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences:
Fred Halliday was one of the most significant scholars in matters concerning Middle East. His knowledge of languages as well as the broad scope of information concerning those countries was matched by a strong analytical mind. The loss is very considerable. In quite number of ways Fred is irreplaceable in his particular field of excellence.

Those who knew him well have also lost a good comrade and a very likeable friend.  We shall miss him badly.

Trin Yarborough, former TNI communications director:
I was so sorry to learn the news about Fred. I mainly remember him from meeting him in the late l970s, when he was probably the most knowledgeable person in the United States about Iran, and when big news broke about Iran, he quickly became a major source for newspapers and networks. He was very brilliant and very good at handling the sudden attention from the media, as he helped shape understanding of the unfolding situation. He was also very kind and a witty, fun person to know. 

You can read Fred Halliday’s obituary by TNI fellow Mariano Aguirre in the Spanish daily La Vanguardia.

Fred Halliday’s obituary in Britain’s Guardian:

Fred Halliday’s obituary on