Issue 74 Download Archive Links Search Contact Us


The articles in this issue have been divided up into the following categories







Dear Naim

With thanks for your great service to the Jewish Community all over the world, I present to you my booklet.

A Tribute to Elie Kedourie

by Professor Shmuel Moreh


Edited by Sylvia Kedourie

History, Philosophy, Politics. London, Portland-Oregon:
Frank Cass Publishers 1998, [8], 132 pp., ISBN 07146 4862 0, £25.00

The above title, by Sylvia Kedourie, is a collection of essays published as a memorial for the fifth anniversary of the untimely death in 1992 of the celebrated Orientalist and scholar Prof. Elie Kedourie. He was Professor of Politics, specialist in the History of the Middle East at the London school of Economics and Political Science (LSE), the Founder and Editor of the well-known journal Middle Eastern Studies (1964), and the author and editor of many outstanding books on the Middle East.

As an old friend of Prof. Kedourie I feel an obligation to write in memory of this great scholar and friend who was proud of being a descendant of the glorious Jewry of Babylon. It was after the Farhud (pogrom) of 1941, when I first met Elie Kedourie. I used to accompany my elder brother Jacob to Elie’s home in the old Jewish quarter in Baghdad. The Oriental classical architecture of Elie’s huge two storey-house with its square courtyard in its centre, the cellar with its well and its conventional system of ventilation was in sharp contrast to the new architecture of our house in the Battawiyyin (a new mixed quarter outside old Baghdad). These differences were striking and unforgettable. The conventional Jewish family ties and religions values were more observed in the old Jewish quarter than in the new ones. This fact might illustrate why Prof. Elie Kedourie was identified by some of his "Eurocentric colleagues" as being "conservative, or reactionary, or ‘right-wing’."

The reason for my accompanying my brother was that danger awaited any Jewish child or young man who would dare to walk alone in the streets, not only of Baghdad, but in the whole of Iraq, especially through Muslim quarters. Already, before the Farhud and the rise of Zionism, we were then indeed, "victims of ideological tyranny " The persecution of minorities in Iraq with the establishment of the national regime, confirms Prof. Kedourie’s conclusion that "nationalism is anti-individualist, despotic, racist, and violent."

My brother was then a classmate of Elie Kedourle during their primary and secondary studies at the Alliance Française school and later on at the Shammash High School in Baghdad in the late 1930’s and 1940’s. In these two schools the French and then the English languages were, respectively, the languages of instruction. This fact can shed light upon Elie’s writing on the Farhud and his attitude towards British policy in the Middle East after the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of national Arabic governments in the Middle East.

This decisive and traumatic pogrom against the Jews of Baghdad, (June 1941), initiated by pro-Nazi Iraqi and Palestinian elements (cf. Peter Roberts’s remark) who received refuge in Iraq, was haunting Prof. Elie Kedourie’s memory, and his generation. The Farhud became rooted in the collective memory of the Jews of Iraq, yet he was the first scholar to write about its scholarly researches on the background of the Farhud and its repercussions. Nowadays it is a well-known fact that the Farhud was the main reason for the mass exodus of the Jews of Iraq during the 1950’s. His writings on this tragedy, together with Mr. Naim Kattan, his colleague at the Alliance school in Baghdad, made European and American scholars aware of this massacre which Arab historians and writers deliberately ignored and about which they kept conspiracy of silence.

Elie and Jacob were the best pupils in their classes. They read English, French and Arabic books extensively, and their discussions and conversations spared nobody from their critical and sarcastic comments and comic remarks. They criticised various subjects including their teachers, their manners and habitual remarks, their teaching methods and their friends. Their history lessons, especially on Arab history and literature, were the object of their parody. Their jokes were concentrated upon police behavior towards the Jews, the Iraqi Government, the Iraqi Parliament and the behaviour of its members; the way in which laws were passed by its MPs while asleep, etc. Later on, Elie’s articles, before and after their publication in Baghdad newspa-pers, were discussed. Their discussions were full of humour, sometimes with ironic, absurd and sharp remarks mingled with high bursts of laughter or sardonic smile, which even after some decades were observed by Oliver Letwin in Prof. Kedourie’s conversations and writings. One notable example that they would repeat was that of a tribal chief M.P. who repudiated the censure of the traffic police with the boast of’ thousands of tribal gunmen at his disposal.

