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3 May 2010updated 27 Sep 2015 4:07am

Fred Halliday, 1946-2010

The death of a great internationalist.

By Jonathan Derbyshire

Fred Halliday, the writer and academic who, in the last two decades of his life, became one of the most interesting and heterodox voices on the internationalist left, died last week. Our good friend Anthony Barnett has written a tribute to Halliday over at Open Democracy:

He was a like a one-man international: dedicated and passionate in the cause of justice; hard-headed in insisting upon the obstacles that had to be overcome; scathing about the stupidities of those who proclaimed they were the force of progress; constantly aware of the deeper levels of cultural and religious irrationality and its shaping power — and capable of making astoundingly well-informed judgments about almost anywhere on the planet.

Halliday’s appreciation of religion as a political force was unmatched by any of his contemporaries. In February 1979, he wrote for the New Statesman about the incipient Shia revolution in Iran:

The visage of Ayatollah Khomeini, bearded and frowning, has become the focus of the nationwide protest movement that forced the Shah into exile on January 16. Yet beyond his evident hostility to the Pahlavi dynasty and his emphatic invocations of a traditional Islam, this strange and long obscure 78-year old leader has evaded conventional categorisation. The roots of Khomeini’s personality and of his appeal lie in the history of the Shi’a brand of Islam to which an estimated 93 per cent of the Iranian population subscribe, and in the intermittent history of opposition to the monarch which the Shi’a clergy, the mollahs or ulema, have shown in the past century. Given the absence of any authoritative hierarchy in Islam, the dominance of one or other leader depends on his personal influence and character and on shifts of power at any one time. The 180,000-odd mollahs have no coherent form of expression at a national level, but traditionally they have looked to the ten or so leading officials known as Ayatollah or Sign of God. These Ayatollahs, located in major cities such as Tehran, or in pilgrimage cities such as Mashad and Qom, are, for want of a better word, the cardinals of Shi’a Islam.

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