A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Saturday, April 12, 2014

We Have Lost Patrick Seale (1930-2014)

Patrick Seale (PatrickSeale.org)
Journalist/historian/scholar and so much else Patrick Seale has died of a brain tumor at age 83. He would have been 84 next month.

I believe I first met Patrick Seale in 1981, when we were both covering the first GCC Summit meeting in Abu Dhabi. I found it refreshing, as an academically trained Ph.D. then working as a journalist/analyst,  to encounter journalists like Seale, the late Peter Mansfield, and Eric Rouleau, who had a deep academic and personal familiarity with the Middle East when that was rare (and considered rather suspect) among American journalists. I crossed paths occasionally with him after that, but not for some years.

The Belfast-born, Oxford-educated Seale had spent some of his youth in Syria, where his father was an Arabist and missionary. Though he covered and wrote about many regions of the Middle East, he had a lifelong identification with Syria. His two best-known books (among his many works) were The Stuggle for Syria, the standard work on Syria in the 1940s and 1950s, and Asad: The Struggle for the Middle East, a biography of Hafiz al-Asad. His second wife, from whom he was reportedly separated, was the London-based Syrian journalist Rana Kabbani.

For decades he was The Observer's Middle East correspondent, a position previously held by the Soviet spy Kim Philby, about whom he wrote a book Philby, the Long Road to Moscow. (Philby was also, of course, the son of another veteran British Arabist, H. St.John B. Philby.) In recent years Seale has written columns for a variety of newspapers including several in the Middle East.

In the past three years, Seale has sometimes been criticized for being too supportive of Bashar al-Asad (though he moved away from that position), and some felt his biography of Bashar's father had traded some objectivity for access to regime sources. But it remains the standard work, and no academic historian has yet rivaled The Struggle for Syria for its analysis of Syria in its era of revolving-door coups. (Note that later editions carried an introduction by the great Albert Hourani, if you doubt its academic credentials.)

Seale was a scholar-journalist of the first rank, without question, whether you saw him as an Asad apologist in his later years or not.

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