Only after the massive immigration to Israel, during what was termed in Iraq as "the exchange of population", i.e. the Jews of Iraq with the Palestinian refugees, did we hear of Elie Kedourie’s renown. This exchange took place after the 1948 War and the 1950-1951 Jewish mass immigration of the Jews of’ Iraq to Israel. Although we lived in tents in temporary camps we managed to study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and obtained our M.A. degrees. I was sent by the Hebrew University to continue my studies in Arabic literature at SOAS-University of London while my brother Jacob decided to continue his studies at LSE. By then, the defiance of Elie Kedourie’s Ph.D. degree at Oxford supervised by Prof. Gibb had become a "venerated legend of academic heroism" in Israel, especially among his friends and admirers comprising mainly Iraqi Jews. Thus, the first person to whom we would turn for advice on deciding to study at the University of London was our good friend Prof. Elie Kedourie. Our letter from Jerusalem to Elie was, to our surprise, promptly answered with a positive reply. Elie proved to be, as always, "a friend in deed". Afterwards, our meetings with him and his wife Sylvia became frequent. Our conversations were always in our Baghdadi Jewish dialect in which we all enjoyed its folkloric humour and special idioms.

I am recounting all these reminiscences because what one feels missing in this condensed and well-presented book, is the testimony of’ one of his personal friends who studied with him during his schooldays. This task others could do better than I, such as his friends Dr. Jacob Moreh and Mr. Nissim Dawood, both living in the U.K. However, this book covers all aspects of Professor Elie Kedourie’s personal and university life, i.e. as a student, a scholar, an academic researcher, a teacher and his devotion to his mentor and colleague Prof. Michael Oakeshott. His achievement as a supervisor to his Ph.D. students, a commentator in journals and radio and T.V., political advisor, colleague, and other roles he played, are also covered here by some friends and admirers. The essays are written in an excellent English style worthy of one of the greatest Orientalists and scholars of our time, who was considered one of the outstanding masters of English style. All these aspects of Elie’s life were discussed in full detail by authoritative personalities. In fact one can understand Elie’s unique personality, achievements, greatness and the special traits of his books only after reading thoroughly the nineteen essays written by his publisher, his wife and devoted friends (the three other essays were written by Prof. Kedourie; this book was edited by his devoted wife, Dr. Sylvia Haim-Kedourie, who is bearing alone, with dignity and capability, the burden of the great legacy of her late husband).

In his essay, Kenneth Minogue commented with great accuracy: "Indeed, so far as Britain and France were concerned, Elie was culturally ambidextrous, and I have always thought we were lucky to get him ... He could easily have become an adornment of the Seine rather than the Thames." In fact, we, i.e. his friends in Israel, used to say that: "if Elie would have immigrated to Israel he would not have achieved what he had achieved in England. He has escaped many years of torture to master the Hebrew language to the level of writing his research." This is beside the fact that since 1947 onwards, the nascent State of Israel was engaged in a series of wars with its neighbours, which would have rendered concentration on his research very problematic. Moreover, Israel at that time was alreadv inclined towards the study of the Holocaust and Nazi Germany, and not in the philosophical history or Britain’s policy towards the Arab countries. This fact explains why my brother and I started our Ph.D. studies long after Elie’s submission of his thesis in 1953.

To read in this book eulogies in homage to Elie written by first rate scholar fills the heart with pain and sorrow at the untimely passing away of a devoted friend and great scholar. Such homage includes: "What one admired in the act of a young Elie Kedourie-defying the Oxford establishment, willing to pay a price for his truth-is a quality that remained throughout’ (Itamar Rabinovich, [Israel former Ambassador to the USA], p. 42); "Elie Kedourle leaves a rich and diverse legacy many of us have benefited in a variety of ways from both his great learning and personal kindness". "Kedourie was the scholar par
excellence" O’Sullivan’s second remark: "the sustained philosophical rigour, range of imaginative sympathy, and depth of historical insight, displayed in his reflections on Hegel’s proposed synthesis and Marx’s critique of it ensure that this volume will confirm his status as one of the greatest political thinkers to have emerged during the second half’ of the twentieth century"; "One of the obituaries ... pointed out that Elie was an observant Jew, ... In any event, I consider Elie Kedourie to have been a great man, and ... have played ... an important role in the formulation of United States foreign policy at a key juncture in our post-Cold War history." "He was a sage dedicated to wisdom. He lives on, not just in the memory of his friends and students, but in his contribution to the store of wisdom which should regulate the conduct of human affairs". Such praise, couched in the usual idiom of English understatement, only serves to emphasize the deep feeling of loss sustained not only by Orientalists and historians in general, but by the entire Jewish people. He was indeed a great scholar, and humanist, who could enrich Oriental studies with his devoted research and intellectual integrity and deep insight, joined through the personal experience of having lived under Arab national governments in Iraq.

Prof. Elie Kedourie’s Oriental heritage, personality and academic integrity can be better understood and deeply appreciated after reading this book. He proved himself a worthy descendant of those Jews who came to Babylon with Yehoyachin" and all the princes, and all the mighty men of valour," who later on compiled the Talmud Babli.


If you would like to make any comments or contribute to The Scribe please contact us.